Originally created 06/12/06

4 want shot at office



COLUMBIA - State treasurer isn't the government's most visible position.

But it's among the most powerful.

Investing $30 billion, directing the future of the retirement system, sitting on the influential Budget and Control Board - all that and more falls on the treasurer's shoulders.

For most of the past 40 years, that's been Democrat Grady Patterson.

But four men - Rick Quinn, Thomas Ravenel, Greg Ryberg and Jeff Willis - face each other in the Republican primary Tuesday in hopes of unseating Mr. Patterson in November.

"People become very interested in this race when they hear of the financial problems of the South Carolina retirement system," said Mr. Ryberg, a state senator from Aiken.

"They get very excited when they start hearing about positive financial leadership in this office," he said.

The four men share the goals of restoring the state's AAA credit rating and improving the financial footing of the state's retirement system.

But they've spent a lot of time and money trying to distance themselves from the other candidates.

Mr. Ryberg gave $2 million to his own campaign; Mr. Ravenel has given his own campaign $455,000.

That has enabled the men to blanket the state in radio and TV ads.

It's a lesson they say they learned from their previous statewide campaigns.

Mr. Ryberg ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer in 2002, and Mr. Ravenel sought the GOP nomination for U.S. senator in 2004.

"I've learned that if you don't get your name ID high enough, you've got a problem," Mr. Ryberg said. "At the end of the day, you need to have high name ID in order to get elected."

Mr. Ravenel said he regrets not buying ad time in the Savannah and Augusta markets in 2004.

"If we'd been in those markets, I'd be in the Senate right now," he said.

Mr. Quinn, though, believes there's a downside to that much personal spending.

"I think there's somewhat of a backlash," he said. "People say, 'If you're going to spend your money that way, how are you going to spend ours?'"

Among Mr. Quinn's goals if he becomes treasurer: no deficit spending by the Budget and Control Board, and keeping the state from doing business with companies that violate immigration laws.

Mr. Willis, a political newcomer, said he decided to run for treasurer after Homegold went bankrupt.

"When they went bankrupt, I looked at my sister and said, 'You know, if my mother was alive, she'd be broke,'" Mr. Willis said.

As a homebuilder married to the chairman of the Pickens County Council, Mr. Willis said he has the business skills and understanding of local government necessary to be a good treasurer.

He downplays, too, the importance of having a recognizable name.

"Most people in South Carolina don't even know who the treasurer is (now), and he's been there for 40 years," he said.

As treasurer, Mr. Ryberg said he would like to consider moving toward a "defined contribution" retirement plan - such as 401(k) and 403(b) plans - versus the "defined benefits."

Under defined benefit plans, retirees are promised a specific monthly benefit.

"I think I'm supportive of the retirees and the retirement system because I want to make sure that it's solvent and it's there for them," he said.

Both Mr. Ryberg and Mr. Ravenel believe the treasurer should be appointed by the governor.

Mr. Ravenel hopes to use the treasurer's post as a "bully pulpit" to bring about government restructuring.

South Carolina can't attract businesses because the income tax is too high and the state is "lawsuit-friendly," he said.

"Right now, we don't have the proper checks and balances of the three branches, and the executive branch is too weak," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Reach Kirsten Singleton at (803) 414-6611 or kirsten.singleton@morris.com.



RICK QUINN

Age: 40

Occupation: Owner of direct-mail and Columbia office-leasing company

Education: Bachelor's degree in political science and media arts, University of South Carolina

Experience: State House member 1988-2004, including House majority leader 1998-2004; lost his House seat in the 2004 primary

Family: wife, Amy; daughter Caroline

Web site: www.rickquinn.com

THOMAS RAVENEL

Age: 43

Occupation: Founder of a commercial real estate development company

Education: Bachelor's degree from The Citadel, master's degree from the University of South Carolina

Experience: Funded a unsuccessful campaign for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate in 2004

Family: Single

Web site: www.ravenel2006.com

GREG RYBERG

Age: 59

Occupation: Founder of a convenience store chain; chief executive of REI Inc.

Education: Bachelor's degree in mathematics, Marquette University

Experience: state senator since 1993; unsuccessful run for treasurer in 2002

Family: Wife, Betty; three children

Web site: www.gregryberg.com

JEFF WILLIS

Age: 37

Career: Owns property management and landscaping business

Education: Bachelor's degree in mathematics and master's degree in accounting from Clemson University

Experience: None

FAMILY: Wife, Jennifer; three children

Web site: www.willisforsc.com

- Morris News Service