Richland County Sheriff endorses Courson in state Senate race

abeam@thestate.comOctober 1, 2012 

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott has endorsed Republican John Courson for re-election to the state Senate – two months after Courson appointed Lott to a $12,000-a-year position on the state’s retirement board.

Lott, a Democrat, endorsed Courson, the president pro tem of the Senate, in a direct-mail advertisement billed as “an open letter from Sheriff Leon Lott.”

“Senator Courson is like me in that we both believe that public service is an opportunity to look beyond political parties and do what is right for the people we serve,” Lott wrote in the letter.

State Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian linked the endorsement to Courson’s July appointment of Lott to the newly created Public Employee Benefit Authority, a two-year term that includes a $12,000-a-year salary.

"Just two months ago he accepted a $24,000 appointment from the Senator he now chooses to endorse," Harpootlian said in a news release. "Voters in John Courson's district see the pattern of Courson using taxpayers funds for his own benefit."

Lott was out of town and unavailable to comment, according to a spokesman.

Democrat Robert Rikard, who is challenging Courson for the District 20 state Senate seat on Nov. 6, defended Lott, saying: “Leon Lott makes his own decisions, not based on what board he’s appointed to,” said Rikard, a former Richland sheriff’s deputy under then-Sheriff Allen Sloan.

But Richard Quinn, Courson’s political strategist, pointed out Rikard once practiced law with Harpootlian. “No one is fooled by this good-cop, bad-cop routine,” he said. “Attacking Sheriff Lott’s integrity to score points in a political campaign goes over the line. They both should be ashamed.”

It is not the first time Lott has endorsed Courson or Harpootlian has attacked a fellow Democrat for endorsing Courson. Earlier this year, state Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, endorsed Courson. Harpootlian sent a letter to Democrats saying Jackson should “behave like the Democrat he claims to be.”

The election is Nov. 6.

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