NEWBERRY — Walt McLeod has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2013 Legislator of the Year by the Conservation Voters of South Carolina, in the 17 years he has served in the S.C. House of Representatives as the District 40 representative.
McLeod, a Democrat, is running for re-election against Republican Richard Martin in the Nov. 4 election.
“I would still like to improve quality of life in Newberry County and South Carolina. We need better jobs in Newberry, especially in Whitmire, and improve higher education in schools,” McLeod said.
McLeod said he has kept the needs of Newberry County his first priority, and fights for the needs of rural counties against those in the House that focus on the needs of the metropolitan counties. One way he is working to improve the county is to make sure funds go to fix the potholes on Newberry roadways.
“The South Carolina Department of Transportation has been using the bulk of state funds that would go to improve county roads to match federal funds to improve interstates, federal roads,” said McLeod.
McLeod supported a 6 cent gas tax in 2013 that would increase the amount of funds that the SCDOT does put toward the rural county roads, but it did not pass. McLeod felt it would be supported this year, but Gov. Nikki Haley said she would veto the bill if passed.
“I feel a gas tax is a classic example of a user fee. You use South Carolina roads, you pay a gas tax. This will also apply to anyone from another state who uses the highway. They will pay to use the road,” said McLeod.
McLeod also opposed a $1,000 pay raise for South Carolina politicians. By preventing this bill from passing, he said it helped save the state $2 million a year.
“I did not and will not support legislative pay raise when the needs of the county are not met,” said McLeod.
McLeod tried to introduce legislation to require cursive to be taught by third grade, but the bill did not pass the through the House, but was included in Back to Basics. That legislation requires students to master curriculum like multiplication and cursive by fifth grade.
McLeod believes this new law is a step in the right direction to improve education in public schools.
McLeod is also proud of the texting while driving legislation that is now law. The punishment, which will go into effect in January, will carry the same penalty as not wearing a seat belt.
“South Carolina was one of four states that did not have texting while driving laws. This was not only dangerous, but was opening us up to ridicule by late night talk show hosts,” said McLeod. “The law is not necessarily what I wanted, but it put something on the books that can hopefully change into something stronger.”
During his time in office, McLeod said he has been a supporter of stronger ethics laws for politicians. He said every government official, from the smallest to the highest levels, needs to be accountable for their actions.
“There are matters of conduct that are not acceptable in constitutional offices. Legislators getting in trouble needs to stop,” said McLeod.
McLeod said he worked with the House on a bill that would impose stronger ethics law. The bill passed the House but failed to pass in the Senate. In the stronger ethics law, a freestanding investigatory agency would investigate all state officials. Currently the law has each branch investigate within its own ranks.
“It is basically the fox guarding the hen house,” McLeod said on the current ethic laws.
McLeod also opposes is accepting campaign contributions from Political Action Committees, or PACs.
“I represent the best interest of Newberry, and no one else. Because of that, I do not accept any money from PACs,” he said.
When it comes to bringing new businesses and jobs in the county, McLeod said it is all part of the job. Some companies McLeod has had a hand in bringing into the county include Pioneer Foods in Prosperity and Kamatsu in Newberry.
“The building Pioneer Foods is in now stood vacant for decades,” he said. “Now it has a business operating out of it, and the County Council and State Department of Revenue are actively looking to recruit a business to follow and move into the old textile plant in Whitmire.”
McLeod said that his efforts to secure jobs in the county is to help improve the quality of living conditions for the residents of the county.