In a battle of young, first-year candidates, Republican Brandon Newton captured over 64 percent of the vote to defeat Democrat Tyler Mitchell for the S.C. House District 45 seat.
Newton, of Lancaster, had 8,439 votes to 4,627 for Mitchell, an Indian Land resident, according to unofficial results. At 22 years old, Newton will be the youngest serving member in the S.C. Legislature. Anderson Republican Joshua A. Putnam (S.C. House District 10), 25, is currently the youngest. Mitchell is 23.
Newton succeeds Republican incumbent Deborah Long, who has served since 2009 and declined to seek re-election. Newton said he expected to win, but not by such a large margin.
“You never get overconfident,” he said. “I always felt good (campaigning) on the ground, that I got a good reception at the door and on the phone, but I did not expect that high of a number.”
Newton, 22, is the manager of student life at USC-Lancaster and has spent his life in Lancaster County, having graduated from Lancaster High School and attending USC-Lancaster before earning two degrees from the University of South Carolina. Newton has served with the Lancaster County Republican Party for the past two years.
One of his goals, he said, is revamping the way state-run colleges and universities are funded. His chief complaint is that schools that may have a bigger footprint but fewer students than other schools get the lion’s share of funding.
“USC-L gets a lot less money than others in the state university system and that has to change,” he said. “We need to go to per-pupil funding.”
Newton said his No. 1 priority though – because it’s tops among constituents – is finding a permanent source of revenue to fund infrastructure projects across the state and he’s strongly in favor of raising the fuel tax.
“They want their roads fixed and they want their government reformed and I’ve been saying since the beginning that we need to raise the gas tax by 10 cents. It’s been No. 1 this entire campaign and I haven’t met too many people who don’t think so, so I think we’ll have a robust discussion on that.”
Other priorities include giving Republican Gov. Nikki Haley what she’s asked for – the power to appoint her own department heads. He said constituents he’s talked to agree.
“They want their government reformed,” Newton said. “I think having a smaller government and business-friendly policy is important to this district.”
Coming in as the young legislator in South Carolina won’t be an issue getting in the way of his agenda, Newton said.
“The Senate is seniority-based, but in the House, you’re all equal,” he said. “I don’t think my age will be a hindrance. I might see things in a different way than some older people, but what I want is modern, conservative change.”
Newton said he’s grateful to get the support that’s sending him to Columbia.
“(To voters) I want to say, ‘Thank you so much for your vote of confidence.’ I’m humbled and honored to have this opportunity to serve.”
Mitchell, 23, attended Indian Land schools and went on to The Citadel, where he earned his degree. Mitchell is currently in law school.
District 45 spans part of Fort Mill, in the Doby’s Bridge road area, to Indian Land and Van Wyck in the panhandle of Lancaster County, half of the city of Lancaster and the part of Rock Hill along the Catawba Indian Reservation
Michael Harrison: 803-326-4315, @MikeHarrisonFMT