Tuesday's final GOP debate in the race for S.C. governor before the June 12 primary turned into a feisty affair.
After hardly laying a finger on him in the first debate, several of S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster's GOP challengers brought out the knives, largely targeting his ties to Richard Quinn. Quinn is McMaster's former political consultant who was indicted in the ongoing State House corruption probe.
“Y’all, this is politics, but I think we have to stick with the truth. The only investigations I’ve been involved with are the ones I was running myself" as a prosecutor, McMaster said.
The comment came in response to a question about ethics in state government, and after Mount Pleasant labor attorney Catherine Templeton floated the idea that McMaster himself could be a target of the State House corruption probe.
"If we hire him on June 12th and he is indicted, we're handing the governor's office over to the liberals," Templeton said.
McMaster fired back, saying corruption in state government revolves around no-bid contracts, like the ones Templeton received from two state agencies. Templeton said those contracts are standard practice until state agencies find their new directors.
Templeton said she worked to expose corrupt contracts at the S.C. Ports Authority during her five-week stint working there.
Greenville mortgage lender and Marine veteran John Warren said he will fight for term limits and called Quinn "the biggest criminal in our state for the past 30 years."
Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant called for the state's anti-racketeering law to be expanded, and also hit McMaster for hiring Quinn as a consultant.
"This government needs to be returned to the taxpayer, and we need to restore integrity to the government," Bryant said.
Former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill of Kingstree said the House and Senate cannot continue to police themselves on ethics.
Warren and Templeton also took swipes at one another. Both accused each other of flip-flopping on abortion.
Warren also tangled with McMaster in responses to a question about how the candidates would work to fix the state's crumbling roads and bridges.
McMaster said the S.C. Department of Transportation fixed the Wando bridge — expected to snarl Charleston-area traffic for weeks — well ahead of schedule.
Warren responded: "Fixing one bridge? That's what you brag about?"
McMaster noted the gas-tax hike he vetoed allows him to remove members of the DOT commission, giving him more power over the agency's priorities.
"If they aren't delivering, they will now have to answer to me," he said.
Warren said he would get rid of the "corrupt and political" DOT commission and roll the state infrastructure bank into the DOT, as well as enact a five-year strategic plan "based on road usage and growth of the area."
Templeton said she would ensure the DOT is accountable. Bryant said the DOT should be made a cabinet agency under the governor's control. McGill said the DOT has plenty of money but would direct more scrutiny as to how they're spending it.
McMaster is seeking his first full term in office. Recent polls have shown him ahead of his individual challengers. But surveys also show a majority of likely primary voters do not support him, which could lead to a two-candidate runoff June 26.