Election protest against Pinckney dismissed

COLUMBIA — State Sen. Clementa Pinckney testified Tuesday that he lives apart from his wife because he considers his service as senator a part of his ministry, and that he no longer rents space in Charleston.

After that testimony, a state elections board rejected a protest against Pinckney filed by his defeated Republican opponent.

Republican Leilani Bessinger had contended that Democrat Pinckney wasn’t a legal resident of Senate District 45, which covers southern Charleston County and parts of Allendale, Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties, when he filed for office in March.

The State Election Commission voted 5-0 to dismiss the protest, effectively ruling that Bessinger had not proven that Pinckney lived outside the district.

The three-hour hearing centered on the questioning of witnesses and the presentation of documents by Bessinger, who argued that Pinckney doesn’t live at his childhood home in Ridgeland.

Under questioning, Pinckney said he has lived for several years at a cousin’s home in the same district, 2½ miles away.

His attorney, Tanya Gee, said state law still allows Pinckney to declare his childhood home as a residence.

Pinckney said he moved from his boyhood home because it was in the process of being repaired, and he always has intended to move back.

He explained that his wife lives in Lexington County with their children and teaches at a school in Aiken County while caring for her elderly parents.

Pinckney said he never has lived with his wife. Asked why not, he said it’s “a matter of service” and said he views his role as a state senator as part of his ministry.

The senator said at one point that he was renting property in Charleston, where his ministry is based, but no longer does.

Pinckney said he spends a few days a week in Charleston but still considers Ridgeland home.

Bessinger questioned how effectively Pinckney can serve the district if he is not physically home in the district more often.

“I just want to know that any person who files for this seat has a vested interest in being a representative or senator for us,” she said.

Gee said the contention that Pinckney lives outside the district was “almost insulting,” given how close to his childhood home he always has lived in an age of great mobility.

Bessinger lost to Pinckney by a 2-1 ratio Nov. 6.

Gee told election commissioners that Bessinger was trying to get them to do what Lowcountry voters had not.

Bessinger said she was disappointed by the commission’s ruling but hasn’t decided whether to appeal.

Reach Stephen Largen at 864-641-8172.

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