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Senate District 34: Campaigns race $320K, with nearly half in loans

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Four candidates seeking to fill a vacant seat in the state Senate have raised over $320,000 for the Republican primary election next week. Almost half of that comes from loans, according to filings with the state Ethics Commission.

Stephen Goldfinch has a commanding lead in fundraising. The two-term House member from Murrells Inlet reported raising $228,980 as of the end of May. That included a $100,000 loan.

“We wanted to make sure we had plenty of liquidity in the last week or two, in case we had to go on TV,” Goldfinch said.

He borrowed the money from Conway National Bank.

Reese Boyd, an attorney who is also seeking the seat being vacated by Ray Cleary after three terms, loaned his campaign $50,000 after filing to run this spring. “I wanted to show people I have some skin in the game,” Boyd said, noting that his was a personal loan rather than a bank loan.

Goldfinch had $149,369 cash on hand as of May 29. In the six weeks covered by his latest financial report, Goldfinch received $13,400 from 16 political action committees, including those of Duke Energy, the state Medical Association, Hospital Association, Association of Convenience Stores, the state Chamber of Commerce, Blue Cross-Blue Shield, AT&T, the Association of Realtors, Grand Strand hotel, restaurant and golf groups, a trial lawyers association, and electric cooperatives.

Those donations show the “power of incumbency,” Boyd said. “That’s part of the problem with the system.”

Boyd, who recently received the backing of Gov. Nikki Haley, has raised $33,163 in individual contributions. He had $1,000 donations from the director of a tech firm in Myrtle Beach, the owner of Ocean Lakes Family Campground, a real estate company in Surfside Beach and a pair of attorneys from Myrtle Beach. Earlier, he received $1,000 from the Club for Growth political action committee.

Goldfinch accused Boyd, who was once his law partner, of “playing with some funny money” in his campaign, but Boyd said “any money we have received we have reported.” His campaign had $71,684 cash on hand on June 1.

Joe Ford, a contractor who lives in Hagley, has raised $3,815, which includes a $500 loan. He had $3,146 in hand. All his donations were $250 or less. “I could easily have run this campaign on $25,000,” he said, adding that money hasn’t been a problem.

Where Ford said the playing field is uneven is on the issue of campaign signs. He has limited his signs to private property. He is frustrated that state law prohibiting signs in the highway right of way isn’t enforced. He filed a complaint with the sheriff’s office last week. “I’m tired of it. I’m being put at a disadvantage,” Ford said.

A fourth candidate, Dick Withington of Myrtle Beach, has raised $4,600, including $2,932 that he loaned the campaign and $1,066 that he contributed to himself. His outstanding loans are more than his cash on hand.

Even with the lion’s share of the money, Boyd and Goldfinch are also expending shoe leather on their campaigns in an effort to win support and get voters to the polls.

The last two GOP local primaries attracted around 5,000 county voters. The turnout in Senate District 34 was about 15 percent, said Tom Swatzel, a political consultant working for Goldfinch. He estimates about 10,000 voters will turn out in the district that runs from Myrtle Beach to Mount Pleasant.

A poll taken for the Goldfinch campaign at the end of May showed him with 44 percent of the vote. Boyd had 13.8 percent, Withington 10.7 and Ford 10.3. There were 21.2 percent undecided. The margin of error was 4 percent. “All the polls are consistently showing me in the mid-40s,” Goldfinch said.

“Our data suggests that’s not accurate,” Boyd said. “We have internal polls that have a significantly different result.” But he added that “the poll that matters is Tuesday.”

The Senate race and the GOP primary for Georgetown County Probate Court judge are the only two items on the Tuesday ballot for Waccamaw Neck voters. Teresa Bennani and Leigh Powers Boan, both attorneys, are running for the probate judge seat now held by Waldo Maring, who is retiring. Absentee voting is already under way. “It’s been real slow,” said Donna Mahn, the county director of Elections and Voter Registration. “It’s a lot different than most of our primaries.”

While there were complaints about a lack of equipment and long lines at some precincts in February’s GOP presidential primary, Mahn said that won’t be the case next week. Voters can help by checking their registration, she said. That can be done online at scvotes.org.

With no Democratic candidates in the race, the winner of the GOP primary for state Senate District 34will not have formal opposition in November.

Here are the candidates’ views on issues the legislature will confront in the coming session based on answers given at last month’s forum by the League of Woman Voters:

Roads

Reese Boyd | DOT’s budget has more than doubled in six years, but oversight of the process is mired in politics, he says. He favors sending road money back to local governments to be spent and promises a commitment to reform DOT.

Joe Ford | He would dissolve the State Infrastructure Bank because its seven members are not accountable to anyone. DOT should be required to account for the maintenance cost each new road it builds.

Stephen Goldfinch | A few senior senators set the priorities for the Department of Transportation, he says. Road projects in Georgetown and Horry counties were axed because the senior senator didn’t want them. He favors putting the decisions about road spending into the hands of the people and developing a comprehensive, permanent funding plan.

Dick Withington | He favors gradually moving toward local control and modernization of DOT.

Education

Boyd | As a member of the state public charter school board, he says he believes they are a source of innovation and state money should follow children to whatever school their parents choose. He also believes schools should offer immersion programs for foreign languages.

Ford | The quality of education does not come from a building but rather from teachers and parents, he says. He would reverse figures sending 78 percent of state lottery proceeds to higher education and 20 percent to primary. Those early grades, he says, are the most important period for a child’s education.

Goldfinch | Republicans have abdicated responsibility for schools to Democrats for years, he says, and it’s time to look at education as a way to create a qualified workforce. He favors school choice that allows parents to send their children to better schools and offering college loan forgiveness to attract teachers to rural schools.

Withington | Government can’t solve every problem, and he says families should move if they want to live in a better school district.

Ethics

Boyd | Information about legislators is difficult to find, he says. He will go to Columbia of doing the right thing. He pledges not to take junkets with campaign dollars because it doesn’t pass the “smell test.”

Ford | Political campaign accounts should be closed within 60 days of elections and he criticizes Goldfinch for using campaign money to travel to Israel and New Orleans.

Goldfinch | The electorate has lost faith in its representatives, he says. Income disclosure and an end to self-policing would be a start toward a more ethical legislative branch. He also says it’s part of his job as a member of the House of Representatives to bring jobs to South Carolina. He traveled to Israel and New Orleans to recruit business.

Withington | The Senate is on a power trip, he says, adding that he has lost contributors because he is a controversial figure.

Offshore energy

Boyd | There would be a different discussion if oil prices were high, he says, and doesn’t see any point in pushing the issue now. He adds that it would be prudent to know what oil reserves are off the state’s coast and favors testing that is not harmful to the environment.

Ford | Drilling for oil off the state’s coast is not worth the risk, he says. Citizens have made a clear statement against drilling and as their representative he has to consider what they want.

Goldfinch | He wants an economy fueled by natural gas rather than oil. He says drilling for oil now makes no sense at current prices but knowing what’s offshore could be important in the future. He believes seismic testing isn’t harmful after fishing in the Gulf of Mexico and never seeing any ill effects.

Withington | He opposes seismic testing and drilling for oil and natural gas off the coast of South Carolina. Finding oil would not change the price of gasoline for consumers or bring any significant number of jobs to the state. He proposes a 20-year moratorium on oil drilling in order to leave the reserves to the next generation.

Guns

Boyd | He will defend the Second Amendment for law-abiding citizens, but convicted domestic abusers should lose their gun rights. He says he doesn’t support lengthening the state’s waiting period of three days to check gun applicants’ records. The so-called “Charleston loophole” that allowed accused mass murderer Dylan Roof to buy a gun, was a breakdown in the system, he says. Roof’s arrest report had not been put into the database. A longer waiting period would not have had an impact. Gun ownership, he says is a critical right and must be preserved and protected.

Ford | If authorities can’t check the records of gun purchasers there should be more staff or a longer waiting period. Private gun sales should have the same rules for background checks as store sales, and says he has no problem with domestic abusers losing their gun rights.

Goldfinch | Not all domestic abuse charges are equal. Only those who physically strike a domestic partner should be denied their gun rights. Those judged to have mental health problems shouldn’t be allowed to get a gun, he adds, until they return to court and get a clean bill of health. Straw purchases — buying a gun for someone else — should be illegal, he says.

Withington | He worries about the militarization of police, and he opposes police stops on the highways with blinding lights. He says it’s easy to claim somebody is crazy.

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