Who is State Representative Spencer Wetmore?
Let me tell you; I never thought I would be a politician, but I am a mom, lawyer, and wife. I got involved after Trump got elected, and I felt like if I wasn't going to step up, who was going to. I am mom and wife first, and your neighbor. The politician doesn't come naturally to me, but I am learning.
How have morals and values-led you in your leadership role as a State Representative?
It's one of those things like the saying, "It takes a lifetime to build up your integrity and a moment to destroy it." So for me, being a lawyer kind of informs that. Especially here in Charleston, there's such a code of conduct and standards with lawyers. We have so many ethical responsibilities that I think we're used to leading with civility and integrity that I just translated that practice into my political life. The most important part is making sure if you are just honest, you don't have to remember what you said. So I try to old fashioned golden rule it; however, I want people to treat me is how I do it.
How can we get South Carolinians to trust the system when we see videos like the slain shooting of Walter Scott or the recent news of Jamal Sutherland's case?
There's a lot to say about that. From my perspective, we did a round table after Mr. Sutherland's death, and his mother was there along with other people in the room. My thing was there are four buckets of changes that need to happen. One is, when existing policies are violated, that's what the legal system is for. When we have rules in place, and if anyone isn't following policy or the procedure. The second thing is making sure, and this is what I've called on our community leaders to do is work with Law Enforcement. Some of the policies don't necessarily rise to the level of State Law.
Some of these are just internal operating procedures about who you call or what the flow chart should be when you have a situation like this. Creating what's called a redundant system; in other words, the main person who helps with mentally ill inmates isn't their, whos your next level person of contact? The main way we get people to trust the system is to fix the system. So the second thing is what kind of internal changes are needed. From a legislator's perspective, I've always felt like there were two primary things we could do. One of those is the State Law and what legislative changes need to happen, where do we need to strengthen protections for inmates. We did pass on the House, it hasn't passed in the Senate yet, but we did pass a new Police Officer Training and Accountability Act. Just like Law Enforcement depends on the community to solve crimes, the community has to depend on a trustworthy relationship with Law Enforcement.
I've come from a background where I grew up very close with Law Enforcement, and I'll tell you, there is nothing that makes a Police Officers job harder than one of their own has broken the rules. They don't want to see it either. There's nothing that makes their job harder than not having the trust of the community. So from a legislator's position, I think that's the third bucket, and the fourth is funding. We've got to be funding all the way up from Juvenile Justice. We've got to have beds, mental health beds, which are called non evict beds. Right now, a lot of our mental health is contracted out, but we've got to have the ability and compacity to say, no, you can't evict someone when they still need mental health treatment. So that's a funding issue.
When an officer has worked seven-day shifts in a row, you're not going to make the best decisions. You wouldn't let a doctor do that, and that's important too. Reggie Burgess is the Chief of North Charleston, and I had the pleasure of working with him a lot when I was a prosecutor. He is such an amazing example of somebody who really builds, and he's from the community, and he grew up there. Now he works to build that trust with the community, and I think that's a great example of what we have to do to build back trust.
South Carolina has recently updated its Capital Punishment Law of execution by firing squad. As a former prosecutor, where do you stand, and why?
I'm actually opposed to the death penalty. I think when these heinous crimes happen, deterrence is not working. There is no amount of deterrence that stops something like that. If somebody is as deranged as some of these folks have to be to commit some of these heinous crimes. They're not thinking through, they're not like, what if I get the death penalty. I also believe just from like a sheer theory of punishment, as a state, were are not in the business of vigilante punishment. This isn't like an eye for an eye anymore, and we are past that. I voted against the bill mostly because I'm opposed to capital punishment.
If we're going to have the death penalty, once again, I voted against it, but the firing squad is probably more humane than the electric chair. Unfortunately, as much as it sounds barbaric, the chances of a botched firing squad execution are actually far lower than they are for the other means of capital punishment. From that perspective, I guess, even though it sounds awful, and it is. Again, I think the death penalty, in general, is the problem.
You've spoken about wanting to legalize medical marijuana in South Carolina. What are the benefits of wanting to pass this bill?
I signed up as a co-sponsor to the medical marijuana bill, which I think has the best chance politically in the South Carolina legislator. The medical piece of it will have huge benefits for ill patients with epilepsy, cancer, even anxiety. The Senate bill has a slightly different language in the House bill in terms of what would qualify. Medical marijuana aside, I think the overall legalization of marijuana is something that I think we are heading in that direction, to be honest with you, as a nation. It may not be in my tenor as a politician, but I think we will be able to see that in our lifetime.
Starting off on the Law Enforcement side, you're allowing Law Enforcement to focus on violent crimes. Of course, I think the biggest issue is that you've got a disproportion for how enforcement is towards White defendants verse African American defendants. We know that the statistics of who uses marijuana is about relative to the population. I think Statewide, it's like 30-40 percent African American, so when you see 60 percent of defendants and charges for that, that's a problem. That means we're disproportionally doing that. The most important impacts are for our family. These are families where a charge can keep you from getting a job, and it's a family that's not together. Were having problems with our workforce and problems getting enough workers. Well, how many of those workers have been disqualified from a ten-year-old marijuana conviction, right. Wiping those records clean will be huge for people's ability to get a job and employers' ability to make sure they have a large enough job pool to draw from.
What are some of your specific goals and actions in educating citizens on the topic of Climate Change?
I think it depends on the audience. There's a lot of different ways you can approach the issue of climate change. I think for a lot of young people we've learned this isn't right. For many people, the message of stewardship is important—especially someone from the Christian faith who has roots and understanding of your responsibility towards the earth. Talking about conservation from a beauty perspective, people love the Lowcountry because of the marsh. As we see sea levels rise as a result of global warming, then we are losing that marsh. We lose the habitat, the fish, shrimp, and oysters that are there. We lose the beautiful areas we have on the water. I think the main thing we got to do is consider the economics of it. What kind of jobs are we creating? How are we retraining people who may lose their jobs due to a shift from cold to green energy? We have to have a clear vision of how we're converting these jobs and retraining these people—investing in research and development that will employ people in these new industries.
Being in the political world, how do you determine truth?
You know id like to think I'm a good judge. Sometimes, I'm wrong but spending as much time as I did in Law Enforcement. Id like to think I'm a good judge of when somebody is true with themself and with me. For me, it's sort of whatever doesn't give me anxiety. I usually know I'm doing the right thing when I'm true to myself and my values when I feel good about it. Sometimes that's not always going to be so easy. Some issues aren't cut and dry, and I can see both sides. Sometimes, that can be really hard when there's not an easy answer or a clear truth, but you can feel it when there is one.
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