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County Council District 1: Write-in campaign begins: October surprise fueled by impact fee opponents

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

With less than two weeks until the election, Ricky Horne of the Tradition Club and Sandy Island this week announced a write-in campaign for County Council District 1.

The current council member, Jerry Oakley, who is unopposed on the ballot, is running on the Republican ticket, but his votes haven’t supported Republican values, Horne, 57, told a small group Wednesday in Litchfield.

“He’s voted again and again to raise taxes and fees,” Horne said. “What I’m hearing is that voters are very dissatisfied.”

Horne has run for the state Senate and House as a Republican, but that hasn’t garnered him any support from the county GOP. The party “fully supports” Oakley, said Tom Swatzel, the party chairman and Oakley’s business partner.

“He’s absolutely the best choice to represent the district voters on County Council,” he said.

The primary complaints Horne mentioned are Oakley’s votes to implement impact fees on new development, embark on a long-term capital improvement plan and raise millage to offset falling property values as part of property reassessment this year.

With Council Member Glen O’Connell retiring this year and Bob Anderson running unopposed to succeed him in District 6, Horne said his election in District 1 could provide the pivotal fourth vote to turn things around on the seven-member council. He would join Council Member Ron Charlton in opposition of the capital improvement plan, impact fees and the millage increase.

Anderson has spoken against impact fees and tax increases. He wants to scale down the capital improvement plan because of the economic downturn.

Council Member Leona Miller voted with Charlton against the millage increase. However, Miller hasn’t expressed opposition to impact fees or the capital improvement plan.

A small group of Republicans has tried to enlist someone to run against Oakley since impact fees went into effect last year.

Two of the core members are Vikky Ferris and Eileen Johnson of Georgetown. Johnson applied for Horne’s permit from the county to put up political signs this week, according to county documents.

“During a recession is no time to put impact fees on businesses and then to raise taxes on people,” Ferris said. “I support the Republican Party and I support the party’s candidates when they support the Republican values of lower taxes and limited government, but Jerry Oakley does not.”

Ferris serves on the party’s executive committee, as does Oakley.

Oakley, who is seeking his third term, said he has always tried to cast votes that reflect what the majority of voters in District 1 want. He voted against a fee increase to help fund a landfill expansion at a council meeting this month.

“I have steadfastly worked to accomplish those goals my constituents set for me. It would be my hope that the voters in District 1 believe that I have been their faithful and effective servant,” he said.

The group working to get Oakley out of office consists of about 15 people from throughout the county, Ferris said, including several who live in District 1, which includes Litchfield, Murrells Inlet and Garden City.

Bob and Judy Modica of Litchfield Country Club are among Horne’s supporters. Asked why, Judy said “just read the newspapers for the last two years. Look what’s happening in the nation.”

A County Council member is unlikely to affect national change, she admits, but “you have to start somewhere. Every little bit helps.”

It was Tom Sawyer of North Litchfield who approached Horne about a candidacy.

“I think it’s time for somebody to step up and be a voice of the people,” Sawyer said. “I knew Ricky’s past experience in the political arena and he’s well-known to voters in District 1. I felt he would be a good choice.”

Horne ran as a Republican for the state Senate in 2004 and the House in 2008. He was defeated in the House race by Vida Miller and dropped out of the Senate race before the primary to back Ray Cleary in a three-way race.

Horne also ran for the Senate as a Democrat in 1992, losing to Greg Smith.

Horne said he was first approached about running for council six months ago. He didn’t accept because he was trying to build his business, Waterbridge Marine Contractors. He said he feels the business is at a point where he can divert some attention to public office, and if voters want him to serve, he’s willing.

“If somebody asks me to fight, I’m going to fight,” Horne said.

While there’s not much time to campaign, he said he’s “in it to win it” and believes his chances are good.

It might be a tough fight, he added, but he points out Strom Thurmond was elected to the U.S. Senate as a write-in candidate.

Horne said he’ll be knocking on doors and sending out mailers in the coming weeks and handing out flyers at polling places on Election Day.

Swatzel is unconcerned.

“I feel confident the voters will not be fooled by a last-minute, fringe write-in candidate, who has significant baggage,” he said, referring to several judgements and an ethics violation against Horne.

Horne was sanctioned by the House Ethics Committee in 2007 for accepting a contribution that exceed legal limits during his campaign in 2006. Horne said the violation was unintentional and he returned the money.

In regard to judgments, Horne said “I’m a product of what’s happening in this economy.” He was involved with development of a subdivision that went into foreclosure.

“Probably 80 percent of people in the county are having problems,” he said. “I’m still getting back on my feet, but that’s something I’m taking care of personally.”

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