At this point in the South Carolina election season voters have received mailers, heard campaign promises and certainly seen plenty of political advertisements making the case for one candidate or another.
But for the candidates it was a tough time to run too, as pandemic restrictions required political strategies to change for unprecedented times.
For its 2020 Voter Guide, the Post and Courier Myrtle Beach & Georgetown Times interviewed every candidate running in a contested race within Horry and Georgetown counties.
The interviews consisted of similar questions about what the candidates want to accomplish if elected, what experiences they have that will help them achieve their goals and what they see as the government’s role for the remainder of the pandemic.
Candidates in uncontested races — meaning no challenger will be on the ballot — were not included in this guide.
Each candidate was encouraged to stick to their personal beliefs and not fall into partisan talking points or attacks against their opponents.
The short profile of each candidate consists of abbreviated versions of these conversations using a mix of direct quotes and paraphrasing — intended to be a snapshot of the candidate.
Links to the candidate's webpages will be provided at the beginning of their entry for more information on their platform. Incumbents for statehouse position’s voting records can be found by searching for them on the South Carolina legislature’s website.
Check out postandcourier.com/myrtle-beach for ongoing coverage of the election, as well as scvotes.gov to see the sample ballot associated with the district a registered voter lives in, which will also show what races a voter is eligible to vote in.
US House of Representatives District 7
Republican: Tom Rice
Incumbent Tom Rice became the U.S. House representative for much of the Pee Dee region a decade ago, after U.S. Census data created the SC-7 district due to a rise in population. And he’s been the only person to hold the seat, winning his reelection every two years.
“My primary focus in running back in 2012 was to create jobs and opportunity in a district where a lot of people have been left behind,” Rice said.
He cited tax reform on the federal level and the Dillon Inland Port as examples of major changes or projects that increased the quality of life for his constituents. He sees an increasing economic opportunity as the number one way of improving his district.
“I ran on jobs, jobs, jobs,” Rice said.
A part of bringing jobs is working with all levels of government to identify needs and trying to find resources to create a healthy community. He believes the president and Republican party have shown to voters they can build a thriving economy.
Rice isn’t worried about a “blue wave” of Democratic victories in the state. He says Democratic initiatives like the Green New Deal, divestment from police and socialism will be a hard sell to voters.
He fully supports the Republican police reform bill authored by Sen. Tim Scott that would require body cameras and ban certain procedures. Rice believes this bill promotes accountability and transparency.
“I thought it was a logical and intelligent response to Mr. (George) Floyd’s killing,” Rice said.
As the region Rice represents faces further flooding concerns, it's clear federal help will be needed. Rice said during his years in Congress, he’s learned a lot about disaster relief and recovery. He hopes re-election means he can get back to Washington to continue using what he has learned to fight for more funding.
“There are a lot of ways I’m looking to help this area,” Rice said. “The Grand Strand was terribly affected by this illness and the Grand Strand pays for a lot of the projects around the state. When the Grand Strand gets sick, the state also gets the flu.”
Rice said given the tough time for the tourism industry and the nation due to the coronavirus pandemic, having a seasoned lawmaker in Congress will be good for getting benefits back to the area.
If re-elected, he wants to get back to building the economy as soon as possible. The first step is helping struggling small businesses recover from lost revenue due to the pandemic, allowing them to remain open in a way that keeps employees healthy. Particularly, he’d like to see relief going to the tourism industry.
“I want us to get past this crisis and back to the days where I had employers calling me begging for jobs,” Rice said.
Democrat: Melissa Watson
Challenger Melissa Watson is used to people counting her out and her bid to be the first Democrat to hold the current District 7 is no different.
Watson believes she is going to win in what would be deemed a huge upset in a Republican-leaning district. She has worked as a teacher and in the restaurant industry, and she wants to be a representative for the everyday South Carolinian.
“There is a real stress for working class people,” Watson said. “I am going to DC to work. I’m not going to make friends ... I’m going to make every day people’s lives easier.”
Her campaign is centered around providing economic opportunity as a top priority. A part of economic development is promoting educational funding, she said, and she would like to see the federal government expand the Title I school program.
Watson would also like to advocate for changes to labor laws to stop companies from asking salaried employees to work extra hours without offering overtime. She believes a salary should cover a 40-hour workweek, and any hours beyond that should count as overtime.
In addition, Watson believes Interstate 73 should’ve been built already given how many local Republican politicians claim to support it. If elected, she will continue to fight for the first interstate into Horry County and try to get roads within District 7 fixed.
“There is not a single reason I-73 shouldn’t be funded and done,” Watson said.
The pandemic only underscores the need for rural healthcare, Watson said. To help keep the community safe, she wants to increase the health care options available to the rural parts of District 7 like in Marlboro County. She said especially during the pandemic, it’s important for all residents to have quick access to medical attention. In life-or-death situations, every minute it takes to the hospital counts, she said.
“Healthcare concern, especially in Marlboro County, because they lost Marlboro Park,” Watson said. “Everybody says to me just get us a hospital.”
If elected, Watson will likely be a part of creating and voting on future COVID relief packages. While she supports a recent minority and small business program, she finds it interesting the money was made available right at the election.
“That’s something I’ve complained about since the beginning,” Watson said. “All those big businesses like Lowes and Walmart got their PPP money because they were already in the system and each one of their stores qualified as a small business ... but the money for the true small businesses was wiped out in eight or nine days.”
She’d also like to see unemployment benefits extended and expansion of the food stamp program to help older people afford fresh vegetables or healthy foods during the pandemic.
“It’s sad this is the wealthiest country in the world and we can’t do better by our people,” Watson said.
Republican: Carter Weaver
Incumbent Sheriff Carter Weaver has been no stranger to election cycles since he took over the Sheriff's Office in 2019. He won a special election to complete the previous term and is now seeking his first full term as sheriff.
Weaver took over for the late Sheriff Lane Cribb. Weaver said he tries to maintain Cribb’s commitment to community and compassion in professional law enforcement. He has spent more than 30 years in law enforcement. He’s seen his community and profession change during the 20 years in Georgetown.
“The first 16 years were pretty easy. It seemed law enforcement was going through the motions. There were just some technological advantages coming our way,” Weaver said. “But I’ve seen a huge change in the last 20 years. We are seeing a demand for professional police services.”
Weaver feels the most important role of law enforcement is to prevent crime and make the public feel safe. He said even if crime rates are down, if people don’t feel safe in their community, then law enforcement needs to improve its involvement with that community.
Weaver supports police reform and asks the public to hold his staff to the highest possible standards. He also wants his officers to be known in their community and to gain trust of the public.
Part of that is identifying people who are unable or unwilling to accept the high levels of responsibility that come with policing. Weaver said he works to make sure that the drive to recruit more police officers doesn’t correlate with lower admission standards.
“There are people in our profession that don’t need to be in our profession. That’s where police reform is welcomed here in the Georgetown Sheriff’s office and it’s welcomed by me,” Weaver said.
To Weaver, police reform is more than a buzzword. He would like to see all police agencies maintaining their accreditation standards, strict hiring guidelines, have community review boards of police procedure and transparency with the community.
“I don’t give a damn if you’re an elected sheriff or chief of police. You should not have the choice as to whether or not you’re following industry standards that are prescribed by the accrediting board. That’s true reform,” Weaver said, adding he supported the Safe Community Act that ties federal funding to upholding industry standards.
Democrat: Birt Adams
Challenger Birt Adams is seeking to bring a new perspective to the Georgetown County Sheriff's Office — as he would like for the people of Georgetown to see the sheriff like people in the fictional town of Mayberry saw Sheriff Andy Taylor on the Andy Griffith show.
“We need to make small towns loveable again,” Adams said.
Running as a Democrat, Adams is a retired police officer after spending 25 years in law enforcement in New York. He said moving to South Carolina opened his eyes to a lot of problems within his profession.
“We need to win the community back, and we need the community to trust us,” Adams said. “Say 20 percent of officers are bad. I still have to blame the 80 percent of officers for letting the 20 percent continue ... when a bad officer does something wrong, who ends up paying for it is the good officer.”
Adams doesn’t want to see good officers punished for the misdeeds of others, so keeping unprofessional officers out of the department will be a priority. He added calls for reform miss the point of larger issues within law enforcement. He said high standards are already on the books even if officers choose to ignore them, and he wants to hold sheriff's deputies to those standards.
Police force is almost never justified, Adams said, indicating officers should only use force in defense. He said using aggressive tactics on people who are not clear threats to the public or police, even if the member of the public is being rude, is unacceptable.
“Better training is one part. Anyone can curse you out, anyone can say something nasty to you, but you have to let it go in one ear and out the other” Adams said. “You can’t take it personally. You don’t know what that person is going through.”
Compassion is needed in the justice system, both when officers are making arrests and when sentencing is being decided. Adams said he knows members of the community are struggling, turning to drugs for quick relief for the challenges of life, and he wants to be there to help those people instead of sending them prison.
Providing more mental health support, amnesty programs to help clear up past, community policing and a rotating citizen’s review board. Ultimately Adams would like to get to the point he can know the community so well, he can act as a mentor to the youth and mediator to residents with issues.
“I want to help people because I love people,” Adams said. “I want to lessen the dread people feel about law enforcement.”
SC House District 56
Republican: Tim McGinnis
Incumbent Tim McGinnis is the owner of the popular Famous Toastery and is seeking his second full term in the South Carolina House of Representatives.
McGinnis also worked as a television journalist before entering public life. He hopes if re-elected he can continue to build on his community connections and take the experience from his first full term to be an even more effective legislator.
“I’m really digging in and seeing the things we can do from Columbia to help our area,” McGinnis said. “It’s been a pleasure helping constituents with issues I can resolve or help point them in the right direction.”
Utility reform is among McGinnis’ top priorities. He specifically cited an issue with the price of water in his district for unincorporated Horry County citizens being too high due to a longstanding contract with the city of Conway. He has proposed legislation that would stop municipalities charging non-residents more than they would charge residents.
In addition, he is working with the community HOAs to solve an issue with the price of renting light poles from Santee Cooper.
“There has to be some room for Santee Cooper to come off what they are charging those customers without being a burden on taxpayers,” McGinnis said.
McGinnis added that he backs police officers and would like to see the state help local governments afford better and more comprehensive public safety departments. He looks to the expertise of former law enforcement officers in the statehouse as experts on how to best serve the community.
While McGinnis wants to accomplish a lot in his next term, he sees the recovery effort from COVID-19 as the main problem that needs fixing. As a small business owner, he appreciated the challenging job Gov. Henry McMaster has faced these last seven months and that he kept many parts of the economy open during the pandemic.
Particularly, despite the pandemic, he wants to make sure the progress the government made in previous years isn’t lost due to 2020.
“Who knows what we are looking at when we return in January. It’ll be very interesting to see what budget we are looking at come next year,” McGinnis said, adding he hopes to preserve step pay increases for teachers in upcoming budgets.
Democrat: Bruce Fischer
Bruce Fischer learned that no Democrat was running in his district. He wondered why the district never attracts attention from his own party, and after looking into the matter, he determined it had to do with gerrymandering.
Gerrymandering is a process through which political districts are drawn to benefit a political side. Fischer admits it’s a practice both major American political parties have used to gain power, but he is against it.
“I’m an advocate of a completely, completely non-partisan and independent commission to redistrict,” Fischer said, adding that with the new census coming out now is the time to focus on gerrymandering regulations.
Healthcare, including improving on the Affordable Care Act, is a key program Fischer wants to take on if elected. He would like to see the state expand medicaid in South Carolina to give thousands of South Carolinians better access to health care.
In addition, he sees gun safety as a health issue. While mass shootings are a concern, Fischer said suicide attempts involving guns lead to death at an alarming rate.
“Firearms are the most lethal form of suicide,” Fischer said. “If someone takes an overdose of pills there is a good chance they survive. That’s not the case with guns ... Every one of these is a human life.”
Fischer doesn’t support ending the second amendment or confiscating guns. He would like to see the regulations and requirements to own a gun updated to deal with modern weaponry.
“Now we have semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines. Why? People claim ‘oh I’m a hunter’ but if you need a 30-round magazine to hunt, you might need to work on your aim.”
Fischer said he was trained as a scientist and will take a scientific approach to being a representative. He wants to look at the information, listen to experts and then allow his views to change with new evidence.
Moving forward he’d like to see more respect for science in politics particularly when it comes to solving flooding and climate change needs in the area.
“How about we get ahold of some real experts, listen to them and take their advice,” Fischer said.
SC House District 107
No incumbent is in this race. Please visit postandcourier.com/myrtle-beach to find past coverage of the 107 candidates.
Republican: Case Brittain
Case Brittain had a long road to be the Republican nominee for the District 107 seat. Brittain began his campaign in March of this year, but initially lost to former Rep. Alan Clemmons.
But Clemmons decided not to move forward with the nomination and resigned from the statehouse. Brittain again ran for the Republican nomination, and won over challenger Mark McBride.
Brittain’s goals, if elected, remained the same through the pandemic, even if the country is vastly different than when he launched his campaign ahead of the pandemic. He wants to fight for better schools and economic development in an effort to make the Grand Strand a safe, thriving community.
To him, it all starts with good schools and helping local officials expand educational and workplace training. With top and qualified talent living in Myrtle Beach, jobs will likely follow allowing for more choices as locals look for employment.
Particularly, Brittain wants to ensure all Myrtle Beach is getting a fair return on the money it sends to the state. Brittain believes South Carolina relies on the revenue from the tourism powerhouse, but then the investment in the area isn’t returned.
More money from the state could help local officials take on new road and infrastructure projects including for flood mitigation.
Brittain said the virus is a serious one that certainly required him to change how he ran for office.
Brittain believes his desire to win this race and represent his community is shown in the fact he didn’t give up on winning the District 107 race. He was the only candidate to challenge Clemmons in March, and has had few breaks from the campaign trail since.
Democrat: Tony Cahill
Tony Cahill is an educator looking to bring a renewed respect to science and education within the state of South Carolina.
But first, South Carolina must get past the coronavirus pandemic. And Cahill wants to be a part of that process even if he thinks the worst is yet to come.
While he hopes he is wrong, growing case counts, a stalling economy and poor adherence to safety guidelines worries him that this winter could be brutal in the Myrtle Beach area.
“I don’t want to create excessive fear or panic, not to mention depression, but I want to raise awareness to the highest level possible of what we may very well be facing,” Cahill said. “I’ll gladly risk being the fairytale Chicken Little, proclaiming the sky is falling or the boy who cried wolf to be proven wrong in my prediction.”
He proposed a statewide mask mandate as well as considerations of brief, two-week shutdowns during times when the coronavirus case total starts to spike.
Once the virus is over, Cahill wants to focus on building education and a sense of community. His focuses are on issues of tourism, crime, education, infrastructure and the environment. Particularly looking at ways to mitigate climate change and routine flooding.
And, as a teacher, education is a key part of his plan to fix other issues.
“Once we get the virus under control, we can return to strategies for the traditional local MB District 107 issues of tourism, crime, education, infrastructure, and the environment. As a former teacher I’m always concerned with short-term and long-term issues in education,” Cahill said, citing short-term concerns about Horry County Schools continuing to operate in a high-spread county.
To him, elected officials are more than just representatives and lawmakers. He’d like to see politicians become active in community service and to get to know the working class people of the area.
“We can solve a lot of problems by simply doing the right thing and following the Golden Rule, without the need for laws to be passed to correct every wrong.”
Libertarian: Wm Dettmering
Wm Dettmering wants to promote libertarian and small government ideas in Columbia if elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives. Unlike the main political parties, getting on the ballot as a Libertarian requires support from the caucus.
While many Libertairan campaigns fail during the caucus process, Dettmering is on the Nov. 3 ballot.
As a lifelong lover of politics — including his own podcast — Dettmering said he has the people skills and passion to be a qualified elected official. While Libertarians tend to lean conservative in many regards, Dettmering is also willing to accept being somewhat alone in his views.
“I am not encumbered by anything. I’m not representing a trade group,” Dettmering said. “If I get into the statehouse, I don’t have party oppression ... there is no one else in the party up there.”
His top campaign issues include getting more power to local government and routing our “special interests” in politics. His only focus is only the common people of Myrtle Beach.
Dettmering doesn’t like statehouse representatives only using state money to benefit their local district and business ties. He’d prefer if more power was given to local governments and individuals, at the expense of how much of a role the state government can play.
“I want to see the government shrunk down out of the hands of the lofty that are separated from the local communities that might have better solutions if they could just get the funding,” he said. “If I got elected, I’d look at each and every bill to see if any bill can be more adequately addressed at the local level.”
In terms of the pandemic, Dettmering typically opposes any measure, like a mask mandate, that forces people to do something they don’t want to. Still, he believes science must be respected by everyone in the community to keep the virus from spreading.
Dettmering finds inspiration in the “Independent Republic of Horry” nickname given to the area he hopes to represent. He wants more industries to come to the county, diversifying the economy, and bringing back an independent idea.
“That way we won’t be so susceptible to having all our eggs in one basket,” Dettmering said.
Senate District 32
Democrat: Ronnie Sabb
Incumbent Ronnie Sabb is no newcomer to state politics or the law. He is a lawyer by trade who previously served as a member of the S.C. House of Representatives, Williamsburg County school board and as a teacher.
“My experience has been brought to bear on the compelling issues of our time,” Sabb said. “I get the opportunity to reflect personally on what those experiences and careers have enlightened me to go in on direction.”
Sabb considers infrastructure, health care and education as the biggest issues he’s worked on in previous Senate sessions and the issues he is most excited to tackle if re-elected.
He also cited his past involvement with a roads bill that will help repair infrastructure in his district. He touted the brand new rural hospital coming to his district as an example of new jobs, infrastructure, health care and opportunity.
But bringing jobs isn’t enough if people in Sabb’s district can’t attain the necessary skills. Sabb said the Williamsburg Promise program ensures graduates of high schools in the county.
“Because the program was so successful, it was rolled out in 16 counties,” Sabb said. “The job training places now are technical colleges.”
While he is proud of what he has accomplished, he said there is work undone in Columbia. Namely, he’d like to see technical colleges funded to the point that anyone can get job or skills training at one of the many technical schools.
In his early years, Sabb said his mom benefited from a job training program that was provided to South Carolinians. He’d like to see programs like they had back then return to benefit.
“It’s an investment in our people,” Sabb said, adding that he needs to re-elected to make sure rural health promises are followed through.
In terms of the pandemic, Sabb would like to see mask mandates, strict adherence to the full CDC guidelines and working closely with schools and local governments to address unmet needs.
Sabb knows plenty of people out of work, taking on more debt and finding themselves without money. He said the government has a responsibility to make sure people who need help receive what they’re promised.
He believes seeking help from the government is okay when a family needs help through a tough time. When Sabb was growing up he was on food stamps, and he hopes others know they too can seek help without shame while working toward more opportunity.
Ultimately, however, Sabb sees himself as someone who can work with Republicans to pass legislation that benefits all citizens. While he hopes a “blue wave” gives the Democratic Party legislative power and ability to accomplish more, he considers himself a South Carolinian first, with a responsibility to all citizens.
“Thus far my experience is we can disagree without being disagreeable,” Sabb said, recalling a speech Sen. Hugh Leatherman, a Republican, gave several years ago. “We as senators are not Republican senators, we are not Democratic senators. We are senators of the state of South Carolina.
Republican: David Ellison
Challenger David Ellison served as an officer in the United States Air Force, retiring in 2015 with the rank of Lt. Colonel and is the founder of “Vets for Jesus.” If elected to the senate, he wishes to continue upholding his oath to defend the Constitution while in public office.
Ellison considers his faith and patriotism as key reasons he wants to seek public office. If elected, his top issues include promoting school choice in K-12 education in a larger effort to achieve his second major campaign issue, attracting higher paying jobs.
“We have this idea we can fix all our problems with money. It’s not about money. It’s about leadership and freedom: school choice,” Ellison said.
Ellison believes parts of his district have been left in an economically depressed state because leaders are so tied to the current K-12 public education system and trying to increase its budget year over year. He labeled the system a “corrupt SC Education Industrial Complex” and believes it rewards mediocrity.
Education reform is the biggest civil rights issue of the day for Ellison. He openly supports school choice, meaning parents would receive a tax credit or some other incentive to pay for their child’s education, and then let the individual schools fight to attract students.
“Let the money follow the children,” he said. “We’ve just thrown money at a bad system. And it leads to failure after failure. And jobs are leaving”
That failure has caused jobs, industries and families to leave for areas with better schools, Ellison said. His hopes if schools must compete for students and funding, they’ll be forced to innovate and make the most of what they have.
He added more money does not solve the problems within a school district.
“It’s not about the money. It’s about performing with the best you have,” Ellison said. “And that’s the message we really need to say to our teachers: Stop whining, and that is what it is, about a pay raise when the system is not educating children.”
Ellison said he is for teachers getting paid for their necessary work, but he is for all teachers to get paid regardless if they work for public, charter, religious or private schools.
And if the educational opportunities increase with less government regulation, more jobs could follow to hire graduates of local schools. In conversations with business leaders, Ellison said he always hears education as the main way to attract jobs back to Williamsburg County.
“It’s a Catch-22. Everybody wants jobs to come back, but these businesses can’t find families to move in because of the failed education system. Makes no mistake about it, Williamsburg County has the worst track record for education in the state of South Carolina,” Ellison said.
Ellison believes the pandemic is a serious issue and one demanding attention to protect the most vulnerable to the illness, but is worried that “fear mongering” is leading to worse mental health issues. He sees improving the educational system and ending abortion in the state just as important as fixing the “Wuhan Virus.”
Ultimately, Ellison believes there isn’t systemic racism in South Carolina, rather it has an issue with poor leadership that uses race to oppress people — much of which he blames on poor Democratic leadership, media members with hidden agendas, leaders of the African American community unwilling to call out root problems and weak-willed Republicans.
“Whenever there is a systemic breakdown of standards, it’s a leadership problem,” Ellison said. “The racists in South Carolina are the ones making money on skin color.”
SC Senate District 34
Neither the Republican incumbent Stephen Goldfinch or Democratic challenger Emily Cegledy responded to an interview request.