Tom Ervin, an Erskine College alumnus and a candidate for governor of South Carolina, addressed the Erskine community Thursday.
“I want to challenge you to get involved,” he told the assembled students. “You are the leaders of the future.”
Ervin, a native of Honea Path who graduated cum laude from Erskine College with a degree in history in 1974, was the featured speaker for Erskine’s Constitution Day convocation.
A 1977 graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Law, he was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1979 and re-elected in 1981.
He said his time as a history major at Erskine “led me to a greater appreciation of the United States Constitution” and contributed to his decision to enter public service.
Ervin recalled working without pay for his cousin, Sen. Sam Ervin of North Carolina, who famously served as chairman of the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, popularly known as the Watergate committee. It was an experience that impressed upon him the importance of the separation of the legislative, executive, and judicial powers of government.
“As we celebrate Constitution Day, let’s reflect on the importance of our state and federal constitution,” he said.
Alluding to Article 10 of the United States Constitution, which delegates to the states powers not explicitly granted to the federal government, he said South Carolina’s state constitution “builds on the foundation of liberty set forth in our national constitution” and guarantees the right to a public education.
South Carolina’s constitution, one of the oldest in the country, “was a marvel at the time” for its guarantee of education and “to this day it is unique in the world,” in Ervin’s view. Over time, the state of South Carolina has delivered on its promise of public education, but more can be done, Ervin believes.
He referred to Abbeville County School District et al. v. State of South Carolina, a case in which the Abbeville school district was joined by a number of other school districts in South Carolina in asserting that the constitutional guarantee of a “minimally adequate” public education was not being met by the state.
The Supreme Court of South Carolina has not yet defined the state’s constitutional duty “when it comes to providing our children with a ‘minimally adequate’ public education,” Ervin said.
South Carolina’s founders “were progressive thinkers,” Ervin said, incorporating a constitutional right to a public education, but today’s progressives “believe education is best decided at the federal level.” His own view is that “government is at its best when it is close to the people.”
Regarding the proposed nationwide Common Core standards for example, Ervin believes the State Board of Education, with the help of the South Carolina Oversight Committee on Education, should be allowed to draft educational standards for South Carolina. “We should rely on Article 10 as our defense against the federal overreach of Common Core when it comes to education standards.”
Ervin took questions from his audience following his remarks, and answered reporters’ questions after that, asserting his belief that tuition at public universities should be locked in for four years for entering freshmen and explaining other elements of his campaign platform.
Ervin served as editor of Erskine’s student newspaper, the Mirror, and interned in the college public relations office for longtime director Richard Haldeman. His work with Haldeman, along with writing editorials for the Mirror, helped him to hone his writing skills, he said. This served him well when he later became the youngest Circuit Court judge ever to be elected in South Carolina.
Speaking as an Erskine alumnus, Ervin noted that “there’s a place for large state institutions,” but said Erskine College offered a focus on the Christian faith.
“You’re in a special place,” he told students.