UNION COUNTY — When the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 concluded their deliberations, a woman named Mrs. Powell asked Benjamin Franklin what kind of government America now had had, to which Franklin replied “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Nearly 230 years later, more than 12,000 residents of Union County did their part to keep America a republic by going to the polls to vote in the Nov. 8, 2016 general election.
Election 2016 saw a total of 39 local, state, federal, and national offices on the ballot in Union County along with a referendum question. Some of these races were partisan while others were not and of those some were contested and some were not, but all were on the ballot and all played their role in bringing nearly seven out of every 10 registered voters in Union County to the polls.
Before they cast those ballots, however, Union County residents experienced nearly an entire year of political activities and events including candidacies announced; events that gave the public the opportunity to hear and meet the candidates that participated in them; a series of public debates by the candidates for the contested local races; primaries for president and other offices held by the Democratic and Republican parties; and even a visit by a presidential candidate.
The year got off to a political start when former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee brought his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination to First Baptist Church in Union on Jan. 16.
Huckabee, who is also an ordained Southern Baptist minister, spoke about what a society that lives by “The Golden Rule” would be like. He quoted Matthew 7:12 in which Jesus Christ enunciated The Golden Rule during what is known as “The Sermon on the Mount.”
According to Huckabee, if people in Union County and elsewhere would heed Christ’s commandment to do unto others as they’d have others do unto them there would be no crimes such as murder, rape, armed robbery, and vandalism that require the attention of the criminal justice system. Huckabee said the absence of these and other crimes would eliminate the costs they impose not only society as a whole but also on private businesses and homeowners. He said this would provide a boost to the economy. It would also keep government small and lower taxes because there would be very little need for government and people in communities like Union would see just how inexpensive it is to live in their community.
(On Feb. 1, 2016, a little over two weeks after he spoke in Union, Huckabee, after a disappointing showing in the Iowa caucuses, suspended his campaign. After ending his campaign, Huckabee supported businessman Donald Trump for the GOP nomination and, subsequently, for president.)
February saw not one, but two primaries as the Republican and Democratic parties held their presidential primaries on Feb. 20 and Feb. 27, respectively.
A little more than one in five of Union County registered voters took part in the GOP presidential primary and of those nearly 40 percent supported Donald Trump. Of those who voted in the primary in Union County, 1,403 or 38.85 percent voted for Trump who carried 19 of the county’s 23 precincts. Trump’s support in Union County was higher than his statewide winner percentage of 32.5 percent.
A week later, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won the Democratic presidential primary in Union County by a landslide receiving 1,687 votes to 331 votes Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
A little over a week before the GOP presidential primary, the “Marco Rubio for President” campaign announced that Freddie Gault, District Liaison for US Fifth District Rep. Mick Mulvaney, had been named to its “South Carolina Grassroots Leadership Team” as the campaign’s leader for Union County.
Gault, a Republican, served as Union County Clerk of Court from October 2009 to December 2015 when he resigned to become District Liaison for Mulvaney. He is also an Executive Committeeman of the Union County Republican Party.
Rubio, a US Senator from Florida, finished third in Union County and second statewide in the Feb. 17 GOP presidential primary. He ended his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination after losing the GOP presidential primary in Florida to Donald Trump.
February also saw Amy Austin, Mark Cathcart, and David Sinclair announce their candidacies for the Republican nominations for the SC House District 42 seat, Union County Clerk of Court, and the District 3 Union County Council seat, respectively.
It was Cathcart’s second bid for the District 42 seat. He ran for the GOP nomination for seat in 2012, but lost to David Tribble Jr., a former state legislator from Laurens County who went on to be defeated in November by incumbent Democrat Rep. Mike Anthony.
For Austin and Sinclair, who made their announcements during a press conference hosted by the Union County Young Republicans at the USC Union Student Lounge, their candidacies were their first bids for public office.
Also announcing his candidacy in February was former Union City Councilman Tommie L. Hill Sr. who announced that he was seeking the Democratic nomination for the District 5 Union County Council seat.
At the end of February, Melanie Lawson announced that she would seek the Democratic nomination for Union County Clerk of Court. Lawson, who’d been a member of the Clerk of Court staff for more than 20 years, had previously ran for the office in 2012.
While most of the candidates who ran for public office in 2016 did so while employed in other occupations, two actually resigned from the positions they held to run for the office they were seeking.
In a March 9 press conference held in the USC Union Student Activity Lounge, Jeff Bailey, a Republican, announced that he was running for Sheriff of Union County. In announcing his candidacy, Bailey also announced that he was resigning as Union County Magistrate in order to focus on running for sheriff. He said that by resigning he had lost his income and the insurance his family had through his being a magistrate. Nevertheless, Bailey said he felt it was necessary for him to resign to run for sheriff because he wanted to, in his words, “take this thing to the end.”
Bailey was the second candidate to resign the position he held in order to run for an office on the November ballot.
Earlier in the campaign season fellow Republican Tommy Mann resigned as Associate Pastor at Philippi Baptist Church to run for the SC House District 42 seat.
March also saw John Glenn, James R. Rice, and Ralph Tucker announce their candidacies for the Democratic nomination for the Union County Council District 2 seat; Tommy Ford announce his candidacy for the Union County Council District 3 seat; and Randall “Chump” Hanvey announce his candidacy for the Union County Council District 5 seat.
Ford and Hanvey, both of them incumbents, were seeking their fourth terms on county council while Tucker, also incumbent, was seeking his first full term on council. Challengers Glenn and Rice were seeking their first terms on council.
Also formally announcing his candidacy was Tommy Mann who said he would seek the GOP nomination for the SC House District 42 seat. Mann made the announcement during the opening of his campaign headquarters on Main Street in downtown Union.
March also saw two other Democratic incumbents announce their bids for reelection.
The first of these as Union County Sheriff David Taylor who the week of March 20 announced that he was running for a third term.
A little over a week later, SC House District 42 Rep. Mike Anthony announced that he was running for an eighth term.
The Democratic and Republican parties held more primaries in June, this time on the same date (June 14) and this time to select their nominees for local state and federal offices.
Out of the county’s 17,684 registered voters, 2,239 or roughly one out of every eight voted in the June 14 primaries. Of those, 1,234 voted in the GOP primary or 201 more than than the 1,005 who voted in the Democratic primary.
In the Democratic primary, voters chose Ralph Tucker, Tommy Ford, Tommie L. Hill Sr. to be the party’s nominees for the District 2, District 3, and District 5 seats on Union County Council. No Republicans were running for the District 2 and 5 seats, but Ford would face Republican David Sinclair in the November general election.
(District 6 incumbent Council Member Kacie Petrie was unopposed for reelection in both the primary and the general election.)
In the Republican primary, voters chose Tommy Mann, Harvey Peeler, and Mick Mulvaney to be the party’s nominees for the SC House District 42, SC Senate District 14, and US Fifth District seats. No Democrats were running in District 14, but Mann would face Democrat Mike Anthony in the November general election while Mulvaney would face Democrat Fran Person and American Party candidate who had not been announced at the time of the primary.
June would also see Rudy Barnes Jr. of Prosperity announce that he was running for the US Fifth District Congressional seat as the candidate of the American Party.
July saw two candidates announce they were running for Mayor of Union.
The first of these was Union City Councilman Tommy Lee Anthony who announced the week of July 9 that he was running for mayor. At the time of his announcement, Anthony was serving his first term representing Union City Council District 1.
The next to announce his candidacy for Mayor of the City of Union was incumbent Mayor Harold E. Thompson. In a statement released July 21, Thompson announced that he would seeking a third term.
The number of candidates for Mayor of the City of Union would ultimately grow to three with businessman Robert Small joining the race.
Also on the ballot in the City of Union were the Districts 3, 4, and 6 seats on Union Council.
Incumbent Yates Giles and challengers Jack Kelly III and Vickie C. Morgan had filed to run for the District 3 seat while incumbent Jim Wilson and challengers Sonja Craig and Kristina Sommer had filed to run for the District 6 seat. In District 4 incumbent Ricky Todd Harris would be unopposed for reelection.
Election 2016 also saw a number of events designed to give the voters opportunities to meet the candidates seeking their votes.
In August, the local Democratic and Republican parties both held special events designed to turn out voters.
On Aug. 27, the Union County Democratic Party held a “voter registration drive with a free lunch snack to go” at Dawkins Restaurant in Union. In announcing the event, the party reminded the public that Oct. 8 was the deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 8 general election.
On Aug. 29, the Union County Republican Party held its Campaign 2016 Kickoff at Midway BBQ. The event featured speeches by several Republican candidates running in Union County including Amy Austin, Tommy Mann, Mick Mulvaney, David Sinclair, and Shane Martin.
On Sept. 5, the Union County Branch of the NAACP held its Voter Registration and Community Day. The event, which was held provide the public with a time of food, fun, fellowship and the opportunity to meet and speak with candidates. Those candidates that attended included Amy Austin, Melanie Lawson, Jeff Bailey, David Taylor, Tommy Mann, and Tommy Anthony.
August also saw Town of Carlisle Mayor Mary Ferguson-Glenn announced that she was seeking a third term as the town’s mayor.
Ferguson-Glenn was opposed for reelection by Carlisle Town Council Member and former mayor Ann Stevens.
The final weeks before the election saw three debates sponsored by the Union County Young Republicans and the Union County Democratic Party. The debates, which were held in the USC Union Auditorium, were held on the following dates for the following races:
Sept. 28 — Union City City Council District 3, Union City Council District 6, the Office of Mayor of the City of Union, and the Office of the Mayor of the Town of Carlisle.
The debate was an informative one with the candidates running in Union presenting their ideas about the city’s future, but there were some sharp exchanges between mayoral candidates Tommy Anthony, Robert Small, and Harold Thompson
The exchanges began when Small was asked why he was running and said it was because he felt Union is in bad shape and on its way down if things didn’t change. When asked where saw Union 10 years from now, Small said it would have deteriorated even further without drastic changes. Small criticized Mayor Harold Thompson’s statements that the city was growing, saying that it was in terrible shape, lacking housing for young people, adding that without growth the city would lose USC Union. He said also said the recently opened Main Street Junction would not generate revenue for the city but become a burden to taxpayers.
These statements brought rebuttals from, first, Thompson, who said that he did not see Union crumbling like Small claimed but instead growing with the downtown coming back. Thompson said that the city would not lose USC Union, pointing out that it is growing and will continue to grow, that there are plans to add a school of nursing, build student housing, and pointed also to the ongoing revitalization of the college’s sports program. He added that good things were happening that can really benefit the community and will come to fruition if the people of Union pull together to make them happen.
Anthony agreed with Thompson about Union being on the upswing. He said that far from being a burden on the taxpayers, Main Street Junction will bring people from out of town to the city. Anthony pointed out that since it opened Main Street Junction has already hosted a couple of events and that more are coming in the near future. Earlier, Anthony pointed out that things are looking good for Union and will only get better. He said within the next few months the people of Union will see something going on that will really be good for the city.
Oct. 6 — Union County Council District 3, Union County Clerk of Court, and Union County Sheriff.
The questions asked during this debate varied from office to office and so did the intensity of the exchanges between the candidates with things getting to be especially contentious when Union County Sheriff’s candidates Jeff Bailey and David Taylor squared off over the issues.
When asked what is the biggest problem facing Union County, Bailey said the county has a terrible drug problem that not only contributes to crime, but also has a negative impact on economic development. Bailey said that while there are industries and businesses in the county creating jobs, they are having trouble filling them because so many people who might fill them can’t get hired because they can’t pass a drug test. He said the Sheriff’s Office has to be more proactive and interactive in addressing the drug problem by getting more involved with drug prevention in, first, the schools, and then in the community as a whole.
Taylor, however, said that while drugs are a problem, an even greater problem facing the county is a lack of resources for government services including law enforcement because the tax base is not flourishing with revenue. He said that because of this you can’t spend money if you don’t have it. We don’t have the ability to hire new people. Taylor said that because of this the Sheriff’s Office must focus on what it is designed to do, enforce the law, not attempt to engage in drug treatment/prevention programs in the community. He said that in his experience the kind of programs Bailey is proposing, especially in the schools, are not only costly but ineffective.
Financial issues were also a point of contention between Bailey and Taylor with them arguing over the size of the Sheriff’s Office budget. Taylor said the Sheriff’s Office budget is only $1.9 million, but Bailey said that the sheriff oversees not only the Sheriff’s Office budget, but the budgets for 911 and the Union County Jail for a total of $3.7 million. While he did not go into details, Bailey said that there was fat in these budgets that could be cut. Taylor, however, said that most of the budgets overseen by the sheriff are for personnel costs, such as salaries and insurance, pointing to the $1.9 million of the Sheriff’s Office budget, of which he said $1.8 million go to personnel costs.
In the most heated exchange of the evening, Taylor said that when Bailey was Union County Magistrate, he was asked two years ago by Union County Council to cut his office’s proposed $357,000 budget by 10 percent, but refused to do so, even seeking to have it increased. Bailey called Taylor’s claim a lie, pointing out that he met with council about the budget because he had only two women working in his office and that given their workload one alone could not handle it. He said that in going to council he was not asking for more money but instead to have enough funding left in the budget so he would have staff sufficient to meet the workload of the Magistrate’s Office.
Oct. 27 — SC House District 42.
This debate focused exclusively on the SC House District 42 seat with incumbent Mike Anthony squaring off against challenger Tommy Mann over seniority versus majority..
Anthony, a Democrat, said that the seniority he has attained through his 14 years in office is vital to District 42 which is composed of Union County and part of Laurens County. He said his seniority and the relationships he has developed with other legislators of both the Democratic and Republican parties has enabled him to get the issues facing Union County addressed by the legislature. He said it was important to the future of the county that it retain the influence he has been able to attain through the seniority he has gained and the connections he has made during his years in Columbia.
Mann, however, said the conversation about the seniority Anthony has attained is a conversation about the past, not the future. He pointed out that during the last three election cycles Anthony has indicated the possibility of retiring. Mann said this means that eventually and inevitably District 42 will be without Anthony’s seniority and that the district must be ready for that. He said he felt that now was the time for the district to make that transition.
The Democrats are a minority within the legislature, but Anthony pointed out this had not prevented him from becoming a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, one of the most powerful committees in the General Assembly. Anthony said he was able to gain his position on the committee and retain it because of his seniority, adding that the relationships he has built over the years with legislators on both sides of the aisle has enabled him to use that position to secure needed funding for Union County such as the $1.25 million for renovations to the Union County Carnegie Library and $200,000 for the replacement of the Broad River Bridge in Lockhart. He said the position he holds on the committee and the relationships he has made take time to achieve and do not just happen overnight.
Mann, however, pointed out that Anthony’s seniority notwithstanding, he is still a member of the minority party while he, as a Republican, is in the majority. He expressed confidence that the Republicans would retain their majority and with it the power to set the legislative calendar and agenda. Furthermore, Mann pointed out that the governor is also a Republican, giving the party — and its members — even greater clout. He said that as a member of the majority party in legislature and with that party also in control of the executive branch, he will be able to be an effective legislator.
Anthony disputed this, pointing out that even as a member of the majority party, Mann will still be a freshman and will lack the clout the district now has because of the seniority he has gained over the years. He said that whether a legislator is a member of the minority or majority party, seniority is still the key.
Mann, however, said that if he won the Republicans would want to retain the District 42 seat and that means they would have to do things to enable them to retain it. He said this would help give him the clout he needs to have the district’s needs addressed by the legislature.
Then it was Nov. 8 and it was (finally) over.
On Election Day, 12,212 or 69.49 percent of Union County’s registered voters went to the polls and cast their ballots and made the following candidates the winners of following contested races:
• President — Donald Trump (Republican)
• US Senator — Tim Scott (Republican)
• US Fifth District — Mick Mulvaney (Republican)
• SC House District 42 — Mike Anthony (Democrat)
• Union County Sheriff — David Taylor (Democrat)
• Union County Clerk of Court — Melanie Lawson (Democrat)
• Union County Council District 3 — David Sinclair (Republican)
• City of Union Mayor — Harold Thompson
• Union City Council District 3 — Vicki Morgan
• Union City Council District 6 — Sonja Craig
• Town of Carlisle Mayor — Mary Ferguson-Glenn
• Union County School Board District 2 — Mark Ivey
• Union County School Board District 6 — Frank M. Hart
Voter also approved a referendum authorizing a one percent sales tax levy. (For more about this, see upcoming editions of The Union Times and on our website (www.uniondailytimes.com) and our Facebook page.
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.