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Politics: Coalition unseats County Council incumbent

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The word they used was eclectic.

“Probably the most eclectic group of political people,” said Jim Watkins, the president of the Waccamaw Neck Democrats.

Yes, eclectic, said David Hood, a former Republican member of Georgetown County Council who was standing at the bar in Nosh with former Democratic state Rep. Vida Miller watching the victory celebration for Steve Goggans. And Goggans singled both of them out in his speech to supporters after learning that he had unseated incumbent Bob Anderson for the Council District 6 seat in Tuesday’s GOP primary.

Goggans, 60, is an architect and the former head of a group opposing a state Department of Transportation plan to eliminate the paved center median on Highway 17 in the Pawleys Island business district. The Citizens Coalition for Ocean Highway has been unsuccessful in getting changes in the project, which it says will harm business and create safety problems, but Goggans said it was a coalition of residents from across the political spectrum that made his first run for elected office a success.

“You can’t help but feel humble when people rally around you,” Goggans said. “There were some very, very liberal Democrats. There were some very, very conservative Republicans. We’ve got this wide cross-section that came together.”

He fell back on a line from his stump speech. “The issues are not Republican or Democrat. They’re community issues,” he said.

Goggans won all five precincts in District 6 and won the absentee votes, according to election results that will be certified this morning. Preliminary results gave him a 947 to 586 victory over Anderson, who was elected to council in 2010. Anderson’s campaign emphasized his conservative view and aimed at energizing the GOP activists who typically vote in party primaries.

“What we needed to do to win this election was to get a bigger turnout,” said Johnny Weaver, who served as Goggans’ campaign manager. Weaver was the mayor of Bennettsville for three years before moving to Pawleys Island in 1985. He has known Goggans for almost 30 years.

But Weaver is also the partner of the county GOP chairman, Randy Hollister, in a real estate firm. He said he initially declined to manage the campaign. When he changed his mind, he said, his first call was to Anderson. “I like Bob,” Weaver said.

Although the campaign may have drawn more first-time voters to the Republican primary, the number of votes cast was slightly less than in 2010 when Anderson ran against Barry McCall, a former magistrate.

“Turnout was a little disappointing,” Goggans said. In talking to prospective voters during the campaign, he said he found many were unaware of the primary.

His campaign also built on opposition to the median project, although Weaver said it was important to develop issues beyond that. “Steve can’t be a one-trick pony,” he said.

The median was a key factor in bringing Mike Adams to the Goggans campaign committee. He’s a member of Pawleys Island Town Council, where elections are non-partisan, and has served as a county GOP officer. His council colleague Howard Ward and Mayor Bill Otis backed Anderson because of his efforts to block a rezoning that would have allowed a Walmart on Highway 17 in the Pawleys Island area.

Adams said the median plan is more of a threat than a big-box store, perhaps the greatest threat to the area since Hurricane Hugo 25 years ago, he added. “Steve is the man who stepped up and tried to so something about it,” Adams said.

Adams and Hood both said they think Anderson strayed from his original promise to take a hard look at local government spending. “I don’t have anything against Bob. I thought we could have more effective representation,” Hood said.

The Anderson campaign criticized Goggans for appealing to Democratic and independent voters. Weaver said that was only because, as a first-time candidate, Goggans didn’t have a record to attack. “There was nothing to go after him on,” he said.

Anderson said he was also humbled by the support he received during the campaign. “I’m very proud of those people. Some very prominent people stepped up and said this is our guy,” he said.

His campaign was run by Tom Swatzel, a former County Council member and county GOP chairman. Anderson said he was shocked by the amount of money the campaign attracted compared with the 2010 effort, which he and his wife Karol ran.

“The people spoke. People wanted a change and decided they didn’t want me any more and I certainly respect that. This is a democracy, and this is America, and this is the way we do business,” Anderson said.

No Democrat filed for the seat so Goggans will take office in January, barring a successful write-in challenge in November. He said he will use the time to develop an agenda for his term and will rely on his campaign committee for help. “This group was there to advise on more than how to win an election,” he said. Although they didn’t always agree, “these people are pretty open-minded.”

Jason Lesley contributed to this article.

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