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Politics: As challenger blurs party lines, incumbent say it’s a GOP world

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Rep. Stephen Goldfinch says a Democrat can no longer be effective in the South Carolina House and he should return for a second term as representative from District 108.

“A Democrat can be effective in the South Carolina Senate,” Goldfinch, a Republican from Murrells Inlet, told the Waccamaw Neck GOP Club this week, “but I don’t believe a Democrat can be effective in the South Carolina House. That’s a bold statement to make, I understand. I’ve watched it. There’s a Republican budget; there is a Republican agenda. The S.C. House is very Republican. A Democrat coming from this district going to Columbia would set us back decades. We can’t do that. We have to move forward.”

Republicans outnumber Democrats in the S.C. House 78-46.

Goldfinch faces a challenge from former Rep. Vida Miller of Pawleys Island, a Democrat. He said he is running on his effectiveness, citing his work to secure state funding for dredging the port of Georgetown as an example. “I went every single day as we approached the budget and begged the chairman of Ways and Means to give me the funding we need for Georgetown’s port,” he said. “He came and whispered in my ear, ‘Stephen, you bugged me just enough. You got your funding.’ ”

Goldfinch said he worked with Pawleys Island Mayor Bill Otis on a bill that allows homeowners to maintain their primary residence tax exemption and rent their houses for more than 14 days. “Do you think a Democrat could do that in the South Carolina House?” he asked.

Miller has raised questions about Goldfinch’s accomplishments during his first term as she launched her campaign to return to the House.

Miller is running a negative campaign, “most of which is not true,” Goldfinch said.

He said every Democratic member of the S.C. House voted to implement the Affordable Care Act. “Would Vida do the same, knowing it cuts three-quarters of a trillion dollars out of Medicare?” he asked. “You could only assume she would vote right there with the Democrats.”

On Wednesday, Miller said she worried about the costs of the Affordable Care Act for small businesses and would not support it. “Unlike Stephen,” she said, “I’ve owned a small business in this district for most of my adult life, and I’m as worried about unfunded federal healthcare mandates as every other small business person. Therefore, I could not and would not support any implementation of the law that would hurt our state’s small businesses or the people they employ.”

Goldfinch said there’s a “Columbia Vida” and an “at home Vida” who gets potholes repaired. “Frankly, anybody can pave a pothole,” Goldfinch said. “When you go to Columbia and you push those buttons, that’s the person you are really voting for. Do you want to send a person to Columbia to vote for Obamacare?”

Miller announced her campaign in August with an attack on Goldfinch’s vote to give legislators $12,000 more a year. She called it a pay raise; he called it expense money. “At home, Stephen says he’s a conservative. But in Columbia, Stephen voted not once, but twice, to raise his own pay by $12,000 a year, at a taxpayer cost of more than $20 million in the first decade alone. That’s not conservative, it’s irresponsible, and the people of this district deserve better.”

Goldfinch cited a 2007 survey in the Charleston Post and Courier that rated Miller low on effectiveness in the legislature. “I don’t want to pat myself on the back,” he said, “but the S.C. Chamber rated me among the most effective legislators. Yeah, she’s a nice lady, but what’s best for Georgetown?”

Miller said the very next year, she was one of only two Democrats the Charleston newspaper endorsed for the legislature. “Well, you know the old saying: facts are stubborn things,” she said. “According to the 2007 Post and Courier study he cited, I passed more total legislation that year than the then-Speaker of the House and sponsored the bill that finally addressed the rising cost of coastal insurance. As for the Chamber’s view of Stephen’s effectiveness, the simple fact is that they rated him in the bottom 30 percent of all S.C. House members in 2014. If that’s his idea of success, I’d hate to see what he calls failure.”

Goldfinch said federal charges against him for misbranding drugs after an employee of his Mount Pleasant biotech firm Caledonia Consulting sold umbilical cord blood cells to a company that used them improperly are an “administrative offense.” He said he’s never been indicted and prosecutors have not gone forward with charges.

U.S. Assistant Attorney Cedric Joubert of the South Texas Federal District Court said charges will be prosecuted in federal district court, though a hearing has not yet been set, according to federal court records.

Goldfinch said that if the case goes to court he’s not worried. “Fine,” he said, “it’s a probationary offense, and I would take responsibility for it again. It’s my fault for hiring a terrible employee. Quite frankly, that was 10 years ago. You live and learn.” He said the chatter about the case is coming from Democrats. “They are dredging it up today,” he said, “because they have nothing to run on.”

The charges have been a staple of Democratic attacks as well as those of the state’s political bloggers. “Stephen is playing word games with the word ‘indictment’. The simple truth is that he’s been charged with a federal crime, the crime carries a sentence of up to one year in prison, and the prosecutors in his case announced just last week that they intend to take him to trial on the charge in Charleston,” Miller said. “Is that a big deal? I don’t know, but the prosecutors certainly seem to think so.”

Goldfinch was asked about some of the children who were brought illegally to the United States being located in South Carolina. “We’ve gotten more than we should have,” Goldfinch said. “I have compassion for them, but we are already struggling enough with funding education in South Carolina. Putting another thousand people, who in my opinion are not entitled to an education here, is not the right thing to do.”

Bob Anderson, a member of Georgetown County Council, said he has asked a member of the county school board to find out if any of the children are here.

Goldfinch was asked about funding the state’s infrastructure needs. He did not foresee a hike in the gasoline tax this year, but funds will be shifted to road repairs. He said he would re-file his bill to add $250 to the fines of drivers convicted of driving under the influence, driving under suspension or other six-point offenses. That would generate more than $40 million for roads, he said, and other ideas for alternative sources could amount to half a billion dollars.

Anderson said the way to fix roads is to take money from Health and Human Services and higher education. “What we need to do is reallocate the pie,” Anderson said. “There’s plenty of money.” Goldfinch said it’s unlikely money could be taken away from education.

Jerry Fancher said he and other residents of the Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire District are upset with Goldfinch for using an increase in fire district millage as “a bargaining chip” to end fireworks displays at the Marsh Walk in Murrells Inlet. Goldfinch said he opposed the Murrells Inlet fireworks because fire department boats and personnel were in the inlet during the fireworks shows.

“Our tax dollars were being used inappropriately,” he said. He said he supported a vote on the tax increase and would support it if residents approve.

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