By Paul Gable
The engagement of citizen activists in the political system of Horry County was the biggest story of 2019. This year it will prove to be even bigger with county and state elections on the calendar.
Groups such as Empowering Horry County, Horry County Rising, Make Myrtle Beaches Free, Clean and Safe, and Highway 90 Corridor Concerns, to name a few, have made effective use of social media to band together groups of citizens so their message becomes part of the political discussion.
That message is simple, these citizen activists want a government that provides the necessary goods and services expected of it and does not overreach with wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars on projects that only benefit the few.
They want elected officials who will provide the public safety services needed to keep the communities safe and who will maintain and upgrade, when necessary, existing infrastructure to benefit the entire community, especially in the areas of roads and storm water management. They want controlled development so that new sub-divisions do not negatively impact the homes and lives of those who already live here.
Horry County has had an oligarchical form of government where a small number of influential business owners and developers have controlled politicians and political decisions for decades. These new groups of citizen activists want to expand the existing political landscape into one that more closely resembles a representative democracy where the voices of the many, not just the few, are heard.
Five Horry County Council members, Dennis DiSabato, Gary Loftus, Cam Crawford, Paul Prince and Danny Hardee will be up for reelection this year as will all the state representatives and senators. This year many of them used to having no opposition will face challengers in the primaries (the only elections that really count in this one party state).
Three of those council members, DiSabato, Loftus and Crawford have been charter members of what I have termed the ‘Deep Six’ on county council who generally do the bidding of the oligarchs.
DiSabato, Loftus and Crawford resisted the firing of former county administrator Chris Eldridge after Eldridge and county attorney Arrigo Carotti attempted to neuter new council chairman Johnny Gardner with a bogus allegation of influence peddling after Gardner defeated incumbent Mark Lazarus, a champion of the oligarchy, in the 2018 elections. Resisting Eldridge’s firing cost county taxpayers approximately $350,000 in a buyout of Eldridge’s contract.
The three were instrumental in keeping a funding agreement alive between the county and SCDOT for Interstate 73 even after it was obvious the county did not have the revenue to support the agreement. The I-73 project would provide significant income to some members of the oligarchy while ignoring the more pressing needs of maintaining and upgrading existing roads. The agreement was ultimately cancelled.
They supported delaying final approval of the county’s Imagine 2040 comprehensive plan until a study could be completed by a new institute at Coastal Carolina University at the cost of approximately $40,000 taxpayer dollars. Internal documents named Lazarus as chairman of the board of that new institute with Loftus as the council representative to the board. DiSabato authored an email urging other council members to approve the study. The Imagine 2040 plan was approved by council without the study being authorized.
Crawford already faces opposition from declared challenger Jeremy Halpin in Council District 6. Halpin’s slogan is ‘It’s Our (citizens) Time To Talk,’ a message that will resonate with the residents in District 6 who suffered significantly from recent flooding events in the county. Crawford is known for being silent during council meetings, rarely offering an opinion on any topic during council discussions.
Halpin was impressive in a guest spot on Chad Caton’s Talk 94.5 radio show this past Saturday.
Caton is an example of how citizen activists are becoming influential in the county. He supported the Gardner campaign in 2018 with a strong voice for public safety needs during that campaign. He has demonstrated a willingness to strongly advocate his views since, ultimately landing an offer from Talk 94.5 for a Saturday morning radio show. Caton also does a podcast ‘I’m Fired Up’ on Thursdays.
The holidays are past and the political arena will heat up with filing for the upcoming June primaries taking place in March. Expect a number of challengers against the incumbents who have been the mouthpieces of the oligarchy through the years and the citizens groups to be increasingly vocal in their opinions on the issues.