SCGOP Must Sacrifice Leadership to Preserve the Party

Sacrifice Leadership, Preserve the Party

South Carolina Republican Party Must Sacrifice Leadership, Preserve PartySouth Carolina Republican Party Must Sacrifice Leadership, Preserve Party

By Paul Gable and Jeffrey Sewell

The leadership of the South Carolina Republican Party is completely out of control. It is rapidly becoming apparent that in order to save the party, the current leadership will have to go.

This election cycle has not been a simple one. Many disqualified candidates and several unsuccessful appearances in court by party attorneys have made headlines.

However, in his most outrageous action yet, state GOP Chairman Chad Connelly recently took it upon himself to disqualify Ed Harris as the party nominee for S.C. House District 3, even though Harris is fully qualified.

Harris was certified to be on the ballot, won the primary election and withstood a challenge to certification as the Republican nominee. Yet, faced with the threat of a lawsuit and another hearing before the Supreme Court, Connelly folded like a cheap suit and disqualified Harris at the 11th hour.

The Timeline

Harris filed a paper copy of his Statement of Economic Interests with his Statement of Intention of Candidacy, Republican Party Pledge and check for the filing fee with Pickens County Republican Party chairman Phillip Bowers on March 20, 2012. Bowers has stated under oath several times this is exactly how Harris filed. Harris filed an electronic copy of his SEI with the S.C. Ethics Commission on March 26, 2012.

After the close of filing March 30, 2012, Harris was certified by the county and state party to be on the June 12 primary ballot as a challenger to incumbent Rep. B.R. Skelton for House District 3.

The May 2, 2012 hearing before the S.C. Supreme Court, in which the Court ruled the proper filing procedure for challenger candidates, came and went and Harris remained certified as having filed his paperwork properly.

On June 12th, Harris defeated incumbent Skelton by 73 votes to win the Republican primary for the House District 3 nomination.

Skelton challenged the election results, alleging Harris did not file his paperwork properly and, therefore, could not be certified as the nominee.

The election challenge was heard by the S.C. Republican Party Executive Committee on June 21, 2012, in a formal hearing with testimony being taken under oath and subject to penalties of perjury. In other words, it was an official legal proceeding with the transcript of the proceeding becoming court record.

Bowers testified under oath that Harris had filed paper copies of his SEI and SIC at the same time and with the same person (Bowers) at Pickens County Republican headquarters on March 20, 2012. There was no conflicting testimony to challenge or dispute Bowers’ testimony during the proceedings.

Therefore, Bowers’ testimony is the court record confirming Harris filed properly and was fully eligible, according to both state statute and the Supreme Court ruling, to be certified as the Republican nominee. The executive committee denied Skelton’s challenge and voted to certify Harris as the nominee.

The power to certify candidates and to decide election challenges rests with the executive committee, not the party chairman or any other party official.

Within the timeframe allowed to appeal the June 21st executive committee decision, Skelton’s attorney, James Smith, filed a writ of certiorari requesting the S.C. Supreme Court to review the June 21st executive committee decision. This is the proper procedure to appeal the election challenge. A hearing before the Court was set for July 9, 2012.

Bowers was asked to provide a hard copy of Harris’ SEI to the state party. Bowers said he did not keep a copy of the document, but that he had been presented with one by Harris when he filed March 20th. Bowers so testified under oath to the executive committee.

It must be pointed out that the Supreme Court had essentially handed the Republican Party and its attorneys their heads during the May 2nd hearing and a later June 5th hearing regarding candidate certification in Florence County.

After Skelton appealed to the Supreme Court, Harris was asked, on July 6, 2012, to voluntarily step down as the nominee. He refused.

On July 7, 2012, state party executive director Matt Moore sent an e-mail to Harris telling him he could not be certified as the party’s candidate and citing the lack of a paper copy of Harris’ SEI as the reason.

“As you are aware, there is no paper copy of your SEI evidencing compliance with the candidate filing requirements, which the Court has stated is the only method by which a non-exempt individual can be in compliance. Accordingly, because the Party respects and must uphold the rule of law, we must take this action,” stated Moore’s e-mail in part.

Connelly told media he had made the decision to overrule the executive committee and disqualify Harris, an act he cannot legally take.

Harris’ attorney Stephen Brown fired back a reply to the Moore e-mail challenging Connelly’s decision and citing the party’s responsibility in the matter.

“The law REQUIRES that the SEI, in paper form, be produced to the Party official at the time of filing.  Mr. Harris did that.  I am not aware of any cases disqualifying a candidate who properly filed all the required documents because a party official failed to make a ministerial filing. It is my opinion that the Party is receiving bad legal advice if you are being told otherwise,” stated Brown’s e-mail in part.

Smith, Skelton’s attorney, wrote a letter to the Court withdrawing his petition after Connelly made his decision.

The candidate is required, under the law, to provide a paper copy of the SEI at the same time and with the same official that the candidate files his SIC {SC Code of Laws Section 8-13-1356(B)}. Bowers testified under oath that Harris complied with that requirement. There is nothing in state law that provides for the proper safekeeping of those documents.

Harris was certified by the party to be on the ballot. He won the election. His certification was upheld during a challenge hearing before the state executive committee. No action has been taken to date by the executive committee to change that certification.

However, as it stands today Harris, the choice of the voters, is being denied his proper place on the November ballot because the party did not keep a copy of his SEI.

The state executive committee has a meeting in Columbia tonight. It is not known whether this issue will be on the agenda to be discussed during the meeting, but Brown and Harris will be in attendance to present their case if allowed.

The party has bungled the candidate filing process from the beginning. As a result, over 200 of its candidates have been eliminated from standing before the voters. It is well past time for change and that change must occur at the top.

Harris, Ed — JES — Skelton’s Letter to Clerk of SC Supreme Court Withdrawal Mootness 070912 [PDF]

Matt Moore_Chad Connelly_Stephen Brown_Emails 070712 [PDF]

South Carolina Radio Network: Incumbent declared GOP nominee, despite losing his primary

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