THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
Politics: Miller sees opportunity as party lines blur
By Jason Lesley
When Democrat Vida Miller agreed to accept an invitation to a victory celebration two weeks ago for Steve Goggans after he won the Republican primary for Georgetown County Council District 6, she realized that she had never been asked to a GOP event.
“I looked around,” she said, “and it was not really a Republican event. It was a community event. It was representative of our entire community, and I think that was wonderful.”
Miller hopes to form a coalition of her own as she challenges Republican incumbent Stephen Goldfinch for the District 108 seat in the state House. She held the seat for 14 years before being defeated four years ago.
“I think it speaks a lot for this community,” Miller said, “that Republicans, independents and Democrats can all come together and have a common voice in this district which has been so divided in the past few years. I think this is a new day, and it would be refreshing to see everyone come together in a common voice. That’s what your community is all about. I do believe in listening to people in the community. My focus has always been constituent service. I don’t see constituent service being done.”
Goggans turned a group opposed to a plan to put a raised median on Highway 17 between Waverly Road and Baskervill Drive into a political coalition that swept him into office. His claim was that Bob Anderson didn’t listen to their concerns.
“In this community,” Miller said, “I think the median project is still an issue.”
Miller got an early start to her campaign to unseat Goldfinch this week by highlighting two issues where she sees vulnerability: his refusal to allow the Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire Department to raise taxes to build a fourth department and maintain its fire insurance rating and his approval of increasing reimbursement for members of the legislature, even though the increases were killed when the state Senate upheld Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto.
“Two years ago, when Stephen Goldfinch first asked to be our representative in House District 108, he promised to be a ‘commonsense conservative’ in the state House,” Miller said. “But there was nothing commonsensical or conservative about his votes over the last two weeks to kill the new Murrells Inlet-Garden City fire station and to give himself a $12,000-a-year pay increase at taxpayers’ expense.”
The fire district was created by state law in 1966, and an increase in its top tax rate requires approval of the legislature. State Sen. Ray Cleary proposed a bill to allow the rate cap to rise from 10 to 20 mills. (A mill equals $1 in tax for every $1,000 in taxable value.) The actual rate would be set by the six-member board of the fire district. Goldfinch said voting for the increase would have violated the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, drafted by Americans for Tax Reform, that he signed as a candidate.
The fire district currently has three stations, and it wants to build a fourth to serve a portion of Horry County along Highway 707. The district has the money for the building but is concerned about the annual cost of operating the station (estimated at $380,000 to $425,000) with its current tax rate. In addition to increased costs, officers say the district faces lower revenue because of declining property values in Georgetown County.
“On the fire district, Rep. Goldfinch faced a simple choice: either raise the local fire district rate $20 a year on average and make us all safer, or raise fire insurance rates almost a $100 a year and put our residents at unnecessary risk,” Miller said. “And despite overwhelming public support for the fire district, Rep. Goldfinch chose higher insurance rates and greater risk for our citizens and firefighters — all because a Washington, D.C., special-interest group told him that the $20-a-year fire department plan would count as a tax increase, and thus violate a ‘pledge’ he signed in the last campaign. How, in good conscience, could Rep. Goldfinch play politics with the fire safety of residents, businesses and firefighters in this district less than a year after the massive Georgetown fire that destroyed an entire city block and other tragic fires in our area? And why, after doing just that, would he think he deserved a pay raise?”
Miller said she voted for a $208-a-year pay raise when she was in the legislature. “It would never have occurred to me to support a $12,000-a-year pay raise,” she said, “especially at a time when so many of our fellow South Carolinians are still struggling to recover from the economic collapse of 2008. That’s just wrong, and it makes you wonder whose interests Rep. Goldfinch was really thinking about when he cast that vote.”
Goldfinch said Miller is hoping to stir up controversy where none exists. “I hope this attack isn’t a preview of the kind of misleading campaign Ms. Miller plans to subject the voters of District 108 to for the next four months,” Goldfinch said. “There was no pay raise bill. There was no pay raise vote. Both houses of the legislature passed a bill to increase the reimbursement allowance legislators have for expenses such as travel and constituent communications. I supported that bill because District 108 now includes portions of two large counties, has increased in population by 18,000 voters and is a 350-mile round trip to Columbia with gas prices being significantly higher than the last increase 20 years ago. I hope Ms. Miller will refrain from over-dramatizing simple issues simply to suit her own personal political agenda.”
Miller said she will set partisanship aside if elected. “Not every Republican was my friend; not every Democrat was my friend,” she said. “I worked very hard to establish relationships on both sides of the aisle and will continue to do that. And if the voters of this district give me the honor of being their representative again, I’ll work with anyone, Democrat or Republican, to further the interests and values of the citizens of this district — and I’ll never, ever let politics, partisanship or special-interest pledges get in the way of that duty.”