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Politics: Campaigns trade final barbs in House race

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Incumbent Stephen Goldfinch and challenger Vida Miller are leaving no stones unturned in their race for the District 108 seat in the South Carolina House of Representatives.

Miller’s campaign said in a press release this week that Goldfinch and a former business partner in Texas had settled a lawsuit over a treasure hunting dispute and signed a confidentiality agreement in May to hide facts from voters. William E. Kenon Jr. of Brownsville, Texas, sued Goldfinch for $250,000 alleging fraud, breach of fiduciary duty and abuse of power. Kenon claimed that Goldfinch said he could use his position as a lawyer and state legislator to get approvals to dive in state waters and rivers when offshore conditions were unfavorable. Goldfinch said the suit was frivolous shortly after it was filed.

“Regardless of the terms of this ‘confidential’ settlement, Rep. Goldfinch’s continuing commitment to secrecy and concealment is completely inappropriate for a public official,” said Miller campaign spokesman Chris Covert. “Instead of hiding behind criminal defense attorneys and secret settlement agreements, Mr. Goldfinch needs to drop all the lawyerly nonsense and come clean with the voters of this district about his myriad legal entanglements.”

Goldfinch said that the confidentiality agreement was Kenon’s idea and said Miller’s record is the one voters should be questioning. He said Miller broke ethics rules for failure to file campaign disclosure reports in 2012 and ’13 and failure to file expenditures this year. “Vida is a fan of spin,” Goldfinch said in a statement sent by e-mail, “and it’s time to tell the truth. Here it is: there’s one candidate in this race who has been tried, convicted and fined for ethics failures and that is Vida Miller.”

Once Goldfinch’s response went public Miller’s campaign responded with a statement from Covert quoting John Crangle, director of the nonpartisan ethics watchdog group Common Cause South Carolina about use of the words “charged, tried and convicted.”

“Rep. Stephen Goldfinch’s claim is untrue,” Crangle said in the Miller campaign news release. “Vida Miller has never been charged, tried, or convicted of anything by the S.C. House Ethics Committee. Nominal $100 fines for technical violations that are received after their due date result in routine reprimand letters from committee staff — not Ethics Committee charges and certainly not convictions. As a member of the S.C. House, Mr. Goldfinch must know this, which only makes his claim even more dishonest and irresponsible.”

Two members of the treasure diving crew called the Coastal Observer this week to defend Goldfinch from the Miller campaign claims regarding the lawsuit’s settlement. Christopher Tate, captain of the dive ship Rio Bravo, said Kenon wanted to dive in state waters to recover some of the money he was losing due to days lost to rough seas. “If I was worth millions,” Tate said, “that law suit would have been on me because I was the captain. Mr. Kenon was in a bind because we weren’t making enough money to cover fuel costs. We laid to the dock a lot and that drove him crazy. He wanted us to go inshore and dive on anything and take whatever. He got mad and said he was going to get something out of it. That’s when he got a trigger-happy lawyer in Texas.”

Tate said as captain he made the decisions about going to sea. “The confidentiality agreement is what’s making everybody wonder,” he said. “The public needs to know that Stephen has nothing to hide. He treated me like a decent human being, a captain, and had respect for me.”

Rich Taylor, a Socastee High School teacher who worked as a videographer aboard the Rio Bravo, said he and Goldfinch were interested in finding artifacts. “Stephen and I were just fanatical about diving. I was a volunteer trying to uncover some South Carolina maritime history. They had contracts if they found treasure, but we never really found any treasure. We never worked inshore and didn’t want to mess with anything within the territorial limits. When we refused to do that, things started getting strange. Stephen was extra careful not to work inshore.”

The campaigns have traded barbs that involve union printers and pornography in the last weeks before Tuesday’s election.

County Republican Party chairman Randy Hollister criticized Miller for using union print shops.

“Vida Miller is the ultimate hypocrite for saying in her campaign that she’s for helping local small businesses and then using out-of-state union print shops to print her campaign mailers,” he said. “Vida is so beholden to union bosses that she will not do business with printers located in her home county, legislative district or even in the state of South Carolina: business that would economically benefit our businesses, workers and families,” Hollister said in a news release. “Vida chooses to stand with the Teamsters union bosses and spend thousands of dollars out of state benefiting the union, not South Carolinians. We call on Vida to immediately stop enriching union bosses and give the work to South Carolinians.”

Georgetown County Democratic Party chairman Michael Carter said he could use the Republican’s logic to claim that Goldfinch is pro-pornography — but he would never do that.

Carter claimed the Goldfinch campaign website has been outsourced to a company that hosts pornography on its servers. “In fact,” Carter said, “the company in question, WebsiteWelcome/Hostgator, was recently named as the No. 2 porn hosting company in the world by the adult industry trade publication AdultWebHosting.com. Vida Miller’s website, on the other hand, is hosted by BlueHost.com, which has a strict no porn policy. So, if Mr. Hollister applied the same logic to Rep. Goldfinch that he has to Vida Miller, I guess he would have to tell you that Stephen Goldfinch is pro porn.”

Former Georgetown County Sheriff Carter, who is engaged to marry Miller, said the union print shop claims are part of a pattern of campaigning in the District 108 race. “I’m sure that Stephen Goldfinch would tell you that he’s not pro-porn, and I’d certainly be willing to take him at his word on that,” Carter said. “But that’s the problem with the kind of nonsense Mr. Goldfinch and his allies have been spewing in recent days. It turns common sense and simple decency on its head in a desperate, last-ditch attempt to win a political campaign that isn’t going their way. That’s wrong. And that’s why I’m calling on Mr. Goldfinch to give up on these, last-gasp attacks right now, and give this race back to the people it actually belongs to — the citizens and taxpayers of House District 108.”

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