Whatever your feelings about retiring Sen. Dick Elliott – and we’ve certainly disagreed with him in the past – the gentleman knows what it takes to be a South Carolina state senator. As Horry County’s longest serving legislator, he leaves with decades of experience in the General Assembly, having outserved scores of other elected leaders. So it’s no small thing for the Democratic Elliott to endorse Republican Greg Hembree in the race to succeed him. If Elliott believes Hembree has what it takes to be a senator, it’s a good indication he does.
But Elliott’s endorsement aside, there are plenty of reasons we’d like to see Hembree representing Senate District 28, which covers North Myrtle Beach, Loris and parts of western Horry County.
The current 15th Circuit solicitor, Hembree impressed us not only with his strong grasp of the issues that affect his district and our state, but also with his grasp of reality. So many candidates seem convinced that as soon as they’re elected they can head to Columbia and immediately change the world. Hembree, on the other hand, is refreshingly down to earth, conversant in all of the major policy decisions facing our state, but recognizing that as a freshman legislator he will likely be limited in his influence. He also showed a pragmatism and willingness to compromise that has become unfortunately more rare in our hyper-partisan world.
Hembree did point out, and we agree, that he will be an asset to the state because of his experience as a former solicitor, a rarity in the legislature. His expertise in public safety issues will aid his intention of reforming outdated parts of our criminal code and should help him to more quickly make his mark as a new leader.
On the issues, Hembree offered sensible ideas to add more teeth to the state’s ethics laws, simplify over-complicated laws, reform the tax code and maintain our state’s high credit rating. Not least important for his district, he also supports a plan we’ve long pushed for that would give that state more power to step in when municipalities such as Atlantic Beach consistently fail to perform the most basic functions.
We can’t fault Hembree’s opponent, Democrat Butch Johnson, for a lack of passion. But he simply doesn’t have the same detailed grasp of state issues or clear sense of how to achieve his rather vague and optimistic goals. We don’t doubt his dedication or work ethic but suggest he might better serve his community in a lower office first or spend more time watching the legislature and becoming familiar with its workings before he runs again.