When John King kicked off his campaign for the S.C. House three months ago, he quickly took aim at payday lending, calling it a problem that is crippling the community.
As Montrio Belton speaks to voters in churches and on the streets, one of the first questions they ask is what he'll do to curb payday lending.
The two Democrats are finding a common undercurrent in their race to succeed the retiring Bessie Moody-Lawrence: People in District 49 want to know what can be done to crack down on an industry many view as predatory.
King and Belton advocate different approaches for confronting the issue.
Both candidates say they favor the complete elimination of payday lending, but Belton sees it as fruitless to pursue a total ban while Republicans are in power. He thinks Democrats should push for compromises given the political reality in Columbia.
"John was astute enough to realize that was a hot-button issue with the people, and so he's offering emotional rhetoric," Belton said. "But the reality of it is that this current Republican administration won't even bring it to vote."
King takes a different view.
"I don't ever say never to anything," he said. "I will go down there and show the other legislators how it has destroyed our state and our community, in the hopes we can come to an agreement. I don't go down there with the mindset of saying it will happen or it won't, but I will work hard to make sure the views of the people of District 49 are heard."
Payday lenders contend they offer a needed service. The alternative, they say, is for people to bounce checks, fall behind on their utility bills or turn to shady Internet lenders.
Belton said he would push to cap interest rates and impose limits on how many times people can visit a payday lender. He also would encourage cities and towns to enact tougher zoning rules limiting where lenders can operate, citing Rock Hill's new regulations as an example.
King nearly won the District 49 seat two years ago. He lost to Moody-Lawrence by nine votes and essentially never stopped running. The district covers southern York County, including parts of Rock Hill and York.
The winner in the June 10 primary will advance to face Republican Marvin Rogers in the general election.
Matt Garfield • 329-4063