By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, email@example.com
SC House Representative Robert Williams (Democrat, District 62) has a lot on his plate these days; he’s running for re-election to the General Assembly, and also mounting a challenge to incumbent Republican Congressman Tom Rice for the District 7 US House seat. But Williams says the hard work involved in running two races is worth the effort, as he believes he can ably represent the 7th and bring his dedication and compassion for the less fortunate to bear in Congress.
Williams served in Iraq with the South Carolina Army National Guard, and says his experiences in that war-torn country shaped his perspective and turned his eye toward public service.
“After I got over there and saw the devastation of war, saw the ways it ripped apart people’s lives and their communities… it was very moving seeing people trying to live in such tragic conditions. After I got back home and traveled around through some of our communities, I saw a lot of the same conditions. People living with no running water, no electricity – living in poverty. That really drove my interest in getting involved and trying to change things,” says Williams.
Following a successful run for the SC House in 2007, Williams continued working with the Fatherhood and Families organization he established around 1999. The entity worked on keeping young dads engaged in their children’s lives and strengthening their prospects with employment and education. Now called Family Engagement, Williams says the organization focuses on providing support to the entire family unit.
“We feel if we can address the needs of the child foremost…we can help bring that family out of poverty and get them going in the right direction. But it has to be both parents working together, providing parental guidance and staying involved,” says Williams.
He also supported outreach programs in local communities, such as Duke Energy’s efforts to shore up energy efficiency in homes of low to moderate income customers. Williams says that with the global temperature steadily rising, such programs are essential to help senior citizens and children from suffering heat-related health issues.
“Our environment is changing. It’s getting hotter, and I do believe that has something to do with our behavior. The elderly and the young are the most vulnerable to these conditions, and we need to make plans to help them,” Williams says.
During his time in the House, Williams says he is proud to have supported and promoted various pieces of legislation related to health care and the expansion of Medicare / Medicaid benefits, providing care and services for veterans and their families, raising pay for public school teachers, modernizing the school bus fleet, and maximizing the per student dollar allowance provided by the state.
Though he is now a veteran of the SC General Assembly, Williams says he decided to run for the District 7 U.S. House of Representatives seat because he feels he can represent the interests of the entire district, which includes communities with wildly diverse revenue bases and priorities. Established in 2011 after the 2010 Census dictated apportionment of another House seat for South Carolina, District 7 includes all of Chesterfield, Dillon, Georgetown, Horry, Marlboro, and Marion Counties, as well as some parts of Florence County and Darlington County.
“Currently as the representative for District 62, I cover Darlington and Florence Counties. District 7 would add six more counties to my responsibilities, and I feel that all these counties need certain things to succeed. They all have different strengths and different things to work with, and I feel it’s time we look at some of our rural communities and try to develop them with industry and education and health care,” Williams says. “As far as some of our rural areas go, with jobs and with health care, we are not in the ball game. And I feel that Mr. Rice has not really supported health care for this region.”
Williams says that if his campaign is successful, he plans to highlight the prevalence of chronic disease and work to improve care and treatment options. He also wants to see more energy focused on reviving manufacturing and agriculture in the large rural swaths of District 7, utilizing teamwork between the state’s strong technical college programs and industrial prospects, and planning to capitalize on the future of multi-purpose crops such as hemp.
“The Grand Strand gets most of their revenue from tourism. The rest of the district doesn’t have that, but it still has a lot to offer. If you’re going to represent the people, you have to represent all of them, no matter their income, their race, their education, and I feel that we haven’t had that sort of representation for this district,” Williams says.
As Election Day approaches, Williams is spending time visiting constituents across the Pee Dee and along the coast, meeting voters and trying to get his message out. Meanwhile, he faces opposition for his District 62 seat from Republican challenger Billy Baldwin, former chairman of Darlington County Council and currently a member of the Darlington County School Board.
If Williams happens to win both his races, he must choose which office he will serve. If he chooses the higher office, he must resign his state house seat. A special election would then be scheduled, with the primary taking place on the eleventh Tuesday after the vacancy occurs, and the general election set for the twentieth Tuesday after the vacancy.
The general election will take place on Tuesday, November 6. For information on early voting, polling locations, or other voting related matters, contact Darlington County Elections and Registration at 843-398-4000.