U.S. SENATE RACE

SC state senator taking on Graham

abeam@thestate.comAugust 13, 2013 

  • Lee Bright The Spartanburg state senator said Tuesday he is a candidate for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Lindsey Graham

    Age: 43

    Occupation: Business development with BBD LLC

    Education: Dorman High School

    Political experience: Spartanburg County District 6 school board, 1999-2003; S.C. Senate, 2009-present

    Family: Wife, Amy; two daughters, Kaylee and Kendyl

State Sen. Lee Bright announced his candidacy Tuesday for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate, calling incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham “a community organizer for the Muslim Brotherhood.”

“During the (congressional) recess, when I would hope that he would be around folks in South Carolina, getting their feelings on so many issues that affect their lives, he has instead chosen to take his time to be a community organizer for the Muslim Brotherhood and that concerns me,” Bright told supporters in a conference call. “He needs to spend more time listening to what the brothers in South Carolina have to say.”

At the request of President Barack Obama, Graham last week visited Egypt with U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to help calm things down after the Egyptian military’s recent overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, a political and religious organization that wants the government to operate under Muslim law.

A spokesperson for Graham did not respond directly to Bright’s comments, saying only Graham “has a proven track record of protecting our conservative values and fighting for South Carolina,” citing his 92 score from the American Conservative Union and “A” rating from the National Rifle Association.

Bright, who represents Spartanburg in the state Senate, joins an already crowded field for next summer’s Republican primary. Other GOP candidates include Anderson businessman Richard Cash, a former congressional candidate, and Charleston businesswoman Nancy Mace, the first woman to graduate from The Citadel.

Jay Stamper, who runs a Columbia-based nonprofit, has said he will challenge Graham as a Democrat.

Graham’s re-election bid is drawing national attention, in part because he has clashed with Tea Party elements in the GOP.

“If there’s a shocker in the GOP Senate primaries, (Graham) is currently the top candidate,” Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, wrote last week. Sabato said the race “leans Graham,” noting the crowded primary field would work for the incumbent, who has a huge fundraising lead, by dividing the Tea Party vote. However, to win re-election, Graham might have to “temper his tongue and very public alliance with McCain,” Sabato added.

Bright attacked that alliance Tuesday, calling on Graham to “repudiate” McCain for his comments calling conservative Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, and U.S. Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, “wacko birds.” McCain, for his part, recently told the New Republic magazine that Graham is “like a son to me.”

First elected to the state Senate in 2008, Bright has become one of the Legislature’s leading Libertarian voices – a mantle Bright said Tuesday he would carry to the U.S. Senate if elected. For example, Bright said Tuesday that he had “a real problem with” security screenings at airports, arguing airlines – not federal employees – should decide whether to screen passengers, leaving passengers with “a choice of whether we get on that airplane or not.”

Bright formerly was the president of On Time Trucking, a Spartanburg-based transportation company. That company failed and is in court working through foreclosure proceedings, according to the (Spartanburg) Herald Journal. Bright’s campaign spokesman, Edmond Wright, said Tuesday that the case has been settled in a recent agreement with a bank.

Wright said Bright now does business development for BBD LLC. According to records at the S.C. secretary of state’s office, that company is registered to Michael Stevens, a Republican political operative.

In the state Senate, Bright has filed legislation that would make it a crime to enforce the new federal health care law in South Carolina and exempt S.C. guns from federal regulation. He recently gained national attention when he advocated for South Carolina to issue its own currency.

Bright has had an on-again, off-again political relationship with Republican Gov. Nikki Haley.

In 2012, Bright was one of two senators who voted to sustain Haley’s veto of $453,680 for South Carolina’s 15 rape-crisis centers, arguing the state should not pick and choose which nonprofits receive state money. Haley then campaigned for Bright during the Republican primary, helping him defeat former state Sen. John Hawkins, R-Spartanburg.

But this year, Haley criticized Bright publicly on a conservative Upstate radio show, saying the Spartanburg Republican was “with the Democrats” in trying to block proposed ethics-reform legislation.

Like Graham, South Carolina’s other Republican U.S. senator, Tim Scott, also is on the ballot in 2014. But so far, no other Republicans have indicated they will challenge Scott, who will be running his first statewide race since Haley appointed him to succeed Jim DeMint.

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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