The contest to succeed longtime 11th Circuit Solicitor Donnie Myers appears headed for a second round June 28.
Longtime Myers assistant Rick Hubbard of Gilbert fell just short of winning outright the three-candidate match in Tuesday’s Republican primary ballot, finishing with 49.84 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results.
If that count holds after a review, Hubbard will face former Grand Strand assistant prosecutor Candice Lively of Chapin in a runoff election since no candidate received more than 50 percent.
“This is stage one, and now we enter the final phase,” Hubbard said.
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Lively could not be reached for comment.
Larry Wedekind, also of Chapin, urged supporters to back Hubbard after he finished last.
The change in the prosecutor’s office is part of a sweeping generational change in law enforcement in steadily growing Lexington County over the past two years.
Either Hubbard or Lively will join Sheriff Jay Koon and Coroner Margaret Fisher as the new generation of leaders, replacing predecessors who dominated the scene for four decades: Myers, James Metts and Harry Harman.
“What makes it unique is that it all happened in a short period,” political consultant R.J. Shealy said. “It was hard to imagine just a few years ago that these changes would come so quickly. The officials who left had been there so long, they had become institutions.”
Each of the new leaders came up through their respective professional ranks, relying on friendships developed from years on the job.
With no Democrat running, winning the Republican showdown is tantamount to automatic election at the Nov. 8 ballot.
The 11th Circuit encompasses Lexington, Edgefield, Saluda and McCormick counties.
Hubbard finished first in each of the counties but fell just short of winning outright. His finish ahead of the others shows residents “want someone who will be ready on Day One to do the job,” he said.
Two major challenges await the new solicitor:
▪ Reducing a backlog of unresolved offenses – 4,800 in Lexington County alone – that deputies say contributes significantly to overcrowding of the county jail.
▪ The as-yet-unscheduled death penalty trial of Timothy Jones, charged with killing his five children in their Red Bank home in August 2014. It’s one of the largest mass murders in the Midlands in 50 years.
Koon, who supports Hubbard, promised a partnership with the new solicitor regardless of whom voters choose. “People expect us to work together,” he said. “We’re all in this thing together.”
The race developed this spring as Myers kept associates guessing before deciding to retire next year rather than seek re-election.
His decision made for a short but intense primary match. “None of the candidates are household names,” Shealy said.
Law enforcement leaders quickly lined up in support of Hubbard while Lively campaigned as the anti-establishment choice.
Stage set for change
About 1 in 4 of Lexington County’s estimated 280,000 residents have known no one but Myers as solicitor.
Myers is the last of a trio who dominated efforts to keep crime at bay in the county for four decades until 2014
The three first won office in the 1970s as the county started its transformation into the Republican stronghold that it is today, with each departing differently.
Ex-sheriff Metts left in scandal in 2014.
He is back home after serving a year in prison following his guilty plea to a federal charge stemming from interference with the handling of two detainees at the county jail he formerly oversaw. He remains silent publicly but has said he will assist charities.
Former coroner Harman died in office in 2014 after lingering injuries from a traffic accident a year earlier.
Myers enjoyed a political distinction the other two didn’t.
No one ever opposed him at the polls following his initial election in 1976, election officials say.
But he is leaving office under a cloud.
His decision came amid an outcry following his arrest in February for driving while intoxicated near his home on the south shore of Lake Murray, a charge he is contesting. It was his third arrest for an alcohol-related driving offense in the past 11 years.
Myers didn’t cite that clamor in deciding to retire.
Stepping aside is “common sense” since he would only be eligible to serve through the end of 2017 after reaching mandatory retirement at 72, Myers said. A legislative proposal to allow him to serve longer went nowhere.
Left unsaid is that staying on would have allowed Gov. Nikki Haley, no friend of Myers, to appoint a successor whom he probably wouldn’t like.
Myers’ 40 years as chief prosecutor is a state record for longevity.
He served as a mentor to many current prosecutors across South Carolina as Lexington tripled in population.
He is known as a gifted story teller with a take-no-prisoners approach when victims were killed or seriously injured.
His tenaciousness was often compelling to jurors but prompted higher courts to overturn convictions – particularly for death penalty sentences – for remarks and actions considered prejudicial.
“He will go down as a legend in the courtroom,” said Hubbard, who worked under Myers for 22 years. “But he has an old-school style in doing things. Life changed and Donnie didn’t.”
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483
By the numbers
Unofficial results in the Republican primary election Tuesday for 11th Circuit solicitor in Lexington County and adjoining areas:
(137 of 137 precincts)
Rick Hubbard: 13,969
Candice Lively: 8,841
Larry Wedekind: 5,216