Tariff-induced layoffs cause Governor, challenger to trade punches

Tariff-induced layoffs cause Governor, challenger to trade punches

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, SC (WIS) - In Winnsboro, in the shadow of a Walmart that closed more than two years ago, the Democratic nominee for governor went on the attack.

"I believe that Henry can't find Fairfield County on a map," Rep. James Smith said.

As the town braces for impact yet again - as yet another business prepares to close - Smith placed some of the blame on his opponent, Governor Henry McMaster.

"Your governor has said nothing," he said to the crowd of about a dozen supporters. "Your governor has done nothing."

He's referring to a TV manufacturer in Winnsboro, Element Electronics. Monday, in a letter to the Department of Employment and Workforce, it announced it'll soon close its doors and layoff 126 full-time employees because of new, unexpected tariffs on parts imported from China to assemble to TVs at its Winnsboro plant.

In his news conference, Smith argued McMaster is too beholden to President Donald Trump to speak out about the pain the tariffs are causing South Carolina.

"We have a governor that's chosen not to fight—chosen that he apparently cares more about his friendship with the President than the people in Fairfield County and their jobs," Smith said.

However, McMaster's campaign pointed out that the governor has used his influence against the tariffs, away from TV cameras, mainly behind the scenes, including private conversations back in June with both President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence about the impact of tariffs on South Carolina.

"This office—as well as others—we are doing every single thing that we can do," the governor said Wednesday afternoon.

A campaign spokesperson, Caroline Anderegg, was more aggressive.

"James Smith apparently knows as little about the governor's actions on trade issues as he does about ballot access laws in South Carolina," she wrote in a statement. "While James is trying to get elected on the backs of workers who just found out they may be laid off, Governor McMaster has repeatedly communicated his concerns about the impact of new tariffs on South Carolina to the Administration, including directly and in person to both the president and the vice president."

As politicians squabble, and as tariffs put the greater Winnsboro community in the crosshairs, the superintendent of the Fairfield County School District prepares for the painful impact.

"Well, quite honestly, I was just flabbergasted," said Dr. J.R. Green.

Dr. Green said what makes the bitter reality so painful is that the TV plant employees mostly locals and the company is perhaps the area's best, most generous corporate citizen.

"They have made donations to virtually every facility that we have," he said.

He added that Element recently donated $30,000 to send students to Carnegie Hall for a performance. A video on YouTube shows the company recently gave each employee a free TV to donate to a local business, first responder, or community group.

Senator Mike Fanning (D-Fairfield) said that the community's spirit is the reason why he hopes politics won't divide Fairfield County. Wednesday evening, Fanning, who's a Democrat, defended the governor and said McMaster has been very instrumental in fighting layoffs in Fairfield County. Fanning said he's a huge fan of Smith but said he's a bit upset that Smith is using the layoffs to play politics when "the body's not even cold yet."

Fanning hopes the layoffs can be avoided. He's pushing any leader who will listen, Democrat or Republican, to pursue an exemption from the tariff on parts used to manufacture products in America.

Copyright 2018 WIS. All rights reserved.