Originally created 04/03/00

House hopefuls prepare for vote



Voters in South Carolina's House District 83 go to the polls Tuesday to select nominees to succeed Scott Beck, the two-term legislator who resigned in January to take a job with the state attorney general.

Three Republicans and two Democrats are vying for the right to become their party's standardbearer in the special election set for May 23.

The GOP race is a heated primary between Aiken County Councilman Eddie Butler, North Augusta City Councilman Don Smith and attorney Arthur Shealy. Each claims the mantle of conservative; each promises responsive constituent service and fiscal responsibility.

The seat they seek is considered a Republican shoo-in because one-time Democrat Tom Huff switched to the GOP more than a decade ago. As a Republican, Mr. Huff occupied the District 83 seat -- which largely encompasses North Augusta and Belvedere -- until he resigned in 1996 to become an appeals court judge. Mr. Beck out-polled former county school board member Sheran Proctor to complete Mr. Huff's unexpired term and went on to win two full terms.

Political newcomer Evelyn T. Robinson and the Rev. Dr. Nathaniel Irvin, pastor of Old Storm Branch Baptist Church, hope to retake the seat for the Democrats. But first, primary voters must decide Tuesday who will make the Democratic challenge in the heavily Republican North Augusta area.

Although all candidates consider education a top issue and agree that class sizes should be smaller, Mrs. Robinson and Dr. Irvin emphasize more parental involvement in schools. Mrs. Robinson is adamant that school volunteers can make a difference in education.

The two Democrats differ sharply on the lottery, with Dr. Irvin declaring "I am against video poker and, personally speaking, against the lottery." He contends that education should not "be subjected to the whims of the lottery," but Mrs. Robinson says the lottery would go a long way to bringing needed funding to school systems.

It's a position supported by Mr. Butler and Mr. Smith, but the two Republicans differ on use of the money.

Mr. Butler says only that "every penny of the money should be earmarked for education and stay in education." Mr. Smith says that although he doesn't like the lottery because it amounts to a tax on those who can least afford it, he would "insist that proceeds from the lottery be used for public schools rather than for college scholarships."

Mr. Shealy takes a different tack. He says gambling is wrong but a referendum on the lottery raises another question: "South Carolina citizens do not currently have the right to enact laws or repeal them."

Should none of the GOP candidates receive a majority in Tuesday's primary, a runoff is scheduled for April 18 to determine who will face the Democratic nominee May 23.

But that won't be the end of it, because Mr. Beck would have been up for re-election in November had he remained in office. So the three Republicans and two Democrats have filed to run again in party primaries June 13.

Reach Pat Willis at (803) 279-6895.