The Buzz

Fake Democrat? Black faces Bjorn, party in 2nd District primary

FILE PHOTO: Arik Bjorn speaks in April to S.C. Democrats about his campaign for the 2nd Congressional District of South Carolina during the S.C. Democratic Convention.
FILE PHOTO: Arik Bjorn speaks in April to S.C. Democrats about his campaign for the 2nd Congressional District of South Carolina during the S.C. Democratic Convention.

Phil Black thinks life begins at conception, welfare recipients should be drug-tested and marriage should be only between a man and a woman.

He wants to shrink the federal government, abolish the Internal Revenue Service and establish jobs programs for welfare recipients “so people have pride again.”

And yet, to the ire of the S.C. Democrats, the former Republican and semi-retired hardware-store owner is running for Congress as a Democrat in the 2nd District, which covers parts of Richland, Lexington, Aiken, Barnwell and Orangeburg counties.

Black is a “fake Democrat,” says librarian Arik Bjorn, Black’s June 14 primary opponent.

“Phil Black is a down-the-line Tea Party Republican who is trying to hoodwink the voters of South Carolina’s District 2.”

Black said he figured he would have better luck running for the 2nd District congressional seat as a Democrat after suffering landslide defeats to veteran U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson in Republican primaries in 2008, 2010 and 2012.

But, even after switching sides and winning the district’s Democratic primary, Black was crushed again by Wilson in the 2014 general election.

This time, the S.C. Democratic Party is stepping in.

The party publicly has endorsed Bjorn in the primary – something it has only done once before – and donated $1,000 to his campaign.

In 2014, the party endorsed state Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, in his U.S. Senate primary race against S.C. newcomer Jay Stamper, a convicted felon.

“We’re taking unusual action for unusual activity,” said S.C. Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison. “That’s the heart and truth of it. We need people on the ballot who are Democrats.”

If elected, Black says he will vote in the best interests of all 2nd District residents, not along party lines.

Black also says he is a “Democrat at heart,” supporting universal healthcare and some gun-control measures – including banning semi- and automatic weapons.

“I’m an old country boy,” Black said. “Whoever I bring to the dance, I’ll go home with.”

Bjorn said he has more respect for Wilson, “who at least puts an ‘R’ by his name.”

Wilson, who famously shouted “You lie!” at Democratic President Barack Obama during a 2009 congressional address, has been in the House for 15 years.

Bjorn, who previously managed the public-private S.C. SmartState economic-development program, said as congressman he would work to fix the state’s crumbling roads and bridges, and to expand access to healthcare to 2nd District residents.

“I consider myself a foot-washer of the people, and someone that’s willing to work nonstop and tirelessly,” Bjorn said.

Black said he has ideas of his own, including apprenticeship programs and vocational schools for youths, and bringing more jobs to the 2nd District.

“We must get back to the basics,” he said.

Avery G. Wilks: 803-771-8362, @averygwilks

Who’s the real Democrat?

The two candidates in the Democratic primary for the 2nd District congressional seat

Arik Bjorn

Age: 42

Education: Wheaton College, bachelor’s; University of South Carolina, master’s

Family: A daughter

Job: Librarian, Richland Library

Money raised for election: $16,840

Cash available to spend: $485

Phil Black

Age: 71

Education: University of Georgia, bachelor’s

Family: Married to Martha Black, four children, six grandchildren

Job: Semi-retired, runs a hardware store in Barnwell

Money raised for election: Less than $5,000

Cash available to spend: Less than $5,000