2012 primaries

Knotts challenger off ballot again

State says only court order can add names; governor rips ‘government bureaucracy’

ashain@thestate.comMay 18, 2012 

Without a legal fight, Katrina Shealy’s name will not appear on the June 12 Republican primary ballot against state Sen. Jake Knotts of Lexington, a top S.C. elections official said Thursday.

“If some want to get on the ballot now, the court is going to have to order us do that,” S.C. State Election Commission executive director Marci Andino said. “Absentee voting has begun, and counties have sent the ballots to printers.”

Andino said the Election Commission is adhering to the May 4 deadline set by a state Supreme Court ruling for determining which candidates submitted written statements of economic interest when they filed for office. More than 180 candidates statewide, including Shealy, were ruled ineligible.

The state GOP executive committee unanimously certified Shealy at a protest hearing on Wednesday – agreeing with her testimony that she brought the economic-interest form with her when she filed for the state Senate in March but was not asked to submit it.

The committee’s decision came after a speech by Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, a Shealy ally, about how the party needed to change South Carolina’s political culture. Haley did not directly ask members to put Shealy back on the ballot.

Haley said Thursday the Elections Commission should not squash voters’ rights: “Under no circumstances should a government bureaucracy stand in the way of a free and fair election.”

Shealy said she will keep campaigning and would run as a petition candidate in the November general election if she is not on the primary ballot. “This is all a distraction,” she said.

Shealy said the state GOP was handling efforts to get her on the primary ballot. The party issued a statement saying that it was examining unspecified legal options.

Knotts – a 17-year veteran of the state House and Senate, and bitter Haley foe – said Thursday, “The law is the law, and I’m not going to make anything political. It’s not anything involving me.”

Knotts and Haley, both from Lexington County, have been at odds for years. Haley backed Shealy in a fierce GOP primary race against Knotts in 2008.

A one-time Knotts campaign worker was one of two plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit that led to the Supreme Court decision that upended the primary, disqualifying Shealy and others. A Charleston attorney and longtime Knotts friend appeared before the state GOP Wednesday to fight against Shealy’s return to the ballot.

“This is a private feud that has gone public,” said David Woodard, a Clemson political science professor. “This could have ripple effects we can’t measure.”

In other news related to the ballot debacle:

• Phil Bailey, the political director of the state Senate Democratic Caucus, was reprimanded and told to take down his Twitter feed Thursday after calling Haley a “Sikh Jesus” in tweets, said state Sen. Brad Hutto, the Orangeburg Democrat who is caucus leader.

After Wednesday night’s state GOP committee ruling, Bailey tweeted, “@nikkihaley is the Sikh Jesus. She can resurrect an unlawful campaign from the dead by simply appearing at a @SCGOP hearing,” according to BuzzFeed.

Haley was raised a Sikh but converted to Christianity. Bailey declined comment at the State House.

“I got in his face and told him that it will not happen again,” Hutto said. “Everybody is in agreement that what he did was inappropriate. He said he did something inappropriate. I don’t even know exactly what Twitter is, but he’s not going to be doing it.”

• The state Elections Commission is returning the filing fees for candidates ousted from the ballot by the Supreme Court ruling, commission head Andino said. The fees – ranging from $108 to $5,931 – will be sent to the parties to refund to the candidates, she said.

• A bill that would fix some of the election-filing problems that led to the Supreme Court decision won final approval in the Senate. Candidates would file at county election offices rather than with county parties under the measure that heads to the House.

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