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Politics: What Miller calls U-turn, Goldfinch calls lane change

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The way to change the future direction of a state project to eliminate the paved median on Highway 17 through the Pawleys Island business district is to change the area’s representatives on County Council, state Rep. Stephen Goldfinch told property owners at a forum this week.

“And you’re doing that,” he said, pointing to Steve Goggans, who beat incumbent Council Member Bob Anderson in June’s Republican Primary for District 6.

Goldfinch, a Murrells Inlet Republican, and his Democratic challenger, former Rep. Vida Miller of Hagley, spoke to the Waccamaw Neck Council of Property Owners Associations, their only joint forum of the campaign for House District 108.

Miller accused Goldfinch of flip-flopping on the median issue. He said his views changed as he studied the issue.

The state Department of Transportation is due to start work this fall on a $3.75 million project to install a raised median with designated left turns and U-turns along Highway 17 from Waverly Road to Baskervill Drive. Similar work is proposed for the section from Waverly Road to the South Causeway, but no funds have been set aside. The candidates were asked how they would deal with the project’s second phase.

“I will do everything possible to make sure this community is heard,” said Miller. Last week, she claimed that Goldfinch ignored petitions and calls from median opponents to redesign the project to allow more left-turn access into businesses.

Miller told the group of 50 people gathered for the POA council’s annual meeting that she chaired the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study policy committee when the median project was approved 12 years ago. It was only a concept, she said. Goldfinch is vice chairman of the policy committee, which represents local government and allocates DOT funds to regional projects.

“Were your government officials responsive? The answer was, No,” Goldfinch said. But that was County Council’s role, he added. He organized a meeting between median plan opponents and local, state and county officials. There was “no movement on County Council,” he said.

“County Council has ultimate authority. Ray Cleary told us that,” Goldfinch said, referring to state Sen. Ray Cleary, who said in the run-up to the Council District 6 primary that it was the county – through its representative on the transportation policy committee – that could ask for a change in the project. That could incur a financial penalty, Cleary said at the time. Council members Jerry Oakley and Anderson said Cleary was wrong.

Goldfinch was asked by median opponents to support Cleary’s view during the primary campaign. “It’s incorrect,” Goldfinch said at the time. “County Council doesn’t have absolute authority.”

Following this week’s forum, Miller accused Goldfinch of making a U-turn on the issue. “When the citizens are asking him to take responsibility for his refusal to help, he’s saying that it’s all council’s fault,” she said in a statement. “That’s just the worst sort of politics as usual.”

“It’s not a flip-flop at all,” Goldfinch said. “It’s a revelation.”

He talked with other attorneys about the responsibility for the median. “I really didn’t think Cleary was right,” Goldfinch said. “Cleary was right.”

He said he told that to Anderson, Oakley and Goggans this summer.

At the forum, the candidates were also asked if they support an increase in the state gas tax to fund repairs to roads and bridges. Miller said the increase would cost drivers less than what they have to pay to fix vehicles damaged by crumbling roads. She said Goldfinch couldn’t take that approach because he has signed the no-tax pledge sponsored by Americans for Tax Reform.

A gas tax increase is the Democrats’ favored solution, Goldfinch said. But it won’t pass the Republican-controlled legislature and it isn’t a long-term fix, he said. As federal fuel economy standards rise, the tax will bring in less revenue.

Goldfinch said he has proposed earmarking a portion of traffic fines to road repairs, which he estimated will raise $40 million a year, raising the sales tax cap on vehicle sales and requiring registration of trailers. “We have to start electing people who think outside the box,” he said.

Goldfinch reiterated his position that only a member of the majority party can be effective in the partisan climate in the statehouse.

Miller said she worked across party lines in seven terms in the House. She cited a grant obtained from former Republican Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer for the Waccamaw Regional Recreation Center as an example.

Asked about what they would do to improve education, Miller said “money does not fix every problem,” but seemed to suggest it would help education.

Goldfinch said only 45 percent of education funding reaches the classroom. Along with cutting bureaucracy, he said more emphasis is needed on technical schools.

Goldfinch keeps cash in hand for campaign's endgame

State Rep. Stephen Goldfinch had over $23,000 in hand going into the last three weeks of his campaign for a second term in state House District 108. He has raised $43,319 so far, a third more than when he ran unopposed for the seat in 2012.

Goldfinch filed the financial report with the state Ethics Commission last week. Candidates are also required to file a “pre-election” report on Oct. 20. According to the House ethics committee staff, candidates can combine those reports. Goldfinch’s challenger, former Rep. Vida Miller, said she will file her report by that deadline.

“I think she’s late,” Goldfinch said.

Miller provided an e-mail from the ethics committee confirming the joint filing deadline.

In addition to what he reported, Goldfinch said he added about $15,000 in new donations to his campaign account this week.

In the three months ending Oct. 10, Goldfinch raised $15,225. The largest check, $3,000, came from the House Republican Caucus. He got $1,000 from Lisa Collins of Georgetown, whose husband Perry is president of Liberty Terminals and a member of the Goldfinch campaign committee. Deutsche Bank gave him $750. He got $500 donations from Comcast, Press Courtney of Waccamaw Management, Dr. Gerald Harmon and Wilson Lowery of DeBordieu, Bill Hills of Murrells Inlet, County Council Member Jerry Oakley, John Jordan of Mount Pleasant and Dr. Larry Holt, owner of Coastal Cancer Centers. The state Wine and Spirits Wholesalers PAC gave $400.

Goldfinch also got $250 from Paragon Custom Construction, which is owned by Steve Goggans, who is unopposed for County Council District 6.

Goldfinch spent $12,480 during the quarter, with $9,315 going toward his campaign’s website and online ads.

“We’ll be spending a large chunk in the next three weeks,” he said.

He paid state Rep. Alan Clemmons $1,500 for “legislative travel.” That’s for a trip Goldfinch and other state lawmakers will take to Israel in December to show support for the country. It may also include some industry recruitment, Goldfinch said.

He paid himself $530 for travel, which he said was for an economic development trip to New Orleans with other local officials. Goldfinch said he couldn’t comment on whether it was connected to offshore oil and gas exploration.

Goldfinch also picked up endorsements this week from a group called Independents for Goldfinch. He said he learned about it in a press release.

“One of my goals is to meet Stephen,” said Janet Vincent, a Heritage Plantation resident who started the group. She was involved in politics in Kentucky, working for a Democratic governor. “I guess I should say I consider myself a recovering Democrat,” she said

The group evolved when Vincent and a group of friends were talking politics, some wanted to support Goldfinch, but didn’t want to be vocal about it.

“I probably wouldn’t have thought about organizing this group,” Goldfinch said, adding that he is flattered.

Although time is short, Vincent said the group will only have to focus on those voters who are undecided.

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