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Election 2012: Democrat cut from House District 108 ballot won’t join petition drive

It looks like the race for state House District 108 will be an uncontested one this year. After being stricken from the ballot last week, along with a number of other Georgetown County candidates, Democrat Jarrod Ownbey said on Monday that he won’t run as a petition candidate in November.

Instead, he’ll take the rest of the year to regroup and plan to run in 2014 to take back the seat for the Democratic party.

The Republican candidate for the seat, Stephen Goldfinch, is one of only three non-incumbents in the county who weren’t disqualified from the election due to a recent ruling by the state Supreme Court. The court ruled the candidates improperly filed economic interest disclosure forms, though candidates said they did what their party told them to.

After being disqualified, Ownbey said he took a couple of days to decide how to proceed — whether to start collecting signatures, wait until the next cycle or just walk away. He picked up a packet for petition candidates at the urging of Nancy Kolman, the Democratic Party chairwoman. However, he decided that waiting was the best decision for everyone.

“Realistically you have to run the numbers,” Ownbey said. “No petition candidate in South Carolina history has won a partisan race.”

Factor in the extra work involved in collecting enough signatures to run as a petition candidate and the money it would take to run such a campaign, and winning a district drawn to give Republicans an advantage becomes even more difficult.

“I can do OK with a long shot, but a no shot is a different thing,” Ownbey said. “You have to play the hand you dealt and sometimes the best thing to do is to punt, fall back and try it again.”

He wishes the situation were different and is disappointed, frustrated and a little angry at the situation that left him and other candidates with such poor options. But he’s not going away.

“I’ll still be active and I’ll still try to make my community a better place,” he said. That’s what all the candidates should do, as that’s presumably why they wanted to run for office in the first place, he said.

The reason Goldfinch, along with fellow Republicans Doug Dishong (running for sheriff) and Brian Shult (candidate for auditor) weren’t disqualified is because they provided a printed copy of their statement of economic interest when they filed with the party, according to Jim Jerow, county GOP chairman.

Goldfinch said it’s because of his campaign consultant, Tom Swatzel, that he filed correctly.

“I was fortunate enough to have a consultant that has been through the issues and is very familiar with the process,” Goldfinch said. “I paid him good money to know the right answers. He had everything printed out for me and told me where to sign, otherwise I could have fallen victim to this as easy as anyone else.”

Swatzel is the former county GOP chairman.

The Supreme Court ruled in May in a case from Anderson County that the parties did not follow state law in qualifying candidates. The law requires that candidates file a statement of economic interest and a statement of candidacy at the same time. Incumbents are exempt because they are required to file annual economic interest statements.

The Supreme Court last week ruled in a case from Florence County that candidates were not “public officials” who are exempted from the law. The court chastised the county Republican Party, which claimed otherwise, for failing to follow its earlier ruling. The case was brought by the county Democratic Party.

Though Ownbey is stepping back, it probably won’t be for long. Campaigning for District 108 usually stars soon after the winner of the race takes office in January. “It always has and it always will,” he said. “I can assure you everything will be filed correctly this time.”

Though Ownbey is out of the race, other candidates will be taking advantage of what will hopefully be a large turnout on Election Day, collecting signatures to launch their petition campaigns.

Tom Winslow, a Republican, and Jacqueline Williams, a Democrat, both hoping to unseat S.C. Rep. Carl Anderson in District 3, are encouraging voters to sign petitions to give all candidates who were removed from the ballot a chance to run this year.

“You, the voter, should vote for who you want to represent you and not be limited by an error in the laws our current politicians created,” Winslow said.

In addition to Williams, Winslow and Ownbey, Democrats Darryel Carr, running for sheriff, and Ben Dunn, a candidate for County Council District 5, were cut from the ballot. Republicans Mike Andrews, running for treasurer; Bubba Grimes, also running for Council District 5; Rod Stalvey, who filed to run against Shult for auditor in the primary; and Tammie Avant, who filed to run for clerk of court were disqualified.

Jerow said he and the party are disappointed in the process that has left candidates and voters in this situation.

“It’s disenfranchising the voters, the candidates, the whole process. But it is what it is,” he said

Kolman said she spent 12 hours on Saturday and five hours on Sunday talking with Democratic candidates about whether to petition. Between the primary and runoff the party will have a meeting of candidates, their staffs and volunteers, and county volunteers to develop a strategy to best handle the election.

“In some ways this might not be as bad as it seems now because there will be so many petition candidates working together,” she said.

None will file until after July 9, when they get the final count of signatures they will need to be certified, Kolman said. After that, they have until July 16 to file.

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