LAKE WYLIE -- The political battle raging on mailers and road signs across northern York County moved to a debate table on Friday, as state House opponents Carl Gullick and Kyle Boyd sat down for their first joint appearance.
In a one-hour session that followed mostly predictable storylines, Boyd accused Gullick of failing to live up to conservative principles, while Gullick argued the state's biggest House district deserves better than to be represented by a puppet.
"If I had my opponent's record, I'd be looking for smoke and mirrors," Boyd said. "Because he is a bona fide, 100 percent liberal and a 'RINO.' If you're going to try to label me some SCRG puppet, I absolutely am not."
Responded Gullick: "I'm here to represent the people, not be a rubber stamp and represent the governor. I'll cast the best vote I can. Whether it agrees with the governor is secondary."
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For those unfamiliar with the latest monikers, a RINO is a Republican-in-Name-Only, a term for Republicans accused of selling out on the conservative cause.
SCRG refers to South Carolinians for Responsible Government, a conservative Columbia-based interest group targeting Gullick and other moderate legislators around the state.
In other words, welcome to primary season in South Carolina.
Since winning District 48 two years ago, Gullick has broken with Gov. Mark Sanford on a number of issues, most notably the concept of school choice, which provides vouchers and tax credits to families who send their children to private schools.
Gullick voted for tighter rules on immigration, along with lowering the grocery tax and defining marriage as between a man and woman. But other votes, such as supporting a cigarette tax increase, helped earn him an "F" rating from a tax-cut advocacy group called the Club for Growth. About 100 legislators received the same grade.
In Gullick's view, his opposition to school vouchers also prompted SCRG to recruit Boyd into the primary.
During Friday's debate, Boyd used the term "true conservative" close to a dozen times. Earlier this month, he appeared at an SCRG news conference in Columbia. His campaign is being advised by Clover's Park Gillespie, a former activist for SCRG. Mailers and phone calls criticizing Gullick's record were paid for by SCRG.
But his motivations are simple, Boyd says: "I'm not a political hack. I'm not even a polished speaker," he said. "I'm here because I believe in the true conservative Republican Party."
The final decision belongs to the estimated 33,000 voters in District 48, which covers Fort Mill, Tega Cay and Lake Wylie. The primary is June 10.