Voters received fliers in their mailboxes this week attacking both candidates in a high-profile race for the South Carolina Senate District 3 seat.
Sen. Kevin Bryant and former Pendleton Mayor Carole Burdette will meet in the Republican primary on Tuesday. The
winner is not expected to face any opposition in the November general election to represent the district that covers the northern half of Anderson County.
A group called Free Speech Unites went after Bryant in a mailer that says he has “raked in over $15 million for his company doing business with and getting contracts from the state of South Carolina” since he was elected 12 years ago.
“Is it any wonder Kevin Bryant opposed Ethics Reforms that would make this type of personal profiteering while in public office illegal?” states the group’s flier.
Bryant fired back with own flier seeking to discredit the “dirty, dishonest attacks.”
“Anonymous, dark money groups aligned with Kevin’s liberal opponent and the Establishment are using last minute attacks to smear our conservative fighter, Senator Kevin Bryant,” his mailer states.
Bryant, 49, is president of Bryant Pharmacy and Supply on North Main Street in Anderson. His business and other pharmacies in Anderson and throughout the state have nonexclusive contracts with the Medicaid program and the South Carolina Public Employee Benefits Authority.
The state contracts are not particularly profitable, Bryant said in an interview Friday. He said 87 percent of the fees that he receives for Medicaid prescriptions go to drugmakers.
Bryant has voted for ethics bills that would force elected officials to disclose private sources of income and also require independent investigations of complaints against legislators. He opposed a measure calling for groups like Free Speech Unites to identify their contributors, arguing that such a rule would infringe on free speech.
Bryant said he suspects Burdette helped coordinate the delivery of the Free Speech Unites flier.
“If you can’t defend your liberal record, you resort to this,” he said. “If you can’t attack my very conservative record, you resort to this.”
Burdette, 56, denied the charge.
“I didn’t have anything to do with it,” she said. “My goal has been to run a very clean campaign.”
But Burdette said she does have concerns about Bryant’s pharmacy doing business with the state while he is serving as a senator.
She also criticized him Friday for failing to support legislative term limits.
Bryant said he has sponsored a bill that would impose a two-term limit on senators but that the measure failed to pass. He said he is seeking a fourth term because current Senate rules place a priority on seniority.
According to the latest state disclosure reports, Bryant has raised more than $116,000 in campaign cash for his re-election bid. Burdette has received nearly $50,000 in campaign contributions.
In his campaign mailers, Bryant has criticized Burdette for approving tax increases and water-rate hikes and abolishing Pendleton’s police department while serving as the town’s mayor. Besides accusing her of wasting $24,000 in tax money to buy a plastic Christmas tree, he claims that she supports Planned Parenthood, a national group has come under scrutiny for allegedly selling fetal tissue harvested during abortions.
Burdette said she does not support Planned Parenthood.
She expressed pride in her 12-year tenure as Pendleton’s mayor, citing her success in obtaining $13.4 million in grants for public improvements and the paving of 40 streets in the town. She said the decision to have the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office take over law enforcement in Pendleton worked well initially, though town officials subsequently decided to re-establish the Police Department. She also said buying an artificial tree for the town was a wise investment.
“The town of Pendleton was better off when I left,” she said.
Burdette has held leadership positions with the Anderson Area Chamber of Commerce, the Municipal Association of South Carolina and South Carolina Association of Non-Profit Organizations. She has worked to promote child literacy and lessen teen pregnancies.
“I not a talker, I am a walker,” she said.
She said she would be more effective than Bryant in working with other legislators and state officials to tackle problems such as the need to improve South Carolina’s roads.
Bryant said he succeeded this year in building a consensus in the Senate for legislation that would make groups that resettle foreign refugees in South Carolina civilly liable for crimes committed by the refugees. The bill died in the House after winning Senate approval.
But he said he is unwilling to compromise on tax increases and measures that boost the state’s debt. He has opposed efforts to raise the state’s 16-cent per gallon gas tax and he was one of 10 senators who voted against a road-bonding bill that Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law on Wednesday.
Bryant has been endorsed by U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan while Anderson Mayor Terence Roberts is backing Burdette.
Burdette said her campaign has momentum heading in the GOP primary. She is hoping for support from some Democrats on Tuesday.
“I am encouraging everyone who wants to have a voice to come out and vote in this race,” she said. “I probably will need some people to cross over.”
Follow Kirk Brown on Twitter @KirkBrown_AIM