Candidates announce plans to run for House District 99 seat
Two local residents, Shawn Pinkston of Daniel Island and Mark Smith of Mount Pleasant, recently announced their intentions to run for South Carolina’s 99th District seat, a position that has been held by Rep. Jim Merrill for the last 16 years. In December 2016, Merrill was indicted by a grand jury on 30 counts - two for misconduct in office and 28 for violations of the Ethics, Government Accountability, and Campaign Reform Act of 1991. As a result of the indictments, per state law, he was suspended from the House of Representatives pending the outcome of the case. Merrill’s case is ongoing and as of yet a legal decision has not been made concerning the charges against him. Since then, the seat has remained vacant, and the 99th District, without a voice. As a former officer in the United States Army and a veteran of the war in Iraq, Pinkston aims to bring his experience and beliefs to a “State House plagued with controversy,” a press release states. “With the FBI and state law enforcement investigating current members of the General Assembly, ethics reform and an overhaul of the current Ethics Commission are top priorities for Pinkston,” the press release continues. Pinkston, a local attorney, explained that he is ready to bring his passion for improving communities to Columbia. “What I believe in is being a proactive leader and we have several issues affecting the Lowcountry,” said Pinkston. “…We need representation in Columbia to be able to fight and advocate for those issues. It’s not just maintaining a quality of life, but it’s improving the quality of life that we have in the Lowcountry.” What are those issues, exactly? Pinkston emphasized the importance of addressing traffic congestion and a lack of infrastructure; ensuring that the workforce has the education and training needed for today’s marketplace; streamlining government programs to make them more accountable to the taxpayer; and restoring principled leadership to Columbia. “There’s more developments coming in and apartment complexes being built,” said Pinkston. “The roads are already clogged with traffic. As the Lowcountry continues to develop, we have places where the infrastructure comes later. I want to be someone in Columbia who is fighting to bring money back to the Lowcountry to improve our roads…And with the influx of people, we also have to make sure our education system is fully ready to prepare future generations. We have to make sure we have STEAM and other areas, or other parts of that curriculum in place so that our workforce is ready for the jobs that are coming to the Lowcountry.” This is not Pinkston’s first time entering a political race. He ran in 2013 to represent South Carolina’s First Congressional District (a seat currently held by Rep. Mark Sanford), and in 2015 for Charleston City Council as a representative for District 1. Pinkston is a member of the Exchange Club of Charleston and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10624, serves as an elected member of the Daniel Island Community Association Board, and is the incoming President of the Daniel Island Neighborhood Association. He also states he has been active with the Daniel Island Rotary Club, in addition to coaching Little League sports and regularly volunteering with other charitable organizations. Prior to his service in the military, he served as communications director both for the Honorable Ron Lewis of Kentucky and for the President of the Kentucky Senate. Smith, a member of the Mount Pleasant Town Council and a successful businessman, also recently announced his decision to run for the S.C. House District 99 seat. “The great people of Mount Pleasant, Daniel Island, Hanahan, Wando, and Goose Creek deserve a strong voice in the State House,” said Smith in a press release. “Unfortunately, we have had no seat at the table for the last year—no voice during the budget or the infrastructure debate; I am running to change that. As a State Rep, I will continue providing honest, ethical and hard-working leadership.” Elected to Town Council in 2013, Smith has voted against every tax and fee increase and led the million-dollar savings charge by pushing for self-insuring workers’ compensation, according to a press release. “Elected officials must be accountable to their constituents and all taxpayers,” continued Smith. “As the next representative for District 99, I will continue to practice fiscal responsibility and advocate for our community’s needs.” Smith, who donated his Council salary to local non-profits that assist children, families and seniors of the Lowcountry, highlighted the need for ethics reform in Columbia. “For too long, many elected officials have treated their positions of authority as means to line their pockets and climb the political ladder; we must end that,” added Smith. “I want to be an agent of change in Columbia, a leader our area can all be proud of.” Like Pinkston, Smith also emphasized the important role played by education and infrastructure in economic growth. “We must have a workforce and road system that encourages business investment in our district and state,” added Smith. “As State Rep, I will promote reductions in regulations that hamper job creators, reforms to cut transportation projects’ red tape and common-sense solutions to unleash economic liberty for all.” Merrill said he has not yet made a decision on whether or not he will seek re-election (state law dictates that he can run, even if he is suspended from office), but he did have a message for his potential opponents for the seat. “I have no problem with anyone running for office,” said Merrill. “It is not my seat, it’s the voters’ seat and I wish them good luck regardless of what I decide.” According to Berkeley County Elections and Voting Registration Director Adam Hammons, filing for all offices on the Nov. 6, 2018 ballot, including House 99, will open on Friday, Mar.16, 2018 at noon and close on Friday, Mar. 30, 2018 at noon. The Primary for any offices that require one will be held on Tuesday, June 12, 2018 with runoffs on Tuesday, June 26, 2018, if needed.