A conversation with Rep. Chandra Dillard

Judi Buckley, DWGC member, former Senator in Guam,  and 2018 State House candidate, interviewed District 23 Rep. Chandra Dillard for the DWGC’s new “Interview Series”.” Below are the highlights of their conversation, which was conducted by telephone.

JB: I know you work for Furman in addition to being a State House Rep for District 23, so what has your isolation time looked like? Pick up any hobbies or finish any projects?

CD: Furman staff has been working remotely since March 16 (“D Day”, when life changed) so my days have included Zoom field staff meetings, calls, emails, etc. I am the community relations director, so am doing the best I can at home. “D Day” for the State House began March 11, so no hobbies or good reading for me because I have been very busy working. One project I have gotten to tackle, though, is cleaning out my grandmother’s house with my mom; she passed away in 2008 and my schedule hasn’t afforded us the time to do it before now. We’ve been going through photos, letters, memories, and cleaning. Back then, folks wrote real letters to each other and she kept ones she and my grandfather had written in the ‘30s and ‘40s; I learned a lot about what their lives were like back then and found it so interesting! That has truly been a joy for us.

JB: With Stay-at-Home orders in place beginning in April, how did that affect your ability to remain engaged with your colleagues in Columbia? Did you all hold any virtual meetings to keep doing the peoples’ business, or were you all at a standstill?

CD: It has been a collection of conference calls with local agencies, Senators Graham and Scott trying to unpack the CARES Act, calls with Prisma Health and Bon Secours St Francis to talk about their COVID relief activities, hospital capacity, etc. We’ve had Zoom meetings with the House Democratic Caucus every Tuesday as we always did in person. On those calls we share information that we have learned in our local communities. Our leader, Rep Rutherford, is on calls with the House Speaker so he shares that info with us.

Constituent work never ends! Easter weekend I got out and (carefully) dropped off some goodies to seniors, which gave me a way to eyeball them and make sure they’re OK; I’ve also stayed in touch via phone. March 9 was budget week. We didn’t know it was the last time we would see each other in Columbia for a long while. A two-week furlough turned into this extended stay at home. We went back on April 14 for a short time to pass a continuing resolution which allows state government to function past the July 1 fiscal year start since the 2020-2021 budget wasn’t finished. Initially the Senate didn’t pass it, but they did later. We were supposed to pass Sine Die (which adjourns the session until the next year), but that didn’t pass so we went back on May 12 revise the continuing resolution to include COVID 19 issues. In the Sine Die we included language that would allow us to return as needed, since there are so many moving and fluid parts right now. Senate passed it as well.

JB: COVID 19 cases continue to rise in SC, and according to the experts they’ll continue to as long as we keep relaxing protocols. We have a lot of uninsured residents; do you know if there have been any efforts to expand Medicaid so more people are covered?

CD: We haven’t explored Medicaid expansion because it doesn’t have the support from the Republican side. It has been raised by the Democrats, and reporter Nigel Robertson mentioned it recently to the governor in an interview and (Gov. Henry) McMaster tiptoed around it. There’s no desire by the GOP leadership to do it. I think they see it as an “Obama” thing and would rather die on that sword than admit we need it. Testing and treatment are being provided at no charge if someone is uninsured, and that is being funded by the state and federal government. Thanks to the CARES Act that was recently passed, our two main Greenville hospitals are getting some desperately needed funding.

JB: There’s growing concern about the upcoming general election in November, and the safety of in-person voting.  I know the House recently passed a bill to allow all registered voters to be able to request an absentee ballot for the upcoming primaries on June 9. Is there any talk of extending that to the November election?

CD: In session last week we talked about that. Democrats wanted to go ahead and provide for absentee voting in November, but the Republicans want to take a more “wait-and-see” approach. They want to do one thing at a time and take the issue up later if needed, based on the future landscape. The effort to get the June primary done was bi-partisan because both sides have primaries.

JB: We’re in a Census year, which means the Legislature will work on redistricting. Historically, this is when gerrymandering occurs on both sides of the aisle. Are there any efforts to stop this and form an independent, non-partisan group to do the redistricting?

CD: We must get peoples’ attention regarding the Census; there hasn’t been adequate focus placed on it and we need the funding. Once it’s done, they will do redistricting in the next legislative session. Yes, we’ve had talks about forming an independent commission. Rep Laurie Funderburk (D) from Camden has a bill to address this; she filed it two years ago and refiled it this session, but it hasn’t gone anywhere. Only two Republicans supported it and we will need more support before this can pass. And because the Voting Rights Act was gutted a few years ago, states can basically do what they want with redistricting because the DOJ (Department of Justice) no longer must approve the new maps we draw.

JB: Two “hot button” bills that have been swimming around the Legislature for years are the Personhood bill and Constitutional Carry bill. Can you tell our readers where each of those stand as of right now?

CD: They’re both dead in the water.

JB: What parting words would you like to leave us with?

CD: I want the readers to know that the job of a legislator is so much more than setting policy; it’s not an all-or-nothing job, and we need people to be engaged in the process. During this pandemic I’ve been reminded of this more than ever because I’ve been able to utilize my “bully pulpit” and leverage relationships in ways that have affected positive change in our community, and I’m really proud of that. And lastly, I would like to remind everyone that I am running for the DNC Committee Chair, and that delegates need to make sure they register to vote!

If you have any questions or concerns, you can contact Chandra at 864-915-1276 or at chandra@chandradillard.com.

Note: Although the deadline to submit your Census form online was April 1, according to the Census Bureau’s website, you have until anywhere between May 27 and August 14 before census takers will conduct home interviews for those who haven’t responded. It isn’t yet clear how the coronavirus outbreak will affect in-person census taking.

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