HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - The man who has represented the 7th Congressional district for the past four years is up for re-election.
In his campaign commercial, Congressman Tom Rice says he's worked to gain investments for our ports, farmers, beaches, and highways as part of building American opportunities.
"My focus in Congress has been on American competitiveness," Rice said in an interview with WMBF's Kaitlin Stansell ahead of the polls opening Tuesday morning. "I believe if we just do a few things to make our country competitive then nobody can stop us. The only people stopping us are ourselves."
However, as a sophomore representative, it's challenging for him to get things done, even compared to other representatives in his same class.
According to GovTrack.us, and independent website that tracks the US Congress, Rice was ranked as the worst South Carolina representative in getting co-sponsors and the third worst U.S. House sophomore in the country.
The website says co-sponsors are an important part of getting support for a bill.
Tom Rice has sponsored 18 pieces of legislation, but none of those bills have gone past being introduced in the House, a body controlled by his party.
"We're in a divided government right now, where one party is in control of the Congress and the other party is in control of the White House. You don't expect for a whole lot to come out," Rice said. "It all comes down to relationships. People have to get to know you and trust you, plus most are based on seniority. The people who have been there the longest tend to be in control."
He wrote a bill that would help prevent what he calls frivolous lawsuits against infrastructure projects like International Drive or I-73. It has gotten more support than any of his authored legislation, 30 co-sponsors in all. However, not much has happened with it since it was introduced last December.
"I've done a lot of resolutions that would help the middle class, that would help our district, but in terms of getting co-sponsors, it's not something I've really been focused on," Rice said. "There's really not much opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to get together. It's certainly not a structured thing. It's really not even encouraged...if you're going to fix Social Security and Medicare, it doesn't matter which way you do it, you're going to make people mad. The likelihood of anything moving forward after you have proposed your solution and made everyone mad is almost nil."
However, there are 325 representatives who have been more willing than Rice to co-sponsor a bill introduced by the opposite party. With that said, he believes changes that could make a real difference come down to Republicans and Democrats working together, but that it all starts at the top.
"To solve these major problems you have to have a commander-in-chief who is willing to own it and work with Congress and build consensus in the American public to make these things happen," Rice said.
Rice's campaign ad says he's offered real solutions to get America working for everybody, so we asked him what he's done with his time in Congress to help those working in the agriculture industry, especially local farmers.
"Hurricane Joaquin, last year, a lot of the farmers in SC were just wiped out," Rice said. "In addition to the beach front money, I got some money to assist farmers."
Rice says he worked to secure $130 million in USDA funding for recovery relief, and an additional $156 million that was ultimately denied by Governor Nikki Haley.
"She decided she didn't want to take it," Rice said. "Then the state legislature stepped up. They offered their own money. Then the Governor vetoed that. Then they overrode her veto, but it could have been federal money that helped the farmers instead of state money."
Infrastructure and industry have topped Rice's main concerns as Congressman, and part of that has been securing a $9.7 million grant from the US Department of Transportation to upgrade railroad lines in Horry and Marion counties.
"From the Georgetown port to the beach front to the Carolina Southern Railroad to the Dillon inland port, that's a huge thing to finally getting the permit filed on I-73," Rice said. "I'm making progress on every front, and I'm excited about it. I wish I could snap my fingers and make it happen tomorrow, and I know it's frustratingly slow, but that's the system we're under today. But I will keep pushing and bring these things to fruition."
On the national level, Rice was able to get 119 Republicans to jump on board with his resolution that says the House can challenge the executive office, the president, on elements of the Affordable Care Act, immigration, and work requirements for social security.
"I've done more to stop the presidential overreach with that one resolution, that lawsuit brought by the House of Representatives and won, that prevents the administration from illegally subsidizing insurance companies," Rice said.
This resolution was introduced in the House and referred to House administration the same day.
Rice calls himself a reasonable conservative, and his highlights from votesmart.org confirm that.
- He's endorsed by the NRA
- Rated 100 percent by the Family Research Council
- He voted to stop the transfer of Guantanamo detainees
- He released a statement against the lifting of the transgender ban in the military
- Rated 100 percent by the Campaign for Working Families
- Rated 0 perent by the Planned Parenthood Action Fund
Looking forward, Rice says he hopes he is re-elected to continue his work on the Ways and Means Committee.
"It gives me the opportunity to work on tax policy, trade policy, other things that make our country more competitive," Rice said. "South Carolina is certainly one of the states that's doing the best job at competing within our country, so if I can help make our country be more competitive then South Carolina will do well."
When it comes to the presidential election, he says he stands behind his party's nominee.
"We need an outsider," Rice said. "There's too much arthritis in Washington. It needs to get broken loose, not just elected officials but also in the bureaucracy. When it takes 10 years to get a permit to build roads, that is ridiculous. We are strangling ourselves competitively, worldwide."
Also on the ballot Tuesday will be Democrat Mal Hyman. He is running his campaign on the slogan, "Common sense for the common good."
"I try to borrow the best ideas from Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Working Family Party," Hyman said. "Whatever is practical for the common man that makes common sense for the common good."
Hyman has been a teacher for the past 40 years, and he is currently teaching sociology and political science at Coker College.
He says he sees himself as an outsider.
He says he has not taken any corporate or banking money or money from the Democratic National Committee, so he can be free and independent to represent what the people of the 7th Congressional District want if he is elected.
When it comes to local issues, like I-73 for example, he says he is open-minded but skeptical about the project. He thinks there are other alternative highways that could be expanded or extended instead.
Like Rice, he believes real change comes down to Republicans and Democrats working together.
"I think we need to find new ways to reach across the aisle, to listen better, build consensus better, and recognize what we saw during President Reagan's era," Hyman said. "Civility and compromise were common sense and gridlock was seen as grand standing. So I would work across the aisle the best I could to get things done."
Hyman says he believes the biggest difference between him and Congressman Rice is his opposition to offshore drilling. However, in our interview, Rice said he has been opposed to offshore drilling, mostly because of the overwhelming outcry from coastal cities and towns along South Carolina shores that spoke out about the issue.