With a week to go before the Republican primary in S.C. Senate District 15, incumbent Sen. Wes Hayes rolled out endorsements from several leading GOP senators at a Rock Hill news conference Monday, hoping to shore up his position in a hotly contested race.
Current Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, and former majority leader Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, were among four senators who spoke about Hayes’ leadership on the top issues facing the S.C. Legislature this year, along with Tom Young of Aiken and Greg Gregory of Lancaster.
Monday’s news conference comes after Hayes’ primary opponent, former York County GOP chairman Wes Climer, received an endorsement from Gov. Nikki Haley last week, and will host the governor at a fundraiser in Rock Hill on Thursday.
Peeler, whose district includes western York County, touted Hayes as the “dean of ethics reform” in the state Senate for his support of long-stalled efforts to strengthen ethics enforcement. He also praised Hayes’ work in promoting repairs to the state’s roads network, including his support for York County’s “Pennies for Progress” program that “laid the groundwork for the rest of the state.”
“If everyone had his vision for the infrastructure needs of this state, we wouldn’t have a roads-funding crisis,” Peeler said, adding “He had the vision before it was cool to complain about roads and bridges.”
He’s a freaking Ranger.
Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey on 82nd Airborne officer Wes Hayes
Massey said he’s seen fliers sent out criticizing Hayes for the Legislature’s struggles to pass a roads bill that would reform the Department of Transportation and boost funding for repairs to the state’s extensive roads network.
“I laughed,” Massey said. When the roads bill was being filibustered in the Senate, “it was possible we weren’t going to pass anything at all, and Wes Hayes changed that almost by himself. ... We were stuck, and Wes Hayes found a way to get out of it.”
While the General Assembly eventually passed a roads bill this year, an ethics bill didn’t make it over the finish line before the session adjourned. Gregory said ethics reform would suffer “a significant setback” if Hayes isn’t there next year to work on it.
He compared Hayes’ efforts on ethics to another historic advocate for reform in the British Parliament.
“William Wilberforce toiled for many years to end the slave trade,” Gregory said. “Criticizing Wes Hayes for not passing ethics reform is like criticizing William Wilberforce for not ending the slave trade.”
Career politicians rally to protect one of their own.
Senate candidate Wes Climer, on Senate leadership endorsement of Hayes
Climer wasn’t impressed with the accolades heaped on Hayes on Monday.
“It’s no surprise that career politicians would rally to protect one of their own,” Climer said. “They’re always resistant to change, and they know I’m going to fight for term limits, I’m going to fight for real ethics reform.”
In recent weeks, Haley has also endorsed challengers to other long-serving Republicans she’s clashed with on one issue or another, including Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, the Senate’s president pro tempore and one of the most powerful members of the Legislature, and Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Horry, chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee.
Hayes said Haley seemed to be out to “erase the senior leadership” of the chamber.
... on this one she missed the mark.
Sen. Harvey Peeler, on Gov. Nikki Haley’s endorsement of Climer
But Massey said he didn’t come to Rock Hill to close ranks with his party’s incumbents.
“I’m not going to Florence. I’m not going to Myrtle Beach. This might be the only one I’m going to make,” Massey said of Hayes, who served in the 82nd Airborne Division.
“He’s served his entire life. He’s a freaking Ranger,” he said. “I agree with the governor 98 percent of the time, but I don’t understand this one.”
Likewise, Peeler believes “the governor doesn’t have a stronger ally than me, but on this one she missed the mark.”
For his part, Hayes welcomed the endorsements of what he called the “best of conservative leadership in the Senate,” and hoped it would carry over to the primary on June 14.
“I think the momentum is building,” he said. “We’re going to peak at the right time.”