The Buzz

Efforts mount to oust firebrand senator

SC Sen. Lee Bright (on left) and SC Rep. Scott Talley
SC Sen. Lee Bright (on left) and SC Rep. Scott Talley

With only four days to go until Tuesday’s GOP runoff, state Sen. Lee Bright is fighting for his political life.

Known for his controversial proposals – advocating the state coin its own money and ban transgender South Carolinians from the bathrooms of their choice – Bright is opposed by former state Rep. Scott Talley in District 12’s race Tuesday.

Bright is facing an uphill fight in the district, which includes parts of Spartanburg and Greenville counties

In the four-candidate June 14 primary, 62 percent of Republican voters cast their ballots against Bright and for one of his three challengers.

The firebrand libertarian finished first in the Republican primary, taking 38 percent of the vote. But attorney Talley, who won 27 percent of the vote, is hoping to draw support from voters who cast their ballots for Bright’s other two challengers.

Outside groups – including the political arms of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce and the Conservation Voters of South Carolina – also have lined up to help defeat Bright.

In addition, Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, who has been active in Senate primary races, endorsed Talley last week.

“They’re going to do everything they can to beat me because they know there’s going to be a reckoning if I get re-elected,” Bright said.

Bright a roadblock?

For nearly two weeks, the S.C. Chamber of Commerce’s political arm, the Good Government Committee, has been running a radio ad targeting Bright for his votes against proposals to spend money to repair the state’s roads.

“For most people, 'my way or the highway' is a figure of speech,” the ad says. “For state Sen. Lee Bright, it’s a campaign slogan.”

The ad talks about “the crumbling highways in South Carolina,” noting more than 900 people died on state roads last year. Meanwhile, the ads says, Bright “voted against the bill to fix our roads without raising taxes – twice.”

Bright counters he has fought for money for road repairs.

Last year, for instance, Bright helped filibuster a budget proposal until it was changed to send $216 million to counties for road repairs.

This year, Bright also supported an unsuccessful Senate plan to spend $400 million from the state’s general fund budget on roads. Critics said the proposal would have diverted money from schools or public safety to pay for road repairs.

Bright said the groups targeting him want to raise taxes, specifically the state’s third-lowest-in-the-nation gas tax, and know they will have a much better chance of doing so if they can get him out of office.

In 2012, Bright benefited from the endorsement of Republican Gov. Haley. This year, however, he said the political establishment has turned on him because it considers conservatives to be obstructionists.

But, he added, the 12th District needs somebody who is going to stand up to special-interest groups. “We’ve got enough ‘yes men’ in Columbia.”

Bright does have his backers.

Several other conservative lawmakers — including state Sens. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson; Tom Davis, R-Beaufort; and state Reps. Tommy Stringer, R-Greenville, and Jonathon Hill, R-Anderson — are supporting his re-election bid.

Talley cites House experience, criticizes Bright

Going into the June 14 primary, the most recent campaign filings available, Bright and Talley had nearly the same amount of money available to spend.

Talley had $111,667 on hand to spend, including money from a $100,000 loan that he took out for the race. Meanwhile, Bright had $104,488 available to spend.

The runoff is a repeat of a primary runoff eight years ago when Bright beat Talley by about 200 votes.

Talley, who Haley endorsed after the June 14 primary, touts his eight years of experience in S.C. House from 2001-08, saying serving on conference committees and chairing subcommittees has prepared him for the Senate.

His priorities include making the state Transportation Department part of the executive branch of government, reporting to the governor. He also wants the state to consider zero-based budgeting.

“We always start next year’s budget based on what we did last year,” Talley said. Instead, legislators need to see where money is being spent so that they can identify waste.

Bright also supports zero-based budgeting.

Talley says Bright only pays “lip service to being a reformer” but cannot point to any reforms that he has passed.

He also criticized Bright’s controversial proposal to ban transgender people from using the bathrooms of their choice.

Talley said he supports men going to the men’s restroom and women going to the women’s restroom. But he said Bright’s bill, which did not have an enforcement mechanism, was just “another in his attempts to grab headlines for himself.”

Bright’s bathroom proposal died earlier this year.

Talley also criticized Bright for selling Confederate flag bumper stickers in the aftermath of last June’s Charleston church shooting.

“He’s just got all of these gimmicks.”

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope

Senate District 12 runoff

Lee Bright, incumbent

Age: 46

Hometown: Spartanburg

Family: Married, Amy; two children

Education: Dorman High School

Job: Owner, vehicle insurance agency

Political experience: S.C. Senate, 2009-present; Spartanburg County District 6 school board

Scott Talley

Age: 39

Hometown: Moore

Family: Married, Kelly; three sons

Education: Wofford College, bachelor’s degree; University of South Carolina Law School

Job: Owner of law firm where he is an attorney

Political experience: State House of Representatives, 2001-08

State Senate runoff races

Tuesday’s runoff ballot includes a half-dozen high-profile state Senate races:

District 2

State Sen. Larry Martin, the Pickens Republican who chairs the Senate’s powerful Judiciary Committee, is in a runoff against Rex Rice. In the June 14 primary, Martin received 45 percent of the vote to Rice’s 33 percent. Rice, a former state representative, ran unsuccessfully as a petition candidate against Martin in 2012.

Senate District 6

State Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, who has been in the Senate for 21 years and chairs its corrections committee, is facing off against William Timmons. Timmons almost won the GOP nomination outright on June 14, taking 49.5 percent of the vote. Fair won 36.3 percent.

Senate District 17

Creighton Coleman, D-Farifield, is facing off against Mike Fanning, executive director of the Olde English Consortium, an educational collaborative for the Democratic nomination. Coleman won 49 percent of the vote in the June 14 primary. Fanning took 45 percent.

Senate District 34

State Rep. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Georgetown, narrowly finished first in a four-way primary for the open Senate seat that Republican Ray Cleary is vacating. Goldfinch took 43 percent of the vote. In the runoff, he faces Reese Boyd, a Murrells Inlet attorney who Gov. Nikki Haley has endorsed. Boyd took 41 percent of the vote in the June 14 primary.

Senate District 41

Republican Sandy Senn won 40 percent of the vote in a five-way GOP primary to succeed Paul Thurmond, R-Charleston, who is retiring. In the runoff, Senn faces Roy Maybank who took 23 percent of the vote on June 14.