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House District 108: Democrat’s flawed filing leaves Republican last man standing

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

It looks like the race for state House District 108 will be an uncontested one this year.

After he was struck from the ballot last week along with a number of other Georgetown County candidates, Democrat Jarrod Ownbey said this week he won’t run as a petition candidate in November.

Instead, he’ll take the rest of the year to regroup and plan a run in 2014 to take back the seat for the Democratic party.

The Republican candidate for the seat, Stephen Goldfinch, is one of only three non-incumbents in the county who weren’t disqualified from the election due to a recent ruling by the state Supreme Court. The court ruled the candidates improperly filed economic interest disclosure forms, though candidates said they did what their party told them to.

After being disqualified, Ownbey, an attorney who lives in Ricefields, said he took a couple of days to decide how to proceed — whether to start collecting signatures, wait until the next cycle or just walk away. He picked up a packet for petition candidates at the urging of Nancy Kolman, the Democratic Party chairwoman. However, he decided that waiting was the best decision for everyone.

“Realistically you have to run the numbers,” Ownbey said. “No petition candidate in South Carolina history has won a partisan race.”

Factor in the extra work involved in collecting enough signatures to run as a petition candidate and the money it would take to run such a campaign, and winning a district drawn to give Republicans the advantage becomes even more difficult.

“I can do OK with a long shot, but a no shot is a different thing,” Ownbey said. “You have to play the hand you’re dealt ... Sometimes the best thing to do is to punt, fall back and try it again.”

He wishes the situation were different and is disappointed, frustrated and a little angry at the circumstances that left him and other candidates with such poor options.

But he’s not going away.

“I’ll still be active and I’ll still try to make my community a better place,” he said.

That’s what all the candidates should do, as that’s presumably why they wanted to run for office in the first place, he said.

Despite the fact that his win in November is now essentially a given, Goldfinch is also unhappy with the situation that took candidates off the ballot.

“It’s bittersweet for me,” Goldfinch, a Murrells Inlet attorney, said on the day of the primary when Ownbey’s announcement came out. “This isn’t how I wanted to win. I would much rather everybody had an opportunity to be on the ballot if they wanted to be. I feel confident I would have won and run a good campaign, but I’m a little disappointed. Voters didn’t really get a chance to choose.”

Kolman said the party will look for another candidate who might be willing to run this year as a petition candidate. Candidates have until the middle of next month to file.

“We’re always looking,” she said. But she wasn’t optimistic.

She too is disappointed in the situation and that Ownbey won’t run this year. She believes he would have had a chance.

“Under the circumstances, with so many petition candidates running, it’s not like you’re the only one out there and nobody is going to find you on the ballot,” she said. “This time it’s not a bad thing to be running as a petition candidate.

“It’s going to be hard [for a Democrat] to win District 108 simply because of the way the lines are drawn, but with the right candidate, it is winnable.

Goldfinch has been spending a couple of days a week in Columbia getting familiar with legislators and the inner workings of the State House, so he can hit the ground running when he takes office, he said. He’ll continue doing that between now and November, as well as getting out and meeting people to “let them know who their representative is going to be.”

But Ownbey’s withdrawal from the race means he can scale back on his campaign plans.

“I will maintain a candidate sort of presence here. I still want to run basically like I’m going to lose — getting out there and talking to people and shaking hands.

“But I’m not going to be out full-time soliciting for my campaign as I was in the past, because there are a lot of other candidates out there who need the spotlight more than I do. I don’t want to take anything away from them in a race where I really don’t need to.”

Though Ownbey is stepping back, it probably won’t be for long. Campaigning for District 108 usually starts soon after the winner of the race takes office in January.

“It always has and it always will,” he said.

So, if Ownbey does opt for a run in 2014 and there are no surprises, expect to see him and Goldfinch at it again next year.

“I can assure you everything will be filed correctly this time,” he said.

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