GOP calm as storm clouds gather

Mike Rose

SUMMERVILLE — Normally, you can't stop people from talking about politics around here.

It dominates conversations in restaurants, downtown stores and barbershops — at least until the primary is over. That's because the debate in this GOP-dominated county is mostly over which Republican they like.

But this year one race is not so clear-cut, and it threatens to divide the normally unified Republican Party and extend the bickering into the fall. And that has many folks keeping their opinions to themselves, for now.

"We haven't heard anything," said Lisa Nickel, manager at The Continental Corner, a restaurant the natives frequent. "Sometimes a bus boy will come back and say, 'They're going at it,' but there's been none of that lately."

This morning, Dorchester County election officials will begin verifying

names on a petition to put local publisher Bill Collins on the November ballot as an independent to face Republican nominee Mike Rose for the District 38 state Senate seat.

Rose, a former senator, beat incumbent Sen. Randy Scott by taking 52 percent of the vote in the June primary. With no Democrat bothering to run, it looked like the seat was Rose's — again.

But turns out it may not be that easy.

After Rose's win, Collins threw his hat in the ring, saying folks needed another choice. That's because a decade after he left office, Rose remains a controversial figure here. More plain-spoken than most Southern politicians, folks here either love him or hate him.

It took about a month for Collins to get 4,696 names on a petition. If roughly two-thirds of those check out as registered voters, he'll be on the ballot. And his supporters say he'll win.

"A number of people have moved in here who don't know Mike Rose," said Pat Allan at Berlin G. Meyers Lumber Co. "Most Summerville residents familiar with Rose don't want him in (the Senate)."

Allan supported Scott in the primary but is going with Collins if he gets on the ballot. He predicts the independent will win this one.

The Republican Party is not convinced. Chairman Arthur Bryngelson said there will be a lot of Republicans who turn out in November, and a great many of them will vote a straight ticket. Collins, he said, probably won't have much of a chance.

"I haven't found the first person who signed the petition who think he's going to win," Bryngelson said.

Collins concedes that party is the steepest hill he has to climb. He said he needs to convince people to vote for the man, not the party, and let the chips fall where they may.

"The seat belongs to the people, not me and not Mike Rose," Collins said. "It's whoever they want to serve. If I win, I'll be full time. If I don't, I'll go back to poor golf and my magazine." Collins is a former publisher of the Summerville Journal Scene, a subsidiary of Evening Post Publishing Co.

The Republican Party has made no secret of its disapproval of Collins' after-the-primary emergence. Bryngelson said they will conduct a campaign if they have to, but many Republicans are clearly unhappy. Some shop owners who allowed Collins to leave petitions were threatened with boycotts. Party officials say that's just folks exercising their freedom to choose where they shop.

Now, even those who support Rose — "He has experience, he can get things done," one woman said — do not want to talk publicly about the race.

That might be the effect of the cold wind of partisanship. One waitress at Flowertown Restaurant, who also would not give her name, said, "People will punch you if you don't like their candidate." She's only half-kidding.

Even Rose is not much interested in talking about the race at this point. Contacted Tuesday, he said only, "I think things are going great."

Rose might have to wait several weeks to see if he has to campaign. Election officials can't predict how long it will take to verify or strike the better part of 4,700 names. They have until Aug. 15 to turn their findings over to the State Election Commission.

But once those results are in, folks say, and there is a race, Summerville will be quiet no longer.

"When he gets on the ballot, you'll hear a lot more I think," said Bobbie Mazell, manager at Eva's Restaurant, a popular downtown meeting spot.

Reach Brian Hicks at 937-5561 or bhicks@postandcourier.com.