By Paul Gable
The Horry County Republican Party will hold its biennial convention Saturday with an internal rift hanging over the county party.
The rift comes from a question of do county party leaders have to obey the rules (bylaws) of the organization they lead? If so, why have a small group of party insiders ignored these rules at least over the past four years and gotten away with it?
Two years ago, the election for party chair finished in a dead heat after some initial confusion over missing ballots and two counts. Despite rules stating county chairmen are elected by a “simple majority” a compromise, encouraged by state party officials Drew McKissick and Hope Walker, was reached to have co-chairmen in Horry County.
Party officials have been questioned about supporting one candidate over another in a contested Republican primary even though the bylaws specifically prohibit such actions.
Party member Karon Mitchell specifically called for the dismissal of county Vice Chair Mary Rebolini due to Rebolini’s support of Sen. Luke Rankin over Republican challenger John Gallman in last year’s Republican primary runoff.
“On June 19, 2020, Ms. Rebolini endorsed Lune Rankin and defamed John Gallman at a press conference organized by the Rankin campaign,” Mitchell stated in a letter to the HCGOP. Nevertheless, Ms. Rebolini remains in her party position.
The county party’s bylaws read in part, “Elected and appointed officials of the Horry County Republican party shall not endorse, work for, assist, or allow their name to be used in support of a Republican candidate who has opposition from another Republican candidate during a Primary or Run-off election …Failure to comply with these requirements shall constitute prima facie evidence for their dismissal as an elected or appointed official of the Horry County Republican Party”.
Rebolini should have been dismissed immediately from her vice-chair position after appearance at the campaign event, but nothing happened.
Co-chair Dreama Perdue has also come under fire for endorsing one Republican over another to the point of being a member of Sen. Lindsey Graham’s Leadership Team although Graham was opposed by several other Republicans in the primary.
Over the past four years, party finances have been conducted with little regard for bylaws that state all checks must have two signatures and expenses of over $1,000 must be approved by the party ways and means committee.
According to an audit a year ago of checks written over the previous 45 month period, only 11 checks out of a total of 160 written contained two signatures. A question of a $1,500 cash expenditure made on website upgrades when only $500 was allotted by the ways and means committee was never resolved. Monthly payments to a credit card company were made out of the HCGOP account even though there is not a credit card issued to the HCGOP.
A September 2019 meeting was held for Ms. Perdue to explain the expenditures. The meeting was called for county party Executive Committee members only. However, again McKissisk and Walker were present along with SC House Reps. Russell Fry, Alan Clemmons and Heather Ammons Crawford and all were included in the supposedly closed meeting. Nothing was resolved with regard to party finances at the meeting.
There is a history of these particular representatives (Clemmons has since resigned his seat in the legislature) working in close coordination with McKissick.
During the 2020 primary election campaign, the state Republican Party HQ sent out five mailers supporting Crawford and Clemmons in their reelection bids although both had Republican challengers.
Fry filed H3262 in the SC House this year, which could be nicknamed the “Incumbent Protection Bill.” The bill seeks to designate who can be a candidate in Republican primaries. One of the provisions states in order to be a candidate in a Republican primary, the candidate must have voted in three of the previous four statewide Republican primaries or sign a pledge to being a “bona fide” party member with the state chairman (currently McKissick) being the final arbiter of whether the candidate is allowed on the primary ballot.
If this bill passes and is signed by the governor, people drawn to the Republican Party in the past four years by President Trump would not be eligible to be candidates for office at least until 2024 and maybe later.
A small group of what can be called party insiders have successfully maintained control of both the Horry County and SC Republican party structures, not necessarily to the benefit of rank and file party members.
Will new party leaders begin to heal the rift or will the ‘good ole boy’ system continue in Horry County?