With eight new senators joining the Senate in the upcoming legislative session, this June’s primary and runoff races taught us a few things—
2016 is the year of the underdog
Especially for challengers in the Upstate, where four Senate incumbents lost their seats.
Perhaps the most notable upset was the runoff election between Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, and former Rep. Rex Rice.
Martin, who led the Judiciary Committee, held his seat since 1993, but lost to his opponent.
Incumbent senators Lee Bright, R-Roebuck, and Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, lost to their Haley-backed challengers, Scott Talley and Wes Climer.
William Timmons defeated Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville. And Mike Fanning defeated the only sitting Democratic senator with a runoff, Sen. Creighton Coleman, D-Winnsboro.
Haley’s endorsements held minimal sway
Political consultants have—and will continue to—debated the influence endorsements have over election results.
But if Republican Gov. Nikki Haley’s endorsements were any indication, she was only able to sway Republican voters in two of the six Senate races in which she made endorsements.
Haley backed Martin, an ally who led the passage through the Senate of two ethics reform bills she signed last week.
The voters cared more about roads than ethics
Martin was instrumental this year in the passage of ethics reform, which supporters have dubbed the most significant ethics reform victory since the 90s-era Statehouse scandal, Lost Trust.
But that victory wasn’t enough to sway the results in his favor. Political analysts say this year’s slew of losses by incumbents is likely a nod to the public’s impatience over legislative inaction on issues such as roads.
And there’s probably some truth to that. But while travelers hurtle over potholes on busy Interstates, it’s important to remember that the legislature already moved this year to begin funding road repairs.
Roads may have played a smaller role in the upsets than analysts think
Lawmakers approved a short-term fix that will leverage existing Department of Motor Vehicle fees of $200 million annually into a $2.2 billion borrowing plan for bridges and Interstates.
Leaders in the Legislature say the borrowing plan is a first step to fixing roads. They plan to try for a permanent funding stream again next year, likely in the form of a gas tax increase.
Whether they will succeed remains to be seen. But if the flood of communications lawmakers received this year from voters unwilling to pay higher gas taxes is an indication, they may have a hard time increasing the tax.