The man who nearly became acting governor of South Carolina last year when his boss absconded to South America to visit his lover is now taking heat for comparing poor people to "stray animals."

South Carolina Lt.-Gov. Andre Bauer, a candidate for governor, made the comment during a town hall meeting on Friday. During a discussion of subsidized school lunches, Bauer argued that children should be denied reduced prices for school lunches if their parents fail a drug test or don't show up for parent-teacher meetings.

"My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed," Bauer said, as quoted at the South Carolina State. "You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don't think too much further than that. And so what you've got to do is you've got to curtail that type of behavior. They don't know any better."

That drew immediate condemnation from the head of South Carolina's Democratic Party.

"Andre Bauer's crude utterances once again reveal his immaturity and poor judgment," said Carol Fowler, according to WIS-TV in Columbia. "Bauer is a bachelor who has never once had to worry about feeding a child of his own. His notion of punishing children by not feeding them because their parents missed a PTA meeting flies in the face of basic South Carolina values."

Bauer told CNN Monday that he regretted using the stray animals metaphor.

"I wish I had used a different metaphor," Bauer said. "I never intended to tie people to animals."

But then the lieutenant-governor made another animal comparison. "If you have a cat, if you take it in your house and feed it and love it, what happens when you go out of town?" he asked, adding that he is "not against animals."

Bauer has repeatedly returned to the animal metaphor in his defense of Friday's remarks. At a gubernatorial forum on Saturday, he denied he was making the link at all.

"There's no way that I was trying to tie animals to people," he said. "What I was trying to talk about is the dependency culture, and just like when you feed an animal, you create a dependency."

Bauer came within a whisker of becoming governor of South Carolina last year when Gov. Mark Sanford disappeared for a week without explanation. Rumors of his hiking in the Appalachian Trail turned out not to be true; the governor had been in Argentina meeting with his mistress.

Sanford was nearly impeached last year over the scandal, as well as over questionable use of state aircraft. The committee investigating impeachment proceedings voted against impeachment, but voted in favor of censuring the governor. In December, Sanford's wife filed for divorce.

In an opinion piece at the Spartanburg Spark, Christopher George disputed Bauer's assertion that social-assistance programs create poverty by creating dependence.

[I]f it really is true that government assistance causes poverty, then why is it that the countries with the largest, most expansive social safety nets also have the lowest poverty rates? If food stamps, unemployment insurance, and free school lunches increased poverty, as you and your conservative friends claim, then how do you explain the fact that countries like Germany, France, Canada and The Netherlands—all of which have welfare systems far more advanced than ours—have lower poverty rates?

Some South Carolina officials, including State Superintendent Jim Rex, are calling for Bauer to apologize.

"If his intent was to blame children, who are not responsible for their own predicaments ... it is regrettable," Rex told WIS-TV.

The following audio was recorded at a town hall meeting in Fountain Inn, South Carolina, on Friday, January 22, 2009, and uploaded to YouTube by user ScarceNews.

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