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Columbia Craft's Carolinian

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Wilson faces strongest challenge yet in SC's 2nd District from political newcomer Boroughs
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COLUMBIA — A political newcomer is giving two-decade incumbent U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson his most serious challenge yet, repeatedly outraising him in a district that hasn't elected a Democrat in 58 years.

Adair Ford Boroughs, a Forest Acres attorney, isn't fazed by the seemingly long odds. After all, her life's story is about using intellect and hard work to beat expectations.

The daughter of a cabinet maker and public school teacher, Boroughs launched her campaign last year on the football field of tiny Williston-Elko High where, 21 years earlier, she gave her valedictorian speech.

She touts those small-town roots on the campaign trail, noting she went to Furman University on a full scholarship, graduated from Stanford Law School with honors and — instead of taking a corporate job — went to work at the U.S. Department of Justice "going after tax cheats." She then clerked for a federal judge and started a nonprofit law firm for people who can't afford high-dollar legal help. 

"Throughout my life, the Lord has seen fit to put in front of me work that needs to be done and say, 'Are you willing?' I have said 'yes,' and this campaign is no different," she said at the opening of the contest's only debate on Oct. 20 at River Bluff High School in Lexington.

The 40-year-old mother of two has outraised Wilson every quarter, collecting $2.4 million to his $1.5 million over the election cycle, despite, as she says repeatedly, not taking any money from corporate political action committees.  

But Wilson, 73, of Springdale still has the obvious advantage in a district that spans the counties of Barnwell, Aiken and uber-conservative Lexington — where 40 percent of its registered voters live — as well as more GOP-leaning parts of Richland. 

The 2nd District has voted Republican since 1965, when it became the first district in South Carolina since Reconstruction to flip from blue. And, unlike the coastal 1st District, which flipped back to blue two years ago, it hasn't seen nearly the influx of newcomers from Northeastern states.  

Wilson, a former state senator and real estate attorney, first won the seat in a 2001 special election following the death of 30-year incumbent Floyd Spence, whom he'd worked for as a congressional aide. 

His prior closest races were in 2008 and 2010, both against Marine veteran Rob Miller, when Wilson won with 53.7 percent and 53.5 percent of the vote, respectively. 

Retired from the Army National Guard, Wilson sits on the House Armed Services Committee and is known for his staunch support of the military. He often notes all four of his sons, including state Attorney General Alan Wilson, also served in the military.

Normally a reliable backer of President Donald Trump, Wilson made clear at the debate he wants to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan, though adding "it doesn't need to be a big presence." 

Trump tweeted earlier this month that he wants all troops home by Christmas from America's longest war following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. 

"Lightning's going to strike. This could be an issue I disagree with the president. I believe the global war on terror began in Afghanistan in a cave," Wilson said in response to a student's question at the debate. "So it’s important we complete our service. ... Al-Qaida is reduced, but it’s still there. We know their plans are to attack American families at home."

Boroughs, who points out her twin brother was a combat veteran in Iraq, said "we need a plan to draw down."

"Staying there forever indefinitely is not helping the situation," she said.

As for veterans' health care, she believes they should have the option to legally treat chronic pain and post-traumatic stress with marijuana. And while she shows willingness to buck her own party on fiscal issues, saying both parties are to blame for driving up the nation's debt, she's more in line with Democrats on social issues, such as abortion and immigration.

She scoffs at Trump's insistence on completing a wall along the Mexican border, saying the money should be redirected to securing ports of entry. 

While she doesn't believe in open borders, she said, "we already have walls and fences on parts of the border where this really matters" and wants to offer a path to citizenship for immigrants already here. 

Noting the district has been represented by just two men in 50 years, Boroughs promises she would term-limit herself to six years in Congress.

She would be the second woman to represent the district, though the first was elected in 1962, only to finish the 10 months remaining in her late husband's term.

Wilson said he supports term limits, too, but only if the limits applied to all members of Congress.

"If you only do it to yourself, you're making yourself a short-timer," Wilson said, adding that such a personal pledge is defeatist and "you'll never get a bill through."  

While he proposed legislation to establish term limits while a state senator, it went nowhere. Such proposals never do, whether in the Legislature or Congress, as they rely on long-time politicians voting to cut off their own careers.  

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Democrat trying to oust Columbia's last GOP legislator, 2 Richland senators face challenges
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COLUMBIA — Of the 29 legislative seats representing Richland and Lexington counties, 12 incumbents face major-party opposition in the Nov. 3 election.

But a trio of Columbia races feature incumbents, from both parties, trying to keep their seats in some of the county's more conservative-leaning districts.

House: Bailey vs. Finlay

In his first bid for office, Democrat Rhodes Bailey is trying to oust the only Republican left in a Richland County-based legislative seat. 

Kirkman Finlay, a former Columbia city councilman, has represented the district that includes neighborhoods just outside Fort Jackson's gates since 2012. 

While the capital county is otherwise a Democratic stronghold in a red state, District 75 has consistently voted Republican for decades. And Finlay's roots in Columbia go deep. His late father, by the same name, was also a former city councilman, as well as mayor from 1978 to 1986.

The 50-year-old farmer and entrepreneur's various businesses include Doc's BBQ on Shop Road, Pawleys Front Porch in Five Points and Millstone at Adams Pond.

Bailey, a 39-year-old attorney in the public defender's office, says he decided to run out of frustration with a dysfunctional, GOP-controlled Legislature he sees as shirking its duties to support public schools.

The father of a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old first-grader, Bailey said teachers need higher pay and smaller classroom sizes, and schools need more social services "so teachers can focus on teaching and don't have to fill in the gaps." 

"It's a shame that it takes a pandemic for some people to realize how hard it is to be a teacher," said Bailey, a Florence native who moved to Columbia in 2005 for law school.

He criticizes the Legislature as not doing its duty amid the COVID-19 pandemic to oversee the emergency powers of Gov. Henry McMaster, whom he faults as not issuing a stay-at-home order soon enough and re-opening too soon. 

"It's shocking how they ceded their power to the governor," Bailey said. 

This year's regular legislative session was cut short by the pandemic, essentially ending in mid-March, after McMaster issued his first state of emergency declaration, instead of May.

But the Legislature did return for very limited, special sessions in March, May, June and September to allocate state surplus money for coronavirus response, keep government going without a new state budget and spend $1.9 billion in federal COVID-19 aid. Meanwhile, McMaster has issued emergency orders every 15 days, before each expired as per state law.

Many legislators, including Finlay, want to review those emergency powers — written in expectation of natural, short-lived emergencies such as hurricanes — once the pandemic is over. 

But in the middle of an unprecedented crisis is not the time to curtail the governor's ability to respond, Finlay said.  

"I'd argue Henry has done a pretty good job of striking a balance of opening up and protecting people," he said. "There’s no question that after this, we’re going to discuss where the governor’s powers are going to be. But we’re in brand new, unchartered waters here."  

Finlay, a member of the House budget-writing committee, helped negotiate last month's compromise that provided $65 million in grants to nonprofits and small businesses in COVID-19 aid — up to $50,000 and $25,000 each, respectively.

He says the top priority in January should be crafting a budget for the remaining six months of the fiscal year, after getting a clearer outlook on how the pandemic continues to affect state coffers. House leaders declined to pass a budget in September for the current fiscal year, agreeing with McMaster that too many uncertainties remain.

"Then we'll understand the reality," Finlay said. Unlike last March, when legislators thought they'd have a $1.9 billion surplus to spend, "we'll have different priorities all of a sudden."

Bailey questions Finlay's ethics, pointing to a contract with utility NextEra, which is paying about $15,000 a year for the option to lease some of Finlay's vast property in Richland County for a solar farm, as reported by The State newspaper.

The Florida-based company wants to buy South Carolina's only state-owned utility, Santee Cooper, which legislators are weighing whether to sell as part of the continued fallout of the failed expansion of the V.C. Summer nuclear project. Santee Cooper and the now-defunct SCE&G jointly abandoned the project in 2017, leaving customers with billions in debt and nothing but a hole in the ground in Fairfield County to show for it. 

Bailey says Santee Cooper and its public assets shouldn't be sold in what's essentially a "fire sale."

Finlay argues the utility's massive debt is too much of a liability for South Carolina taxpayers and scoffs at the accusation there's any conflict of interest in his long-time criticism of the public utility's management.

The House budget-writing committee voted earlier this year, before the session was cut short, to ask NextEra for a better offer.

Senate: Blatt vs. McLeod

Sen. Mia McLeod, 52, who previously spent three terms in the House, is seeking her second term in the state Senate representing the Northeast suburbs of Richland County, as well as part of Kershaw County.

Her challenger, Republican Lee Blatt, has never run for office before. But the 35-year-old father of a 3- and 1-year-old is the great-grandson of the state House's most powerful speaker ever, Solomon Blatt of Barnwell, who controlled the House from 1937-1946 and again from 1951-1973. 

Lee Blatt, a former Richland County deputy and pilot, says he doesn't get asked about his last name often, but when he does, it's generally his late grandfather, federal judge Sol Blatt Jr., who they recognize.  

One of Blatt's criticisms of McLeod, a communications consultant, is that she misses too many votes in the Legislature.

McLeod, who has sickle cell anemia, missed some of the special sessions this year out of concerns of contracting COVID-19 in a chamber where many of her colleagues weren't wearing masks, even after McMaster ordered face coverings in state buildings in early August.

When she returned in September, including for a session that expanded absentee voting for the upcoming election, she voted from the chamber's balcony in order to keep her distance.

McLeod said she's disappointed some of her Republican colleagues weren't more mindful of the virus' potential deadly consequences to her and others at the Statehouse.

Hospitalized several times during her childhood with pneumonia, the native of rural Marlboro County wasn't diagnosed with sickle cell until her freshman year in college at the University of South Carolina, after she ended up in a hospital again and finally learned why she got so sick.

McLeod, whose sister is a teacher, strongly supports the outcry from teachers' groups to not bring students back into the classrooms until the virus spread has drastically dropped. In suburban Richland 2, a weekly mix of in-person and online learning won't start until at least Nov. 4. Some teachers have voiced their displeasure about the plan.

Blatt blasts McLeod for voting against a massive education reform bill earlier this year, following a debate that consumed the Senate's first eight weeks, before the pandemic ended the entire effort.

McLeod was among four senators who voted "no," arguing it didn't go nearly far enough to help teachers.

Senate: Dunn vs Harpootlian

Sen. Dick Harpootlian, a former state Democratic Party chairman, is seeking his first full term in the Senate after winning a special election two years ago to replace 33-year veteran GOP Sen. John Courson, who resigned and pleaded guilty amid allegations he pocketed campaign cash.

Harpootlian — the only other Richland County senator with a challenger — again faces attorney Benjamin Dunn, who lost in 2018 with 47.6 percent of the vote. 

Dunn, an Army National Guardsman deployed to Afghanistan in 2004, was also among six unsuccessful GOP challengers to U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in the 2014 primary.

Harpootlian, who's sometimes visibly irritated by the Senate's pace, has frustrated members of both parties as he went after budget earmarks, Commerce incentives, and legislative perks and appointments, as a waste of taxpayers' money.

Judge rules SC officials illegally withheld information about business deals

The lawsuit, which was filed in Richland County, was focused on economic development deals that South Carolina officials approved for two companies: Viva Recycling and Giti Tires. But the case is likely to have far broader implications for the way the Department of Commerce operates and the amount of information the agency is required to disclose to the public and members of the media. 

He doesn't plan to let up in the slightest. 

He hopes a silver lining of the pandemic's economic freefall is that it forces legislators to re-evaluate how they spend, and he says he'll be combing through next year's budget proposals.

"When income is diminished, then people make choices about what's really important," he said. "We need to drill down on where we're spending money." 

Efforts to reach Dunn were unsuccessful.