COLUMBIA — The turnover trend in the South Carolina Legislature continued with Tuesday's primaries, which potentially booted four incumbents from House districts stretching from the Lowcountry to the Upstate.
Three other incumbents will fight to keep their seats in the June 26 runoffs.
The biggest upset occurred in Greenville County where four-term GOP Rep. Phyllis Henderson was trounced by former Army Ranger Bobby Cox.
Cox, who literally jumped into the race last November by skydiving into his announcement, called the election a referendum on changing the "culture of Columbia."
"To change the culture, you have to change the people," said Cox, who won with 63 percent of the votes.
He accused Henderson, a former Greenville County Council chairwoman, of getting caught up in Columbia's insular scene and not responding to voters back home — essentially bad constituent service. Henderson didn't respond to messages left Wednesday.
His biography also helped. The 38-year-old Citadel graduate and lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve served four combat tours in Iraq before leaving active duty. His job as a director for gun manufacturer Sig Sauer offered further proof of his pro-gun stance.
House Speaker Jay Lucas said Henderson, who co-chaired an opioid abuse prevention task force, was vital to laws passed over the last year aimed at stemming the epidemic.
She is "one of the hardest-working people I've had the privilege of serving with," said Lucas, R-Hartsville.
On the Democratic side, the failed nuclear power project in Fairfield County played into Rep. MaryGail Douglas' loss to Fairfield County School Board member Annie McDaniel, who won with 57 percent of the vote.
Though the $9 billion debacle dominated the debate this year, the House and Senate have yet to agree on how to cut the 18 percent of South Carolina Electric & Gas customers' electric bills that continues to go toward two partially built reactors abandoned last summer.
Last week, a mailer sent to voters erroneously accused Douglas, D-Winnsboro, of voting to "continue paying corrupt SCANA executives out of our utility bills." Actually, she voted to massively cut the rate to 5 percent, in an effort to pass some relief before the session ended last month. Because that vote failed, any cut remains in limbo. But the mudslinging mailer demonstrates what House GOP leaders feared if they agreed to anything other than eliminating all 18 percent.
Compromise discussions between House members and senators won't resume until after the runoffs.
Who funded the mailer is unknown. The return address is a vacant lot in Winnsboro.
Douglas was upbeat Wednesday about her three terms in the House.
"I didn't lose. I won by the many relationships I have as a result of that," she said.
Rep. Bill Bowers, D-Hampton, lost to Hampton County Councilman Shedron Williams by less than 300 votes, two years after defeating Williams in a runoff. A business professor at USC-Beaufort, Bowers had managed to stay in office for 22 years despite post-Census redistricting that essentially obliterated his home district — twice — to create new districts in fast-growing areas. The last redrawing of the lines in 2011 put the white Democrat into a mostly minority district and forced him into a primary against a fellow black legislator, who Bowers ousted in 2012 and faced again in 2014 and 2016.
An automatic recount is expected to confirm the apparent slim defeat of two-term Rep. Greg Duckworth, R-North Myrtle Beach, to William Bailey, the city's former public safety director, by 18 votes.
Incumbents heading to runoffs include two-term Rep. Neal Collins, R-Easley, who came close to winning a three-way primary with 49.2 percent of the vote. Avoiding a runoff requires 50 percent plus one vote.
It will be a tougher battle for freshman Rep. William Cogswell, R-Charleston, who received 133 more votes than his runoff opponent; and 10-year veteran Rep. Joe McEachern, D-Columbia, who led a four-way primary by just seven votes.
In addition to the primary losses, eight House members did not seek re-election this year. Twelve other legislators vacated their seats mid-term after the 2016 elections for various reasons. Three were forced to resign as part of guilty pleas due to a corruption problem. One lawmaker pleaded guilty to beating his wife. Other resignations were non-criminal. One legislator died.