Charleston S.C. Democratic Sen. Marlon Kimpson
Jeremy Walters, a Fort Mill carpenter and chairman of the York County Libertarian Party, says no one listened to him when he tried to get two Charleston candidates booted from the ballot before an election earlier this month. He’d filed a lawsuit in September, and now he hopes it can somehow overturn the election of Charleston Democratic Sen. Marlon Kimpson.
Walters accuses Kimpson, a Mt. Pleasant lawyer and now state senator, of putting the wrong year on an income disclosure form called a “statement of economic interest” (SEI) when he filed as a candidate. Kimpson, and his Republican opponent Billy Shuman, put the year 2013 on the form instead of 2012, Walters argued in a Sept. 26 lawsuit he filed without an attorney. The libertarian candidate in that race, Alex Thornton, filed the form correctly, Walters says. Those dates match with what the State Ethics Commission has on file for the three candidates.
Although Walters wants Kimpson’s election thrown out, he admits it doesn’t seem likely. But he says the lawsuit is the only way to bring attention to what the Libertarian sees as a larger problem of powerful elites bending the law to their favor.
“What else am I supposed to do?” says Walters. “They’re violating the law. No one will do anything about it because they police themselves. There’s nobody to watch over these people. So this is my whole point of filing the lawsuit ... to prove that these people can do whatever they want.”
Whether anyone violated the law would likely be up to whoever hears Walters’ lawsuit — if it doesn’t get dismissed. Walters says so far no one has responded to the suit. “They think it’s a joke,” he says.
The crux of the matter is this: last year, scores of non-incumbent candidates were kicked off ballots in elections throughout the state after a lawsuit challenged whether one candidate, Katrina Shealy, who was running for Senate, had improperly filed her SEI by only filing electronically and not also in person as the law required. A court ruled Shealy hadn’t filed properly, and the penalty was that her name be removed from the ballot. It had implications for hundreds of other candidates. Incumbents were immune from the filing rule. (Incidentally, Shealy ran as a petition candidate by gathering enough signatures to get on the ballot in the general election and won her election against Jake Knotts, who is largely believed to have been behind the original lawsuit.)
Lawmakers quickly fixed the technical glitch in the paperwork-filing law during the last legislative session so technicalities in the way SEI forms are handled in the future won’t result in such drastic consequences. But Kimpson’s election was the last in South Carolina to take place before the amended law went into effect, says Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the S.C. Elections Commission.
Cathy Hazelwood, the deputy director and attorney for the State Ethics Commission, says she frequently sees similar instances of candidates putting 2013 on the SEI form instead of 2012.
“There’s a least one mistake on every single daily report,” she says. “For us, would it be a deal breaker? No.” Hazelwood says she sends e-mails asking candidates to fix the dates so it doesn’t become a problem in the future. Kimpson’s filing still has the 2013 date. Hazelwood believes it should read 2012, but says many other senators are using a 2013 date rather than 2012 and Senate rules allow them to.
That bugs Walters who says lawmakers policing themselves makes them unaccountable to citizens like him. He feels a lawsuit is the only way to settle the dispute.
As for the process of overturning an election, Whitmire says the way to do so is by filing an official protest.
No one has filed a protest in Kimpson’s election.
Walters, however, says he spoke with Whitmire and a lawyer for the S.C. Senate prior to the election. He says the Senate lawyer brushed his complaint aside. Whitmire suggested Walters talk to Republican and Democratic Party officials in Charleston about his complaints. He did, and the party leaders told him they wouldn’t take their candidates off the ballot, he says. Also named in the suit is the State Election Commission because the agency allowed Kimpson and Shuman on the ballot, Walters says.
A Kimpson advisor calls the whole thing ridiculous.
“Kimpson won all three elections by a landslide, so the people have spoken and had three separate occasions to do so,” says Lachlan McIntosh, who ran the senator’s successful campaign. “He’s been sworn-in and already working hard for the citizens of District 42.”
Walters is undeterred. He thinks even those who run elections in the state don’t have a firm grasp of the law.
“I’m just a carpenter. I’m not even a lawyer. I don’t even have a high school education,” Walters says. “I know the law. Why? Because I read it. I understand it. I asked questions about it. And they didn’t know it, and that’s what triggered this whole thing.”
Walters has garnered attention before. Last year he crusaded for child custody reform, using his personal story of trying to get shared custody of his son following a divorce. He also tried to run for a House seat as a Republican in 2012 but was rebuffed by local party leaders. He filed as a Libertarian instead, and when the Supreme Court’s ballot bomb dropped, it wiped out Walters’ Republican opponent. Walters almost became the first Libertarian in state history to win a House seat. But his one-time GOP opponent got back on the ballot with petition signatures and beat him.
“I get all torqued up over this,” Walters says. “My main goal is to have the public aware. People don’t think that they have any control over their elections.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story quoted Walters as saying he was “all twerked up.” He said he was “all torqued up.”