Lawmaker Southard steps down

Southard

COLUMBIA — State Rep. Edward Southard of Moncks Corner resigned from the House on Wednesday, just days after learning that a sexual harassment allegation involving a female Statehouse page had been filed against him.

“After much deliberation, I submitted my resignation to the S.C. House of Representatives today,” Southard said in a written statement. “Although it was an extremely difficult decision, I felt this decision was necessary to protect my family, my honor, and the integrity of the esteemed South Carolina House of Representatives.”

He added that he has a “strong desire for public service” and will remain dedicated to it.

A special election to fill the seat could be held as soon as August. Southard had represented District 100, which stretches roughly from the Moncks Corner area to parts of Summerville and Ladson, since 2011.

In Columbia, Southard, 69, had a combative relationship at times with other House Republicans, most recently disagreeing publicly with the budget-writing chairman over how much of a pay raise state employees should be given in the current spending proposal.

Reached later Wednesday, Southard again questioned how the alleged harassment incident against him was made public so quickly, raising the concern that Republicans in leadership were out to get him through a leak.

He also described the incident with the female page to The Post and Courier as stemming from him asking one of them to help him create a PowerPoint presentation on his Statehouse laptop computer, saying he was not technology-savvy. He said there were about 150 people on the floor at the time and “there’s no witness at all to what she said.”

“It just beats the hell out of me that things can be alleged and not verified,” Southard said.

“I’m not supposed to talk to you all about it,” he said, adding that the questioning he received from others about his interactions with females was “like a witch hunt.”

Southard was told April 21 that a page — most are college students seeking legislative experience — had filed a complaint against him.

He did not return to Columbia this week to assume his duties before announcing his resignation.

This is not the first time Southard has been questioned about his conduct. Last month, the Moncks Corner Police Department filed an incident report in which Southard was accused of making a female uncomfortable as she did business at Hill Tire Co.

According to an incident report from March 12, police were called to the East Main Street store by management after Southard, who was having work done on his vehicle, began a conversation with the female, whom the report described as “attractive.” Southard followed her outside “and continued to move close to her,” the report said.

The woman then re-entered the store where the business staff “stepped in and distracted Mr. Southard and walked her (the woman) away to the rear of the office.”

The woman then drove away but realized Southard was following her in his blue pickup truck, the report said. She went back to the store “so not to let this person know where she lives.”

Police showed up and recognized Southard as a state lawmaker. In an interview near the store, “Mr. Southard stated that he was just wanting to help, he stated that he thought she was having financial troubles and he pulled out several bills from his pocket and states (SIC), that he always pays cash,” the police narrative said. “In all of the cash their (SIC) were several one hundred dollars bills.”

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During the questioning, a police corporal told Southard “that the lady got uncomfortable and he said it was all a misunderstanding.” No charges were filed.

Southard reiterated Wednesday that the incident was a misunderstanding and he was trying to protect the woman’s interests as she was seeking work done on her car.

He told the newspaper that his comment to her was, “You just need to be careful to what they are going to do to your car.”

The complaint against Southard from this month marks the second time in less than a year that an allegation of sexual harassment has been raised against a sitting House member. In May, former House member Nelson Hardwick of Horry County abruptly resigned after an allegation of sexual harassment was raised.

In his departure message, Southard said he made his decision with the advice of his counsel and the understanding that it was “the best way to move forward to end what became a personal and political nightmare for all of those involved,” said his attorney, Bakari Sellers, in a written statement.

Sellers is a former House member who represents Southard on behalf of the Strom Law Firm.

“Eddie wishes the best to everyone at the State House and to his constituents,” Sellers said.