Republican hopefuls for 7th Congressional District squabble at debate at Myrtle Beach High

bdickerson@thesunnews.com June 7, 2012 

— The nine Republican candidates vying for the 7th Congressional District seat took part in a debate Thursday night that became very heated over how fair and balanced the event actually was.

The GOP candidates are former Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, Murrells Inlet realtor Renee Culler, Army veteran Katherine Jenerette, attorney Jay Jordan, businessman Jim Mader, former Horry County Council Chairman Chad Prosser, current County Council Chairman Tom Rice, Myrtle Beach City Councilman Randal Wallace and local businessman Dick Withington.

Most of the complaints began after only three of the candidates, including perceived front-runners Tom Rice and Andre Bauer, were asked questions regarding Interstate 73.

Moderator Charlie Bierbauer talked to Bauer, Rice and Prosser about funding for Interstate 73. Once those three gave their answers, the topic was changed.

That didn’t sit well with some of the other candidates on stage, who wanted the chance to speak on the issue.

“I filed to run for Congress, and I’d like to answer a question,” Wallace said.

Many in the audience agreed, and began yelling for the other candidates to have a chance to answer.

At one point, a Myrtle Beach police officer came over and talked to a man who was heckling the panel. That elicited boos from others in the crowd.

Culler called out the media who conduct polls, saying who the top candidates for a race are by calling only a few hundred people. She referenced the more than 700,000 people who live in the 7th District.

“That’s a bunch of bull,” she said.

As the debate continued, and questions went to Rice and Bauer, the tension only got higher. More screams came from the audience about the perceived lack of fairness in the questioning.

Mader walked off to the side of the stage at one point and grabbed chairs for Culler, Wallace, Jenerette, Withington and himself. During a commercial break, boos came from the audience and Bierbauer tried to explain that there were some questions for all the candidates, and others only to specific candidates.

Later, things seemed to calm down when each candidate was asked about policies they’d work to pass if elected to office.

The debate also began with individual questions for each candidate.

In Rice’s case, it centered on his decision to enter the race for the 7th District before even completing his first term as chairman of the Horry County Council.

“When I decided to run for County Council, this office didn’t exist,” Rice said. He added that several friends asked him to consider running.

Jenerette was asked about whether her involvement in the military would allow her the ability to serve in Washington D.C. She said it absolutely would.

On the topic of jobs creation, Bauer touted his own business that employs over 100 people, as well as traveling the state and world while lieutenant governor of South Carolina.

“I’ve been there time and time again,” he said.

Both Prosser and Jordan agreed that the federal government is impeding job growth through regulations.

“They do a better job of discouraging it,” Jordan said.

This theme of discouraging job growth was adamant when none of the candidates expressed support for a bill, as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act, that requires hotel pools to have permanent lifts installed.

“You know stupid when you hear it,” Wallace said.

Mader said portable lifts are sufficient, but demanding every pool have a permanent lift is something he can’t support.

“Government should be in the recommending business and not the regulating business,” Withington said.

The Republican primary is Tuesday, and the polls open at 7 a.m.

Contact BRAD DICKERSON at 626-0301.

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