Banning, Tolar slug it out for Lexington County Council post

06/20/2014 9:24 PM

06/21/2014 1:01 AM

A political brawl has erupted in the sole contest for a Lexington County Council post on the Republican runoff ballot Tuesday.

Incumbent Bill Banning and challenger Ned Tolar are exchanging recriminations over taxes, ethics and economic development, with each claiming the other is guilty of misrepresentation.

Tolar is pressing to oust Banning, a major player in Midlands economic development.

“We’re slugging it out,” Banning said.

Anti-tax and limited-government groups are helping Tolar, while business groups are behind Banning.

The tone appears nastier than usual in such races, some county political leaders said.

Tolar has attacked from the start, rapping Banning for support of a Nov. 4 countywide referendum on a new sales tax and insisting the incumbent is enmeshed in conflicts-of-interest in his job as an economic development consultant.

“I’m staying true to the course” with that message as the showdown nears, Tolar said.

Banning fires back that Tolar’s ultraconservative fiscal views endanger efforts to attract major employers to open shop in the 720-square-mile county.

The exchanges intensified since Banning recovered from health problems that limited his campaigning until recently. “I’m 100 percent back in the game,” he said.

Their key differences center on :

• Banning favors and Tolar opposes letting voters decide the question of a penny-on-the-dollar sales tax for roads and other improvements. Supporting that ballot is not the same as raising taxes, Banning says. But Tolar insists the referendum is being pushed by those who want more spending instead of relying on growth to pay for many of the long-delayed projects. Growth can’t pay for the improvements, so the referendum gives residents a choice if they want the work done much faster, Banning said.
• Tolar insists Banning’s job makes him beholden to groups that want the tax hike and provide campaign contributions. Banning calls that off-base, noting Tolar also is getting donations from developers. As typical for officeholders, Banning is receiving more from those sources – $4,250 of $12,000 taken in by early June compared to $1,000 of the $5,600 Tolar raised, reports from their campaigns say. Banning abstains on council decisions involving groups he is affiliated with and hasn’t been cited by state ethics officials for problems.
• Tolar says he is “sympathetic to some things the Tea Party stands for but not all of them,” adding that incentives to attract jobs and tax hikes are necessary sometimes. Banning insists that attitude will give companies second thoughts about locating in the county.

One of the pair will be the choice of voters in District 8, an area stretching from West Columbia across Oak Grove to the east side of Lexington and along part of the south shore of Lake Murray.

The runoff comes after Banning finished first and Tolar second in a three-candidate field at the June 10 primary ballot in which no one received more than 50 percent of votes. Billy Oswald, who finished third, endorsed Tolar for his opposition to the tax referendum.

Winning the runoff is tantamount to claiming the post, since no Democrat is seeking it in this fall’s general election.

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