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Fiery conservative Lee Bright sets sights on Trey Gowdy's seat in Congress

Provocative Senator Lee Bright talks about year's achievements

Three Republicans and two state lobbying power houses are gunning to oust arguably the most provocative, confrontational and headline-grabbing voice in the S.C. General Assembly. Here's what he has to say.
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Three Republicans and two state lobbying power houses are gunning to oust arguably the most provocative, confrontational and headline-grabbing voice in the S.C. General Assembly. Here's what he has to say.

Former state Sen. Lee Bright, the fiery conservative who lost his state Senate seat in 2016, has set his sights higher on the political food chain.

On Thursday, the Spartanburg Republican told an Upstate radio host that he will run for U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy's 4th District congressional seat, which covers Greenville and Spartanburg counties.

Gowdy announced his retirement plans earlier this year.

Bright, a two-term senator, unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Lindsey Graham for his U.S. Senate seat in the 2014 GOP primary. Bright lost his state Senate re-election campaign in 2016. He was defeated by then-state Rep. Scott Talley, R-Spartanburg. Talley was endorsed by former Gov. Nikki Haley.

Bright's time in the Senate was marked by what some called off-the-wall and controversial proposals.

“I knew I had collected so many enemies that winning that re-election was going to be really hard,” Bright told The Greenville News in 2016, “so I thought, ‘You’ve got to live like this is it, like you’re never coming back.’ That’s how I did it.”

In 2015, Bright opposed a gas-tax hike to repair the state's crumbling roads and bridges — an effort backed by the state Chamber of Commerce and other pro-business groups. Bright filibustered the hike, leading it to failure.

However, the gas-tax hike passed and become law in 2017.

Bright told the radio station Thursday he could have stopped the gas-tax hike if he still had been in the Senate last year.

"We fought it, and we could have stopped it. But they put a target on me. I've had legislators tell me that they've pointed to me as, 'You could be next.' "

In 2016, Bright received national headlines for his proposal to require transgender people to use the bathroom of their biological choice after the North Carolina Legislature adopted similar legislation. However, the proposal failed in South Carolina. Then-Gov. Haley called it unnecessary.

Bright also opposed lowering the Confederate flag from the State House grounds after the shooting deaths of nine black churchgoers in Charleston.

If elected to Congress, Bright said his priorities would include ensuring tax dollars are spent wisely and fighting for gun rights.

"The left has ... just the ability to weaponize emotion," Bright said, referring to efforts to pass gun-control legislation after 17 high school students and coaches were killed at a Florida high school on Valentine's Day. "Every time there's an emotional instant, they go in and they grab for something they believe in, and then we feel like we've got to offer it over and cave in. We cant do that. We can't trade away the Bill of Rights because of a tragedy."

Bright praised President Donald Trump, saying he's "fighting the establishment on both sides."

Bright will face a crowded June 12 GOP primary field including at least five other candidates.

Maayan Schechter: 803-771-8657; @MaayanSchechter
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