Passionate exchange of ideas with an elected official is what town hall meetings should be about and Gov. Nikki Haley’s March 7th town hall meeting in Greenville was a great example. The Governor talked about the accomplishments she has had so far and stressed the remainder of her agenda for her first year in office. She praised the senators and representatives who were present for the work they have done on some of her agenda and urged us to encourage them to pass legislation on the rest of her agenda. She stressed the need for us, the citizens, to not complain, but to do something about it. This is one area I could not agree more. Our elected officials need to hear what we want them to do.
When she opened the meeting up to questions, there was no shortage of raised hands. The questions ranged from cuts to Medicaid assistance for families of children with disabilities to unexpected huge tax increases to businesses to straighten out the mess with the unemployment fund. Teachers, illegal immigration, spending cuts and tax relief were all address. The Governor did her best to explain her positions and encourage people to contact the folks directly responsible for their areas of concern. She stressed her commitment to businesses in SC, but was faced with a determined group of business representatives who urged her to rethink the tax structure recently restructured to replenish the unemployment compensation fund and repay the federal loan. They believe that the large tax increases to a number of businesses could result in more layoffs and a slow down of economic growth in South Carolina. The governor, while expressing understanding at the financial pain the taxes caused stood firm in her belief that this was a necessary evil.
Gov. Haley’s response to a question about cuts to programs that deal with paying for medical services, esp. therapy for disabled children was that while the state needed to look at the money side of the issues, she remained committed to making sure these decisions focus on health and not just money. Not everyone felt that the state was acting with health as the primary goal as someone from the Children’s Hospital challenged her on this saying that the cuts to these programs were damaging health rather than helping. The questioner made it clear that there is no financial benefit for him to order 3 therapy sessions over one session. His decisions were based on the needs of the children and he felt that the cuts to the Medicaid programs ignored that. The Governor assured him that the process was ongoing and the newly installed Director of the Department of Health and Human Services was equally committed to health as she was and she encouraged him to get in contact with Director Keck and work with him on the concerns of his patients and their families.
Overall, the Governor was effective in helping the audience see where she is coming from on a variety of issues and while not everyone agreed with her positions, they saw clearly her values. I look forward to more town halls, esp. as we see more progress from Columbia.