By Paul Gable
Every time we look at the mess created during election filing time by candidates who did not comply with state law, something else jumps out to further complicate the upcoming S.C. Supreme Court decision on two lawsuits filed to challenge discrepancies in the filings.
Yesterday we reported on the absolute mess in Horry County that, under strict adherence to state law, would disqualify enough candidates and incumbents to leave two county council, one state house, one state senate, sheriff, coroner, clerk of court, auditor and treasurer with no qualified candidates from either party to appear on the ballot.
That could mean all those seats are determined by write-in campaigns in November.
But, the mess does not end there. It seems the state legislators who passed the law could not be bothered to follow its provisions either.
State Republican Party Political Director Alex Stroman sent to all county chairmen and state executive committeemen a memo dated February 6, 2012 outlining the requirements for candidate filing. Stroman’s memo read in part:
“All candidates for public office (except federal offices) must file an SEI form at the time they file for office. This includes incumbent candidates who may have already filed a quarterly statement. Party officials accepting the SIC, Party Pledge, and Filing Fee should ensure these forms have been filed online at the time the candidate files for office.”
In just a random check of high profile state legislators, Grand Strand Daily found the following information on the S.C. Ethics Commission website:
Rep. Bobby Harrell, Speaker of the House, did not file an SEI until April 20, 2012. Rep. Jim Merrill filed an SEI as an elected official April 4, 2012, but did not file as a candidate. Sen. Hugh Leatherman filed an SEI as an elected official March 13, 2012, but did not file one as a candidate. Sen. William B. White filed an SEI as an elected official and as a candidate April 19, 2012. House Minority Leader, Rep. Harry Ott filed an SEI as a candidate and public official April 15, 2012 (a rare Democratic mistake in this mess).
None of the above mentioned incumbent state legislators followed state law Section 8-13-1356 (B) or the instructions in Stroman’s memo and these guys passed the law in the first place.
Is this a statement that state legislators do not believe the law applies to them? Or does it mean that they really don’t know what they are voting on? Either way, it is not a good reflection on the General Assembly.
Another problem for the Supreme Court seems to lie in a lawsuit filed by Amanda Sommers, a candidate for S.C. Senate District 5. After filing closed, incumbent Sen. Phil Shoopman decided not to run for re-election and withdrew his candidacy.
State law provides that an office that has two or less candidates, may have filing reopened if one of the
candidates dies or withdraws from the race. In this case, with the senate seat crossing two counties, the state party executive committee would have had to meet and vote to reopen filing.
The executive committee did not meet, according to Sommers court filing. But, filing for the seat did reopen with another candidate coming forward at the urging of the party heirarchy. (Wow!! Doesn’t that have overtones of the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany in the 1930’s?)
Why was it necessary to have Sommers challenged? She legally filed and would have been the only candidate remaining in the race, therefore, the presumptive senator-elect. Certainly, Sommers would not have been the only state legislative candidate in South Carolina to go unchallenged.
It appears the Republican Party establishment did not want her to be the next senator from District 5. This, however, is not a valid reason to reopen filing and could lead to a conclusion of unequal application of the law, and maybe several other unconstitutional issues, by the Court.
The state Republican Party seems to be taking a casual approach to all these problems. Several candidates affected by the filing controversy have told Grand Strand Daily they called state Republican headquarters inquiring about the problem of late filing of SEI’s and were told not to worry about it, “the party has it under control.” (Id. on the editorial comment three paragraphs up)
Does this mean the party is all powerful and the fix is in at the Supreme Court? It wouldn’t be the first time!
Would the Supreme Court be tempted to rule one way if this was just an issue affecting a handful of low profile candidates across the state, but now rule another way because we are literally talking about hundreds of candidates across the state, some of whom are extremely high profile? The law is the same regardless of who and how many it affects.
However, as one commenter to a story about this problem replied to another commenter, “Let me get this straight, you are saying we should give a mulligan to the very people that wrote the law that they then failed to follow? Wow, why even have an election, just hand out the offices to the landed gentry that the powers that be want to have them. The law was legally passed by our General Assembly. It was duly signed by the Governor. It has been on the books for TWO YEARS. Now you are saying just ignore it? So much for the saying ‘we are a government of laws, not men’. Just go ahead and piss on the Constitution while you are at it and make it a complete day!”
That says it all! If the people who pass the laws don’t abide by them, why should anyone?
Is this a government of laws or of men? It seems it can’t even include women in Senate District 5!
We’ll wait to see how the court rules. It could be a record setting fall for write-in campaigns!
Of course the S.C. Supreme Court ruling may not be the end. Depending on how the ruling comes down, there could be further litigation in federal court.