By Greg Oliver

The Journal

COLUMBIA — A majority of local legislators said Wednesday they feel Gov. Henry McMaster should be allowed to reopen the state’s economy, which he shut down more than six weeks ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as he sees fit.

Anderson Mall employee Kendall Ballew cleans the doors before the mall opened to limited business after South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster eased restrictions due to coronavirus on Friday. (Associated Press)

“I think the fact he’s opened up additional businesses and the boating ramps and things is headed in the right direction,” state Sen. Thomas Alexander of Walhalla said. “We obviously want to see as much normalcy as possible, but there has to be a balance.”

On Wednesday, a group of South Carolina representatives sent a letter to Speaker of the House Jay Lucas requesting that the South Carolina House of Representatives convene for the purpose of ending the governor’s executive orders and allowing businesses to reopen. One of the legislators, state Rep. Jonathan Hill, said the COVID-19 pandemic has been traded “for an unemployment pandemic.”

State Rep. Davey Hiott of Pickens agrees the time has come to reopen the economy. When asked whether he has heard that talk among his constituents, Hiott replied, “They’ve quit talking — now they’re hollering.”

“I think we’ve done our part,” Hiott said. “Let’s go — let’s open up.”

While the South Carolina House of Representatives can only reconvene at the speaker’s request, Hiott said he doesn’t feel that is necessary, adding, “we’re going back pretty soon anyway.” The Pickens representative said he has been in constant contact with House leadership and the governor’s office.

“I believe the governor is hearing it from all parts of the state that we’re ready to reopen,” he said.

State Rep. Bill Sandifer of Seneca said he supported the systematic manner in which McMaster closed various business sectors in the economy, adding it was a “step-by-step, thought-out process.” Sandifer said he sees the same thing with the governor’s approach to reopening the economy.

“I’ve looked at a lot of the data, and we continue to have increasing numbers of infected people and rising numbers of deaths,” he said. “I support the idea until I see a decline, especially over several days or weeks. So, it would be inappropriate to open back up before that.

“I’m in agreement this is harmful for business, there’s no doubt about it. But we have to weigh human life against business goods. If done incorrectly, we’re going to cost people’s lives and, quite frankly, I don’t want that on my hands.”

State Rep. Gary Clary of Clemson said the issue has to be dealt with with the information available.

“The governor is trying to gather as much information as he can from the business community, from the medical community, from the research institutions, so we can properly reopen South Carolina and do it in a logical way,” Clary said. “I think he certainly wants to reopen the state, just like I do. But it’s got to be so that we do it in a manner in which everybody’s protected.”

State Rep. Bill Whitmire of Walhalla said he trusts the governor to do the right thing.

“He’s going to do what’s best for the people of this state and try to keep them as safe as possible,” Whitmire said. “If you just threw everything open right now, there’s no telling where this pandemic would go — we may have five times more people come down with it than we do now. Hopefully, we’ll get through it as soon as possible.”

But State Sen. Rex Rice of Easley said he’s of the opinion “the legislature needs to reconvene and get the economy up and running.”

“I understand the concerns and feel that people have become accustomed to practicing the safety measures, such as social distancing and not shaking hands, but we need to get South Carolina opened up as soon as we can and let the people go about the people’s business,” Rice said.

Rice said he has expressed concern to leadership and added that “there’s others in there that feel the same way.” He said people can speculate about the impact from whatever position they take on the matter.

“If they open up the economy and it gets worse, people will say ‘I told you so,’ but if we don’t open it, there will be the same thing,” he said. “There comes a point in time where you have to take some risk.”

Alexander said he feels McMaster’s Accelerate SC initiative aimed at restarting the state’s economy, which the governor has already said he expects to be “humming by June,” is a positive sign that things are improving.

“Getting the different sectors of the economy involved in trying to determine the best way is very critical moving forward and another sign the governor is continuing to move forward in reopening the economy and businesses,” Alexander said.

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