Lexington, SC (Paul Kirby) – In tomorrow’s Republican Primary, several important choices will be made by voters that will decides who leads Lexington County or represents us in Columbia in the future. Remember, if you do not vote in Lexington County on Tuesday, you almost certainly will not have a choice in November. In Lexington County, almost no Democrats run for office to oppose the winner of the June Republican Primary. Tomorrow’s election is THE election here!
Many races tomorrow are uncontested. People must be happy with the performance of the likes of Lexington County Council Chairman Scott Whetstone, Senator Katrina Shealy, and others because no one filed to run against them. If a Democrat has filed to run in the fall General Election in this county, well good luck with that.
One of the hottest races in the county is for SC House District 88. This district covers South Congaree, Pine Ridge, a lot of Red Bank, and even a portion of Lexington. Five candidates have filed to run for this seat as the longtime incumbent Mac Toole decided to step back after many years of service.
The candidates, all Republicans of course, include Mike Sturkie, Brian Duncan. R.J. May, John Lastinger, and Eddie McCain. Each say they are conservative Republicans who would carry on Toole’s legacy of common sense and support conservative legislation into the future. Some are right and some are hard right when it comes to their philosophies on politics.
From the start, this race has been a battle of mailers, signs, and ads with R.J. May going after Sturkie primarily and constantly. There has been what some might consider skeletons being pulled out of the closets of several candidates while some voters say those skeletons are old news that have nothing to do with the issues facing us now.
By all accounts, Sturkie appears to be the frontrunner here. He’s a lifelong resident of the district, is a well-known businessman, and comes across as a “Good Ole’ Boy” with lots of business savvy. Because he’s in the heavy grading and construction industry, he’s had financial struggles in years gone by as that volatile industry went up and down with the strength of the nation’s economy. Sturkie says he’s learned from any mistakes he’s made and is on solid ground financially and has been for some time. May has pointed to Sturkie’s business stumbles with a mountain of mailers swinging wild political haymakers at Sturkie’s chin. Have any landed, who knows but the voters that poll tomorrow will decide.
Meanwhile, until just recently, Duncan, Lastinger, and McCain remained unscathed. May first considered Duncan a non-player at all saying he might not even poll out of single digits. Some say May underestimated Duncan, a military retiree and small businessman himself. There is talk and some polling that shows Duncan has gained ground as of late. That caused May to fire a few salvos Duncan’s way in the battle of the mailers over the last week.
This race will almost certainly end with a runoff held a few weeks later. A win requires 50% plus one of the votes to take the race outright. The question is, will the runoff be between Sturkie and May, Sturkie and Duncan, or will everyone be surprised if Sturkie fails to make it past Tuesday. May will certainly have an uphill climb if he’s in the runoff with either Sturkie or Duncan. Whichever loses will probably swing their endorsements and support toward another hometown boy, not May. He is a “Public Relations” business owner that seems eerily like a conservative political consultant. Especially if you count the races he's managed in the past and present. In the words of the man that was much like a grandfather to this author, he’d say, “That May fellow ain’t from here is he?” That lack of any lengthy ties to the area for R.J. could play a significant role in the runoff too.
The other two candidates for House 88 are both very good men. Lastinger is the pastor of a church in Springdale and McCain has run for office before. McCain’s like a stealth candidate, you don’t ever hear much about him. He did recently participate in a debate between the candidates. Both of these men were at a serious disadvantage because of the COVID-19. They are woefully underfunded because they couldn’t hold fundraising events or campaign door-to-door during the pandemic. Their votes are more likely to be effective in the runoff depending on if and who they endorse as a candidate then.
Keeping on the same line of the SC House races, Kit Spires the incumbent in House District 96, is facing opposition from a young, energetic, and polite attorney named Ryan McCabe. House 96 covers Pelion, Swansea, Boling Springs, and parts of White Knoll and Gaston.
McCabe is the son of a drywall hanger and his mother worked in an aluminum plant in the low country as he grew up. His grandfather was a tractor mechanic. He certainly has put lots of effort and money into the race and appears to have gained ground with the people in House 96 that are decidedly anti-establishment, the voters much more likely to vote against any incumbent. McCabe is pro-term limits and follows a very conservative line. He would like to abolish earmarked “Christmas Gifts” for individual house members’ districts that are conveniently attached to another bill. These run the budget up, it’s actually kind of sneaky, and the items they fund certainly are usually wants, not needs. McCabe said if the state stopped this wasteful spending, they would never have needed the gas task increase to repair our roads.
Kit Spires has served a number of terms and like it or not, in South Carolina, seniority matters. He feels that the election every two years is the office’s term limits and has been a supporter of farmers and issues important to the people of the district, he said recently. He also has no taste for earmarks and says he’s never funded anything in District 96 with these. This may be the toughest opposition Spires has ever faced, but he counts on his history of growing up in District 96 and living and working there most of his life as a strong suit that’s going to help send him back to Columbia. He is a graduate of Pelion High School and owned the local drug store in Pelion for years. He still operates it after its sale a few years ago. He’s not taking this one for granted and has worked like a Trojan to stave off McCabe’s challenge. If this were compared to a fight, it’s a pillow fight when looking at the one in House District 88.
In the primary race to win an opportunity to face Democrat Senator Nikki Setzler of District 26 in November, super conservative Chris Smith, a fiery and devout pro-life Christian, is facing Perry Finch. Finch is hard to get a feel for because he does almost no campaigning. If he spends any effort or money on a campaign, it certainly isn’t much. He’s run for House 96 against Kit Spires in the past and we don’t recall him polling out of single digits. There’s no real race here as far as we can tell. It's Smith on to November to face long serving incumbent Nikki Setzler.
That brings us to Lexington County Council. A firestorm erupted late last week after someone who has kept themselves secreted away mailed an illegal campaign piece and erected a sign that implied candidate Ms. Charli Wessinger was a liberal Democrat. This mailer made her sound as Congresswoman AOC of New York was almost a Conservative. Wessinger filed as a Republican for Lexington County Council District 6. She is decidedly “Slow the Growth” and for stopping any clear cutting for development to preserve that area’s natural resources.
On the surface, the top suspect for the sign and mailer attack would seem to be former Councilmember Johnny Jeffcoat, a charge he has flatly denied. He held the seat until four years ago when he decided not to run because his wife was ill. Now that she’s passed, he’s running for the seat. Again, it would seem to make sense that Jeffcoat or one of his supporters sent out the anonymous mailer and erected the sign, but anyone who knows the seedy underbelly of politics should know not to just assume anything. Certainly, Wessinger didn’t do it in an attempt to let the blow back whisk Jeffcoat away, she’s just not the type. She also has no hired political consultant that would formulate such a devious plan. Still, someone that supports Wessinger could have done this without her knowledge knowing full well that when the smelly stuff hit the fan, it would certainly smack Jeffcoat in the face. Anything is possible in politics and only time will tell who will end up with…...whatever on their face.
The race for County Council District Five, the area of South Congaree, a large portion of Red Bank, and even some of Lexington, is tame in comparison to some of these other races. It pits Gene “Bimbo” Jones against Joel Tyson. Both men are friends with one another, and each is well-known.
Bimbo is almost famous for his work in the tire repair and sales business. Just the phrase, “Bimbo is here,” is known to draw customers to a retailer. For decades, he’s been known to come running at all hours of the day and night if someone was stranded and need a tire or repairs. He just an all-around good guy with lots of country common sense. He says he’s running so he can help more people.
Joel Tyson runs L.A. Barrier Trucking in Red Bank. He’s a successful businessman that doesn’t seem to have any agenda other than to help Lexington County grow at measured pace. This race has and should remain cordial and either man would most certainly do a good job.
That leaves the sheriff’s race and this ought to be interesting. The incumbent Jay Koon was called up for service by former Sheriff Lewis McCarty after Jimmy Metts was indicted. McCarty was appointed to the position by the Governor Nikki Haley to serve in the gap between the time Metts was suspended and the time an election was held. Jay Koon was plucked from his spot as assistant chief of the Lexington Police Department to help McCarty “Right the Ship” as the department was reeling from the Metts situation and accompanying shock and awe.
Koon is a straight arrow and usually sees things as black and white with no shades of gray. He says the citizens are the department’s customers and customer service is their objective. The department is internationally accredited and many of his command staff have either attended or are in-line to attend the prestigious FBI’s National Academy. He says this provides a wonderful opportunity to not only receive the highest level of training but also gives officers who attend the opportunity to network and build friendships nationwide that can be of great benefit in the future.
The department has had a lot of turnover and at one time was having major problems recruiting. He said recently that he was almost at 100% full staff on the road and was working to make progress in hiring at the detention center. He’s very popular in the Lexington area but there’s been a lot of grumbling in the more rural portions of the county. He is working to bolster his ranks in those areas and says they are becoming more effective every day at building relationships and decreasing crime across the entire county. He’s made some significant cost saving steps by cutting the costly Aviation Divisions and making other adjustments of programs he says were not needed.
His opponent David Arnold started campaigning about a year ago. He says if he’s elected, he’s not only going to focus on crime, but also the employees’ attitudes toward the department. Arnold feels that many of Koon’s deputies aren’t happy because they feel no love from the top. He thinks happy employees make effective employees and decreases everything from calling out sick to how a deputy performs on the road. In short, his employees would be a part of the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department family if he’s elected, he says.
He’d like to make some fundamental changes in everything from the deputies’ uniforms to how the regions operate. He would like to refocus more attention on property crimes, the violations of someone's personal space to steel their personal stuff. Arnold was a regional commander before resigning from the sheriff’s department a number of years ago. He says his proven success brought jealousy amongst his peers spurred unfounded accusations from other employees and management had him riding a desk for months while they conducted an internal investigation. He finally quit. Some say he’s always skirted the issue of how and why he left, but on an appearance of Good Morning Lexington County, he flatly denied any allegations he got fired and seemed to explain as much as possible what went on there.
Arnold has a good education and has experience in a number of leadership positions. After leaving Lexington County, he was the head of Columbia’s Homeland Security Department until retirement. He certainly has the “Anyone but the Incumbent Vote” and has campaigned hard in the rural areas where the most of the grumbling about Koon and his department is heard. This is a race I wouldn’t dare predict as of right now; it will depend a great deal on who the candidates can get to the polls. Historically Koon’s type of supporters seems to be voters and Arnold will need to get the blue-collar vote out. We’ll have to see how the county’s voters feel after the polls close Tuesday night.
Of course, these are not all the races in Lexington County. Senator Ronnie Cromer of Newberry County is working to retain his seat. Much like Senator Shane Massey, his district jumps over the Lexington County line. The ones we’ve listed are the most significant and you will have an opportunity to make your final choice tomorrow. May the best man or woman win. Only you the voters have the ability to decide that.