This year’s election ballot pits incumbent Joe Cunningham against District 99 State Rep. Nancy Mace. Both accomplished in their own rights, this much-anticipated race will take center stage in the Lowcountry, a place each candidate is proud to call home.
A former attorney and ocean engineer, Cunningham enjoys showing his young son, Boone, the benefits of coastal living. “What I love about Charleston is that you can enjoy the outdoors all year-round,” he said. The youngest of five brothers, Cunningham credited his dad for instilling in him at a young age how important it is to take care of one another. “My dad was a public servant for decades and really showed me how having good people in leadership can make a difference in people’s lives.”
Politics was not necessarily Cunningham’s goal — that is, until the 2016 election. “I had never planned on running for an office until then. I was worried about the direction our country was going and what kind of a world we were leaving behind for our children, and I realized that I just couldn’t sit on the sidelines anymore,” he said.
Single mom Nancy Mace highlighted her two children as the inspiration for everything she does. Her father is a retired Army general, and her mother is a retired schoolteacher. Mace grew up in Goose Creek, graduated magna cum laude from The Citadel, authored a book, owned her own business and then worked on the 2016 Trump campaign. “When I ran for State House, I wanted to bring that same work ethic and energy to the job and get stuff done,” she said.
Cunningham’s win in 2018 was the first time a Democrat had represented the Charleston-based district since 1981. He sits on two House committees — Natural Resources and Veterans’ Affairs — and was the primary sponsor of two enacted bills: the VA Tele-Hearing Modernization Act and the Defense Access Road Enhancement Act. The Great American Outdoors Act, a bill he also co-sponsored, was signed by President Trump in early August of this year, ensuring a historic win for the legacy of national parks and public land.
During Nancy Mace’s time in the State House, where she sits on the Judiciary Committee and the Subcommittee on Elections, she sponsored the Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ in-state bill. She also successfully placed exceptions for rape and incest in the Fetal Heartbeat Bill — though these were later stripped from the bill.
There is no mistaking Cunningham’s passion for coastal conservation. He ran his 2018 campaign largely on a platform to protect the Carolina coast from offshore drilling and is adamant that the only way to accomplish that is through a federal rather than a state ban. “Oil spills don’t care about state lines — a federal ban is the only way to protect our coast,” he remarked.
Mace agrees with him on this issue but believes in giving states control over their own coastline as “the only way to move the ball forward against drilling along our coast” and garnering bipartisan support.
Cunningham also supports clean energy initiatives — such as Rep. Donald McEachin’s effort to achieve a 100% clean energy economy by 2050 — and legislation that anticipates the effects of climate change. “If we are going to have meaningful action on climate change, we have to do so in concert with the private sector,” he said.
With the state of the economy on everyone’s mind, Mace has some bold proposals to tackle economic recovery: a tax credit of 1% for every month that banks, lenders and landlords suspend or defer rent or mortgage payments, and the Penny Plan, which would require the government to spend just one penny less than the following year for every dollar spent.
She is interested in joining the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in Congress, claiming rapid growth in places like the Lowcountry calls for easier access to critical funding. “I want to build here, not there,” she explained.
Regarding the current cultural climate, Cunningham is a fierce defender of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to increase transparency in policing, to improve training and practice and to hold law enforcement accountable for misconduct. “I have tremendous respect and appreciation for our law enforcement. Police budgets are mostly paid for by local governments, which have been fiscally exhausted by COVID-19. That’s why I think it’s important that Democrats and Republicans work together to pass bipartisan legislation that provides state and local aid, so that our municipalities are not forced to make budget cuts that impact public safety.”
More veterans live in the Lowcountry than in any other area of the Palmetto State, a subject that strikes a chord with both candidates. Many members of Mace’s family are either active duty or retired from the military, including her dad, so she is eager to help them “navigate the bureaucracy of the federal government to ensure they are protected and receive the best care.” Cunningham, who serves on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, finds the role particularly rewarding. “It has been my favorite part of being in Congress because it has given me the opportunity to give back to our veterans,” he said. He also mentioned the Tele-Hearing Modernization Act as much-needed legislation.
When it comes to health care, each candidate holds strong opinions. Cunningham voted for the Lower Drug Costs Now Act, allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with drug companies to lower prices for all Americans. The Act includes an amendment to ensure the same savings within the VA health system. Meanwhile, as a state lawmaker, Mace has led the effort to “repeal burdensome and inadequate health care regulations across the state” that she feels hinder “our ability to respond faster and better.”
Given the current pandemic situation, Cunningham supports the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which recently passed in the House. “We need to ensure that every South Carolinian has the option to vote safely by mail,” explained Cunningham, urging his colleagues in the Senate to hold a vote as soon as possible. Both he and Mace have had COVID-19.
While in-person events are not an option, both candidates are nevertheless eager to hear from constituents. Cunningham has been holding telephone town hall meetings, virtual roundtable discussions with small business owners and listening sessions with essential workers, faith leaders and teachers. He also urged supporters to tune into his Facebook Live Brewery Tour. Likewise, Mace is making good use of Zoom calls and Facebook Live, and, when possible, in-person opportunities for a few people at a time — following mask-wearing and social distancing protocol. She noted that she is happy to debate Cunningham “any time, any place.”
The issues are complex, as always, but both candidates seem to have the Lowcountry’s best interests at heart as they head into the final stretch of this election.
By Pamela Jouan