Court Comes Down Harshly On FCGOP's Failure to Comply .....
We're sorry to say we told you so, Florence Republican candidates..... but we told you so. Today, in a unanimous ruling, the SC Supreme Court ruled that the Florence County GOP incorrectly certified four of their candidates currently on next week's Primary ballot, and in doing so, defied a direct ruling that they were aware of from a previous ruling made earlier that week. Though no one is going to jail or anything criminal, the penalties were pretty stiff: All uncertified candidates will be taken off the ballot. In addition, whatever steps the Florence County Election Commission has to take to correct the error, either by reprinting ballots, or furnishing whatever signs or information needed to make all voters aware what candidates are ineligible, the FCGOP will be flipping the bill.
The Court also noted that while this decision applies to Florence County only, all county parties are on notice that similar additional cases will be dealt the same, and that those who improperly certify 'do so at their own peril' . Clearly, the Supreme Court was sending a stern message, but if you'd like to read all the legalese, here it is.
Luckily for the FCGOP, not all of the challengers were axed by this ruling, but a good portion were. It shouldn't come to anyone's surprise that the ruling came down this way. One small surprise is the public statement the SCGOP put out in opposition to the ruling, which is as follows...
South Carolina Republican Party
Matt Moore, email@example.com
... Columbia, S.C.- SCGOP Chairman Chad Connelly today issued a statement following the S.C. Supreme Court's decision in the Florence county election case:"Today's Supreme Court decision is extremely disappointing. This is a sad day for South Carolina voters," said Chairman Connelly."It's tragic that good citizens, both Republicans and Democrats, attempted to file as candidates, only to have their names tossed out over a technicality.
"The Supreme Court has injected itself into the political parties' once exclusive right to choose their candidates. Instead of seeing the law as the legislature intended, the court created a "Frankenstein" - a set of hypertechnical rules that defy common sense and ignore the instructions of the state's own Ethics Commission (below). In the process, the court has disenfranchised thousands of South Carolina voters."
From the S.C. State Ethics Commission "Electronic Filing Instructions for Statement of Economic Interests & Campaign Disclosure Reports":
"The Statement of Economic Interests is the only report that needs to be filed online immediately AFTER an individual files as a candidate with the filing officer." (emphasis on "after" added)
And most egregiously, from the first page of the State Ethics Commission's instructions: "Paper copies of these reports are no longer accepted."
We're not sure how much the SCGOP ACTUALLY thinks Florence County was wronged, but at least they put out a nice public statement. The problem is their logic is wrong. They are going by the Ethics Commission recommendations. Well, the Ethics Commission didn't write the law - the Legislature did. Secondly, this wasn't the FCGOP's argument to the complaint, they argued that the candidates all fell under 'public officials' simply by intending to run for office. Again, and incorrect thought, becuase to be a public official, you have to be a candidate, and you are not a candidate until you are correctly certified. We can't seem to put in any clearer terms for the FCGOP to understand. No if's , and's or but's.....
So, after a month of legal wrangling, judicial cases and legislative failures, the truth of what happened is exactly what it started as: the Ethics Commission incorrectly interpreted the law for SEI and SIC filing. They passed it to the state parties, who passed the incorrect info to the county parties. Right down the line... It appears the only ones who didn't mess up are the incumbents - who get a free pass - those who already hold some type of position in a city or county group, and challengers who read the rule for themselves, and did it right. We think there were two of them...
Now, what aftermath is there from all of this? We're not sure right now. Chairman Bill Pickle is staying quiet until he speaks with the attorneys (good idea), but there are a slew of people at risk here: Pickle signed the certification, and from what we've been told, co-signing that is one of the few jobs of the county Secretary, who is Elijah Jones - the newly elected 7th District Chairman. But, the argument could be made that since the original statement of why the candidates were certified was from the FCGOP Leadership themselves, the entire slate could be in trouble....
What kind of trouble? Who knows... The axe could come from Columbia, but after reading Chad Connelly's statement today, we're not so sure that would happen. There is one truth that they better get used to now - this has unofficially become a Lame Duck leadership. The embarrassment of this debacle is statewide, and no amount of work to turn it around will rectify it. They need to find a new set of leaders, because what they have displayed is not leadership.
We're going to let it fly a bit here, and as usual, it's in the interest of letting them try to take a moment and look within a bit here. We'll start with the positives, so it doesn't just look like we're after blood here. The current FCGOP are great at organizing.. They broadened the base, they throw nice events, and they manage to get a lot people to attend them. Every group needs people like these, but this is far from the main trait needed to RUN a county party.
No, to run a group effectively, you have to know your strengths and weaknesses. I have plenty of them, and I'm pretty aware of most of them. This group, which started out as 300 people bumrushing South Florence High in 2009, has really dwindled down to the same 5-6 people doing everything, including making decisions on things they know NOTHING about, like legal matters. How they managed to screw this up when the Supreme Court TOLD THEM what was acceptable and what wasn't is beyond me. All I can attribute it to is an attempt to slip these candidates through with no one noticing. The problem was EVERYONE was watching - and they noticed.
This could have been so easy. The FCGOP and Florence Dems - both of whom got rooked by this ruling, correct as it was - could have gotten together, and worked with each other to get all their candidates on the ballot through petition. It could have been a shining moment for political bipartisanship in Florence County and South Carolina. But, the FCGOP did a headfake, the Dems bit - and the battle was on.
While Chad Connelly was right in that there were lots of disenfranchised voters thanks to the foul up, the ones we feel worst for are the candidates - especially the four in Florence. Because while everywhere else across the state, local GOP groups were working on petitions, the FCGOP cockily told everyone over an over again 'we're good'... I can't tell you how frustrated I was when I advised Bill Pickle to start a contingency plan for the challengers, and got a one word answer - 'Thanks'. Or having to read on my Facebook messages the endless list of misinterpretations by Betty Dowling on why I was a idiot, and everyone who DOESN'T vote on the SC Supreme Court said they were right. If you want a partisan answer , go ask your own paid lawyer or the Attorney General. If you want the truth, ask someone you don't work with....
If it gets me in trouble with party members, so be it, but we speak the truth here, and we know we aren't alone on this.... It's pretty obvious that the Florence GOP defied the Supreme Court on purpose via a twisted logic void of legal fact. Why? Because they don't understand that the law is THE LAW. It's not always fair, but just because you don't like it doesn't mean you try to work your way around it. That isn't how this group operates. It'd be nice to say that they are this way because they're guided by a set of unbendable principles, but that'd be wrong. They're just stubborn. It's that retarded 'you're with us or against us' attitude that explains why solid Republicans across the county no longer associate with them. I won't embarrass them by naming them, but the current leaders drove them off and they deserve everything that they have coming to them - whatever it is.
Maybe this whole fiasco - and that's what it was - will be a learning experience for them. However, we're not holding our breath.... and the anonymous comments should be interesting!