Tuesday primary to decide Senate District 4 seat

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By David Meade

Area voters will go back to the polls next Tuesday, Mar. 22, for a special primary election to fill the unexpired term of the Senate District 4 seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Billy O’Dell in January. If no candidate gets a majority of the primary votes, a runoff will be held on April 5.

Five Republican candidates seeking the seat include Williamston resident Mark Powell, Williamston Town Councilman and businessman Rockey Burgess, former Anderson City Official Willie Day, State Representative Mike Gambrell of Honea Path and Greenwood Attorney James Graham “Tripp” Padgett III.

Powell’s main concerns are education, Federal funding in schools, SCDOT and taxes.

He says that the educational system has largely become focused on keeping students in the system, so that allocated funding per student keeps flowing. As a result he said grades and test scores are artificially inflated to assure success and advancement. He also sees the emphasis on federal funds as a source of corruption in the schools.

Powell has a reputation as an opponent of most taxes, but said he would gladly accept an additional one cent sales tax, or even two cents, if it would replace the current property taxes on houses, cars and other personal property items. He addressed the SCDOT surplus, spending on roads and bridges and a proposed gas tax in his interview in this week’s Journal.

Powell is relying on social media campaign as opposed to the spending of other’s campaigns. Powell describes himself as a “Proven Republican” and a “Blue collar conservative.”

Local businessman and current Williamston Council Member, Rockey Burgess has a platform based on tax relief, improving infrastructure and his experience in local government. Income tax relief for citizens and businesses is a priority. He said the state’s income tax rate of 7 percent needs to be competitive with neighboring states for SC to grow economically and produce more jobs.

Burgess wants to address state infrastructure, particularly roads and highways. Burgess said he supported the governor’s proposal to increase the gas tax, but only if it is offset equally by a cut in the income tax.

Experience as a town councilman and businessman will help him make good decisions in Columbia.

Willie Day says term limits for S.C. legislators will be his highest priority if elected to the Senate.

Day said he decided to run for the Legislature after becoming frustrated with what he views as “politics as usual” keeping the state House and Senate from finding solutions for problems.

He believes term limits would help end politics as usual and lead to passage of good-government reforms.

Day has a comprehensive list of proposed reforms, including stronger ethics laws to hold politicians accountable; smarter budgeting practices to prioritize vital services such as education; and promoting transparency by eliminating exemptions in the state Freedom of Information Act.

Day retired last year after three decades overseeing economic development efforts for the city of Anderson.

Mike Gambrell said his emphasis is on serving his constituents. Gambrell is a small business owner as well as a cattle farmer in the Honea Path area and describes himself as a moderate.

Regarding the condition of the state’s roads and bridges, Gambrell points to the recent growth in the state as a source of revenue to address the condition of the state’s roads and bridges.

Gambrell cites his reputation for keeping an even keel and low key demeanor as well as his experience as reasons for voters to elect him to the Senate seat.

Greenwood Attorney James G. ‘Tripp” Padgett, III cites the state’s infrastructure including roads and bridges as a priority.

He said a tax on travelers through the state is a good way to raise necessary money for repairs and maintenance. He also cites restructuring the SCDOT, and how the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB) allocates funding. The STIB is responsible for new projects and funding but does not provide for maintenance of existing roads and bridges. Padgett describes himself as a moderate Republican and has been an attorney for fourteen years.

A Special Election to fill the seat will be held on May 17, however since no Democrats signed up, the winner of the GOP primary on Mar. 22 will likely fill the unexpired term of the seat.

District 4 covers southern and eastern Anderson County, a small section of Abbeville County and the western edge of Greenwood County.

Additional information on each of the candidates is included in this week’s issue of The Journal.