Kuhn cites marital loyalty, conservative credentials in crowded congressional race

gsmith@islandpacket.comJanuary 24, 2013 

Former state Sen. John Kuhn shakes hands with Sun City's Skip Dawson Thursday morning at the Squat 'n' Gobble in Bluffton. Kuhn also stopped at Waterfront Park in Beaufort after launching his bid for the 1st congressional seat.

SARAH WELLIVER

  • Family: Wife, Shea, and three children

    Career: Cofounder of Kuhn and Kuhn, LLC, an estate-planning and probate law firm he and his wife started in 2002

    Political experience: State senator from 2001 to 2004

  • State Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, a candidate for the 1st Congressional District, will make two stops Friday in Beaufort County:

  • Noon to 12:45 p.m. at Chick-fil-A, 2405 Boundary St. in Beaufort. Open to the public.

  • 2 to 3 p.m. at Magnolia Hall in Sun City. The event, sponsored by the Republicans of Sun City Hilton Head, is open to Sun City residents only.

  • See Saturday's newspaper for a closer look at Grooms.

It's clear who former state Sen. John Kuhn, an attorney with offices in Charleston and Bluffton, sees as his rival in the crowded race in the 1st Congressional District.

"I've been completely loyal to my wife (of 23 years). Period. She and my children are everything to me, which is why I work so hard to provide for them," said Kuhn, a married father of three, making a thinly veiled reference to former Gov. Mark Sanford, whose 2009 extramarital affair cost him his marriage and his presidential prospects, and resulted in an unsuccessful GOP-led attempt to oust him from office.

On Thursday, Kuhn, a Republican, was behind the wheel of his Ford Expedition, braking in Bluffton, Beaufort and other spots across the five-county district to announce his candidacy, vowing to fight for a balanced federal budget and to slash entitlement programs, with the exception of Social Security.

Kuhn also will have to fight to rise above the pack in a race that could attract as many as a dozen Republican contenders, several of whom have deep pockets and have held state office.

The California native who grew up on a hay farm has put $250,000 of his own money into the race so far. That's allowed him to resurrect the team that successfully ran Tom Rice's election in the newly drawn 7th Congressional District anchored in Horry County.

Kuhn's work ethic, he said, comes from years on his father's farm, including 95 days of working the night shift on a Caterpillar tractor. As punishment for poor grades his freshman year at Vanderbilt, his parents put him on the 5 p.m.-to-5 a.m. shift to rip up soil for the alfalfa crop.

"The lesson was learned that I would go back to school, work hard and graduate," said Kuhn, who ultimately chose setting up a law practice in South Carolina with his wife, Shea, instead of running the farm.

"I'm allergic to hay," he said with a laugh.

He points to a 2003 S.C. Senate fight to prove he's got the conservative chops his contenders lack.

On the final days of the legislative session as a freshman senator, he defied Republican leadership and successfully filibustered a $250 million bond bill filed for the state's colleges and universities, arguing it was no way to spend state money in tough economic times.

Kuhn said Thursday he reached out to then-Gov. Sanford to help in the fight. But Sanford refused, saying he should follow the lead of senior senators, according to Kuhn.

"What I was doing wasn't popular. But I didn't care about my political career. I cared about what my voters wanted and what was best for the state," said Kuhn, who ultimately killed the deal.

"(Other candidates) say they'll stand up, but they won't. So tell me who's really fiscally conservative -- me or Mark (Sanford)?"

That's not how Sanford remembers it.

"Sen. Kuhn's recollection is baffling and a little perplexing, considering Sanford's record of watching out for taxpayers and working to limit spending," said Joel Sawyer, Sanford's spokesman.

"It could be the result of sour grapes," he added, referencing Kuhn's 2004 loss to now-Sen. Chip Campsen to represent the Senate district. Campsen is a longtime friend of Sanford.

Kuhn has a shot, said Jim Dickson, state executive committeeman from the Beaufort County Republican Party and president of the Beaufort Area Republican Club, who listened closely as Kuhn made his pitch during a stop at Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park in Beaufort.

"He's a guy with a lot of passion and drive to win the office and do a good job for South Carolina and the county," Dickson said, adding it's too early to decide whom he will support.

His short list includes Sanford.

"He was a fine governor whose fiscal credentials are just impeccable," Dickson said.

Related content

  1. Hilton Head lawmakers running for Congress, Jan. 9, 2012
  2. Is a Sanford comeback possible?, Dec. 21, 2012

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