By Paul Gable
Over the last several years, the South Carolina Republican Party, under the leadership of Chairman Drew McKissick, has turned its back on democracy in favor of a top-down dictatorial approach to running the party.
Two years ago, after county reorganization meetings were held and the SCGOP state convention was complete, McKissick was not happy with newly elected leaders in some counties. As a result, in a July 8, 2021 article in the Charleston Post and Courier, McKissick said he would put his support behind “rival GOP organizations” (in certain counties).
In July 2022, McKissick reconvened the SCGOP state convention with the sole purpose of passing new bylaws that would allow the state Executive Committee to vote to replace elected county leaders, those elected by the majority of county party members at county conventions, and replace them with leaders chosen by McKissick.
Horry County Republican Party Chairman Roger Slagle objected to the reconvening of the state convention because it was counter to the SCGOP bylaws in place at the time. For this objection, the leaders of the HCGOP were condemned by a vote of the State Executive Committee. Slagle and the rest of the HCGOP leadership tendered their resignations at a September 12, 2022, regularly called meeting of the county party.
However, at a specially called meeting of the county party on September 26, 2022, Slagle announced he had rescinded his resignation. The remainder of the HCGOP leadership did not and the specially called meeting was to elect new officers to the vacant positions. However, the GOP Pirates and their allies, one of those “rival” organizations, objected to Slagle rescinding his resignation and moved for the meeting to be adjourned.
McKissick entered the fray with a letter saying Slagle could not rescind his resignation, although the operating rules of the GOP clearly allow such an action. This led the question of leadership of the HCGOP into the twilight zone, which was resolved by the calling of a meeting, by interim chairman Mike Connett on October 11, 2022.
A video of that meeting clearly shows that a 2/3 majority of the HCGOP executive committee members was not present, as required by the bylaws to elect a chairman, vice chairman and state executive member. However, with some cherry-picked reading of the bylaws, with the specific paragraph requiring the 2/3 majority never mentioned, the meeting elected new leaders to those three positions and McKissick quickly gave his blessing to those newly elected in another letter. According to meeting notes and emails publicly released, McKissick was working behind the scenes with the HCGOP Pirates to produce such a result.
What these actions demonstrate is the rules do not matter to McKissick. He apparently operates under the impression that he is the ‘king’ of the SCGOP and he will rule South Carolina, not only the state party but the county parties, as an absolute monarch.
After demonstrating the votes of Republican Party members don’t count if they run counter to McKissick’s desire, there is now a proposed amendment to state law, supported by McKissick and his minions. One section of this amendment would take away from county parties the right to hear appeals of election results of countywide and below primaries and force the appeal to be heard by the state executive committee. This is just another move to strip county parties of any authority and give that authority to the state party that McKissick controls.
McKissick has already proven his willingness to provide the financial support of the state party to his preferred candidates in Republican primaries. In 2020, mailers were sent out by the state party advocating reelection of Alan Clemmons and Heather Crawford against Republican challengers. The mailers specifically stated “Paid for by the SCGOP.” In another 2020 Republican primary election, mailers were sent by the SCGOP advocating election of a Republican challenger against incumbent Republican SC House member Jonathan Hill, one of the most truly conservative members of the General Assembly at that time.
How would you like to be a candidate who has to pay $5,000 to the SCGOP in order to appeal the results of a primary election if your opponent had already received more than that amount ‘in kind’ from mailers sent out by that same SCGOP? Can anyone make a case for due process in that scenario?
I would submit instead of having the initial round of primary election appeals heard by any party committee, the first appeal should be heard by the county or state election commission, depending upon the type of office being sought, with a subsequent appeal by the circuit court and final appeal by the SC Supreme Court. This would take any party influence out of an appeal decision and is already the appeal steps taken in municipal elections and general elections.
A second portion of that amendment would require an appellant to post a $5,000 bond in order for an appeal to be heard. What’s next – possibly charging voters a fee in order to vote in a Republican primary?
Another provision of the proposed amendment is to limit the size of state convention delegates to a maximum of 501 members. According to McKissick’s testimony before the House sub-committee hearing on this proposed amendment, there were 694 delegates at the 2021 state convention. Rather than attempting to make the South Carolina Republican Party a ‘big tent’ party, McKissick wants to reduce the size of the tent.
By its actions and advocacies, the Republican Party of South Carolina has proven itself, over the last several years, to be a party that desires to keep control centralized in a top-down organization ruled from Columbia, apparently so it can better serve the establishment oligarchy, which tends to be Republican In Name Only. No power to the people in this organization, but that doesn’t stop the party from sending out emails every few days to its members begging for donations.