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Over the past few weeks, many have asked me what was going on with the Senate election and what was the ballot controversy all about? I appreciate your interest and concern and in the next few paragraphs I will explain as best I can.
On May 2, 2012, the SC Supreme Court ruled that SC law required that all non exempt candidates must file their Statement of Economic Interest (SEI) form at the same time and with the same official as they filed their candidacy. After a week or two of interpretation and certification review, I and almost 200 Republican and Democrat candidates from around the state who had originally been certified to run were kicked off the June 12 primary ballot. In many of these instances there is only an incumbent left to run with no opposition and some open seat races have no candidates at all.
When I filed to run for SC Senate District 25, I did everything that I was told to do by the Edgefield County Republican Party official. I was familiar with the SEI form as I had handled filing for the local party about 15 years ago and I had filled out these forms as Mayor and County Administrator. Before going to file, I had even written on a yellow sticky note some rental income that I had received from the state because I knew that I would need to include that on the statement of economic interest.
At the time of filing I asked about filing an economic disclosure form and was told there was nothing else to do right then. The filing official informed me that it was now online at the SC Ethics Commission website and that I had 10 days after receiving or spending $500 to complete it. I relied on what I was told and filed the SEI form online 7 days later and was certified as a candidate to run for the Senate. I do not think there was any attempt to mislead me; but, as a result I am no longer on the primary ballot.
As SC law is written, there is an exempt or special status for filing the SEI for current office holders. Incumbents do not have to file a Statement of Economic Interest at the time of filing to run for re-election and, instead, they are given until April 15th with a 5 day grace period. If not filed by April 20th, they are subject to a $100 fine. This does not seem fair to me – a later filing date and a small fine for incumbents versus being kicked off the ballot for challengers.
A few days after the SC Supreme Court decision, some state senators proposed a legislative remedy that would allow all candidates the same April 20th deadline for filing their SEI that incumbents currently have. Unfortunately, this effort failed as too many incumbent senators were looking out for their own self interest. As I see it, there still remains a small chance of legal action to delay the June 12th primary so that a solution can be reached.
This whole issue is not about one candidate or a couple hundred candidates not being allowed to run, it is about the legislative scheme which has denied many voters the choices they should have. As for me, I am considering legal options and have been urged to consider running as a petition candidate in November. If you have any questions, please feel free to give me a call at (803) 480-3900.
I appreciate this opportunity to be heard and I appreciate the words of encouragement that I have received from my friends and supporters.
John W. Pettigrew, Jr.