Court ‘just dropped an A-bomb’

Up to 100 S.C. candidates ordered off June ballots

Decision sweeps away many challengers, but largely spares incumbents in June races

abeam@thestate.comMay 3, 2012 

The state Supreme Court Wednesday ordered S.C. political parties to remove up to 100 candidates from their June 12 primary ballots, sending candidates and voters into a tailspin in an election year already fraught with confusion.

Any candidate who did not file a statement of economic interest — listing income, property and other financial information — at the same time they officially filed for office must be removed from the ballot, the court ruled in a unanimous decision. The ruling does not affect incumbents seeking re-election or officeholders seeking another office because they already had economic-interest statements on file.

The deadline to file to run was March 30.

The ruling means that some state senators who were expecting tough primary fights, including Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, and Larry Martin, R-Pickens, suddenly find themselves unopposed in June’s GOP primary.

It also means some would-be candidates — including Kerry Wood, who says he filed for office at 11:52 a.m. and filed his economic interest statement minutes later, at 12:30 p.m. March 30 — are off the ballot, leaving incumbents without an opponent in the November general election. Wood, a Republican, was the lone challenger to state Sen. Glenn Reese, D-Spartanburg.

And it means some seats will not have anyone on the ballot at all.

In Clarendon County, for example, it appears the two candidates seeking to succeed Democratic state Rep. Kevin Johnson — Willie Bethune and Robert Ridgeway III — will not be allowed on the ballot.

“The state Supreme Court just dropped an A-bomb on the electoral process,” said state Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken.

There were more questions than answers Wednesday.

• How many candidates were affected?

The parties earlier estimated the number could be up to 100. But no one knew for certain Wednesday.

• Will the state parties reopen filing for the seats?

They can’t, said state Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Horry, chairman of the House election law subcommittee. State law requires reopening “by loss of the candidate through death or through resignation of the nominee for nonpolitical reasons. Those are the only two exceptions,” said Clemmons.

State Democratic Party executive director Amanda Loveday declined to comment when asked if her party would reopen filing. Republican Party executive director Matt Moore also declined to comment.

However, an email from Moore to county GOP officials, obtained by The State, says: “We are in the process of considering all legal options available to remedy this situation, including a petition for rehearing and a potential federal lawsuit to challenge this decision.”

Some candidates tossed off the primary ballot by the court’s decision, including Lexington’s Katrina Shealy, could have another option.

Shealy, who lost a bitter 2008 primary contest against incumbent Knotts in 2008, vowed Wednesday she would run for the Senate 23 seat as an “independent conservative” in November.

“I believe the voters of South Carolina, not five judges, should choose their elected officials,” Shealy said in an email to The State. “We the people are tired of back-room deals and government game-playing, and the Supreme Court will not deter me from giving my neighbors a chance for real, conservative representation in the Senate.”

In the Upstate’s Pickens County, Rex Rice said he filed March 16 to run against incumbent Sen. Martin in the GOP primary but was told to file his statement of economic interest online. He said he filed it April 9.

However, the Supreme Court, in its unanimous decision, said that violates state law because the statement of economic interest was not filed “at the same time and with the same official with whom the candidate files a declaration of candidacy,” as the law requires.

Martin, Rice’s opponent, filed his statement of economic interest a day after Rice, on April 10.

“An incumbent, a sitting member, doesn’t have to file their 2011 report until the 15th of April, but a challenger has to file theirs whenever they file for office,” Rice said. “It makes it pretty sweet for him.”

In their unanimous decision, the justices wrote, “We find the statute means what it says.

“We fully appreciate the consequences of our decision, as lives have been disrupted and political aspirations put on hold,” the justices wrote. “However, the conduct of the political parties in their failure to follow the clear and unmistakable directives of the General Assembly has brought us to this point. Sidestepping the issue now would only delay the inevitable.”

The state Supreme Court said any petition for a rehearing of its Wednesday ruling must be filed by 10 a.m. today. State parties have until noon Friday to send a list of candidates who met the deadline to file to the S.C. Election Commission for inclusion on June primary ballots.

The court’s ruling only increases this election cycle’s uncertainty.

This is the first election since lawmakers redrew the election districts after the 2010 census, a redistricting that prompted a lawsuit that was tossed out by a three-judge federal panel.

The Republican Party’s decision to reopen filing after state Sen. Phillip Shoopman of Greenville decided not to seek re-election also has prompted a lawsuit.

State parties have until noon Friday to send a list of candidates to the S.C. Election Commission who met the deadline on time.

Read the order from the state Supreme Court below:

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