AIKEN -- The race for the South Carolina House of Representatives seat held by the late Rudy Mason for nearly three terms has developed into a contest among three Republicans, all of whom call themselves conservative, and one independent who finds fault with both parties.
Kathryn Kling, Robert S. "Skipper" Perry and Rebekah Sutherland will face voters in the Aug. 17 Republican primary.
The winner of that contest will likely go on to face petition candidate Scott Singer, who turned in more than 1,350 signatures to the Aiken County elections office Thursday.
If 1,026 of those signatures are valid, Mr. Singer will be on the ballot in the Oct. 5 special election.
If none of the three GOP hopefuls wins a majority in the Republican primary, the top two vote-getters will meet in a runoff Aug. 31.
Mr. Perry, a 26-year veteran of Aiken City Council and mayor pro tem, was the first to announce his candidacy, doing so on June 16 -- two days before filing opened.
His campaign kickoff was notable for the number of local Republican Party officeholders, including state Sen. Greg Ryberg, Mayor Fred Cavanaugh, Aiken County Sheriff Howard Sellers and Aiken County Council Chairman Ronnie Young, who came out in support of his candidacy.
"I have a strong record of opposing new taxes while serving on Aiken City Council," Mr. Perry said. Most recently, he engaged in a losing battle against the city's imposition of a 2 percent hospitality tax and a 3 percent accommodation tax on restaurants and overnight lodging passed by the city council in March.
In addition, Mr. Perry promises to fight to reduce the automobile tax if he reaches the state legislature.
"Our car taxes are some of the highest in the country. People want their car taxes lowered," he said.
Mr. Perry has pledged to be a voice against video poker if elected and wrote a letter in mid-July to House Speaker David Wilkins, pledging to continue Mr. Mason's fight against video poker, the subject of a referendum Nov. 3.
"Even though the issue will be taken up by the voters of South Carolina in a November ballot initiative, we believe the newly elected representative from House Seat 81 should use their position as a `bully pulpit' in the fight against video poker," he said. "To protect our children and maintain decency in our community, we will use the power and prestige of the office to rally support in favor of banning video poker."
He does not think the lottery is the answer to South Carolina's edu
"It's the biggest sucker bet going, and it's a terrible way to teach our kids."
Mrs. Sutherland said she intends to vote against video gambling in the November referendum but also seems skeptical of the reasons it has become an issue, calling it "a smoke screen issue" that has brought money into the coffers of both Republicans and Democrats.
"We have made video poker constitutionally legal. It is considered a legitimate business; therefore, I must protect the interests of that business," Mrs. Sutherland contends.
She maintains that it is up to the people to change the constitution and ban video poker.
Mrs. Sutherland is opposed to a lottery, especially one that would "support socialist programs in education."
If the lottery passes in a referendum scheduled for 2000, "I will create a law that makes sure that every penny we get is returned to the communities."
She charges that in Virginia a large proportion of money raised by the lottery goes to an advertising campaign.
"The lottery did not work. It did not educate children," she said.
Describing herself as a constitutional, standardized Republican, Mrs. Sutherland says she is opposed to the car tax as well as payroll and property taxes because they are unconstitutional, and she has a plan to bring revenue into the state without these taxes.
She would not reveal her plan in the campaign but will introduce legislation to put the plan in action if she is elected.
"I can triple the amount of money that comes into the state and take less money out of family pockets," she said.
This is Mrs. Sutherland's third run for office, most recently for state superintendent of schools, a race she lost to Democrat Inez Tenenbaum in 1998.
This will be her second race for the District 81 seat. She ran against the then-incumbent Mr. Mason in the 1996 Republican primary and lost.
Ms. Kling has also made an unsuccessful race for the District 81 seat, entering the Republican primary against Mr. Mason in 1994. Mr. Mason went on to defeat Democrat Irene Rudnick and held the seat until his death in June.
This year as then, Ms. Kling has made her opposition to abortion a major issue in her campaign.
"Mine will always be a vote to support the sanctity of life," a conviction that came to her after her own abortion in a Columbia clinic in 1988.
"That experience pushed me into research on abortion and I ended up testifying for the Woman's Right to Know bill passed some years ago by the South Carolina Legislature," she said.
"Abortion for whatever purpose is a violation of a woman's body and the killing of an unwanted baby," she said.
She is interested in children's issues but says the lottery would not help education.
"The lottery is gambling, and I don't believe in gambling," she says. She says the average voter has been deceived about the lottery.
"Other states that have had the lottery have not improved education. The lottery is not the panacea that educational advocates want to make it," she charges.
In addition, she charges that the legislature has not done all it can to cut taxes and thinks more state money should be returned to communities.
"This year the legislature approved $20 million to help subsidize car tax reduction. However, this is a drop in the bucket when you consider that there are probably close to 20 million cars in South Carolina," she said.
She charges that the state promised to use any surplus in the state budget to return money to communities to replace the car tax.
"We have had a surplus in the state budget for several years. The government should be giving some of that money to the taxpayers rather than thinking up new ways to spend the extra money," she says.
On Thursday night, each of the three GOP candidates will be given a chance to speak at the monthly meeting of the Republican Party at 7 p.m. at the County Council complex on Richland Avenue. The meeting is open to the public.