New 7th district big news for 2012, big hope for 2013

sjones@thesunnews.comDecember 21, 2012 

This is the first in a series of 10 articles that examine news events that shaped our area and captured our attention for better or worse in 2012, and look ahead at what developments await in 2013.

Coming Sunday: Direct Air’s demise and what it means for area air service

Dwight Carraway of Myrtle Beach might not know it, but Tom Rice has already begun to work on getting Horry County the long-term, better paying jobs Carraway told Rice the area needs.

Rice, a newly-elected U.S. congressman awaiting his swearing-in next month, said in an interview earlier this week that he met some businesspeople during his D.C. congressional orientation who were looking for a place to open shop and hire 230 people. He referred them to the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. and the two are already talking, said Brad Lofton, EDC president.

The creation of South Carolina’s new 7th Congressional District and Horry County’s place as the largest of its eight counties have been news along the Grand Strand since early this year. First, residents spent hours discussing where the new district would be located prior to the announcement that the Pee Dee got it, then a plethora of candidates signed on to represent it, then two of them withdrew because of legal problems. Finally the campaigns and runoffs dominated area news cycles for months.

Rice said he was at an event hosted by a state senator just days before the announcement of the new district’s location and the speculation there was that it would go elsewhere.

Former Horry County state Rep. Thad Viers was one of the first to announce his candidacy for the new seat as well as the first to drop out. He resigned his state House seat and withdrew from the congressional race after he was charged with harassing a former girlfriend, a charge that has yet to be heard in court.

Then state Rep. Ted Vick of Chesterfield County, considered the frontrunner among the field of Democrats, removed himself from contention after being charged in Columbia with driving under the influence and possession of a firearm with an expired permit.

The campaign enroute to the June primary continued without them, with neither Republicans nor Democrats able to choose a victor on the first vote.

Rice went head-to-head with former S.C. Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer in the runoff and emerged the victor.Tinubu defeated Preston Brittain to take seal her spot on the Democratic ticket.

Rice emerged from the race as the congressman-elect, the person chosen to carry the hopes and wishes of the Pee Dee to Washington.

Rice said he’s gotten numerous phone calls since the race, some congratulating him on his new job and others offering advice.

The main request is jobs.Doug Wendel, board chairman of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp., reminded Rice at a recent EDC executive committee meeting that his primary campaign promise was “jobs, jobs and jobs.”

“That’s the number-one need across the nation,” Harold Phillips, board chairman of the Waccamaw Economic Opportunity Council and a community leader in Bucksport, said in a separate interview.

Gus O’Shield of Myrtle Beach, a regular at City Council meetings, said some of those jobs at least need to have work for residents who aren’t highly-skilled. Also they need to be distributed throughout the 7th District’s eight counties and pay a good wage.

“There are a lot of workers I think would be dedicated to any manufacturer that might come into the area,” Carraway said.

While jobs topped the expectations of people The Sun News talked with, another desire was repeated more than once.

Horry Countians, at least, think being the focal point of the new district means the Grand Strand won’t be a stepchild to the desires of other South Carolina metropolitan areas.

“The power base (of the district),” said Conway City Councilman Tom Anderson, “isn’t out of Charleston or Columbia ... I want to get what everybody else has been getting.”

Specifically, he said he’d like to see the six-laning of U.S. 501 and the completion of S.C. 31 to Georgetown. And, oh yeah, he added, Interstate 73 is a good idea.

Carraway, house managere at Myrtle Beach Haven where Rice use to be the board chairman, was more direct about a big advantage of the new district.

“Now maybe we get to dip our hands in the cookie jar a little more,” he said.

Rice said all other issues play into and out of the want for jobs. He doesn’t know yet if his new status can directly move jobs into the Pee Dee, but he’s already seen that he can raise interest in it among potential employers.

Since his election, Rice said he’s spent three weeks at orientation sessions in Washington and a week at what were supposed to be bipartisan U.S. House meetings in Boston. He and his wife, Wrenzie, have rented an apartment in the Navy Yard section of the capitol, within walking distance of his office.

He’s working on gathering a staff and has already hired a chief of staff with Capitol Hill experience and a spokeswoman. He has his eye on someone in the 7th District to fill an economic development slot he promised in his campaign, but no hire had been made yet.

Rice knows that residents throughout the district are looking to him to get new and better jobs into the 7th District. But that’s not his total focus.

He’s also working on balanced budget and term limits amendments, which he said he will file himself if no, more experienced congressman wants to carry the torch or hasn’t already introduced a bill.

“I said I was going to do it,” Rice said. “I’m going to do it.”

O’Shield hadn’t thought of a wish list from Rice’s incumbency, but came up with jobs when prompted and added that for his needs, transportation is adequate.

But his overall advice to Rice is pretty straightforward.

“Do the things that will help the majority of the citizenship,” he said.

Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.

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