SC House minority leader steps down

Rutherford, Vick vying for post

abeam@thestate.comJanuary 7, 2013 

Harry Ott Jr., D-Calhoun


State Rep. Harry Ott will not run for re-election as House minority leader, ending his eight-year tenure as the Democratic leader in the S.C. House of Representatives.

“Eight years is enough, and this gives me, quite frankly, the opportunity to look at some opportunities that may or may not present themselves,” Ott said.

Opportunities like running for governor in 2014?

“I’m not going down that road, but I’ll let y’all speculate all you want to,” Ott said.

The St. Matthews Democrat sent a letter to the House Democratic Caucus Saturday telling members of his decision. House Democrats will elect a new leader today during a meeting that is closed to the public.

Two lawmakers are trying to succeed Ott: Reps. Todd Rutherford of Richland County and Ted Vick of Chesterfield County.

In May, while Vick was running for Congress, Columbia police officers charged the Chesterfield Democrat with driving under the influence and unlawful carrying of a pistol. Vick later dropped out of the race for South Carolina’s new 7th District seat, ultimately won by Republican Tom Rice of Myrtle Beach.

Rutherford is representing Vick in the case, which still is pending.

“That’s been six months. People know what my leadership abilities are,” Vick said. “What happened to me doesn’t change my abilities.”

Vick described himself as “a statesman” while describing Rutherford as “a gunslinger.”

“He’s very good at it. That’s why he’s my attorney,” Vick said. “But, at the end of the day, you have to be able to go sit down in a room, as I have done countless times with the Senate Finance chairman and chairman of (the House) Ways and Means (committee), and work out deals that help move state government along. I’ve never seen Todd in any of those rooms in seven years.”

“I can honestly tell you I have not heard that characterization before, but I will accept it,” Rutherford responded. “If a statesman means accepting losses the way Democrats have over the years, that’s not the game I’m willing to play. I’m not interested in making deals. ... I’m interested in what’s best for the people of South Carolina and making it happen.”

Vick, who raised more than $300,000 for his congressional campaign, said he could help House Democrats raise more money to build on recent successful elections, like Richland County state Rep. Beth Bernstein’s November victory over Republican incumbent Joan Brady.

Rutherford said he would lead the fight to expand Medicaid in South Carolina under the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare. The state has to decide whether to open the government-run health insurance program to more people. The federal government would cover 90 percent of the cost with the state, ultimately, paying remaining 10 percent.

“(Republicans) are blocking it and getting in the way. That is not how you do math,” Rutherford said. “I feel I can do a great job of pointing that out.”

Ott’s tenure as minority leader was marked by defeating Republican-sponsored school choice bills that would have given tax credits to parents who send their children to private schools. The House passed a school-choice bill for the first time last year, but the bill later died in the Senate.

“We probably spent more time and effort fighting that than we’ve done on almost anything else,” Ott said.

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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