A resignation by indicted state Sen. John Courson, R-Richland, would launch the first open contest in decades to represent one of the State House’s most influential districts, which includes the state’s flagship university.
On the Republican side, state Rep. Nathan Ballentine of Chapin and former Lexington Clerk of Court Beth Carrigg say they would consider running if Courson’s District 20 Senate seat becomes vacant.
Democratic state Rep. James Smith of Columbia also said he would consider a Senate bid if Courson does not seek re-election.
Reached Monday by The State, Courson said he has no plans to resign, adding he is hoping for a speedy resolution to his case.
In March, Courson was accused by the state grand jury of converting campaign cash for his personal use through his political consultant, Columbia-based Richard Quinn & Associates.
The indictment of the highly regarded Marine Corps veteran shocked the State House to its core.
However, Courson, who is battling a sometimes fatal form of skin cancer, told The State Monday: “That is no reason for me to resign. As far as the indictments, I feel very good about winning in court if I could ever get to court.”
If Courson steps down, fellow Republican Ballentine said he “definitely would consider” running for the District 20 Senate seat, which Courson has held since 1985.
The district spans from Dutch Fork and Irmo in the west to central Columbia, picking up the University of South Carolina, Rosewood and Shandon neighborhoods.
“It's all very premature,” Ballentine said. “I definitely would consider it. We need someone to represent a lot of people in that seat.”
Of Courson, Ballentine added, “I've thought highly of him.”
Democrat Smith said he does not anticipate the seat opening up until 2020.
“But if (Courson) were to retire at that time, after speaking with my family and supporters and friends, I certainly would consider serving in the S.C. Senate,” Smith said.
“Right now, I have a senator and have enjoyed the privilege of working with Sen. Courson for many years,” said the Columbia attorney, also considered a frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018 if he decides to run.
Republican Carrigg, a licensed real-estate agent in Lexington, said she would consider a run, too, if the seat opens up.
“If the seat were to become open – if John Courson were to decide that it was not in his interest to run any more – at that time I would potentially look at the landscape and discuss it with the people most important to me in my life,” she said.
One GOP lawmaker with deep roots in Columbia and a powerful political name won’t be running for state Sen. John Courson’s seat.
State Rep. Kirkman Finlay, a wealthy restauranteur and farmer, lives just outside of Courson’s District 20 in Democratic state Sen. Darrell Jackson’s District 21.
Finlay lives in a triangle of land between Garners Ferry Road, Fort Jackson Boulevard and Interstate 77. Courson’s district jumps over Finlay’s property and resumes to the east of the interstate.
"It's odd, but there it is,” said the wealthy farmer and restauranteur, who was not in office when the district lines were drawn and, as a result, had no control over them.
Courson said Monday that he asked staffers working on drawing new district lines to include Finlay’s property in his district. He said he was told Finlay, a former city councilman whose father was Columbia mayor, could not be included in District 20 because it would split a U.S. Census tract.
However, the existing boundary between Courson and Jackson’s districts already splits the Census tract where Finlay lives, according to The State’s review of Census maps. Asked about the split, Courson said he did not see a map of the Census tracts during the redistricting process.
Finlay said he is happy being in Jackson’s district. He also said he has no plans to seek another office.
"I'm very comfortable in the House. I like the House. I enjoy it. It's been fun,” Finlay said. “The House is so much more action filled.”