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  • Sen. Mia McLeod

WATCH: Sen. McLeod delivers Democratic response to Gov. McMaster’s State of the State address

by: Tim Renaud Posted: Jan 14, 2021 / 08:22 AM EST / Updated: Jan 14, 2021 / 08:22 AM EST

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) – Governor Henry McMaster delivered his third State of the State address on Wednesday night where he defended the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and offered insight to his priorities for the year ahead.

“We took a road less traveled – a better road. We slowed down, but safely remained open. We never closed. Our reasonable steps of limited, measured and temporary actions allowed us to combat the virus without crippling our economy,” he said.

He also mentioned by name local law enforcement officials who died in the line of duty over the past year, including Charleston County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy LaDue, who died in a crash with another motorist last April.

But Gov. McMaster’s address was followed by stinging remarks from State Senator Mia McLeod as she provided the Democratic response, asking how the Governor could be so proud of South Carolina’s economy with unemployment numbers so high, small businesses collapsing, and virus-related deaths in the thousands.

“When Hurricane Hugo devastated South Carolina’s economy, our elected leaders used every government resource available to rebuild our state. Shouldn’t we be doing that now…during a global pandemic,” she asked. “Why can’t we use the state’s reserve funds to help keep small businesses afloat?”

You can read her full speech below:

Good Evening, my fellow South Carolinians. I’m Senator Mia McLeod.

COVID-19 has infected at least 350,000 South Carolinians and killed 6,000 of our moms, dads, brothers, sisters and grandparents. According to a recent White House Report, Greenville ranks #1 in the nation for mid-size cities and Spartanburg ranks 9th. This virus is wreaking havoc across South Carolina and Governor McMaster has yet to even articulate a plan to address it.

The Department of Health & Environmental Control, the agency we call DHEC, is responsible for South Carolina’s response to COVID-19, including vaccine roll-out and distribution.

Let’s be clear, Our Governor appoints DHEC’s Chairman and governing Board. After attempting to manipulate agency scientists, Governor McMaster and his administration have created unnecessary turmoil and turnover. Now, they’re playing the blame-game, so it’s not surprising that our state’s vaccine rollout has been abysmal, or that Republicans and Democrats are equally critical of his ability to lead and protect the people of this state. And with new cases topping 34% positive rates, South Carolina has only been able to administer about a third of the vaccines that our state has received. This colossal failure belongs to our CEO…. Governor Henry McMaster.

Democrats across South Carolina are grateful for our women and men who are on the front lines…working day and night to save lives and keep essential services going. And we mourn with and pray for those who have already lost loved ones to this deadly virus. It doesn’t have to be this way.

With all due respect, Governor, because you’ve failed to lead us, the current state of our state…is bleak.

As a single mom, small business owner and someone who knows all too well the struggles of a pre-existing condition like Sickle Cell Anemia, I understand the gravity of the challenges we’re facing and the courage, empathy and compassion that true leadership demands in this unprecedented moment.

How can you tout a strong economy, Governor, when over 810,000 South Carolinians have already filed for unemployment? Many are still trying to access pandemic assistance that will help them cover basic living expenses like food, medicines, mortgage payments and rent. Who says we can’t be pro-business and pro-people? The two aren’t mutually exclusive. If you and your fellow Republican leaders had simply taken this virus seriously months ago by issuing a temporary statewide mask mandate and brief stay at home order; if you had listened to our public health experts and armed us with the TRUTH instead of divisive, partisan rhetoric… South Carolina could well be on her way towards getting us back to work, school and life, safely.

Instead Governor, you told us everything was fine…doubled-down on the rollbacks and the rhetoric and politicized mask-wearing. Just last week, as record-high cases continued to surge, you insisted that our schools open 5 days a week for in-person instruction.

As doctors warned about a second, more deadly wave, you said, “ Come on in…we’re open…” boasting that…”the business of South Carolina is business…and proving that politics and profits truly do trump the health and safety of our people.

When Hurricane Hugo devastated South Carolina’s economy, our elected leaders used every government resource available to rebuild our state. Shouldn’t we be doing that now…during a global pandemic?

Why can’t we use the state’s reserve funds to help keep small businesses afloat?

Why haven’t we raised our minimum wage like over 20 other states have done this year?

Why don’t we create tax incentives for companies that provide vaccines and other pandemic benefits to employees?

Why aren’t we partnering with our county health departments to help vaccinate our most vulnerable citizens?

And why aren’t we joining 39 other Democrat and Republican-controlled states that have expanded Medicaid to ease overcrowded emergency rooms and ICUs, and bring medical facilities and personnel into poor counties and underserved communities? Now, more than ever, we must work together to put this virus behind us so that we can focus on other important issues like: education, racial justice, healthcare, living wages, broadband, public utilities, infrastructure, clean air & water, green jobs and other systemic reforms that deserve our attention. COVID-19 is killing us right now. That’s where our focus is…and where yours should be.

Truth is, our economy can’t recover until we do. And without leadership, this virus will continue to wreak havoc… shutting down our lives and livelihoods for the foreseeable future. Protecting life in the womb has become the politically expedient mantra of South Carolina Republicans. In fact, you and other Republican leaders have made a divisive, unconstitutional bill your number one priority again this session, instead of focusing on protecting the 5 million living, breathing human beings who are already here.

Governor, no matter how much worse it gets….you’ve said you won’t do anything different. We need a PLAN that includes a statewide mask mandate, moratorium on evictions and foreclosures and clear safety guidelines for schools, businesses and employees. Where are those federal relief dollars you promised? Where are the vaccines for our essential workers and most vulnerable populations? We deserve a leader who doesn’t play political games… like trying to send $32 million to private schools, while our public schools and teachers are struggling.

Governor, who’s going to help us rebuild a post-pandemic economy if you can’t even get us safely through this first wave?

Our state motto is, “While I breathe, I hope.” But “we can’t breathe” while COVID-19 and systemic racism continue to kill more black and brown South Carolinians than ever. And it’s hard to have hope when communities of color don’t have equal access to quality medical care and are last on the list to be vaccinated.

You can change that, Governor, by putting ALL of the people of South Carolina first, because our state can’t be “open for business” until COVID-19 is “out of business.”

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