SPARTANBURG, SC (WSPA) — Candidate for SC House Chris Salley (D) is hoping his background in finance and experience with nonprofits will make him the ideal leader for the voters of District 7.

The following interview was edited for clarity and brevity.

The candidate

I was born and raised in this district. I graduated from District 7 schools and was top of my class at Belton-Honea Path High School in Anderson County. I was even baptized at a church in the district.

I went on to study finance economics at New York University. I then began a career in finance. After I completed my analyst stint, I realized it wasn’t enough; it wasn’t giving me that fulfillment that I was seeking. So I decided to pivot towards getting involved in my community. And so I transitioned my finance skills into fundraising.

I started fundraising for a youth development nonprofit. Then I started working with a group called Catch A Fire, which makes sure nonprofits have skilled volunteers all across the country.

After Covid-19 hit the county, I was working in New York and recognized that I wanted to be home. Since then, I’ve been working with the Young Democrats and a few community organizations focused on climate change; really just getting out and getting involved in my community so that I can be the change I want to see.

With a background in finance, how did you decide to get involved in public service?

I would say it really started with my dad. And so my dad introduced me to politics at a very early age, and he let me know the impact that it has on our lives every day.

I think the reason I chose finance was that I was in high school during the 2008 financial crisis. And so I looked at the news and I was like, I’m not fully understanding what’s going on here, but I see it’s having this massive impact on people’s lives. How do I understand it more?

It made me start to identify the common threads that really do impact every individual. And so I really wanted to take that knowledge and bring it to a sphere where I could do some good with it.

That’s how I started bridging that connection. And I’ve been able to do fundraising through nonprofits and community-based organizations. But I also have a finance and economics background to connect to issues like inflation.

What changes would you like to see in District 7?

I think for me that begins with making sure everybody has access to high-speed broadband internet. As somebody who works from home, and who has seen the impact that remote working has had on my own career, I want to make that available to everybody in District 7.

One of the few topical issues that have been facing South Carolinians has been this roiling debate around banning abortion.

For me, medical freedom for women is imperative. It impacts us all in a number of different ways, and so that is one of those cornerstone issues that I want to make sure that people know where I stand on.

Can you describe your leadership style?

I think it all rests on servant leadership. And so for me, yes, we have a platform, but at the end of the day, I think it really boils down to approaching this office to make sure I’m listening to the community

OK, how do I organize the office so that I have regular feedback from the community? Whether you agree or not, I want to make sure that I can speak for the individuals in District 7 and you can’t do that if you’re not listening.

And right now we’re seeing that current leaders aren’t listening, but I believe that can change.

Once elected, what would that look like?

Regular town halls. I think one of the things we’ve been able to see is that you have to meet people where they are. For me, this would be to go out into the different communities to actively seek input on what’s going on.

At the end of the day, you shouldn’t need to call your state representative. Your state representative should also call you.

What are your thoughts on gun control?

So I think it needs to be nuanced, to be completely honest. And I say that coming from a family of gun owners, I mean, my grandfather taught me how to shoot when I was young. I’ve gone hunting. It’s part of the culture here in South Carolina.

However, I also believe parents should be able to send their kids to school without worrying about them getting hurt. And I say this from personal experience. My mom is a teacher. My little sister just graduated from high school. And so I just remember that feeling of every time I hear about a gun incident in a school, I’m thinking of my mom, who is a teacher in District 7.

I think it really comes down to looking at those common sense gun reform measures and being like, “OK, this is not an infringement on our Second Amendment rights,” but at the same time, this can help protect our youth. This can help protect those who put themselves in harm’s way on a day-to-day basis for the betterment of our community.

Expanded background checks when it comes to strengthening and closing that boyfriend loophole . . . things along those lines where like, “OK, this is somebody who has been identified, whether by a professional, a law enforcement professional or a mental health professional, as someone who should likely not have a gun.”

What changes in education would you like to see?

I think it boils down to making sure all schools across the state have equitable resources. District 7 is somewhat remote, but at the same time, I am a product of the schools.

As I was going through the education system, I always felt like I was at a disadvantage from schools in Greenville, Columbia, and Charleston. For things like AP classes, I only had access to two, whereas other schools less than 30 minutes away had access to a full course load.

That made me worry is like, “Oh, like am I still getting that same quality of education?”

I don’t want that to be on anybody’s mind going forward.

For me, that really comes back to how are we making sure we’re investing in all of our schools, including the ones in rural areas.

We’re also facing a teacher shortage. We can’t have an education system if no one is there to actually educate.

I think it boils down to making sure that we are valuing teachers. I think that starts by raising wages so they are competitive with nearby states.

What’s your stance on abortion?

I’m a strong believer in a woman’s right to choose. I don’t want my sister to have fewer rights than my grandmother had.

She is at the start of her professional career who knows what life may throw at her, but I want her to be able to have the autonomy and freedom, to be able to say, “This is the direction I want my life to go in and at the end of the day.”

I also worry that South Carolina’s black maternal mortality rates are sky-high.

I think we need to make sure that it’s safe in our state for women to actually have kids before we start forcing them to have them.

But I think it boils down to at the end of the day, how do we make sure they have that right over their own body?

Can you think of an occurrence in your past that changed the direction of the way your life was headed?

Probably my decision to go to NYU. When I went to New York for college. I say that was a hinge moment for me because, at that time, I felt like there was no future in South Carolina for me.

I made a decision based on that belief. That decision has allowed me to have a unique insight and perspective being that we’re seeing this trend continue today, where our state’s next generation doesn’t want to stay here.

I am an example of somebody who left and wanted to come back, but I’m now thinking with that perspective, how do we make our young people want to stay here?

How do we make sure that we’re combating that brain drain so that we’re able to invest right here in our state? And so I think that was one of those moments where it was it afforded me a unique opportunity to be able to say, “Hey, I left the state I came back.”

How do we make sure we can bring that insight back here? So we can improve it instead of just leaving?