Beaufort News

Shouting match marks debate over disqualified candidates

A debate over allowing more than 180 disqualified candidates back onto the June 12 primary ballots peaked Tuesday with a shouting match between one of the state Senate's most feisty members and the wife of a congressman.

Then, in an infrequently used move, the Senate overrode potentially fatal objections from two of its members, clearing the way for a vote as early as today to move toward restoring the disqualified candidates. If approved, the House would then need to vote on the measure.

State Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, was one of two senators who vowed Tuesday to stall a proposal to return to the ballot almost all the challengers for state and local office removed by a Supreme Court decision last week, which disqualified them for failing to file the proper paperwork.

After a Senate committee meeting attended by almost 100 people, including some of the ousted candidates, Knotts was confronted by Roxanne Wilson, the wife of U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-Springdale, and sister of a would-be GOP candidate for Lexington County clerk of court who was removed from the ballot.

"I'm telling you this is absolutely wrong," Wilson told Knotts. "How could you do this to the people of Lexington County?"

"How can you come up and act like you're acting in public?" Knotts shot back.

"I'm a (member of the) public," Wilson responded.

"You're a congressman's wife," Knotts retorted.

"I don't care. You know it's wrong," Wilson replied, as Knotts walked away. "You're self-serving."

When Wilson tried to follow Knotts, a Senate guard tried to block her. "I don't know who you are but go away," the guard said.

Knotts and Wilson later met behind closed doors in Knotts' office and came out announcing they had made peace, sealing it with a peck on the cheek. Knotts, who holds the state Senate seat once held by Wilson's husband, said the pair are friends who talk every day.

Soon after on the Senate floor, senators overrode objections by Knotts and state Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, to push forward a House bill to restore stricken candidates, based on election rules change approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. That bill could get a vote in the full Senate as early as today.

However, Ford said he does not think lawmakers can resolve the issue before they adjourn next month. "This is strictly grandstanding."

Knotts repeated that he is not trying to prevent the return of the stricken candidates because one of those removed by the Supreme Court would have opposed him in the GOP primary. He said he objected to allowing back on the ballot any candidate who attempted to file a statement of economic interest by April 20. The deadline was March 30.

Knotts said keeping to the March 30 deadline might avoid a U.S. Justice Department review that could delay the June primary, now just 34 days away. Federal reviews of election-law changes can take 60 days.

"We can't fix what the Supreme Court did right by doing something wrong," Knotts said.

The Supreme Court decision disqualified one Beaufort County candidate -- Dan Duryea of Rose Hill -- who was running for the District 7 seat on the County Council.Read more here