People

Common Ground: Taylor Culliver preparing to fight for the future of Greenville County

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South Carolina’s Senate District 8 encompasses Greenville County, one of the fastest-growing counties in the US. The population is expected to increase by 200,000 in the next 15 years, increasing pressure on schools, the environment, public transportation, housing, and roads.

Road conditions and safety are common concerns in District 8, and for good reason. A 2023 study commissioned by the Greenville City Council found that 58.3% of the pavement on main roads is rated “poor,” meaning it requires full reconstruction, with another 17% in “fair” condition. Of the 184 county-owned bridges, 15% are restricted or closed. Greenville County also has the second-deadliest roads in the state, with 1,650 serious or fatal injury accidents happening primarily at intersections on high-volume roads every year.

More people also mean more housing requirements, but for most residents, the outlook is bleak: The median income in the county is about $60,000, or enough to buy a $250,000 home. However, median house values hover around $420,000. Regarding education, Greenville County ranks 80th out of 86 in the state when it comes to spending per pupil.

For all the challenges it faces, Greenville County has extraordinary potential. With a median age of 38, it is one of the state's most youthful, educated populations. Nearly 90% of adults in the county have a high school diploma or higher, with almost 50% having a college degree. Though Greenville is booming economically, it hasn’t kept up with the infrastructure required to support the growth it has experienced and will continue to experience over the next 20 years.

Taylor Culliver believes a change in leadership is needed to right the ship before it’s overwhelmed. Since 2012, Senate District 8 has been represented by Ross Turner, a Republican who has run unopposed since being elected. Culliver, a University of Pennsylvania graduate, founder of the nonprofit Brother Box, and Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Center for Courage & Renewal, aims to change that.

Culliver grew up in a small town in Southern Alabama, in a middle-class household where he experienced something most young people don’t: a vast network of support. He knows what a strong community looks like, and he’s spent his career replicating those foundations. “I always had teachers and coaches who believed in my power to make a difference,” he says. “My parents instilled hard work and perseverance in me; they taught me to show up in all aspects of my life and to love other people. My grandmothers gave me a deep sense of faith and service; by service, I mean how to serve people one-on-one. I know what I had is rare. Most kids don’t have people who believe in them. That’s why I do the work I do.”

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with an economics degree, Culliver went to work for Forbes Media. He also started Brother Box, a nonprofit that uses innovative programs to help Black boys navigate real-life issues such as financial literacy, mental health, and wellness.

After Culliver and his wife Nenna moved to Greenville for her job, he worked with Brains On Fire, a branding agency, before moving to the Center for Courage & Renewal. Founded by Parker Palmer in 1997, the organization offers professional development for people in education, ministry, healthcare, nonprofits, and activism. He is also on the Leadership Board of Closing the Gap SC, a program David and Tandy Taylor founded to help kids from marginalized backgrounds attend college.

As the Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Center for Courage & Renewal, Culliver is immersed in the everyday issues people struggle with, and that’s his campaign focus. “I disagree with the narrative that we’re divided and polarized. Regardless of race, age, or agenda, we have a lot of shared values. People are concerned about growth and preserving what makes Greenville County unique, and they want their kids to be safe,” he says. “I have a daughter I love dearly; I want a happy, healthy, safe community for her and for everyone. There are so many great aspects of calling this place home. I know we can do better.”

Culliver believes that policies being made now will have a pivotal effect on how the district weathers the next growth phase. “I don’t want people waking up in 15 years and asking what happened here. This district has changed dramatically since Ross was first elected. He’s been in office for 12 years, and he has not had to do the work that needs to be done as a representative. For the first time, there’s someone to hold him accountable,” Culliver says. “He has had twelve years to move the community forward. If we continue to allow him and other people who align their votes with the more radical wings, we’ll still be talking about the same issues in another 12 years.”

Culliver says he doesn’t have to guess at the issues causing the most concern in the community because people tell him, and they aren’t the issues his opponent has been focused on. Though Culliver’s campaign is rooted in issues everyone is concerned with, such as fixing roads and creating affordable housing, he doesn’t flinch when talking about topics such as abortion and gun safety. While Turner voted “Yea” to the bills to authorize permitless carriage of firearms and prohibit abortions for any reason, Culliver isn’t hearing constituent support for those votes.

“People didn’t understand that now their 18-year-old nephew can buy a gun without training, and for the most part, they can carry it wherever they want. When they realize that, they think it sounds terrible,” he says. “We’re sixth in the nation for gun violence, and this is just bad policy. We need common-sense gun laws. Also, women should have access to abortions, and doctors should be able to do their jobs without fear of being punished. We should be investing in teacher pay and retention, and public dollars should stay in public schools. The school in your neighborhood should be able to provide everything you need. I’m not afraid to talk about these issues because I know most people agree. We’re not that polarized. We’re just letting the most polarizing issues get in the way of things that are important to all of us.”

Amanda McDougald Scott, Greenville County Democratic Party Chair, who also lives in District 8, believes the community will be relieved to have a choice. “As someone who lives in Senate 8, I am excited to support and vote for Taylor Culliver,” she says. “Once other voters in Senate 8 realize all the extremist votes and activities Ross Turner has been up to over the past 12 years, they’ll be as enthusiastic as I am about having such a fantastic alternative to vote for.”

In a historically red state, does Culliver have a shot? He certainly has significant community support and consistent messaging from people who know him.

“I’ve known Taylor for a few years, and I continue to be inspired by the person he is,” David Taylor, founder of Close the Gap SC, says. “He’s passionate about people and the issues that impact the quality of life for citizens of South Carolina. He’s a superb listener who wants to hear and understand what people are thinking, and he’s wise beyond his years. Taylor has fresh ideas for addressing chronic problems in our community. He’d make an outstanding state Senator from the 8th district of Greenville County.”

Culliver doesn’t think the race is as much a David vs. Goliath story as it might seem. “This seat is absolutely winnable,” he says. “The usual candidates aren’t drumming up as much enthusiasm. This is a golden opportunity to do something groundbreaking, and it starts by electing candidates who will go to Columbia and fight every day for the issues we actually care about. We have so much potential, and we should be capitalizing on it for the benefit of the people who live here right now.”

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