S.C. House, Senate

SC legislator elected to both House and Senate, forcing special vote

abeam@thestate.comNovember 15, 2012 

COLUMBIA, SC State Rep. Tom Corbin won two elections last week – one for the state House of Representatives and another for the state Senate. Now, taxpayers could have to pay up to $24,000 for a special election to replace him in the state House.

In each election, Greenville Republican Corbin was unopposed. Elected to both posts, Corbin chose to be a senator. That automatically triggered a special election, to be held early next year, in House District 17 in Greenville County to replace him.

Corbin said he did not plan to run for the Senate. He filed to run for re-election to his House seat. When the filing period closed, Corbin – like most state House members – had no opposition.

Then, state Sen. Phillip Shoopman, R-Greenville, surprised everyone by withdrawing from his re-election bid in Senate District 5. When election officials reopened filing for that seat, Corbin entered the race.

“The only person in the race at that time was an opponent from over in Greer,” Corbin said. “I didn’t feel comfortable with the person as my senator. I felt I could do a better job.”

Corbin said he did not withdraw from his House race because he thought it would be illegal to do so. “That’s the way it was explained to me,” he said. “I did what I thought was legal and law abiding.”

Greenville County Election Commission director Conway Belangia said Corbin could have withdrawn from the House race. But state law would not have let Republicans replace him with another GOP candidate because Corbin would have withdrawn for “political reasons.” That would have opened the race for state House District 17 to a write-in candidate, according to Belangia.

“His hands were tied by the political party,” Belangia said. “They did not want him to withdraw or resign because (the party) would have been between a rock and a hard place.”

Corbin denies politics played a role in his decision.

“I did everything according to the law as the best I understood it,” he said. “To think anything else would be conspiratory. I don’t think anybody would think like that.”

Belangia estimated it will cost about $8,000 per election to replace Corbin. A primary and a general election would put that tab at $16,000. A primary runoff election – if no one receives more than 50 percent of the vote in a primary – could run the tab to $24,000.

Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the State Election Commission, said state taxpayers would pay for most of those costs. He added a commission-sponsored study from a few years ago found state House races cost about $20,000 per election

“Obviously, I don’t want to spend taxpayers’ money more than I have to,” said Corbin, who describes himself as a fiscal conservative. “Everybody knows how hard I fight for them and to save taxpayer money. They know that. ... Nobody complained to me. I had people telling me they didn’t mind, we’re glad you did it, no matter what it cost.”

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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