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Statewide candidates disagree on gay marriage, Scrooges, and voter ID laws

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The attorney general, secretary of state, and lieutenant governor tend to stay out of the spotlight — except during election season. Get to know your candidates. Election Day is Nov. 4.

Be ready to go to the polls, read our endorsements, profiles, and more in the 2014 Charleston City Paper Election Guide.

Attorney General

Parnell Diggs (Democratic)

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Let's talk about gay marriage. Last week, incumbent Attorney General Alan Wilson took on the unenviable task of defending South Carolina's constitutional amendment that defines marriage as strictly between a man and a woman. His opponent in the upcoming November election, Parnell Diggs, says he would not have defended that law.

"The writing is on the wall," Diggs says. "It's time that Alan Wilson sees that writing and enforces the law in South Carolina in accordance with the way the courts are headed."

To Diggs, the message was clear when the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to hear an appeal last Monday on a lower court's ruling that said Virginia's same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional. He says South Carolina, which is now the only state in the 4th Circuit with a gay marriage ban, should have gotten the message. "The state ban is unconstitutional because the 4th Circuit has said so, and the Supreme Court has decided, at least at this point, not to disturb that view," Diggs says.

Diggs, a general practice attorney from Garden City, has been an activist for most of his adult life. Born blind due to detached retinas, he has served as a state leader for the National Federation of the Blind since 2000. As an attorney general, he says he would stand in opposition to some of the decisions Wilson has made while in office.

"Advocacy is in my blood. People say the attorney general is not really an advocate, but in this case Alan Wilson is showing he is advocating for an issue that is important to him, and that is to limit marriage to a legal relationship between a man and a woman," Diggs says.

Diggs watched in dismay in recent years as Wilson fought against marriage equality, against the Affordable Care Act's mandated expansion of Medicaid, and in favor of a law that requires all South Carolina voters to show a photo ID at the polls. In support of the voter ID law, which some advocates have said presents poor people and minorities with an obstacle to voting, Wilson famously claimed that hundreds of votes had been cast in the name of people who were already deceased (the so-called "zombie voters" storyline of 2012). A subsequent report by the State Law Enforcement Division found absolutely no evidence to support Wilson's claim, and The Washington Post gave Wilson's statement a truth rating of Four Pinocchios.

"We should find ways to get people access to the ballot box instead of ways to keep them from voting," Diggs says. If elected, he says he would work on initiatives to promote voting in high schools and to pre-register teenagers so they can vote when they turn 18.

Alan Wilson (Republican, Incumbent)

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Attorney General Alan Wilson's campaign staff did not return multiple requests to set up an interview last week. In Wilson's defense, he was having a busy week. Wilson's campaign website, wilsonforag.com, states, "He has protected South Carolina's right-to-work, helped lead the 26-state challenge to the federal healthcare mandate, and successfully safeguarded South Carolina's voter identification and immigration laws in court. Alan works closely with other attorneys general across the nation to protect the rule of law and defend the constitution on issues such as Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, EPA overreach, Yucca Mountain, MOX facility, religious freedom, and many others."

Secretary of State

Ginny Deerin (Democrat)

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When Ginny Deerin looks at the secretary of state's office, she sees an inefficient bureaucracy in sore need of an update.

"In my view, it's kind of like the DMV was 12 years ago," Deerin says. "It's just stunningly yesterday, and it needs to be fixed."

Among Deerin's ideas for the office, she would like to move 99 percent of the forms online. She wants to look at moving the office off Statehouse grounds to a more accessible location elsewhere in Columbia. She also thinks the office should be appointed rather than elected, and she wants to cut $225,000 from the office personnel budget by reducing salaries and firing two employees. For this and other reasons, Deerin is the first Democrat to be endorsed by the fiscally conservative S.C. Club for Growth.

A former vice president of the Charleston marketing firm Rawle-Murdy, Deerin has spent recent years working on two nonprofits she founded: WINGS for Kids, which aims to help elementary school children develop social and emotional skills, and Project XX SC, an advocacy group that encourages women to run for elected office.

Coming from the nonprofit world, Deerin says the current secretary of state's office performs redundant roles that are done more effectively by the IRS. If elected, she says she would no longer require nonprofits to register and pay registration fees with the state office. She notes that all of the nonprofit information available on the secretary of state's website — and much more — is already available for free via nonprofit research websites like Guidestar and Charity Navigator, which allow users to read information provided to the IRS on annual Form 990 reports.

Deerin says she would end the office's practice of annually naming charities as "Scrooges and Angels" for their supposed effectiveness or ineffectiveness, a designation that is largely based on the percentage of expenditures that go toward program expenses (in fact, this percentage is one of the few facts that is given about any nonprofit on the secretary of state website).

"It's not in the constitution or written into the law that they're supposed to be rating charities," Deerin says. "That is an extracurricular activity the office has decided to do."

Deerin has criticized incumbent Secretary of State Mark Hammond for using his state-issued vehicle and taxpayer-funded fuel to drive back and forth from his home in Spartanburg to his office in Columbia. She says she would use her resources more efficiently.

"I would move to Columbia," Deerin says. "That's where the job is."

Mark Hammond (Republican, Incumbent)

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Now wrapping up his third term as secretary of state, Mark Hammond says he has learned a lot from meeting in person with his constituents.

"That's why I go out and do my notary seminars, because that's where I get feedback and that's what helps me to work on legislation," Hammond says. "The same with going out and talking to nonprofits. It's good to get out of the office and meet people. That's where you find out what these organizations and groups need."

The hallmarks of Hammond's administration include moving some business application forms online and going after fraudulent charitable solicitors. In 2013, Hammond's office banned a group called the Veterans Support Organization from operating in the state for 15 years after accusing the charity of misrepresenting how much money it spent on charitable programs and failing to register its employees as professional solicitors.

His office also releases an annual Scrooges and Angels report, a list of charities that either exhibit a "failure to spend a high percentage of its total expenditures on charitable programs" (Scrooges) or "exemplify charitable giving in South Carolina" (Angels).

While Deerin has said that forcing charities to register with a state office in addition to the IRS is redundant, Hammond says his office is able to provide a closer level of scrutiny and to notify the public when it takes action against an organization. "The IRS only investigates 1 percent of those filings," Hammond says. "Also, the IRS has raised their exemption up to $50,000, and I still believe $50,000 is a lot of money, whereas you have to register in the state at $20,000 if you have tax exemption status."

As for Deerin's plans to cut office staff and reduce the office budget, Hammond says she is merely "playing politics."

"I can't understand how she's going to provide all of these new services that she talks about and cut the budget and reduce the staff. It would be impossible," Hammond says.

Hammond says 44 of the most commonly used forms from his office are available on the secretary of state website now, and while he intends to add some more — along with public access to articles of incorporation and trademarks registered with the state — he says Deerin's plan to move most forms online is unrealistic. "Some of these forms are not frequently used, and I don't think we could justify the cost of placing a lot of those forms online because of the expense," Hammond says.

Recently, Hammond has taken criticism from Deerin for his use of a state-owned vehicle, a perk of the office, to drive back and forth from his house in Spartanburg to his office in Columbia using taxpayer-funded fuel. He says he logged 23,000 personal miles last year, all of which he filed as taxable benefits.

A report by The State last week revealed that Hammond only went to his office an average of 2.9 days per week in the course of a year. He told The State that he was spending time out in the field with his constituents. "With a job like this, you have to get out and meet people," he said.

Lieutenant Governor

Henry McMaster (Republican)

Republican candidate Henry McMaster did not reply to multiple requests for an interview. He previously served as attorney general from 2003 to 2011 and made an unsuccessful run in the GOP primary for the 2010 gubernatorial election. He is scheduled to participate in a debate hosted by SCETV on Thurs. Oct. 16. from 7 to 8 p.m.

Bakari Sellers (Democratic)

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When Rep. Bakari Sellers (D-Bamberg) was first elected in 2006 at age 22, he was the youngest member of the General Assembly. Now, at 30, he is just barely old enough to run for lieutenant governor, and he's forgoing a shot at re-election in November to run for the office.

"If I want constituents to believe in me, I have to give it my all," Sellers explains.

Although the office of lieutenant governor is second in command of South Carolina's executive branch, it is largely a ceremonial position. The lieutenant governor is president of the Senate but does not get a vote unless the Senate needs a tiebreaker. In fact, perhaps the biggest duty of the lieutenant governor is to run the state's Office on Aging. Sellers says he has a few ideas for that office.

For one thing, he wants to create a senior fraud task force. Sellers says he would spend part of his first day in office calling state officials including the attorney general and U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles and asking for their help in educating senior citizens about high-tech money scams — and punishing the perpetrators.

"We want to build a taskforce that's collaborative, because a lot of sheriff's departments don't have the resources to combat these frauds," Sellers says. "We'll do everything we can if someone perpetrates a fraud on a senior to target them and root them out of the community, to make sure we set an example so it doesn't happen again."

In the Office on Aging, Sellers says he would also like to foster a collaboration on Alzheimer's research between MUSC, the College of Charleston, Coastal Carolina University, and the University of South Carolina School of Medicine. He also says he wants to re-assess senior transportation programs across the state, pointing to Senior Action's transportation service in Greenville as a program that "does it the right way in a lot of ways."

In his time in the state House of Representatives, Sellers has become a rising star of the Democratic Party. Recently, he co-sponsored a bill that would increase criminal penalties for domestic violence. He says he would like to continue having an active role in passing legislation, even though he wouldn't be voting anymore.

"I look forward to being a lieutenant governor who's involved in the legislative process, probably more so than anybody in the past, who will go and get that bill when it passes the House, hopefully, and work with Democrats and Republicans in the Senate to pass that legislation," Sellers says.

We talked with candidates for State Superintendent of Education last week and the candidates for Agriculture Commissioner earlier this year.

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