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A state senate candidate and three candidates for a redrawn Beaufort County Board of Education seat made their case before voters Thursday night at the first candidate forum hosted by a recently revived chapter of the NAACP.
Leilani Bessinger, a Republican who is vying to unseat incumbent Sen. Clementa Pinckney, D-Ridgeland, in District 45, and Michael Rivers, Bernie Schein and Fred Washington, Jr., who are running for the school board's District 3 seat, answered questions for nearly two hours before a crowd of about 25 people at the Beaufort Boys & Girls Club.
Pinckney did not attend the forum, which was hosted by The Burton-Dale-Beaufort Branch of the NAACP.
Much of the event was dedicated to the local school board race, in which incumbents former colleagues Washington and Rivers are pitted against one another.
Washington, the school board's current chairman, was drawn into a district represented by the Rivers when district lines were redrawn following the 2010 Census.
Rivers said several times that he was best equipped to represent the district, which covers most of St. Helena Island.
"This should not be about selling out your people and your community and only finding your community when you're looking to be elected," Rivers said. "We need someone who can relate to our children and where they're from and who can understand their concerns."
Washington said the district was redrawn "unfairly" but believes he still is best suited for the job.
"You have a choice," Washington said. "You have a choice of who you think will better serve our children, and I put my record on the line. I work for all the people. I want every student to have the same opportunity to succeed no matter where they live."
The candidates were quizzed on a variety of topics including the ongoing search for a new superintendent, state funding and their own political platforms.
During that period, Schein repeatedly slammed standardized testing he said unfairly labels some local schools, particularly St. Helena Elementary, as underperforming and also hurts students.
"Those tests flat out don't tell you a child's achievements," Schein said. "The only way to tell how a child is doing is to look at his work. The biggest mistake we can make is to let people think that if you have a child that has a below average score on a test that he's not up to snuff. It's just not true."
The seat is one of eight on the school board up for grabs Nov. 6.
With no opponent to debate or counter, Bessinger mostly stuck to talking points about economic growth and job creation but also pushed for term limits for state legislators and a shorter legislative session
"We have the longest legislative session in the country," Bessinger said. "We should be going to Columbia, taking care of business and going home. The longer they're in session, the more of our money they are spending, and that's money that could be put back into our communities."
Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/ProtectServeBft