This profile of Carrie Counton, candidate for State House, is one of a series on Democratic candidates running for office who are not currently incumbents, designed to help voters understand who they are and what they stand for.
By Laura Haight
“Minimally Adequate” is just not good enough for Carrie Counton.
A Chicagoan by birth, Carrie is running for State House in District 19, hoping to unseat long-time incumbent Dwight Loftis. Loftis has represented the district for 22 years and has only faced a challenge once.
He may have to up his re-election game against Carrie.
She came to the Upstate in 1999, attended Lander College, and went on to a career in higher education. She is a student services coach at Strayer University in Greenville, where she works with students on everything from financial aid to graduation and transfer transcripts.
It’s not surprising then that one of Carrie’s most important issues is education.
“Most people, especially our politicians are OK with everything being ‘minimally adequate.’ Especially education. I want to change that,” she says.
Increasing teacher pay, auditing whether schools are getting their fair share of the lottery funds, and looking to states that have strong education outcomes like Minnesota, Illinois, California and Washington are among her strategies. “Clearly education is not a priority and we have to do something different,” Carrie says, noting that she regularly meets people of both parties who feel passionately about improving education. “They tell me ‘We need someone who’s going to fix this… someone who genuinely gets it.’”
It’s great, she says, that teachers are willing to put their own money into their classrooms, but “they shouldn’t have to do that.” The other thing they shouldn’t have to do is worry about guns in schools. Carrie sees Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s plans to allow states to use federal funds earmarked for educational enrichment to buy guns and arm teachers as “not a solution to anything.”
“We need to do more on security but arming the teachers is not the answer,” she says. What she does think makes sense is to tackle bullying and the “culture of violence” in our communities. “People can’t handle things,” she says, “and they think that guns are the way to solve their problems. That’s the bigger issue.”
Carrie is proud to have the endorsement of Planned Parenthood. “I have a huge problem with chipping away at abortion rights. For me, it’s across the board. Keep it safe and legal. It’s a medical procedure that should remain between a woman and her doctor.”
It’s also, in Carrie’s view, a huge part of the healthcare debate that South Carolina should be having including “the lack of prenatal care that women in South Carolina receive.”
“The fact that we’re so divided on that issue is why we don’t have excellent health care to begin with,” Carrie believes. “It’s why women aren’t very knowledgeable about access to birth control, and reproductive health. It’s never seemed like much of a priority here.
“If a woman is already struggling to support a family and put food on the table, she can’t afford to have it with the next one. And we’re not going to help her. We’re going to cover it up as a pro-life issue.”
This struggle of working families, also dovetails with wages. “You should never have the words working and poor in the same sentence together.” Carrie favors a $15 minimum wage but admits that it may be necessary to reach it in stages. Currently the state minimum wage is legislatively mandated to remain in lockstep with the federal government – currently $7.25 per hour. She admits encountering some resistance from small business owners who contend that increased wages will mean they’ll be unable to pay employees, but she believes higher wages will benefit businesses and the overall state economy across the board.
Carrie is one of an army of women running for office in the midterm elections. There are more than 300 vying for office this year; more than 75 percent are Democrats.
“It should always have been this way,” says Carrie, who cites Ruth Bader Ginsberg and suffragette Alice Paul as two of her heroes.
She draws a link between the “unequal representation of women” in state government and the fact that “… we are number one in violence against women in this state, and number 50 in education.”