Ginny Deerin, a Charleston businesswoman and Democratic candidate for S.C. Secretary of State, said the Republican incumbent should reimburse taxpayers for driving a state car about 180 miles daily commuting between Spartanburg and Columbia.

But Republican incumbent Mark Hammond said state law gives him use of a state car, which he uses to conduct business across the state, as well as for his commute.

Hammond, who served as Spartanburg County's Clerk of Court before getting elected to his current post in 2002, said voters have told him they appreciate his decision to keep his Upstate home while working in the capital.

"They like the fact that everyone doesn't live in Columbia," he said. "The state needs to be represented in all areas and corners of our state."

Deerin said Hammond's use a state car is an example of how "the Secretary of State's office has become a bloated bureaucracy wasting taxpayer dollars. ... Hammond's commute is a blatant example of putting self above service."

She noted state law says state government employees who use a permanently assigned agency or state-owned vehicle to commute must reimburse the state, but Hammond said there is a separate law giving constitutional officers use of a state car. "By statute, I'm given transportation. Because I'm a statewide elected official and I need to travel across the state," he said.

Hammond said he tracks the personal miles he puts on the vehicle, a Dodge Durango, and claims that as income on his state and federal taxes. He said he also has saved the state money by accepting used vehicles instead of new. "She needs to get her facts straight," he said, adding, "We're doing everything we can to make that office as business-friendly as possible."

Deerin said regular folks don't get paid for their commute to work, asking, "Why should we pay Mr. Hammond for his 184-mile commute?"

But Hammond said there's never a time he is not Secretary of State, "so no matter where I am or what I'm doing, I'm never without my phone and in contact with the office."

Deerin has said she entered the race to cut fees charged to South Carolina companies and nonprofits, cutting the office's budget, cutting regulations and improving customer service.

But Hammond said as far as Deerin's "bloated bureaucracy" claim, his office received less state appropriated money in its current budget ($950,000) - than it did when he first took office in 2003 ($1.1 million).

Deerin and Hammond are the only candidates for the Secretary of State post, which oversees the state's business and charity filings and carries an approximate salary of $92,000.

The election is Nov. 4.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.