The race for the District 5 Horry County Council seat has grown ugly over the last three weeks, with derogatory mailers from a mysterious political action committee and the involvement of many politicians and other people of note from outside the district through endorsements and other actions.
Candidates Bill McKown and Paul Price will face each other in a runoff on June 22, after neither got enough votes in the three-way June 8 Republican Primary to take the seat, which represents Surfside Beach, Garden City Beach and portions of Murrells Inlet. Price received 1,158 votes (48 percent) to McKown's 913 (38 percent).
The third-place candidate in the primary, Dick Withington received 360 votes and threw his support to McKown a few days after the primary.
The winner will likely be the district's next council member, as no Democrat filed for the seat.
Who is the Truth Squad?
The tone of the race turned negative before anyone cast a ballot. Four-color mailers went out to many households in the district attacking McKown on his residency, tax record and other issues. A political action group named the S.C. Truth Squad paid for the fliers, but little information about the group is available because it formed and registered with the S.C. Ethics Commission less than a week before the primaries.
The group's initial Statement of Economic Interest shows no contributions. The group lists "L.E. Adams" as its chairman, but calls to a cell phone listed as a group contact number were not returned. The cell phone is registered to a Greenwood extension, but no address was available through public records searches. The group has gotten involved in several races statewide, and political pundits have been struggling to find a connection or an interest.
Price said in a statement earlier this week that he has no connection with the group, and that all of his mailers have his name, photo and a statement saying his campaign paid for them.
"I want to state categorically, for the record, neither I nor anyone associated with my campaign had anything to do with the idea, origin, sending or anything else associated with the mailers and I take great offense at being accused otherwise," he said.
McKown said he took offense to a mailer Price's campaign did send out with the question, "Are you smarter than a fifth grader?" and details about McKown's expenditures from former campaigns. He said the mailer was an implied attack on his intelligence. Price said all of his mailers have had a game show theme, and the mailer was a continuation of that idea, not an attack.
"I've ran a clean campaign from day one. I've never wavered," said McKown. "I'm not going to stoop to their level. I've provided information about myself and my service. We don't know much about [Price] or where he stands on issues. His whole campaign is that he's a nice guy, but nobody knows anything about the nice guy."
'People like you'?
Several politicians said Friday that they did not give permission to McKown's campaign to include their names on campaign literature that was mailed out to residences this week. The fliers feature a letter of support from Horry County Council Chairwoman Liz Gilland, who will step down in January. The sentence "People like you like Bill McKown for County Council" is printed on the bottom of the flier with a list of politicians underneath it. County Councilmen Al Allen and Jody Prince said they did not want to endorse anyone in the race.
"This flier [Friday] is a total surprise to me; I have not authorized my name to be used," Allen said. "Bill McKown and I have been friends for several years. We're both fellow aviators. I did endorse him on his Senate run two years ago because he came and asked me to."
McKown said his campaign had sent a request to everyone on the flier for permission to use their name and had only received one negative response.
"In hindsight, I would have removed Jody Prince, Al Allen and Bob Grabowski since they hadn't replied either affirmatively or negatively - but knowing that Al and Bill have been close friends for years and knowing that all three had strongly endorsed Howard Barnard, I went ahead and ordered printing and mailing," said Tom Herron, a campaign consultant for McKown. "You can lay the blame on me, not McKown, for this bonehead error."
The campaign for Republican gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley said Saturday that they also did not give permission for a McKown flier that went out to homes Saturday that features several state representatives and senators. The flier is not an explicit endorsement, but a campaign spokesman said McKown's campaign was not given permission to use Haley's name.
"Nikki has not endorsed in any races in South Carolina this election cycle. She has her own runoff on Tuesday, and is singularly focused on winning that race and continuing the process of bringing South Carolina's government back to its people," said Tim Pearson, a spokesman for Haley's campaign.
Herron said the flier was not intended to show an endorsement, but highlight McKown's relationships with leaders around South Carolina.
In addition to the mailers, McKown and Price have faced opposition and attacks from people inside and outside the district. McKown has faced criticism over his residency and over tax records involving an airplane owned by a corporation he is a minor partner in. Price has received criticism from several local business owners who complained that his protests during the May motorcycle rallies have had adverse effects on their business.
McKown registered to run for office with an address at 913 N. Ocean Blvd., in Surfside Beach, where his driver's license and voter registration are also listed. He rents the property out during the summer and in March was notified that he would no longer receive the Homestead exemption for primary residences, which he received for 2009. McKown said he splits his time between that house and another a few blocks away. Both residences are inside District 5 and the seasonal move does not preclude him from running.
McKown faced criticism over delinquent taxes on an airplane owned by a Delaware-registered corporation that he partly owns. The manager of the corporation is involved in several similar airplane corporations and is challenging the tax law that allows the county to charge taxes on an airplane registered out-of-state and housed in the county. The corporation McKown is a partner in has not filed a challenge.
Horry County Auditor Lois Eargle said there are a total of more than $11,000 in overdue tax bills for boats, furniture and fixtures that McKown owes. McKown said he has never been made aware of the taxes or given a chance to answer for them. Several tax bills are for boats or furniture he no longer owns, he said. Eargle is a co-sponsor for an ice cream social being held today for Price.
"I was asked to be a sponsor for that event and there are more than a dozen people listed in that position," she said this week. "I looked at both candidates' taxes and Mr. Price does not owe any. I received calls from several people in Surfside who were concerned. I know how important this is to the people of Surfside and the rest of the district. All it takes for bad government to happen is for good people to stand by and do nothing."
Several business owners have said Price's protests of their liquor licenses caused monetary issues for their business. Doyce Heinzmann owns Coastline RV and opens the Broken Spoke during the fall and spring motorcycle rallies.
"He is a mean-spirited, self-indulged newcomer to our area who, now that he lives here, wants everyone else to go home or to live his supposed lifestyle. Frankly, those in the business community who have had to deal with this man consider him to be a menace," Heinzmann said. "Paul Price filed a protest against my liquor license. I had to hire an attorney. I have spent several thousands of dollars fighting him to maintain my liquor license issued to me by the state of South Carolina."
Price said he has been a part of two protests filed against two businesses by a number of residents, and both protests were within the law. He said one of the protests was settled before it went to court with an owner and the community reaching a mediated set of conditions for the license renewal. Price said he dropped the protest against the Broken Spoke Saloon.
"Protesting a liquor license is one of the tools the legislature has given us as residents to make sure that the community has some say in what's happening in it or around it," he said. "I was not the only person involved in the protests and I was very upfront with the owners about my intentions. With one of them, we were able to come up with some conditions that made the community feel better and the protest was settled before it went to court."
Price's opponents also criticized him because his pre-election campaign finance report has not shown up on the S.C. Ethics Commission public reporting website. A paper report was filed by Price's campaign at the end of May, according to receipt records from the commission, but the report had not been put online.
Challengers also called Price's record as an S.C. state trooper into question. S.C. Department of Public Safety spokesman Sid Gaulden said there were several complaints filed against Price, most of which were dismissed. He said there was nothing in Price's employment file to indicate he had not retired in good standing. Department of Public Safety records showed Price received a Medal of Valor in 1995 for his efforts to stop a drunken driver who dragged him several hundred feet partially against a guard rail while he held onto the car. Price said some of the medical issues resulting from the traffic stop led him to retire.
All of the local polls will be open Tuesday for regular election hours. Those who voted in the Republican primary in District 5 or those registered to vote who did not on June 8 are eligible to vote in the GOP runoff.