By Paul Gable
One of the most interesting aspects of the challengers to Tom Rice for next year’s Republican primary nomination for the S.C. 7th Congressional District is the lack of state legislators currently in the contest.
Statehouse legislative experience is often used as a stepping stone to the U. S. Congress. For example, John Jenrette, Mark Sanford, Lindsey Graham and Henry Brown all served in the S. C. General Assembly before winning a seat in Congress. Rice served two years as county council chairman before winning election to the newly created 7th Congressional District in 2012.
Rep. William Bailey formed a committee in January 2021 to explore whether he should challenge incumbent Tom Rice in next year’s primary. Last week, Bailey announced he would seek reelection to his S. C. House seat rather than run in the primary for the U. S. House of Representatives, preferring to concentrate on his efforts to improve and widen SC 9 all the way to Interstate 81 to provide access from three interstates to the Grand Strand.
According to several sources in Columbia, three other members of the local legislative delegation are considering entering the race. They are Rep. Russell Fry, Rep. Heather Crawford and Sen. Stephen Goldfinch.
Rice’s vote to impeach then President Donald Trump on January 13, 2021 has encouraged at least 10 challengers to his reelection at this writing. All 10, in one form or another, have criticized Rice’s vote to impeach Trump. To date, not Fry, nor Crawford nor Goldfinch has criticized Rice’s vote to impeach.
A campaign for federal office brings a level of scrutiny much deeper into a candidate’s background, voting record and associations than is normal for local elections. What baggage might be holding back any of these three from entering the primary against Rice?
All three aligned themselves in the past with what can be called the good ole boy Republicans who are now out of favor in Horry County.
The new leadership at the Horry County GOP is currently conducting a forensic audit into the past four years of that organization’s finances, the period before the new leadership took office. In addition, a recent media report disclosed the HCGOP is under scrutiny by the S. C. Ethics Commission for failure to file quarterly disclosure reports since 2017.
The new president of the HCGOP was quoted in the story as saying right now the HCGOP couldn’t file disclosure reports because of a lack of good financial data for that period.
Crawford’s mailers in her 2020 reelection primary against another Republican opponent were basically funded by the S.C. Republican Party.
How would Crawford explain her S. C. Mideast Legislative Delegation trips to Israel and Egypt, funded by campaign contributions? And what of the $150,000 Crawford was paid over a five-year period from former Rep. Alan Clemmons campaign account for campaign and constituent services when Clemmons had no primary nor general election opponents during those years?
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.
Under the provisions of that bill, Donald Trump could not be a candidate for political office in South Carolina.
Fry, Crawford and Goldfinch have helped push the Interstate 73 narrative of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce while the SELL road would much better serve their constituents in the south end of Horry County and northern Georgetown County.
And Goldfinch may have particular problems with issues from outside business interests while serving as a legislator. He plead guilty to a federal criminal misdemeanor over the sale of stem cells by a business he was part-owner of and settled a lawsuit with a former business associate who claimed Goldfinch misrepresented himself in business dealings with a marine salvage business called Low Country Marine Salvage LLC.
Both cases were covered somewhat in local and state media back in the time frame in which they took place. However, opposition research into a candidate’s past can dig much more deeply into the people and facts involved in those types of issues when an important election is on the horizon. Much more information about those two cases than was reported locally already exists on the internet, available without much searching involved.
It will be interesting to see if Fry, Crawford or Goldfinch decide to take the plunge into the Congressional race and what issues may arise from past baggage if they do.