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People Empowering People – Meet Tom Swatzel

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Welcome to our first installation of the weekly series of People Empowering People. As you have read over the past few months, our misssion is Empowering YOU, our community of readers and leaders. We will be interviewing the movers and shakers across our area and asking them questions of what motivates them to take the first steps out of their comfort zone and into being an advocate for the issues they hold most important.

“People Empowering People” interviews will not only be focused on the big players who have the time, temperament and  means to participate, such as running for public office, but we will also be featuring important community members who have stepped up to fulfill the needs that government cannot or will not fill.

Today, it is our pleasure to introduce you to limited government advocate Tom Swatzel. I met Tom while attending our Empowered Conference on January 19th. He was manning a table for, a group aggressively advocating the sale of state-owned Santee Cooper, urging citizens to help take it out of the hands of the government by insistig the legislature sell it to an investor owned utility. On the table were flyers and information showing the high cost the average residential customer will pay on the huge debt caused by Santee Cooper’s failed VC Summer nuclear project.

The V.C. Summer nuclear expansion project began as a joint effort between V.C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station owners,  Santee Cooper and SCANA,  adding two reactors (Units 2 and 3) to the South Carolina plant. The decade long,  $9 billion expansion suffered delay after delay and additional cost overruns until the effort was abandoned in July 2017. Having read and reviewed this issue over the past few months, it is imperative that we as citizens who pay these extreme rates, some of the highest rates in the country, contact our local legislators and speak loudly that we no longer can or will endorse their extreme waste of our hard-earned dollars. The below illustration and facts  presented by shows the debt assumed by the residents of South Carolina.

  • 540 Million plus is the amount Santee Cooper customers have paid in rate increases through 2017.
  • $644 Average amount each Santee Cooper customer has paid for VC Summer through increased rates.
  • $7,390 amount each Santee Cooper residential customer has left to pay.

There is a widely held and proven ideal that government has no business owning a business like Santee Cooper. Research and investigations have found that the Santee Cooper board, controlled by state legislators, has made some terrible decisions, including the two failed VC Summer power plant construction projects, with little accountability.

Tom Swatzel has decades of experience in advocacy, public service and empowerment to our communities and state. Upon researching for this interview, I was awed by his achievements. Tom is former CEO of a business familiar to many Horry locals, Captain Dick’s Marina in Murrells Inlet. Among his political achievements, in 1994 he was elected the first Republican on the Georgetown County Council. From there Tom reached higher and delved deeper into how he could make a difference by joining boards and creating and founding conservative coalitions from education to environmental issues. From the early 1980’s on, Tom Swatzel has been on the move.

While interviewing Tom I thought it important to ask more personal questions of what ideals have moved him from being a private citizen to the empowered mover and shaker he is today:

#1. I’ve seen since you were young you were involved in business and then in government. What inspired and then empowered you to attempt the feats you’ve achieved? Were you raised in an atmosphere which gave rise to your interests of political advocacy, or did you see some injustices in society which you felt you could change?

Swatzel: Like many people, I didn’t get involved in public policy issues or politics until it had a direct impact on me and my business. In the end, it was a combination of excessive regulations and proposed tax increases that led me to first become involved in state-wide issue advocacy and to successfully run for County Council.

#2. What lead you to care for many of the other issues you have been able to advocate for?

Swatzel: As a founder and chairman of the South Carolinians for Responsible Government, I felt that it was important to fight for limited government and more freedom, particularly for school choice. Likewise, the needed sale of Santee Cooper is really a limited government issue. State government has done a very poor job of running debt-ridden Santee Cooper and should not be in the utility business.

#3. What are your ideas as to what the function of state and local government are?

Swatzel: I believe state government should be limited to essential services, which does not include owning an electric utility business, where the service can be delivered better and more cheaply by an investor-owned utility.

#4. Will you continue to advocate to give more power to the people as you are doing with Santee Cooper?

Swatzel: I like to remind people that they are empowered to make changes. One of the Leadership Institute’s Laws of the Public Policy Process is “In politics, nothing moves unless it’s pushed.” Citizens have the power to change public policy, like the ownership of Santee Cooper, but they have got to take a stand and push by speaking out to their legislators.

#5. What has been the largest personal challenge you have faced to accomplish a goal?

SwatzeI: I was the first Republican ever elected to the Georgetown County Council. It was a daunting task to win an election against a three-term incumbent. I spent three months of doing almost nothing but personally contacting voters on the phone or door to door asking for their votes.

#6. What was the largest defeat or setback you have experienced in your work and how did you overcome that?

Swatzel: In 1989, our business and home were essentially wiped out by Hurricane Hugo. We faced a long and very trying recovery. It took a lot of prayer and persistence to make it through that difficult time.

#7. What advice would you give to the new person who is concerned with the issues? How would you motivate them to get involved? How do YOU empower other people?

Swatzel: I believe in the saying “Knowledge is Power.” Learn about your elected officials and the political parties. Get involved by attending political party meetings, particularly the upcoming precinct meetings that will reorganize the party. Carefully study the public policy issues that you’re passionate about so you know the details and are able to make effective arguments for them. Knowledge and determination will empower you to make changes.

Thank you, Tom Swatzel, for taking the time and effort to speak openly and honestly and being willing to share your vast experience and wisdom. Hopefully you will continue to move forward and inspire and empower more citizens in the future.

See what Santee Coopers largest customer has to say about the issues here:

You can also read more and get involved with more state issues here:

Join me next week as I interview a local who became Empowered and Empower others simply by speaking up on an issue many ignored.



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