State House candidate Tyler Servant is defending his residency in the district, questions surrounding his absence at three primary debates and his tendency to give prepared statements to the media.
Servant is battling Russell Fry in a runoff election Aug. 11 for the District 106 seat. Former Rep. Nelson Hardwick vacated the post in May after an investigation by the House Speaker’s office uncovered an accusation of sexual harassment by a female House staff member. The district includes Surfside Beach and Garden City Beach.
Questions among Republicans arose when Servant missed three debates – July 16, 17 and 21 – among the four candidates vying for the position.
Fry took 45 percent of Tuesday’s Republican primary vote, while Servant took 33 percent.
A family member in Servant’s girlfriend’s family died and he left the area at the time of the first two debates.
“There’s nothing worse, I believe, than being attacked in a campaign for having a death in the family, trying to mourn that death, and then being attacked for that death,” Servant said, not referring to anything Fry said. “I can tell you that I was in Spartanburg with the family, and I was receiving text messages on the night of the Burgess community debate [July 16] that a candidate was asking if she died or not and when did she die. Family comes first with me and that’s why I wasn’t there.”
Servant left the area before the weekend of July 18 and 19, returned by July 20 to attend a pre-scheduled appearance at the Myrtle Beach Pelicans game to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and returned to Spartanburg Tuesday to attend the funeral.
Servant said he has no problem debating Fry and scheduled a debate this week on WPDE-TV’s “Carolina This Week.” Anchor Tim McGinnis will moderate the discussion, which will be taped Thursday and air Aug. 9 at 11 a.m.
Fry said he plans to appear with Servant on the televised debate and attend the debate hosted by the South Strand Republican Club on the same day.
“It’s also important to take questions from the voters that you hope to represent,” Fry said of the South Strand debate.
Servant said he hasn’t decided whether he was going to attend the South Strand debate. He said the televised debate would reach more potential voters and accomplish the same goal of getting his message out.
However, John Bonsignor, the South Strand Republican Club’s vice president, said Servant’s campaign assured the group’s leaders that he would attend their debate if he reached the runoff. A day after the primary, Bonsignor said, Servant reneged.
“He promised us that he would debate,” he said. “Now I don’t know what’s happening.”
Bonsignor said he called Servant and left a message on his voicemail urging him to change his position. He said the WPDE debate with Fry will be taped several hours before the one hosted by the South Strand Republican Club.
“Tyler has no excuse,” he said. “He’s really doing a disservice to his constituents already without having the seat. He really should reconsider.”
And if Servant still refuses?
“We’re going to have the debate irrespective of whether he comes or not,” Bonsignor said.
Servant defended his use of prepared statements during his seven-month stint on County Council.
“Just like on County Council, I’m available during the meeting to be quoted and after the meeting,” he said. “I’m available for the press. Just like in the Statehouse on the floor, when I’m speaking, I’ll be available there. There are certain times I take a big stance on big issues that I want a uniformed response across the board. … I welcome any calls, after I release a statement, to give me a call for follow-up questions. I never turned those away at all.”
On council, Servant has taken a stance against an automatic, gradual multi-year raise for County Administrator Chris Eldridge because he has a proposal that would offer incentive raises for the county’s more than 2,000 employees. It’s a plan he’s been talking about since March. He was a no-show at Thursday’s county administration committee meeting where it was to be talked about before being brought to full council, and Servant said he was unaware he was on the agenda.
“This resolution is just to get the sense of the appetite of Horry County Council and whether this is something they would even want to consider,” Servant said. “This is not a specific plan. I put this forward because I am frugal, I’m a true conservative and I didn’t want to waste the county administrator’s time or the county attorney’s time or any of staff’s time putting together a big, elaborate plan that Horry County Council doesn’t even have an appetite for. … On admin committee days, the working person can’t get there at 2 o’clock. I want this to be discussed in front of the whole council at a time where people can show up and listen to it and hear about it and not just a select few at 2 o’clock on a working day.”
Servant’s residency has also been challenged. He lists his residence in the 200 block of South Dogwood in Surfside Beach on his candidacy filing papers – a home he rents out 56 days of the summer.
“This is my residence. I live here,” Servant said. “It’s not an issue. If it was an issue, that would make every single legislator in the state of South Carolina have a residency problem since they go to Columbia six months out of the year, every week for two days.”
The winner of the runoff heads to the Sept. 15 general election, where there is no Democratic opposition.
Servant said he looks forward to debating the issues with Fry and putting the side stories of residency, debates and more aside.
“Unfortunately this campaign has gotten off the issues and it has gotten negative,” he said. “It should be on the issues. Who is proposing the plans? Whose ideas are better? Who should be going to Columbia to represent us on the issues? Not on negative attacks on individuals and their family, and that’s what it has turned to.”
Want to watch?
S.C. House District 106 candidates Russell Fry and Tyler Servant will appear on WPDE-15’s “Carolina This Week” for a debate. The show will be filmed Thursday and will air Aug. 9 at 11 a.m. Anchor Tim McGinnis will moderate the debate and said residents who have questions for the candidates may email them to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com for consideration.