Democrat Byron Gipson won Tuesday’s general election in a landslide, becoming the next 5th Circuit solicitor.
Gipson, 46, a Columbia trial lawyer who has never held public office, defeated petition candidate John Meadors, 56, for a position that has come under scrutiny after members of the previous administration were indicted on fraud.
“People are hungry for something better, and we are going to provide that,” Gipson said in an interview Tuesday evening. “(Voters) understand that you’ve got to be accountable for taxpayers’ money.”
Voters in Richland County carried Gipson to victory, while Meadors narrowly won Kershaw County.
The 5th Circuit solicitor is the chief law enforcement officer in Richland and Kershaw counties, tasked with overseeing all criminal prosecutions. The 144-person office has a $10 million budget, 42 assistant prosecutors and a variety of court diversion programs. The position pays $141,300 a year.
In June, Gipson defeated incumbent Dan Johnson in the Democratic primary, blocking what had been considered a certain victory for Johnson, who was seeking a third term. That was until a watchdog group, Public Access to Public Records, released financial records from Johnson’s office, which outlined a secret, lavish lifestyle on the taxpayer’s dime. Johnson is facing 26 counts of fraud and theft in federal court.
Gipson, who has tried cases in civil, criminal and family courts across the state, pledged to be a good financial steward and increase transparency. He plans to audit both offices in Richland and Kershaw counties, and then introduce safeguards to prevent the misuse of taxpayer money.
“People have lost trust in the office, and there were just allegations galore,” he said. “I want people to know how the money is spent because, quite frankly, you should never talk about where the money is in the solicitor’s office unless you’re prosecuting someone who stole it.”
In July, Meadors submitted 13,461 signatures to the State Election Commission to challenge Gipson as a petition candidate. Meadors spent more than 20 years as a prosecutor with the 5th Circuit solicitor’s office, working his way up from assistant solicitor to deputy solicitor.
Looking ahead, Gipson said he wants to put violent criminals on notice, while also ensuring treatment programs are properly funded and applied to those who need them.
“When there’s violent crime, we’re going to be tough. We’d love to be a deterrent,” he said. “But I also want people to understand ... the old trend of arresting everyone truly doesn’t work. We have to be more innovative with our resources so folks who have these issues get the treatment they need so they’re better acclimated to society, and become productive members. That’s what it’s all about.”
5th Circuit Solicitor
- Byron Gipson (D) 95,479
- John Meadors (PET) 36,852
(183 of 183 precincts reporting)