When Gov. Henry McMaster last week announced that Dominion Energy would buy SCANA, returning money to ratepayers lost during the state’s failed nuclear power project, he called a step in the “right direction.”
Democrat Phil Noble, a 66-year-old business and technology consultant from Greenville, scoffs at that notion.
“I think the Dominion deal is just same scam, different faces. I can sum up my position on utility reform in two sentences. ‘We want our money back, all of it, and people ought to go to jail.’ Everything else comes from that,” Noble, who is running for governor, said. “If any candidate, Democrat or Republican, says, ‘I’m serious about utility reform,’ ask them two questions: ‘Did you take their money, and did you give it back?’”
Noble, who is casting himself as a political outsider without deep ties to Columbia, offers equally blunt assessments about the state’s education system (“it sucks,” he said), ethics scandals and demographics.
An early adviser to President Barack Obama, Noble is founder of three statewide nonprofit initiatives and is a former fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
Now living in Charleston, Noble ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 1994 and fell short in a 2011 bid for chairman of the state Democratic Party.
But a recent poll has given Noble reason for optimism. A Jan. 4 Trafalgar Group survey gave Noble a 5 percentage point lead over state Rep. James Smith of Richland among likely voters in June’s primary election, 25.4 percent to 20.3 percent, with 33 percent undecided and another 20 percent preferring a third candidate.
The poll was conducted among 2,223 respondents from Nov. 29 through Dec. 30.
“It’s not me, it’s the message. And people in South Carolina today are not waking up and saying, ‘given all our problems, let’s elect another white guy from the legislature that’s been there 20 years and been a part of this problem,’” Noble said.
Noble refuses to accept any special interest group funding, calling political action committee support a “corrupting influence.”
“You listen to people who pay you, and if the PACs are the ones who are paying you, they’re the ones you’re going to listen to,” he said. “I have a distinct disadvantage in fundraising, but if you claim you want to be a leader, you’ve got to lead, and you’ve got to suffer the consequences and be willing to take the good with the bad.”
Noble, whose wife is from Laurens, also has a burial plot in McCormick County.
“There will be Nobles in that cemetery going back seven generations, so I understand this state, and I love this state, and I’m the first one to tell you, about a third of this state is just nuts,” he said. “A third of this state would vote to secede again if they knew we were going to lose again. I mean, that’s who we are. But this election is not so much about liberal versus conservative, it’s about change versus status quo, and people care far more about that now, today, than they ever have in this state’s history.”
Noble, whose nonprofits include World Class Scholars, an online global exchange program, credited local leaders with being on the front lines of progressive initiatives in the state.
One of the ventures he’s most impressed with is The Greenwood Promise.
“I talk about it not everywhere, but almost everywhere I go,” he said. “This isn’t statewide stuff. Local counties have figured out to solve and deal with their own local problems. It didn’t come from Columbia, it came from out here, and that’s who we need to listen to. We need to talk to folks in the counties, because they’re the ones who know they need to solve their problems.”
By Adam Benson