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Politics: Political storm won't deter Cleary in 2012 bid

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

State Sen. Ray Cleary will definitely run for re-election next year, he said this week, and his chances of winning might be higher than anyone who has been paying attention to the news lately might expect.

Cleary’s actions over the last four months have created “the perfect political storm” to jeopardize his bid for re-election, said Tom Swatzel, the county Republican party chairman who plans to become a political consultant.

But by the time polls open in 2012, actions that had voters up in arms this year could be all but forgotten.

“We’re still a year away from filing. That’s a long time politically and a lot could happen between now and then,” Swatzel said.

Cleary has made headlines frequently since December when he announced Dave Jolliff as his nominee for a magistrate’s position in Murrells Inlet. It was a choice that angered a component of Cleary’s constituency there (with Swatzel being the most vocal of Jolliff’s critics) and elected Republican officials including Sheriff Lane Cribb and Georgetown County Council Member Jerry Oakley.

Though an investigator’s report on Jolliff released last month determined he was a good candidate for the job, Jolliff withdrew his name days later and Cleary started the search over again.

That same week, Gary Roberts, a former business partner of Cleary’s told the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office that Cleary and four other partners illegally sold off fixtures in their failed Murrells Inlet restaurant.

Cleary said he had a letter from Roberts turning over all interest in the property and has filed a report with the sheriff’s office accusing Roberts of intentionally making false statements to deputies in an effort to hurt Cleary politically.

Cleary and his wife, Lisa, also filed a lawsuit against Roberts seeking $15 million in damages for fraud and slander.

In the meantime, restaurant owners were riled by a recycling bill Cleary put forth and questions were raised about some of his campaign financing.

The bad press Cleary has received might do some political damage, acknowledged Buddy Lindsay, a Pawleys Island area attorney who contributed to Cleary’s re-election campaign in 2008. But it hasn’t affected Lindsay’s support of Cleary.

“Not only will he get my vote, but I’ll be the first one in line to write him a check for another contribution,” Lindsay said. “I’ve known him 35 years. He’s a Godly man and, in my opinion, the best senator we have had.”

He said he’s never known a legislator to respond as quickly as Cleary did when his wife, Marie, contacted him for help with an issue about four years ago. Cleary got in touch with her within 24 hours and had already talked to several experts about her situation.

“We were both astounded,” Lindsay said. “You just don’t get that kind of service from a legislator.”

Jim Jerow, the nominee to replace Swatzel as county GOP chairman, said he was pleased to hear Cleary plans to run again and was optimistic about his chances.

“Most of the people I have talked to who the senator represents, they like him,” Jerow said.

In Jerow’s own dealings with Cleary, “he’s always been straight forward and honest, and he and I have never had any problems,” Jerow said. “But the final analysis is, the voters will decide whether he’s elected or not. It’s up to the senator to earn their respect.”

With some voters, that might not be easy, but it is possible. Judy Marshall of Murrells Inlet said she doesn’t intend to vote for Cleary after his refusal to listen to voters concerning Jolliff’s nomination.

“He was going against the wishes of the people that elected him,” she said. “He’s supposed to represent their needs and their desires. I don’t think he did that adequately.”

She said something might happen to change her mind before the election, “but I don’t know what it would be.”

Russell Vereen of Murrells Inlet said whether he votes for Cleary will hinge on Cleary’s actions going forward.

“It’s not over yet,” he said of the magistrate situation. “He still could do the right thing.”

Vereen said while he hasn’t been pleased with Cleary lately, that’s based entirely on the magistrate issue.

“That’s the only particular thing I’m not satisfied with,” he said. “It’s the only thing I’ve kept up with, because it’s right here in my backyard.”

Though Cleary’s nomination of Jolliff drew ire from Republican officials, Jerow said that has “nothing to do with the party” and he hasn’t heard anything about plans to recruit another Republican candidate to run against Cleary.

“It’s just too bad all this has reached the level it has reached, but that’s the American way,” Jerow said.

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