Incumbent McLeod faces one Democratic challenger

05/15/2014 6:09 PM

05/15/2014 6:10 PM

Rep. Mia McLeod, D-Richland, hopes her outspoken stands on issues such as public education and health care, as well as her track record of constituent service, will persuade voters that she deserves a third term in the S.C. House.

Columbia attorney Vannie Williams Jr. is attempting to derail her quest for the District 79 seat in Northeast Richland when he takes on his fellow Democrat in the June 10 Democratic primary. The winner of the primary secures the House seat because there is no Republican opposition.

Williams, a Columbia attorney, opposed McLeod in 2012, but his candidacy was squelched when the state Supreme Court ruled that he and 200 other candidates had failed to properly file financial paperwork. In a May 2012 ruling, the high court said any candidate who did not file a statement of economic interest listing income, property and other financial information at the same time they officially filed for office must be removed from the ballot.

Williams said Friday he is not a traditional candidate and entered the race because he sees the Legislature as a place “where your voice can carry a little more weight. I kind of wanted to be more than a bystander.”

McLeod has staked a reputation on challenging what she calls the “old guard” and the good ol’ boy network in the Legislature. She was called out by some senior members of Richland County’s legislative delegation when she spoke out about the 2012 Richland County elections debacle and demanded answers about long lines and inadequate numbers of voting machines from embattled elections director Lillian McBride, who later stepped down from that post.

“I had some people calling me out for speaking out against another African-American woman,” McLeod said Wednesday. “But incompetence has no color.”

McLeod, who is president of McLeod Butler Communications, said she suspected the “old guard” encouraged Williams to challenge her in the primary. But Williams said Friday he is beholden to no elected officials or organization.

“I don’t even know who the old guard is,” he said. “I’m not politically polished.” He said he plans to finance his own campaign and will not take campaign donations.

Williams will have to answer to voters about the S.C. Supreme Court’s decision to suspend his law license in 2002 after he failed to maintain proper financial records for his legal trust account and was required to repay several clients for funds he owed.

Williams, who regained his law license after a seven-year suspension, said the matter is laid out in the public record and since then he has reorganized his financial accounts and repaid money owed.

“I ended up being suspended primarily because my accounting system was technically not the way the rules required,” he said. He said he learned from the experience. “I can empathize with folk who have had difficulties and those who have had great success.”

McLeod said she will continue to push for jobs creation, help for military families and more equitable funding of public schools. She and Republican Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Summerville, have co-sponsored legislation to jumpstart more comprehensive education reform and move the Legislature away from the current funding system.

McLeod and Williams agree that South Carolina should accept Medicaid expansion, which the Republican-controlled Legislature opposes, and emphasize public education.

“Republicans are in the majority and they get to choose what we will accept our federal dollars for,” McLeod said. “We are working to get more bipartisan support for Medicaid expansion.”

Both candidates hold law degrees from the University of South Carolina Law School. Williams, 52, is divorced and the father of four children, all enrolled in Richland 2 schools. McLeod, 45, is married and the mother of two children, one still in Richland 2 schools and the other now in college.

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