By Paul Gable
It is now two weeks since the Horry County Legislative Delegation cancelled a public meeting to publicly vote on a nomination for Horry County Master-in-Equity.
State law requires such votes to be held in public and the S. C. Supreme Court upheld that requirement in a 1996 decision.
Instead, the Horry County delegation passed a letter (to Gov. Henry McMaster) around for signature, during daily business at the statehouse, to nominate Alan Clemmons as Master-in-Equity for Horry County.
Only three members of the delegation, Reps. Kevin Hardee and William Bailey and Sen. Greg Hembree refused to sign the letter.
And this was done after some behind the scenes moves to have two of the three candidates who originally applied for the job withdraw their candidacy.
Grand Strand Daily has learned that Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, who represents only a very small number of Horry County citizens in his Senate District, called the other two candidates and told them that Clemmons had a majority of the votes from the delegation, that the handwriting was on the wall for Clemmons to win the nomination. Goldfinch, reportedly, told the other two candidates it would be best for them to withdraw from the race to help their chances for nomination for a judgeship in the future.
Grand Strand Daily acquired the reports on each candidate from the S. C. Bar Association Judicial Qualifications Committee. According to those reports, Clemmons was the lowest rated of the three candidates.
Candidates are rated in nine categories. Candidate Charles Jordan received the rating “Qualified” in three of those categories and “Well Qualified” in the other six. Candidate Douglas Zayicek received “Qualified” in four categories and “Well Qualified” in five categories. Clemmons received only “Qualified” in all nine categories.
The result is we have the lowest rated candidate of the initial three applicants, aided by phone calls from a senator who represents few Horry County residents and nominated by essentially secret ballot, on the precipice of becoming the new Horry County Master-in-Equity.
Notable among the signers of the letter are Goldfinch, Sen. Luke Rankin, Reps. Russell Fry, Heather Crawford, Case Brittain and Tim McGinnis, all of whom have received significant campaign contributions from the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and its associated PACs through the years.
Clemmons and Rankin were instrumental in pushing through the state enabling legislation for the Tourism Development Fee that sends upwards of $30 million public tax dollars per year into the coffers of the Chamber. Fry, Crawford and Goldfinch joined Rankin and Clemmons in amending the TDF legislation to allow it to essentially be extended ad infinitum.
The TDF remains the only one-cent local option sales tax in the state never approved in a referendum by the general electorate. The legislation was written to allow local governments to enact it with a super-majority vote at the council level. The Myrtle Beach City Council did just that in 2009.
Those of you who were resident in Horry County in 2009 may remember what became known locally as ‘Chamber Gate’ where a total of $325,000 in sequentially numbered cashier’s checks, from a number of limited liability corporations some of whom were no longer registered with the S. C. Secretary of State, was passed out as campaign donations to local politicians and some at the state level who were instrumental in getting the TDF enacted.
One of the llc’s included Mark Lazarus as an owner. Lazarus was Brittain’s handler in the special election to replace Clemmons in the House District 107 seat and was included as one of the ‘like minded people’ who got together to fund Chamber candidates after the TDF was enacted. Lazarus is reportedly looking to challenge incumbent County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner as the Chamber candidate in that race, which is a little confusing in that the Chamber already has an announced candidate in Johnny Vaught.
This is a perfect example of ‘The Swamp’ in action – a group of careerist politicians promoting the interests of each other and their donors at the expense of the electorate at large.
And now Fry is running to replace Tom Rice in the U. S. House of Representatives as a Trump endorsed, Trump style candidate who is trying to convince voters he is devoted to ‘Draining the Swamp’ while remaining firmly in the middle of it.