County GOP convention upheld

COLUMBIA — Pickens County GOP chairman Phillip Bowers and other party leaders were [cointent_lockedcontent]cleared of any wrongdoing in the fiasco surrounding the county 8-26 Page 1A.inddconvention earlier this year when state officials announced the results of the event would not be nullified on Saturday.

The South Carolina Republican Party executive committee determined the convention followed rules in accordance with state party regulations.

“The officers of the Pickens County Republican Party are extremely pleased we were vindicated by the overwhelming support of the State GOP executive committee Saturday,” said Bowers, who was re-elected as party chairman at the convention. “We followed the rules, and the decision of the state party reflects that.

“We also welcome the help of the state party to clean up the rules so everyone is clear on their meaning, and working with us during our next reorganization so that no one creates a situation like this again. We look forward to moving past this unfortunate chapter and working with the Legislative Delegation as effectively as possible.”

Following the April convention, which local lawmakers claimed was marred by political infighting, leaving dozens of potential delegates disenfranchised, Sen. Larry Martin, Rep. Neal Collins, Rep. Gary Clary and Rep. Davey Hiott sent a formal protest letter to the state party’s executive committee and chairman Matt Moore. The Pickens Legislative Delegation alleged the convention, held at Liberty High School, was marked by “misapplications of state party rules and gross errors of judgment” and asked that the convention be nullified.

Among the issues listed in the letter, “the most important error was disenfranchising 52 certified voters at the door of the convention,” the legislators claimed.

The convention issues apparently began in March, when the county party had its reorganization on March 19 — a meeting the lawmakers claim was improperly advertised. A little more than 70 delegates were in attendance at the meeting, and no more than 15 attended a makeup meeting, which was not advertised at all, according to the letter.

Lawmakers claimed Bowers was several days late in submitting a list of delegates to state party leaders, and the list submitted included 200 names — 128 more than were in attendance at the original meeting.

Delegates are allowed to vote on county officers at the annual convention, and Collins said Bowers’ delay in submitting the list of delegates “burned days the coalition could be adding names once the tactic (of adding names) was revealed.”

In response, according to the letter lawmakers submitted to state party leaders, state officials said anyone could sign up with the state party until five days before the convention.

“During the week of April 6-11, 52 forms were submitted to the state party,” the lawmakers wrote.

However, the additional delegates were denied entry into the convention, as Bowers claimed he did not receive the list until April 16 — the night of the convention.

Bowers said he had no way of verifying the delegates with such little notice.

“By the rules, this list of the voting members of the convention — or the delegates as we call them — should have been provided to the county five days before the convention,” he told The Courier.

Bowers said he not only has to verify if the delegates are registered voters, but which precinct they are registered in and whether they are Republicans.

When asked whether the state party would have verified the information before submitting the list to the county party, Bowers was unsure.

“I don’t know — it was all done behind our back,” he said. “That’s what’s so disturbing about it.”

Bowers said state party official Hope Walker told him she had received the applications before the five-day deadline but had not had time to send them to him.

Martin said he was surprised by the state committee’s decision, but added the way the committee handled it, in his opinion, “was fine.”

“I talked to Matt Moore, and he suggested an appeal would be well received, but he wasn’t the one who decided the outcome — it was the executive committee of the state party,” Martin said. “But I think it was worthwhile for the people of Pickens County to know there is a process to follow, and when it’s not followed, there’s recourse.”

Now that the decision has been made, Martin said Pickens County Republicans “need to put this behind us and not fight among ourselves.”

“Folks need to work together and be involved and not let this drive a wedge,” he said. “This is one of those times when the growth of the party and participation in the local party is resulting in some growing pains, and this goes along with it.”

But the Pickens County senator admits the county convention “wasn’t well run” — calling it “one of the worst I’ve ever been to.” Martin said he doesn’t feel that will be the case when the next county convention is held in the spring of 2017.

“I’m satisfied the rules will be followed better next time, because the state party will be here to ensure they are followed properly,” Martin said.

In a matter unrelated to Saturday’s S.C. GOP ruling, SLED spokesman Thom Berry confirmed to The Courier on Tuesday that the agency is conducting an investigation into allegations involving Bowers. Bowers said the investigation revolves around an issue related to filing problems during the 2012 Republican primary race between B.R. Skelton and Ed Harris for a S.C. House seat, a matter Bowers said was settled by a judge “years ago.”

The Journal’s Greg Oliver contributed to this story.