Two Democratic state senators said Thursday the state Democratic Party needs to part ways with its chairman, Columbia attorney Dick Harpootlian.
“There is a growing consensus that probably when the elections are over and the smoke clears, I think both rank-and-file Democrats and (the chairman) will think that, you know, that maybe it’s time to bring in a new chairman,” state Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, told reporters at a news conference where he endorsed Republican Sen. John Courson.
State Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, who previously endorsed Courson, went further: “I know (Harpootlian) mentioned maybe spending some time in North Carolina in the next couple of weeks. Perhaps, he will find somebody there who will respect him. I can tell you he is losing a lot of respect here in South Carolina.”
Neither Lourie nor Jackson called on Harpootlian to resign, and they said they would not call on fellow Democrats to oust him. Harpootlian’s term as chairman ends in May, and he has said he will not seek re-election.
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“If (Jackson and Lourie) keep this up, I will (run again),” Harpootlian replied. “So two guys appear at a press conference, endorse a Republican senator for re-election and they want to tell the Democrats of this state who their chairman ought to be? I’m sorry, this is Col. Sanders trying to preach to the chickens.”
Jackson and Lourie are upset with Harpootlian for criticizing Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, a Democrat, for his endorsement of Courson in the Senate District 20 race over his Democratic challenger, Robert Rikard.
Lott’s endorsement came two months after Courson appointed Lott to a two-year term on the newly created Public Employee Benefit Authority, which comes with a $12,000-a-year salary. Harpootlian said Lott endorsed Courson, who became the Senate president pro tempore last spring, to thank him for getting the job.
Lott denied that Thursday, noting he also endorsed Courson in 2000, the last time Courson faced a Democrat challenger in the general election.
Also endorsing Courson at Thursday’s news conference were state Democratic state Rep. Jimmy Bales, Columbia City Councilman Cameron Runyan, Richland County Councilman Norman Jackson and former Richland Council chairman Tony Mizzell.
Norman Jackson would be running against Courson if Rikard had not defeated him in the June primary. Mizzell ran against Courson in 2000 as a Democrat.