We continue our series of interviews with candidates on the June 28th runoff ballot with the young man who finished atop a five-candidate field in the Democratic primary for Sumter County Council District 1.
Chris Sumpter, the Crestwood High School graduate and former USC Sumter student body president, received 39 percent of the vote in the first round of balloting and will face Caleb Mack Kershaw Jr. in the next round. Without any Republican opposition to face in the November general election, next Tuesday’s victor is all but guaranteed to replace outgoing incumbent Naomi Sanders on the council board.
The following is a brief interview between the Sumter Citizen and Sumpter. Like our previous interview with Sumter County Coroner candidate Robbie Baker, his responses to questions are posted without interpretation. (Note: An invitation to conduct a similar interview has been extended to his opponent, as well.)
Sumter Citizen: I’ll admit, I’ve already asked this of another candidate, but I’m intrigued: what was Tuesday night like for you?
Chris Sumpter: Tuesday night was an incredible night, to realize that I had the support of the citizens in Sumter County Council District 1 that yielded 486 votes. It was absolutely amazing to realize I had that support, and I’m just looking forward to have the opportunity to be able to serve the area. Like I said, the night was just incredible to have found that out.
SC: Campaigns are often marathons, but a runoff is a sprint.
CS: That’s right.
SC: What do you need to do over the next week-and-a-half to insure that, when it’s a race between two people, that you come out on top?
CS: Over the next week-and-a-half it’s very essential that I get out and meet with my supporters to get them to get back out to vote the 28th. More than that, I’m going to make sure I do that, but I’m also going to reach out to my opponents that did not make it to the runoff, and also look to get their support, as well.
SC: Fair enough. I apologize for asking this question, but how old are you?
SC: You’re a relatively young man, but at the same time, if you look at your resume, it’s pretty clear you’ve been gearing yourself for the political world, if not for elected office. That being said, what made you choose running for county council?
CS: I chose to run for county council in Fall 2015.
SC: But what made you choose that race?
CS: I made that decision based on the fact of the matter that I feel like I’m able to serve the citizens on a local level, and be much more effective on county council than I can in any other capacity at this time.
SC: What do you think are the major issues facing District 1, and how do those differ from the rest of the county?
CS: There are a significant amount of issues that District 1 faces, but if I had to talk about one or two that are a greater priority for me, I would talk about the ones that I have been campaigning on: accessibility and awareness. We talk about having different programs and bigger community centers, playgrounds, and different resources for the area. The fact of the matter is, a lot of these resources are already available. It’s just unfortunate that District 1 has not been aware of these resources where they could utilize them to the best of their advantage. When I talk in terms of accessibility, the citizens, they want to see things. Of course, we’re not able to correct every single citizen’s want. But the fact of the matter is, if you can sit down, and talk to them about the issues, and come to a compromise, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, rich or poor, that’s what the citizens want. And those are going to be the central things that lead to bigger things that will benefit all the citizens of District 1 and all of Sumter County.
SC: Taking Sumter County as a whole then, what do think is the biggest issue facing the county that you’ll be facing when you serve on the board, if you’re elected?
CS: One of the key issues that I saw when speaking with folks when I’m out on the campaign trail is finances. We’re all paying into a pie, and we’re not all getting a fair share of the pie. And that’s a big problem. We’re paying taxes, and, sure enough, if you d purchase a product, you’re going to pay sales tax on it. Further, beyond that, if you’re a property owner, you’re going to be paying taxes on that property. So, what’s happening folks in the entire county is, folks are paying into this pie and they’re not getting their fair share.
SC: Now, are you talking about, is that an issue within the county, or are you talking about taxes that are being paid to the state and then being returned to Sumter?
CS: Being returned to Sumter. And folks are having a big issue with that. What it leads to is, when we talk about infrastructure and things of that nature on the county level, folks want to see that and they want to see things get done within a timely manner, and when they don’t see that, they have an issue. They’re like, “Hey, where are our tax dollars going?” And I think it all boils down to accountability. Not necessarily accountability in the sense of whoever that elected official is and what they’re doing and what they’re not doing, but accountability for the tax dollars being accounted for and put to great use.
SC: So, do you see your role, if elected to Sumter County Council, of one that needs to turn around and be lobbying the State House on behalf of Sumter County, and if so, is that where you’re leaning toward your experience of working in the State House?
CS: That’s exactly it. You hit it dead on the head. I believe at with my current contacts in Columbia and the State House, I’ll be able to lobby to make sure that our county and local government is fully funded. We can only go for so long with our local government not being fully funded and relying on millage increases.
SC: Part of your campaign materials, on e of the things you talked about when addressing transparency, you mentioned specifically trying to minimize executive sessions with Sumter County Council. Was there a specific issue that led you to want to focus on this, or is this just a broad goal that you have?
CS: It’s not a specific issue. It’s a broad goal that I’d like to see accomplished, and I came up with that idea after speaking with citizens across the county. I heard enough people say there’s not enough transparency, there’s too many back room meetings. I just got to thinking, what can we do to reduce that? Let’s be more transparent so folks that voted you in can know what’s going on, they know how you’re voting. They know what your ayes or nays are going to be for, and moreover, let’s do more of it publicly. We don’t need to go into executive session when these folks are sending you up there to represent them. It becomes a big issue.
SC: Do you think Sumter County Council spends too much time in executive session?
CS: I would say so. There have been instances, not to mention anything specifically, here I’ve conversed with folks in my district, and they’ve pointed that out.
SC: Looking at your campaign site, you’ve talked about working on the family farm, you’ve talked about working in the State House. You’ve talked about leading student government when you were in college. What’s the one experience you’re going to be drawing on in serving the people if you are elected?
CS: I think the one big experience I have that I’m going to draw on when serving the people is that I’m a businessman. At the end of the day, I understand what the average business needs. Having ownership of a farm, I realized real quick that money is real tight, and a lot of times you have to sacrifice, and that’s something that’s missing from our political spectrum. Folks get elected, and they don’t realize what the average business goes through. With my experience of being a farmer, I know on hand what it means if labor can’t get paid. In fact, there’s times when you own a farm, you don’t get paid, but everybody else that’s working for you, they do.