Anti-tax forces made their presence felt in Tuesday’s Republican primary election in Lexington County, ousting one County Council member and forcing another into a runoff.
Councilman Frank Townsend of Batesburg-Leesville lost after softening the no-tax-hike pledge that propelled him to victory in 2012, while Councilman Bill Banning of West Columbia faces a showdown with challenger Ned Tolar June 24.
The outcome came after anti-tax advocates spent the weekend urging voters to defeat the pair and send a message against a proposed Nov. 4 referendum on a penny-on-the-dollar sales tax that county leaders are developing.
“They misrepresented it as my tax,” Banning said. “What I support is giving citizens the right to decide on it.”
Townsend said he was done in by the blitz. “It hit me hard,” he said.
Tolar, who finished second to Banning in a three-candidate race, said the outcome shows the tax hike proposed for road improvements and other projects is in trouble and should be shelved.
“The message we put out just appealed to more people,” he said. “If taxes are necessary, we need to do it but, in this case, they’re not necessary.”
Billy Oswald, who finished third in the race, immediately endorsed Tolar.
Banning, who led the field, promised a strong effort during the next two weeks to retain the post he’s held for 16 years.
“Ned Tolar better put on his running shoes,” he said. “They won’t outwork me.”
The runoff will be in District 8, stretching from West Columbia through the Oak Grove area to the east side of Lexington and along part of the south shore of Lake Murray.
It’s necessary because none of the three candidates received more than 50 percent of ballots cast.
The focus on the tax plan overshadowed Banning’s theme of helping hold down taxes by being a major player in regional economic development who helped bring in hundreds of jobs with the arrival of online retailer Amazon and Nephron Pharmaceuticals.
Townsend lost a low-key match to insurance agent Larry Brigham in District 2 in the largely rural western third of the county.
The outgoing councilman said he will focus on being a better pastor and businessman. “My church wants me to be more involved and my business needs attention, so it’s actually a good thing,” he said.
Efforts to reach Brigham were unsuccessful Tuesday.
After the Banning-Tolar runoff, another election countywide will occur July 1, as a start on selecting a successor to the late Harry Harman as county coroner.
Winning the Republican primary for the two council seats is tantamount to election since no Democrats are running.
Seven Republicans – no Democrat is running – are vying for the nod to replace Harman, who died April 18 after 37 years in office. The winner of the GOP contest will serve through 2016.