The last time Columbians heard from Kirkman Finlay, the former city councilman had sworn off local politics after losing a bruising campaign for mayor conceding his Republican ideals had nothing to offer an increasingly Democratic Richland County.
But Finlay is hoping he has found an exception in House District 75 the affluent, conservative part of Richland County that includes portions of his old City Council district.
Finlay easily won Tuesdays Republican primary for the House 75 seat, beating Columbia attorney Jim Corbett. Now the son, grandson and great-grandson of prominent state leaders is poised to return to politics if he can defeat Democrat Joe McCulloch in November.
Failure is what motivates everybody, Finlay said. I dont think I see it being that much fun. Political service is exhausting. ... But Ive got to go try.
Democrats rule Richland County, holding most of the countys House, Senate and County Council seats. Their most recent conquest was House District 79, which Democrat Anton Gunn took from Republicans in 2008 and fellow Democrat Mia Butler-Garrick retained in 2011.
Democrats have a strong candidate in McCulloch, a well-known attorney who has been active in Richland County politics for years. But this is the first election since South Carolina lawmakers redrew the states House districts, a process that was led by retiring Rep. Jim Harrison of House District 75.
Jim Harrison, chairman of the committee who drew the lines, didnt draw himself a bad district, said Republican political consultant Warren Tompkins. They put fences around areas, and inside those fences youve got very, very solid Republican areas.
McCulloch said his confidence comes not from political trends, but from knowing the people and the people who know me.
Its about my life, you know my lifetime of experience living in this district, going to public schools in this district, meeting literally thousands of people who are being asked now to choose a candidate, he said.
Republican Richland County Sen. John Courson, whose Senate district includes much of House 75, said his polling shows House 75 has lots of independent voters voters both Harrison and Finlay would have to work hard to win.
Kirkman is going to have to work, Courson said, who will also face a Democratic challenger Robert Rikard in November. Its not a slam dunk.
Finlay said what motivates him now is the same thing that motivated him while on City Council: money specifically, spending less of it. On City Council, Finlay launched a crusade against spending that helped balance the citys budget, which had been plagued by years of multi-million dollar deficits.
But Finlay was unable to cash in that success for the big prize: mayor of Columbia, a seat his father had held for eight years. Finlay made it into a runoff before losing to now-Mayor Steve Benjamin.
I think it sort of stunned him a little bit that he lost, Courson said. I think, frankly, losing a mayors race had sort of a positive effect on him politically. It humbled him.
Finlay says he wants to turn his cost-cutting eye to the states retirement fund, which accountants project will run out of money sometime in the next 30 years, falling about $15 billion short. (Lawmakers are currently working on a plan to fix the system that could pass next week.)
There are a lot of problems we can fix very quickly, Finlay said.
McCulloch said the issues in House 75 would be the same issues everywhere else this election year: creating jobs and stopping government waste. He said he plans to distinguish himself from Finlay, whom he labeled a career politician.
The ultimate issues are about the mismanagement and waste in the State House because of folks who are so interested in holding those jobs and running for things, McCulloch said. The reason why I waited until I was 60 was because Im not interested in being a career politician.
Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.