Margie Bright Matthews to become second woman serving in S.C. Senate

Walterboro attorney Margie Bright Matthews will become the second woman actively serving in the S.C. Senate when she is sworn in later this year.

The Democrat crushed Republican Al Fernandez on Tuesday night in the special election to replace the late state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, just over five months after he was gunned down inside his Charleston church alongside eight of his parishioners.

She will join Republican Sen. Katrina Shealy of Lexington as the only women in the state's upper chamber. She will finish out Pinckney's term, which ends late next year.

Bright Matthews ultimately secured more than 88 percent of votes cast Tuesday, although the almost 5,500 votes cast represent only 8.6 percent voter turnout for the district, according to results posted by the S.C. Elections Commission.

Education and economic development topped Bright Matthews' campaign agendas for the sprawling six-county Lowcountry district, which includes some of the poorest, most neglected areas in South Carolina.

The lone Republican in the race, Fernandez had hoped to pull off an unlikely upset for the GOP in a deep-blue pocket of the state. Despite an effort to rally the Hispanic community in the district over the weekend, he mustered only 750 votes on Tuesday, according to elections results.

Attempts to reach both candidates on Tuesday night were unsuccessful.

Bright Matthews received far more support than any other candidate ahead of Tuesday's special election.

She exponentially out-raised every candidate over the course of the three-month race, with almost $137,000 in total contributions as of Oct. 9, according to the most recent state campaign finance filings.

She was backed largely by the state's legal community, with dozens of attorneys, law firms and legal advocacy political action committees contributing the maximum $1,000 to her campaign, according to campaign records.

She defeated state Rep. Kenneth Hodges, D-Green Pond, in a runoff for the Democratic nomination for the seat last month.

Despite the smooth sailing Tuesday night, however, Bright Matthews has faced questions about whether she actually lives in the district and about delinquent property taxes.

Earlier this month she paid Colleton County almost $8,000 in delinquent taxes and fees to save six properties owned by her and her husband, Patrick Matthews, from the county's tax auction. She still owes another $6,200 to Colleton County in back taxes and fees for the couple's home on Jones Swamp Road, according to county officials.

Bright Matthews has said her personal finances are not relevant to her would-be duties as a legislator.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach and on Facebook at facebook.com/IPBGZach.

Related content:

Bright Matthews, Fernandez face off in race to replace Pinckney, Oct. 19, 2015

State Senate candidate Margie Bright Matthews pays delinquent taxes ahead of auction, Oct. 11, 2015

Bright Matthews wins runoff, will face Republican Alberto Fernandez in special election, Sept. 15, 2015

Bright Matthews late on property taxes, home sold at tax sale, Sept. 5, 2015

Senate District 45 candidates' election paperwork raises questions about home addresses, Sept. 5, 2015

Election preview: Sen. Clementa Pinckney's replacement must tackle disparity issues, Aug. 30, 2015