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Gov. Nikki Haley targets another SC senator in GOP primary

Wes Climer
Wes Climer

Gov. Nikki Haley and a political committee supporting her agenda are backing yet another GOP primary opponent to a longtime state senator.

Haley is expected to endorse Republican Wes Climer, a Rock Hill financial adviser, who is running to unseat state Sen. Wes Hayes of Rock Hill in the June 14 primary.

Haley will campaign with Climer, a former York County GOP chairman, at a barbecue at his home next Thursday at 6 p.m., Climer said Wednesday.

The pro-Haley political group, A Great Day SC, also is running an ad in Hayes’ district. The ad accuses Hayes of siding with “liberals” and says voters “can do better” with Climer, 33.

“Wes Climer is a conservative businessman who is leading the fight for term limits, lower taxes and good government reform,” Haley said in Climer’s campaign release. “If we are going to change the way the Senate works, we are going to have to change senators.”

The endorsement pits Haley against Hayes, 63, who has been in the state Senate since 1991 and, previously, was in the S.C. House from 1985 to 1991.

Hayes says he sees himself as an ally to the governor on several issues, adding he is “disappointed” Haley is backing his opponent.

“I've worked closely with the governor, particularly on the roads issues. We were able to pull together, I think, a package she can support with no tax increase, and I led the effort on that," Hayes said of a Senate plan to spend more money on roads without raising the gas tax.

"I've been working with her on ethics reform,” added Hayes, whom Haley praised in her 2014 State of the State address for his work on ethics-related legislation.

Hayes, who chairs the Senate panel tasked with overseeing K-12 spending in the state budget, said he also led the effort to include in the budget a Haley-backed initiative to encourage teachers to move into poor, rural school districts.

Haley adviser Tim Pearson said, “Hayes is a nice man who was elected as a Democrat 30 years ago, and, while he changed parties, he never changed his mind.”

Hayes supported a Senate Finance Committee plan to raise the gas tax without any income-tax cut and efforts “to borrow millions of dollars to build fancy new buildings at our universities,” Pearson said.

“The governor believes that after three decades of Sen. Hayes in Columbia, it's time for new leadership in York County,” added Pearson, who runs the pro-Haley PAC.

The gas-tax hike, which failed, was one of many aimed at fixing the state’s roads.

Hayes said he supported the gas-tax hike “mainly to move it forward” out of committee. But the senator also said he supported other Haley goals, including reforming the state Transportation Department.

Having pledged to campaign against lawmakers who have not supported her agenda, Haley is getting involved in other state Senate races.

Haley is endorsing opponents of Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, and Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Horry. The governor also has endorsed a GOP candidate in the primary race to succeed state Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Georgetown, who is not seeking re-election.

If he wins re-election, Hayes said he will not hold Haley's opposition against her.

"I plan to continue to respect the office of the governor, and if she's advocating a strong position for South Carolina, I will be with her."

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