By Paul Gable
In this strangest of all election seasons, the voters of SC House District 107 are going to the polls next week to vote in what may be the strangest of all – a special primary election to nominate a Republican candidate for the November general election.
Case Brittain, the defeated candidate from the June Republican primary for District 107, and former Myrtle Beach Mayor Mark McBride are the candidates on the ballot for the special primary.
Only two months ago, Alan Clemmons won the regular Republican primary for nomination to what would have been his tenth term as representative for District 107.
Five weeks later, Clemmons resigned from the House and sent an affidavit to the SC Ethics Commission citing the necessity of concentrating on his family and law practice as reasons for removing himself as the Republican candidate.
It is important to note here that Clemmons affirmed to the election commission, under penalty of perjury, that his dropping out as the nominated candidate was for “non-political reasons”, a requirement for the party to conduct a special election to nominate a replacement candidate for the general election.
Nowhere in Clemmons’ statement did it mention the widely circulated story that Clemmons expects to be selected as the Master in Equity judge for Horry County when the position becomes vacant next July. South Carolina law requires a member of the General Assembly to be out of office for a minimum of one year before they can become a judge or a lobbyist. The Master in Equity position currently pays approximately $180,000 per year. State funded pensions are based on a person’s highest three years of salary.
Shortly after resigning from the House, Clemmons received the appointment of the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee to serve on the three member South Carolina Board of Economic Advisers, a position that supposedly “specific working knowledge and experience in economics, revenue forecasting, and the state budget process,” according to state law. The position pays $8,000 per year and, more importantly, qualifies for state funded benefits such as health insurance and retirement.
Should Clemmons accept appointment for Master in Equity next year, wouldn’t that be a political reason for resigning from the General Assembly considering the necessity of being out of office for one year? If Clemmons means to concentrate on his family and private law practice, how does accepting appointment to the Board of Economic Advisers, an $8,000 position that would necessitate travel to Columbia from time to time, fit into this equation except for the health insurance benefits and another year toward retirement?
When he resigned from his House seat, Clemmons told the voters how honored he had been to serve them for 18 years and how his resignation was a final service to them. Considering the above, it seems a lot more self-serving for Clemmons.
During the primary campaign, I wrote that the voters of District 107 were Clemmons’ second choice (after his own needs). I believe he proved that unequivocally with his quick resignation when it became known the Master in Equity position would open up next summer.
Last week, Clemmons endorsed Brittain in the special primary. It would seem that an endorsement from a former representative who asked voters to elect him to another two year term only to turn around five weeks later and resign for alleged personal reasons could be a significant weight around Brittain’s neck.
In his endorsement, Clemmons said Brittain was one of the first people he called after deciding to resign from the House. That statement falls in line with what numerous sources have reported to me.
According to those sources, the Myrtle Beach cabal (that group of business owners who like to consider themselves the power brokers in the area) decided to back Brittain as its hand-picked candidate. According to those sources, Mark Lazarus made the first overture to Brittain, promising to work to keep other candidates from filing for the special primary and to obtain an endorsement from Clemmons for Brittain.
One of the potential candidates specifically mentioned to be worked on to keep from filing was former Myrtle Beach city council member Randal Wallace. Wallace considered running for the House seat, a position he admittedly considered his ‘political dream job’ before deciding not to run.
According to those sources, Clemmons played a part in talking Wallace out of running, despite the fact that Wallace has been friends with Clemmons for a number of years and worked for Clemmons’ election several times including the most recent primary election.
It would appear the deal was generally successful but the voters should take Clemmons’ endorsement as their second choice in this election, just as Clemmons has treated the voters as his second choice through the years.
However, McBride brings an interesting candidacy to the campaign. He has been targeted for defeat by the cabal in several city elections since 2005.
McBride has been increasingly outspoken with respect to the need for state legislation governing the tourism development fee to be changed to allow the City of Myrtle Beach to use some of the $25 – $30 million taxpayer dollars that currently goes to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce each year for out of area advertising for public safety services instead.
This seems a very reasonable position considering the crime that takes place in the city on a routine basis and the need to bring in approximately 60 police officers every weekend from jurisdictions throughout the state in an attempt to maintain order and safety in the city.
It must be pointed out, there are three elements to the use of TDF revenue. The city receives a small amount for general fund needs, primary residence homeowners receive approximately 82% rebate on their city portion of property taxes on their home and the Chamber receives over 80% of total revenue to use for out of area advertising.
McBride is only talking about changing distribution of the Chamber portion. Homeowners would continue to receive the rebate on their primary residence property taxes and the city portion would be increased by decreasing the Chamber’s portion.
Inevitably the cabal will attempt to distort McBride’s message on the TDF as it has several times in the past. However, it’s a win – win for everyone but the cabal.
To some voters, this may seem to be a city issue. It’s not. It starts at the state level with a need to amend the enabling legislation establishing the tourism development fee. In addition, why should other jurisdictions send officers they pay for to Myrtle Beach every weekend because the city can’t get the job done by itself?
Amending the TDF legislation to allow public safety and maybe even some infrastructure improvements to be paid from the one-cent local option sales tax revenue benefits not only the taxpayers of Myrtle Beach, which makes up a significant portion of District 107, but also taxpayers throughout the state.
The cabal wants to keep all of the money for advertising by the Chamber because it saves the need for advertising dollars to be spent from the businesses of many of its primary members and other of its members stand to gain financially from the construction of I-73 within the county.
However, all the ads and roads in the world aren’t going to help save Myrtle Beach and keep the dollars rolling into the cabal if the city doesn’t get a handle on its public safety problems and reverse the negative image that shootings, barriers, traffic sweeps and curfews visitors to take home and spread as their lasting images of a vacation at the “family beach.”
McBride has called for a debate with Brittain on the issues. It would be good for the voters to have the chance to hear the positions of the candidates live and unrehearsed. That is the best way to determine which candidate will serve the general population in District 107 best.
However, don’t expect a debate to happen. The cabal only likes people and venues it can control.