Another 2020 Democratic presidential candidate was in Orangeburg Wednesday morning.
Wayne Messam, mayor of Miramar, Florida, visited the Common Grounds coffee shop.
In an interview with The Times and Democrat, Messam discussed his background and detailed the issues at the forefront of his campaign.
Messam shared the story of his parents, who are natives of Jamaica.
“Son of immigrants, my parents came here from Jamaica. My father was a contract sugar cane cutter for many years in South Florida,” Messam said. Messam said his parents “instilled in me the values of hard work, the opportunities in this country.”
“They came here searching for the American dream, and I’m living that American dream,” he said.
Prior to starting his political career, Messam attended Florida State University, where he played football and was a member of the Seminoles’ 1993 national championship team.
At the conclusion of his NFL career, Messam started a business with his wife.
“My wife and I started a construction-management business. I decided to run for public office, was elected to the city commission in 2011 and in 2016 I succeeded a 16-year incumbent to become the first black mayor of our city,” Messam said.
As the mayor of the 13th largest city in Florida, Messam said he has tackled local issues that mirror national ones, including gun laws and oil drilling, and bringing foreign industry to U.S. soil.
“When you factor in all of the pressing issues today that aren’t getting solutions from Washington, and with my track record in the City of Miramar, a very progressive, and diverse, and culturally diverse community, I want to be the champion of change for the American people,” Messam said.
Messam said his experience as mayor allows him to bring first-hand knowledge to those issues.
“I definitely would bring a unique perspective to these challenges. That’s why I’m working hard to earn my way to the debate stage. Being the mayor of a city, my responses to questions can be directly associated with the actions I’ve taken ... opposed to speaking from an ideological standpoint and a philosophical standpoint,” Messam said.
An issue at the forefront of his campaign is the student loan debt crisis.
“I’m the only Democratic candidate that has actually proposed a plan and talked about forgiving outstanding student loan debt,” Messam said.
“It’s crippling our economy. Four million Americans have this outstanding loan costing about $400 a month,” Messam said. “It’s not only impacting students who have to take on this debt, but it’s impacting parents, grandparents who also often times have to take out these loans to ensure that their children and grandchildren have an opportunity,” Messam said.
Messam is in favor of forgiving student debt.
“Not only do we want to forgive this debt, we see it as an economic development opportunity because our analysis shows that it will have anywhere from $80 billion to over $100 billion addition to the GDP in the first year,” Messam said.
“In the first few years, it’ll create 1 to 1-1/2 million jobs to the economy. Where it really hits home is that now puts a person in position to invest in their retirement, perhaps qualify for a mortgage to buy a home, to invest in a business,” he said.
Messam also addressed an issue that has a direct correlation to The T&D region: underfunding for historically black colleges and universities.
The T&D region is home to Claflin University, South Carolina State University, Voorhees College and Denmark Technical College, all of which are HBCUs.
Messam criticized the Trump administration for depleting certain funding available for students, including Pell Grant dollars available to students needing financial assistance to pursue higher education.
"The reason why I think a significant emphasis should be given to HBCUs is because HBCUs have proven since their founding that they are a haven to educate, and train and prepare black students, as well as any student that attends those universities,” he said.
Messam is also tackling the issue of attracting foreign industry to the U.S., especially in rural areas.
The presidential candidate said businesses will be interested in locating to rural areas if those areas have “an opportunity to be able to add value to any corporation.”
The abundance of land and the human capital are attractive to foreign industries, Messam said.
“You have to have a skilled workforce, or the potential to attract a skilled workforce to that area. That’s why I think it’s so important to invest in our education system, into our infrastructure, as well as developing young people to ensure that they have certifications and skill sets that will be ready to be a part of the jobs that are created,” Messam said.
Messam said he is visiting South Carolina because he believes his message is directly linked to the state.
“Obviously South Carolina is a very important state being one of the early primary states. I think that my message and the issues I’m pushing for resonate with the state of South Carolina, particularly the Orangeburg community,” Messam said.
“What was really important is people in South Carolina deserve a champion who’s going to fight for their ability to achieve the American dream,” he said.
“The promise of this country is for all of us,” he said.