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Op-Ed: Our state Legislature: comfortable or courageous?

As Election Day draws near, how would you answer this question: “Is your state government comfortable or courageous with facing the problems of our community?” Sadly, many of us know that our career politicians are comfortable. They relish serving themselves and strive to keep the status quo instead of boldly taking on the issues of our state.

For far too long we’ve held our elected officials to the lowest standard, not the highest. When elected officials are brought up on ethics violations, we shake our heads and say, “That’s just the way it is in Columbia.”

We’ve seen representatives sell their votes to the highest bidder, as was the case with former State Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, who pleaded guilty to misconduct while in office and was let off with a slap on the wrist. Additionally, we saw the chairman of the state Senate Ethics Committee get pulled over for a DUI accident, reportedly lie about it to an officer, then get released on a technicality. We’ve seen nepotism run rampant with legislators’ family members being appointed to boards that get contracts from our state. Unfortunately, this is status quo for our state.

As a husband, father, South Carolinian, and candidate, I find this unacceptable.

There’s a term in the military called “mission creep,” which is a slow compromising of values and acceptance of the status quo until a toxic, dysfunctional environment emerges. That’s exactly what has happened in our state government. Our elected officials should reflect our values, and it’s past time to bring integrity back to our Legislature. I’ve lived by a code all my adult life, from the Honor Code at The Citadel to the Ranger Creed in the Army. Those codes demand a daily life of higher ethical living, and the same should be expected of our elected officials. If we can’t expect basic ethical conduct from our elected officials, how can we expect them to handle our taxpayer money, or big issues such as education, roads, or our retirement plans?

The first step to address the systemic problems in state government is major ethics reform. Our state ethics laws are vague and toothless, allowing corrupt politicians to skate by with no real punishment. We need greater transparency and accountability to root out corruption, and stricter punishments for those who abuse the public’s trust.

In addition, I believe statutory term limits will ensure elected officials do not lose touch with the voters who sent them there. I view elected office like an Army assignment. You give it all you’ve got for several years in serving others, then you move on. It should be the same with our elected officials. Elected office should be a season of service, not a lifetime occupation. That’s why I’ve pledged to serve only eight years in the Legislature. I never want to forget why I’m serving or lose touch with everyday South Carolinians.

The honor of my life was leading American soldiers in combat. Many times, I would tell Rangers in my command that you can be either comfortable or courageous in taking on challenges — you can’t be both. Let’s elect citizen legislators that are courageous when facing the problems of our state. Too much is at stake for us to continue to elect the same officials who will simply make the same mistakes and empower the same special interests. I look forward to bringing courageous leadership to Columbia to address these issues and help secure a brighter future for our children and their children.

Bobby Cox is a Republican candidate for S.C. House District 21. He is a Citadel graduate and a former Army Ranger with four combat deployments. He lives in Greer with his wife, Joscelyn, and two young children, Reagan and Seth.

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