Democratic chairman criticizes one of his own for endorsing a Republican

03/19/2012 12:00 AM

03/19/2012 10:14 PM

A Democratic state senator, who has endorsed an incumbent Republican state senator over his Democratic challenger, earned the wrath Monday of the state party’s chairman, Dick Harpootlian.

State Sen. Darrell Jackson, a Democrat, has endorsed state Sen. John Courson, a Republican, for re-election, The State newspaper reported Saturday. Jackson and Courson both represent Richland County, and Courson recently was elected the new leader of the Senate, largely on the support of Senate Democrats, including Jackson.

While Republicans continue to dominate S.C. politics, Richland County is one of the few growth areas for Democrats. Voters in Courson’s Senate District 21, for example, voted for Democrat Vincent Sheheen over Republican Nikki Haley in the most recent gubernatorial election. And Courson himself said his seat will go to a Democrat sometime before the next decade.

Robert Rikard, a Columbia attorney, is trying to speed up that timeline. The Democrat has filed to run against Courson.

“I’m not really interested in what politicians decide amongst themselves,” Rikard said Monday. “If politicians want to support or not support me, that’s their own prerogative.”

In an email Monday, Harpootlian urged Democrats to call Jackson’s office and “ask him to behave like the Democrat he claims to be.”

“I’m building a party here. It’s tough when, every time I put up a couple of bricks, one of my own party wants to take one down,” Harpootlian told The State.

Jackson said he supports Courson because “he is very good for the University of South Carolina, which happens to be in Richland County, he is very good for Fort Jackson, which also happens to be in Richland County, and he’s excellent on public education.”

“It is (the Democratic Party’s) job to concentrate solely on Democrats. It is my job to concentrate on trying to pass legislation and do things that are going to benefit the overall community, everybody,” Jackson said. “Sometimes, you can’t always be partisan.”

Jackson suggested Harpootlian and his state party staff focus their energy instead on keeping the Senate seats that Democrats already have. Chief among them is the Senate District 35 seat, currently held by Phil Leventis, who is retiring. Thomas McElveen, son of Sumter Mayor Joseph McElveen, has filed to run for that seat as a Democrat.

In addition to trying to rebuilding the state party, Harpootlian is trying to rebrand S.C. Democrats as tough-talking attack dogs — even if that means criticizing its own members. “If (Jackson) tells me he is supporting a Republican against a Democrat, I am going to call him out every time,” Harpootlian said.

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