Politics & Government

5 things you don’t know about the Democratic candidates for SC governor

He is a well-known Columbia attorney and Democratic state representative.

But James Smith, who hopes to win his party’s nomination for governor, has another pretty big job you might not know about – as a contractor for Uncle Sam, awarded nearly $7 million in federal contracts since 2010.

Smith has one Democratic challenger so far: Charleston businessman and technology consultant Phil Noble.

With the Democratic primary in June, and the general election a year away, here’s a look at some things you may not know about the Democrats running for governor:

State Rep. James Smith, D-Richland

1. Valet for veterans. Smith is a lawyer. But he also has a business, The Congaree Group, that has won about $6.8 million in government contracts since 2010, mostly from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, according to a federal database of contracts.

Smith started the business after his year-long combat deployment to Afghanistan in 2007 as an infantry officer. Injured by an improvised explosive device while on deployment, Smith’s status as a service-disabled veteran gives him access to federal contracts designated specifically for vet-owned small businesses.

Smith employs 32 people at his company, which he says competes for the contracts that it wins.

The company primarily provides a valet service for veterans who go to Veterans Administration hospitals. The valets greet the veterans, park their cars for them and help them with other services once inside the hospital.

Now offering valet services at two hospitals in South Carolina and one in Georgia, Smith’s company is in the process of expanding to a V.A. hospital in West Palm Beach, Fla.

The company previously was involved in distributing life-saving pharmaceuticals to hospitals, Smith said, adding that part of the business has ended.

2. Defend a Republican, sue a newspaper. Smith has said a critical word or two about Republican policies on the floor of the S.C. House. But in legal cases, he’s helped a GOP friend or two.

For example, Smith represented S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, R-Lexington, when the state’s top prosecutor was accused in 2015 of violating state ethics laws by accepting campaign contributions above the legal limit. Wilson returned the money, and the complaint was dismissed.

More recently, Smith is representing the twin daughters of former state Rep. Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington, in a defamation lawsuit against The (Charleston) Post and Courier.

The women sued the newspaper for reporting on a Medical University of South Carolina cheating scandal that involved two students with ties to prominent public officials. The paper did not name the students in its coverage. However, the two women identified themselves in their defamation lawsuit. The newspaper recently asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed.

3. Knew Hootie before they were cool. Smith played bass guitar in a band called the Root Doctors. They gigged alongside Hootie and the Blowfish before fame struck Darius Rucker and his band. Smith also rides a Harley Davidson motorcycle.

Phil Noble

4. Not his first statewide race. While the underdog, Noble is ensuring Smith won’t have a free pass to the Democratic nomination. But he’ll need to perform better this go-around than he did in 1994. That year, Noble ran for lieutenant governor. He finished fourth in the statewide Democratic primary, taking 13 percent of the vote.

5. Education key to campaign. A longtime president of the S.C. New Democrats, Noble left the helm of a advocacy group founded by former Gov. Dick Riley to run for governor. He says his campaign will focus heavily on education. “If you don’t fix education in South Carolina, nothing else matters.”

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