011818 Politics: Six months out, council race enters new phase
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Politics: Six months out, council race enters new phase

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Three months into a County Council race that still has nearly six months to run, the candidates say they are gearing up for a new phase of campaigning.

Bill Hills announced in September that he plans to challenge Council Member John Thomas in the Republican primary for the District 1 seat. He said the early start was intended to give him a chance to make his point that Thomas is still unknown in the district three years into his first term. “I got in early knowing he was going to be a lot more active once I started,” Hills said.

Thomas disputes Hills’ characterization. “I’ve had hundreds of constituent contacts over the last three years,” he said, adding that most were resolved to the constituents’ satisfaction.

Thomas has the edge in fundraising, according to filings with the S.C. Ethics Commission for the quarter that ended Dec. 31, but Hills took in $200 more than Thomas for the quarter. That doesn’t include $50 that Hills donated to the campaign. He said that was the result of trying out an online donation feature on his website. “It cost me $25 each time,” Hills said.

Hills got $500 from Micky Stikas of Pawleys Island, owner of the Village Shops. Carolyn Vaughn of Murrells Inlet, a relative of Hills’, donated $250.

He has raised $875 so far and loaned the campaign another $1,500.

He has spent just over $1,100, with printing for handouts accounting for the largest portion. He also paid $200 to hire a Santa to pose for photos with a sleigh he owns. “We got a big turnout,” he said.

But Hills also faces two $100 fines from the Ethics Commission for filing his initial report and his October reports late, according to a letter dated Jan. 11.

Hills said this week he hadn’t received the notice and wasn’t aware that he had filed late.

Hills, who lives in Murrells Inlet, said it’s time for the area to have a resident council member. The last was Tom Swatzel, who served two terms and stepped down in 2002. Swatzel is now a political consultant and is working for Thomas, who lives in North Litchfield.

Thomas raised $675 in the last quarter from four donations, all from Murrells Inlet residents. Bill Chandler, a founder of Murrells Inlet 2020 and now a leader of the group Preserve Murrells Inlet, gave $350.

Thomas has raised $2,875 and loaned his campaign $5,000.

“I haven’t been trying to raise money, actually. I think I have enough,” he said.

Thomas has spent nearly $2,000. His biggest expense is $1,830 to Swatzel for consulting services. Thomas said he and Swatzel met this week to review strategy. “We have a game plan going through June,” Thomas said.

He declined to discuss details, but said he will be making contact with voters and seeking endorsements.

Hills will be doing the same. He has had some speaking engagements and will “start knocking on doors.”

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