Voters in the race for the District 15 state Senate race narrowly decided this year that they wanted new blood in Columbia. But Wes Climer, who won the primary by 350 votes, could do worse than emulate the man he beat, 25-year incumbent Sen. Wes Hayes.
Hayes, who was lavishly praised by his colleagues on the floor of the Senate last week, has been conciliatory and philosophical about ending a career in the Legislature that began with a stint in the House from 1985 to 1991. He moved to the Senate the following year and has been re-elected ever since, mostly with token opposition and often none at all.
In 2012, he defeated primary opponent Joe Thompson, president of the tea party group S.C. District 5 Patriots, with 74 percent of the vote. Thompson was his first opposition since 1992. As in this year’s race, with no Democratic candidate, the winner of the GOP primary determined who would serve the district.
In this year’s primary, Gov. Nikki Haley, who had targeted Hayes for defeat, endorsed Climer. Hayes’ downfall resulted in large part from his willingness to work across party lines and seek compromise.
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But for most of his life in public office, those were traits that endeared him to voters. Hayes not only occupied the sensible middle, he also was adept at getting things done in an institution that is notoriously averse to doing so.
Hayes was a champion of public education. He did his best to ensure that education was adequately funded and opposed efforts to use public money to pay for private school vouchers or scholarships.
Last year, Hayes headed a panel that met while lawmakers weren’t in session to devise legislation to address the disparity in education funding in the state, as mandated by the state Supreme Court. He also was a member of the Senate Education Commission.
Hayes was a key figure in pressing for ethics reform, having served as chairman of the ethics commission in the aftermath of the 1990s Operation Lost Trust. This session, he was a key figure in shepherding the ethics bills that were approved last week. The legislation, while short of perfect, notably creates an independent panel to investigate ethical allegations against legislators’ and requires public officials to reveal where they get their income.
Hayes was among the most outspoken opponents of video poker, working to get the scurrilous games banned in the state. Hayes was central to negotiations that brought state and federal recognition for the Catawba Indian Nation, but he also fought to prevent the Catawbas from establishing a casino on their reservation.
He led the fight to raise the state’s cigarette tax for the first time in more than three decades, motivated, he said, by the desire to reduce smoking, especially among teenagers.
He was a dedicated advocate of the arts, co-chairing an arts caucus that includes most of the Legislature. He regularly joined most of his colleagues in voting to override vetoes by Haley of funding for the S.C. Arts Commission and other arts-related programs.
Climer, during the campaign, emphasized the need for term limits and a steady influx of new faces and new ideas. But we believe the district benefited significantly from Hayes’ long experience, his proven character and his devotion to putting the best interests of the state and its residents first.
Congratulations to Climer. He has been gracious in victory and has indicated a willingness to listen to different viewpoints and carefully monitor the pulse of his district.
As for Hayes, we hope he will continue to play a role in public life and serve as an advocate for worthy causes as a private citizen. We are grateful for his many years in the Legislature and for his leadership there.