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Politics: In first race, Goldfinch wins second term

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

State Rep. Stephen Goldfinch has over a dozen bills he plans to prefile next month as he prepares for his second term, making good on campaign promises to help fund repairs to crumbling infrastructure. The Murrells Inlet Republican won 57 percent of the vote in House District 108 in this week’s election.

Infrastructure was the dominant issue Goldfinch found as he and campaign volunteers knocked on 5,000 doors and made 15,000 phone calls to voters in recent weeks, he said. “We’ve got a lot of infrastructure needs,” he said. Funding them “is the subject of debate.”

Goldfinch was elected in 2012 without opposition. In his first race he faced Democrat Vida Miller, who held the District 108 seat from 1997 to 2010, when she lost to Republican newcomer Kevin Ryan. Her bid for a comeback highlighted a federal misdemeanor charge brought against Goldfinch last year because a biomedical firm he once owned failed to properly label stem cells sent to a man in Texas that were used in bogus medical treatments.

The charge was filed last year, and Goldfinch said he would plead guilty and accept probation. But the case has not gone to court and Miller capitalized on the fact that the maximum penalty is up to a year in prison. “Her campaign was about making me into a bad guy,” Goldfinch said.

That peaked last week with a mailing from the state Democratic Party that featured photos of federal prisons with the headline questioning which one Goldfinch might end up in. “That was probably the dark moment,” Goldfinch said.

Miller repeatedly won re-election as District 108 became increasingly Republican. After her loss in 2010, statewide reapportionment removed blocks of Democratic voters in Georgetown from the district. But she still had name recognition and a history of constituent service. There was concern that Goldfinch could suffer the same fate as County Council Member Bob Anderson, said one Goldfinch supporter, who didn’t want to speak on the record. Anderson lost to Steve Goggans, who was backed by a coalition of Republicans, Democrats and independent voters.

The Goldfinch campaign was particularly concerned about the Pawleys Island 3 precinct, where Pawleys Plantation residents had organized Republicans for Miller. Campaign volunteers used bridge games to make the case for Goldfinch in the neighborhood. He won the precinct by 143 votes.

“An issues-based campaign would have given me a run for my money,” Goldfinch said. Instead, the Miller campaign was “so over the top they didn’t believe it.”

Jerry Rovner, chairman of the Waccamaw Neck GOP Club, said the Miller campaign was the dirtiest race he’s seen, including 18 years of politics as a county commissioner in New Jersey.

After the results came in showing Goldfinch with 61 percent of the vote in Georgetown County precincts, he drew cheers from supporters gathered at Nosh restaurant when he told them, “We took the high road in this race.”

Goldfinch hired a consulting firm out of Columbia for the campaign, but he said it was the work of his wife Renee and the grass-roots volunteers that made the difference.

Pawleys Island Mayor Bill Otis endorsed Goldfinch, although town elections are nonpartisan. He said that it was the freshman lawmaker’s role in passing a change to state law extending the time owners can rent their homes and still claim the lower tax rate as a primary residence was the key factor. But Otis said he also agreed with a central theme of the Goldfinch campaign: in a Republican-controlled legislature, it’s hard for a Democrat to have an impact.

Miller issued a statement congratulating Goldfinch. “It’s been a long, hard-fought campaign and, obviously, I’m disappointed,” she said. “But the first job of anyone in public life is to respect the voice of the people they hope to serve. Tonight, the people of this district have spoken, and their message is clear: they want Stephen Goldfinch to continue to represent them in Columbia. And, so, let me be the first to publicly congratulate Stephen on his victory, and to offer prayers and best wishes as he sets out on the road ahead.”

She serves on the board of Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments and the Georgetown Port Task Force. “I hope Vida and I can work together on the COG and the port task force,” Goldfinch said.

He plans to reintroduce a bill that will add a surcharge to drunken driving and driving under suspension fines to raise money for road repairs. He will also introduce bills for licensing golf carts and trailers, with fees to go directly to infrastructure. He also wants to raise the current $300 sales tax cap on vehicle sales.

His legislative plans were interrupted by hugs and handshakes as supporters left the restaurant after the results from Charleston County precincts came in. Reminded that prefiling begins next month, he said, “is it that time already?”

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