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Politics: A Democrat emerges in District 108, but it isn't Miller

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

“Nothing worth having is easily obtained,” said Jarrod Ownbey.

If the 32-year-old Ricefields resident obtains a seat in the state House, it will be the hard way: as a Democrat in District 108.

Ownbey, a lawyer who works in North Myrtle Beach, announced his candidacy this week for the seat that was held by a Democrat for 14 years until Rep. Kevin Ryan won it in 2010. Ryan announced this fall he won’t run in 2012. He was in graduate school when he won the seat and he said he needs to get a full-time job.

Vida Miller, a Democrat who held the seat for seven terms, said this week she has no plans to run in District 108, “at this time.”

Ownbey, who met with Miller this week, said he thinks the district needs the kind of representation she provided.

“I can’t say I ever felt like I was represented by Kevin Ryan,” Ownbey said, calling him “an absentee representative.”

While Miller was able to count on a strong turnout from Democrats in the city of Georgetown and a portion of the traditional Republican vote on Waccamaw Neck, those Democratic precincts were cut in this year’s legislative redistricting.

Ownbey said he hopes to appeal to Republican voters. “I don’t think anybody fits neatly into ‘I’m a liberal, I’m a conservative,’ ” he said. “Deep down, I think everybody is somewhere in the middle.”

He grew up in Spartanburg and remembers an uncle helping keep Ownbey’s family fed while his father started a software business. “I want to be progressive,” he said. “ I look forward to helping out the people who are under-represented.”

Ownbey said he will run a shoe-leather campaign, and that he plans to do a lot of listening to voters.

“You have to be somebody who’s willing to listen,” he said. “That’s the primary reason why I think I may be able to win.”

Ownbey moved to the coast in 2007. He is an attorney with the Mullins Law Firm in North Myrtle Beach, where he does civil litigation and corporate law. He and Randy Mullins represented buyers in a failed condo project who sued after the developers took $6 million to $7 million in deposits, but never started construction. The developers pleaded guilty to fraud charges stemming from evidence uncovered in the civil suit.

Ownbey moved to Ricefields in 2008 after getting married. His wife, Tracy, a teacher at St. James Middle School, was already living in Pawleys Island and told him she wasn’t moving. The couple has three daughters, ages 6, 2 and 8 weeks.

Jobs and education are two areas where Ownbey said he plans to focus his campaign. He said the dredging of the Port of Georgetown is crucial to creating jobs in the county. Waccamaw Neck residents will benefit from the expanding tax base.

On education, he said it’s important to give schools the resources they need to do the job. His wife “deals with that on an every day basis,” he said.

Two Republicans have announced their candidacies: Stephen Goldfinch, an attorney, and Randy Hollister, a real estate broker. Alan Walters, a magistrate, and David DuRant, an attorney, are also considering a run for the GOP nomination.

“I’ve looked at the people I heard were running,” Ownbey said.

Goldfinch hired the former county GOP chairman, Tom Swatzel, to run his campaign, which seemed to give him an edge after Swatzel’s success in helping Ryan beat Miller in 2011.

Ownbey said he went looking for information about Goldfinch, 28. “No one could tell me anything about him,” he said. “I found that discouraging.”

Nancy Kolman, who chairs the county Democratic Party, said she is impressed with Ownbey. The party has struggled to find candidates on Waccamaw Neck in recent elections and she hasn’t heard of any other possible Democratic candidates. She knows it will be a tough race to win, but said, “if you get the right candidate…”

Ownbey believes that the Democrats are committed to the race.

“This is going to be a fight from start to finish,” Ownbey said. “I wanted to get the word out early, regardless of what happens in June [primaries], I wanted to kind of force the conversation.”

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