Richland Co. candidate, Neal Jones, talks
education, environment and the Confederate Flag
Columbia City Paper sat down with Dr. Neal Jones, Democratic candidate for the District 80 (Richland County), to discuss his political program and his views on major issues, such as the confederate flag, education and the environment.
Jones has been living in lower Richland County for the last 11 years and will challenge 10-year incumbent Rep. Jimmy Bales of Eastover in the June 8 Democratic primary.
Columbia City Paper: On your website you write about how the Confederate Flag is actually hurting South Carolina economically. Could you elaborate on that?
The Confederate Flag is part of white supremacy and it is a symbol of a heritage of hate. The flag was flown by troops defending slavery. This flag deeply affects the image of our state.
It simply means we are still living in the past and we cannot pass it. The state of South Carolina is losing a lot of money because of organizations, institutions and businesses boycotting us because of the flag at the Capitol building.
We do not exactly know how much money we are losing because of this. When the government decides to fly the flag, it represents everyone.
CCP: One of your campaign issues is the importance of investing in public education and higher education. Why do you think this is important?
Jones: Higher education goes hand in hand with the economy. We cannot compete with India or China unless we have an educated workforce. Our students also compete with the world. Education is a great investment into the future. Currently only the wealthier receive quality education. Do we want to be a democracy or an oligarchy?
CCP: What do you think should be done?
We need to spend more money on education. Education should never be the project that is cut.
Instead, letâ€™s tax the rich. The reality is that today counties with a better tax base get better education and as a result poor counties receive only second rate education. I propose we equalize funding. It should not matter where you were born. Education is not a privilege for a few. The truth is we all prosper when everyone is educated. Support for public education is an investment in the lives of our people and in the future of our state.
CCP: Health care reform is a hot topic these days. What is your view about the current health care system?
Jones: Health care should be a right for all. Certain essentials for life should be provided for all people. Currently 700,000 of our fellow South Carolinians are uninsured, many more are underinsured, and many who are insured cannot afford their annually increasing premiums. We already decided that public roads and public libraries are all provided for all people. Now we need to add education and healthcare.
CCP: How would you respond to someone who calls this a socialist idea?
Jones: The usage of the word â€œSocialismâ€ is a distraction. There is no country today that has pure Communism. Nor is there a country that has pure Capitalism. European countries already figured out that the best way to go is if you a have a balance of both. In Germany and France, for instance, this mixture works very well.
Labels like â€œSocialismâ€ are unfair tactics. In reality, we all benefit from universal health care. Studies show that our health care system is the most expensive, yet it has a lower ranking, worldwide.
In this state, Obamaâ€™s health care would cover many.
CCP: How do you plan to pay for all this?
Jones: In order to help pay for this, in South Carolina, I propose we raise cigarette taxes. Currently it is one of the lowest in the country, only seven cents, while the national average is well over a dollar. With the cigarette taxes we could extend Medicare coverage to the uninsured and underinsured. As I said earlier, peopleâ€™s health should be a priority. By raising the cigarette taxes, we could also discourage teenagers from smoking, which can prevent many future health issues in their lives. Health care, therefore, is not only good morals but good economics.
CCP: Letâ€™s talk about your environmental plans for South Carolina.
Jones: We have a great situation here in South Carolina in terms of solar and wind energy resources and the government should work towards a way to utilize it. Wind energy, for instance, could provide 20,000 jobs by 2030. Despite all these opportunities, South Carolina is one of the least energy efficient states. Some people say we have chosen between green and cheap. This is simply not true. We have to become more protective of our environment. This is the only home we have.
CCP: So if you are elected in June, what would be the order in which youâ€™d prioritize these issues?
Jones: Education is my priority. It is the key to progress and a way out of poverty. The key to our success as a state is public education. Education is what enables a person to make informed decisions, to open doors of opportunity, and to step into a better way of life.
Health Care reform would be the next important issue. No one should have to face the demeaning choice between a visit to the doctor or a trip to the grocery store. Itâ€™s time we quit viewing health as a privilege and treat it as a right.
The protection of our environment is also crucial. From supporting the development of clean, efficient, and sustainable energy sources, to reducing the waste we dump into local landfills, to protecting the flora and fauna that make South Carolina beautiful, we must work to ensure that our children and grandchildren have clean air to breath, pure water to drink, and natural attractions to visit. We should also make sure that poor counties are not used as dumping sites. We must develop renewable, safe, affordable, and clean energy alternatives in S.C., such as wind and solar power, and to decrease our dependence on coal and nuclear power.
Finally, with respect to voting rights, I wish to improve the situation of African American voters. South Carolina has a long, sad history of denying African Americans their right to vote. Jim Crow may have ended, but old habits, old fears, and old ways of thinking die hard. I strongly suspect that the unprecedented numbers of African American voters who turned out to vote for President Obama have triggered these old fears. Policy must be based on sound judgment and fairness, not fear and prejudice. We should do all we can to protect and expand the precious right to vote.