All year, voters in S.C. House District 69 have been unrepresented in the state House of Representatives.
Former Rep. Rick Quinn resigned from the Lexington County district in December, after pleading guilty to a misconduct in office charge. That means residents in northeastern Lexington County have been without a voice in the S.C. House since the legislative session began in January.
On Tuesday, the district’s voters will decide on a replacement, when the Republican primary goes to a runoff between former health insurance executive and school board member Ann Marie Green, and law enforcement officer-turned-athletic trainer Chris Wooten.
Wooten came close to clinching the GOP nomination in the first round on Feb. 27, finishing in first place with 1,410 votes, getting 42 percent of the ballots cast, but short of the majority needed to win outright. Green came in second in the five-person field with 761 votes, or 23 percent, despite a lower fundraising total than some of her opponents.
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Running to “restore integrity” after the State House corruption probe, Wooten says he is sticking to the same strategy in the runoff that he followed in the first round.
“As an old football coach, I know when you have a good lead, you keep running the same plays,” Wooten said.
Wooten is touting his record as a local businessman and as a “conservative outsider” in the race.
Wooten also speaks about the roots that he has laid down in the community since his job as a state trooper moved him to Lexington almost two decades ago. He since has become the owner of BodyShop Athletics and volunteers as a football coach at River Bluff High School.
“I’ve trained the cancer patient and the cancer doctor, the dishwasher and the man who owns the restaurant,” he said. “You talk about a grassroots campaign. ... I starting making calls seven weeks ago, but I feel like started campaigning 17 years ago.”
Green, meanwhile, is touting her knowledge of state and local issues, beyond the year she has spent on the Lexington 1 school board since the 2016 election.
“Some people expect me just to talk about education, but I’m knowledgeable about a lot of the hot topics in Columbia,” Green said.
While other South Carolinians worry about the fate of the state’s power utilities, Green says she is concerned about the water service of rural Lexington County residents, now that the town of Lexington has taken over the former Carolina Water Services plant on the Saluda River. Those residents now are served by the town but don’t live in it.
“They have no advocate,” she said. “That’s where a representative could step in for them.”
In a race where turnout in the first round was only 11 percent, both candidates say getting their voters to the polls will be crucial.
“We need to get people out to vote,” Wooten said. “I don’t want them to think that just because we’re ahead, they don’t need to vote. Every vote counts.”
Green has spent her days knocking on doors, waving at traffic from the roadside with a sign, even sending out hand-written notes.
“We’re trying to do everything we’ve done in eight weeks in 12 days,” she said.
The winner of Tuesday’s runoff will not face a Democratic opponent on the May 1 general election ballot.