S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster said Tuesday that he is wary of a proposal to require politicians who commit felonies to pay for the special elections needed to replace them.
“We need to keep thinking on that,” McMaster said when asked about the bill, which goes before a Senate panel on Thursday.
S.C. taxpayers currently pay tens of thousands of dollars for special elections held when convicted politicians are kicked out of office. But, McMaster noted, they also must pay to replace elected officials who die in office or resign to seek a higher seat.
“If you’re going to require one to pay for the election, how about the other?” the Richland Republican asked.
The Senate Democrat who proposed the idea said he was “amazed” by McMaster’s comparison.
“There is a difference between someone dying while in office and someone using cocaine while serving in office,” said state Sen. Mike Fanning, the Fairfield Democrat who filed the bill in March. “There is a difference between a school board member choosing to run for county council and a former state commissioner of agriculture running an illegal cock-fighting operation.”
Fanning said he has received positive feedback from across the state since filing the bill, which would authorize judges to order convicted officials to pay restitution to cover the cost of an ensuing special elections.
A public watchdog accused McMaster of posturing.
“All Henry has to do is read the bill, and he would know that it only applies to people who are removed because of criminal convictions,” said longtime government watchdog John Crangle. “Those other comments are immaterial. He’s striking the posture of a guy who is running for re-election.”
Fanning said he expects the bill to move forward at its Thursday hearing. The bill may be tweaked to let convicted politicians pay the restitution with campaign dollars, he said.
Fanning introduced his proposal amid an ongoing State House corruption investigation, which already has led to the indictment of three powerful GOP lawmakers.
McMaster’s take on the restitution bill
S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster was asked Tuesday where he stands on a bill that could require convicted politicians to pay for the special elections needed to hire their replacements. Here is his entire response:
McMaster: “We need to keep thinking on that because there are a lot of other things that would happen to cause a special election, such as a premature death or an accident, someone running for a different office that comes open, and those sorts of things.
“If you’re going to require one to pay for the election, how about the other? How about if someone, say he’s a member of the House or the Senate, and they run for Congress, do they have to pay for that special election? I think we need to be careful on some of these proposals and look at their broad implications, although their limited implications sound pretty justified.
“But we always have to take the long view, and that’s what we need to do with taxes. That’s what we need to do with this pension fund, is take the long view. We’ve got a long time to live in South Carolina, and we’ve got to take good care of what’s been given to us.”