By Paul Gable
Russell Fry has coined the phrase ‘common sense conservative’ as his campaign moniker, but his performance does not seem to match the utterance.
Twenty years ago, politicians could get away with that type of nonsense, calling themselves conservative while voting very differently, because their voting records were not readily accessible to the general public.
In his most recent campaign video, Fry said, “It’s important to keep taxes low…Keeping government small and lean and keeping your taxes low benefits the economy.”
No conservative would argue with those statements. However, saying it and practicing it are two very different things and the devil is in the details for Fry.
The American Conservative Union rates Fry’s overall conservative voting record in the South Carolina House of Representatives on all issues from 2015 -2020 at 57.41%.
More importantly, Fry’s voting record on “Taxes, Budget and Spending” is listed among his weakest issues (those with the lowest conservative voting record), according to the American Conservative Union.
Just a few years ago, Fry voted in favor of the largest gasoline tax increase in state history and followed that vote up with voting to override Gov. Henry McMaster’s veto of the gasoline tax increase legislation. The gasoline tax is among those taxes that hit average working families the hardest.
Fry has been a strong supporter of the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce advocacy of having local governments in Horry County help fund construction of the Interstate 73 project.
Three years ago, Horry County Council cancelled a contract with the South Carolina Department of Transportation that would have committed the county to a minimum annual transfer of at least $25 million tax dollars from local hospitality tax collections to construction of I-73.
Immediately after the contract was cancelled, Fry joined Rep. Heather Crawford and former Rep. Alan Clemmons as co-sponsors of a bill that would have required Horry County to transfer approximately $41 million per year to Interstate 73 construction. The proposed bill was an excellent example of government overreach where, had it passed, the state would have dictated to the county it must spend locally collected tax revenue on a state project rather than local ones. Where is the ‘small and lean’ in that?
Fortunately for the taxpayers of Horry County, that bill died in committee meaning those locally collected tax dollars are now available for expenditure on local roads and other infrastructure.
Most enlightening on Fry’s actual philosophy of ‘small and lean government’ may be the use of the federal Paycheck Protection Program by his law firm.
PPP originated during the Trump administration as a means of helping small business maintain employment during the early stages of the Covid epidemic. It was billed as a ‘loan program’ to small business, but quickly became a huge federal government giveaway program because of few requirements to qualify for a loan and a very liberal loan forgiveness program. The program was funded by federal government borrowing.
The law firm with which Fry is associated applied for and received two loans of approximately $65,000 each. Both loans were ultimately forgiven, according to federal PPP records.
Fry’s firm was not alone among self-professed, local conservative lawmaker-lawyers to rush to the federal trough. Stephen Goldfinch’s law firm and Alan Clemmons law firm also received and were forgiven loans in excess of $100,000 each, according to PPP records.
The local Davis and Boyd law firm, for example, did not apply for any PPP money because the principals in that firm are true conservatives who concluded the firm didn’t need the money and there was no reason to take advantage of what was essentially a federal giveaway program.
Another recent Fry campaign post criticized incumbent Congressman Tom Rice for being endorsed by ‘liberal’ former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
It’s true that the Christie endorsement, for many reasons, will not help Rice with voters in his bid to again win the Republican nomination for the SC 7th Congressional District and stay in office.
However, Fry has joined Rice in advocacy for spending local tax dollars on I-73 construction. Rice has said funding must start with the local governments and, as we see above, Fry has carried the same message to voters.
It should be noted, of the trillions of dollars of stimulus money funded by government borrowing and showered on the states by the federal government since Covid first struck in early 2020, neither Fry nor Rice has been able to get any appropriated for I-73 construction. They don’t have the legislative ‘juice’ to get it done so the only alternative is let the local governments pay for it.
Rice bragged about bringing the PPP to South Carolina businesses as an example of his work for his constituents. There was no consideration of how poorly the program was designed, how liberal loan forgiveness was built into the program and no discussion of its effect on federal budget deficits caused by the borrowing to fund the program.
Fry and Rice are truly ‘Two peas in the same pod’ of RINO Republicanism more beholden to the Chamber and the Myrtle Beach Cabal than to the constituents of the SC 7th Congressional District.