SC House race pits legislator’s son vs. small-town mayor

abeam@thestate.comOctober 26, 2013 

  • Meet the candidates The special election for House District 93 is Tuesday. Russell Ott

    Party: Democratic

    Age: 35

    Education: English degree, Clemson University, 2000; master’s of public administration, USC, 2003

    Profession: Lobbyist, S.C. Farm Bureau

    Family: Two sons, 5 and 4

    Political experience: First-time candidate. His father, Harry Ott, was the District 93 representative for 14 years.

    Charlie Stoudemire

    Party: Republican

    Age: 63

    Education: Saint Matthews High School

    Profession: Retired chemical operator for Carolina Eastman

    Family: Wife, Cathy; two children, four grandchildren

    Political experience: Four years on Woodford Town Council; eight years as Woodford mayor. Lost to former Rep. Harry Ott in 2010 for House 93 race.

The son of a powerful politician and the mayor of a small town will face each other in a special election Tuesday for House District 93.

The district, which includes portions of Lexington, Calhoun and Orangeburg counties, was represented by Harry Ott, the House minority leader who resigned in June to take a job in the Obama Administration.

Now, Harry Ott’s son, Russell, is trying to replace his father in the S.C. House. He is opposed by Charlie Stoudemire, the mayor of the tiny Town of Woodford in Orangeburg County, who is trying a second time to win the seat – hoping for better luck against the younger Ott.

Russell Ott appears to have the upper hand.

He has raised $45,000 compared to Stoudemire’s $2,600. Also, Democrats have long dominated the district. The only time a Republican has held the seat in the last three decades is when former state Rep. John Gressette Felder switched parties in 1995 – only to lose to a Democrat in 1998.

But Tuesday’s election is a “special election,” meaning it is the only race on the ballot. That almost guarantees a low turnout, which would benefit Republican Stoudemire.

“The opposition doesn’t think Democrats are going to show up and vote in a special election,” Ott told a crowd of several hundred people at the Orangeburg Democratic Party Cookout on Thursday night. “I know for a fact we are going to show up.”

The winner will head to Columbia in January for the 2014 legislative session, where public education and road funding are expected to dominate the debate.

This year, for the first time, lawmakers approved a private-school choice program. Starting in January, the state will give taxpayers a tax credit if they donate money to scholarships to help special-needs children attend private schools. State Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, already has proposed a bill that would expand that tax credit to people who donate money for low-income children to attend private schools.

Ott opposes the plan, as most Democrats do, because it “would essentially take away funding that should be sent to public schools.”

Stoudemire supports it, saying that if a public school is failing to educate a child, “why should they be paid not to educate? Why shouldn’t that money be attached to that child so that wherever he goes he can take that money with him to support the institution that best suits the needs of that family?”

The issue of road funding also divides the two candidates.

South Carolina relies on its gas taxes – the third lowest in the nation – to pay for road construction. While those low taxes are a source of pride to some Republicans, critics say the low taxes have led to a $29 billion shortfall in the money needed to repair the state’s roads and bridges. This year, for the first time, lawmakers used something other than gas taxes to pay for roads by authorizing the state to borrow up to $550 million. But most lawmakers – and Ott and Stoudemire – say more is needed.

Ott said he would not rule out raising the gas tax, currently 16.5 cents a gallon.

“I’m not ready to say that I’m opposed to increasing the fuel tax,” Ott said, adding it is a good source of revenue for road funding because it cannot be spent on anything but roads. “That needs to be on the table.”

Stoudemire said he is opposed to raising any taxes.

“There is other ways we could do it,” he said. “I can’t rule it out, because I can’t rule anything out. But I would not be in favor of the gas tax (increase).”

The campaign has been fairly tame, except for one incident last month.

Speaking to the editorial board of the Orangeburg Times and Democrat, Stoudemire said the Democratic Party, through government programs including welfare, puts “a chain around (voters’) leg(s), no worse chain than the chain when they were slaves.”

House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, demanded Stoudemire apologize.

Stoudemire refused.

“What I said was that government programs enslave people,” Stoudemire said. “I did not mention black or white or any race. It enslaves people so that it takes away their initiative to do better.”

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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