S.C. voters pointed four state senators toward the exit Tuesday night – including two longtime lawmakers and state Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, the Senate’s most outspoken conservative firebrand.
In one of the night’s closest runoffs, Moore attorney Scott Talley narrowly defeated Bright to represent Spartanburg and eastern Greenville County.
“I feel for my supporters, but, quite frankly, being in the Senate hamstrings you on what you can do,” said Bright, known for his filibusters and bucking his own party’s leaders. The senator said he plans to get involved in grassroots efforts to ensure the state’s next governor is someone voters can trust.
Gov. Nikki Haley endorsed Talley last week, joining efforts by the the S.C. Chamber of Commerce and the Conservation Voters of South Carolina – two powerful lobbying groups – to prevent Bright from winning a third term.
Talley’s win means the Senate loses its fiercest advocate for right-wing policies that some of his fellow Republicans have labeled outrageous.
After North Carolina passed a bill requiring transgender people to use the bathroom of their biological sex, Bright unsuccessfully took up the effort in South Carolina. He also pushed an unsuccessful proposal to allow the carrying of firearms without training or a permit, failed to get the state to study coining its own money and filibustered a landmark abortion ban that passed – despite opposing abortion himself – because it included exceptions for rape and incest.
Talley said he “knew it was going to be a hard-fought battle,” having lost to Bright in 2008 by an even narrower margin. “I was very forthright with voters,” he added. “When you win by a small margin, it all pays off.”
While Haley’s candidate won in Spartanburg, the Republican governor also lost one contest Tuesday, with state Rep. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Georgetown, narrowly beating Reese Boyd for a state Senate seat. Haley endorsed Boyd, a Murrells Inlet attorney, for the Senate seat, which Republican Ray Cleary will vacate when he retires this year.
I feel for my supporters, but, quite frankly, being in the Senate hamstrings you on what you can do.
– Sen Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg
Powerful Judiciary chairman ousted
A legislator for 37 years, state Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, lost to Rex Rice, an Easley construction professional and cattle farmer.
“We had guidance from above. God helped us and led us, and that was important to our whole team,” said Rice, a former state representative of 16 years. Rice ran unsuccessfully against Martin as a petition candidate in 2012. Rice faces no opposition in November.
Chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, Martin’s exit means that panel — second in its prestige and power only to the Senate Finance Committee — will have a new leader in January. Next in line for the chairmanship is state Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Horry, who Haley unsuccessfully opposed in his GOP primary re-election bid.
A sometimes ally of Democrats and critic of Haley, Rankin’s elevation would represent a significant shift in power in the Senate. Martin has been a strong ally of Haley’s, pushing ethics reform most recently.
GOP education advocate loses in landslide
A legislator for more than three decades, state Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, lost in a landslide to challenger William Timmons, a former prosecutor from Greenville. Timmons will face Constitution candidate Roy Magnuson in November.
“It was a bad night for incumbents, but I don’t know why,” Fair said, before calling Timmons to congratulate him. “I got clobbered. It wasn’t even close. ... With the margin of victory that big for Mr. Timmons, I think the constituency here has had enough of me.”
I got clobbered. It wasn't even close. ... With the margin of victory that big for Mr. (William) Timmons, I think the constituency here has had enough of me.
– Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville
Fair said he has no regrets. He served on various committees dealing with public education and early childhood policy. “To have been a part of that success, it’s been a blessing – just the whole notion that you maybe had made a difference.”
In other Senate runoffs
▪ State Sen. Creighton Coleman, D-Fairflield, lost to Great Falls’ Mike Fanning, the executive director of the Olde English Consortium. An attorney, Coleman was elected to the S.C. House in 2000 and served four terms before being elected to the Senate in 2008. Fanning will face Republican Mark Palmer in November.
▪ A showdown between two Charleston attorneys ended with Sandy Senn beating Roy Maybank. State Sen. Paul Thurmond, son of former S.C. governor and U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, did not seek re-election. Senn faces no opposition in November, assuring the state Senate will include at least four women in January, up from two this year.
S.C. Senate primary runoffs
Results for Tuesday’s state Senate primary runoffs:
Rex Rice: 6,010
Larry Martin (i): 5,076
William Timmons: 6,244
Mike Fair (i): 3,318
Scott Talley: 4,861
Lee Bright (i): 4,562
Stephen Goldfinch: 2,798
Reese Boyd: 2,535
Sandy Senn: 2,524
Roy Maybank: 1,862
Mike Fanning: 4,674
Creighton Coleman (i): 3,635
SOURCE: Associated Press