Tea Party Candidate Challenges S.C. Speaker

'Fair Tax' John Steinberger files as a petition candidate against the GOP incumbent.

A Charleston man known for his outspoken views on reforming the state's tax code has joined 43 other petition candidates vying to take down incumbent legislators.

But "Fair Tax" John Steinberger may have more of an uphill battle than most.

He's challenging S.C. Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell, who's been in Columbia for 20 years and has a spendthrift political action committee.

"Speaker Harrell is, without question, the most powerfulman in South Carolina," Steinberger said. "It's going to be a challenge."

But Steinberger hopes his tea party ties, his committment to Fair Tax and 2012's unprecedented number of petition candidates will swing the odds in his favor.

"I'm going to depend on grass roots support," Steinberger said, adding he plans to hit the pavement hard and meet with any group that invites him to speak.

His opponent Harrell was originally elected to the House in 1992 for District 114, which includes land west of Charleston that hugs the Ashley River (West Ashley and southwest Dorchester County). He served as House Majority Leader 1997-1999. In 2005, after serving as the House Ways and Means Committee chair for six years, Harrell was elected Speaker. 

In April, the Post and Courtier reported Harrell's Palmetto Leadership Council had "channeled about a half-million dollars in the last four years to the S.C. House Republican Caucus, to the state Republican Party and to more than 130 mostly incumbent Republican candidates for legislative office." Click here to read more.

Harrell also has an R next to his name during a presidential election, when voters may be more likely to vote straight-ticket. Steinberger is running as a petition candidate and will have no party affiliation, despite being a Republican.

Charleston Tea Party Chair Mike Murphree said tea party candidates without the Republican Party will have a harder time getting noticed in November.

"Voters are going to hit R or D, and walk out the door. That's going to be tough," Murphree said. "I wish he was on the ballot as a Republican, Democrat or a Liberatarian, that petition candidate puts you on a tough road ... I don't want to rain on his parade but he has an uphill battle." 

According to an Island Packet story, nearly 50 percent of S.C. general election voters voted straight-ticket in 2008 and 2010.

Murphree's organization and other tea party organizations throughout the state are working to educate voters to vote for the candidate and not the party, something especially important this year as the state saw hundreds of non-incumbents purged from the ballot.

"It will have to be different this time," Steinberger said.

In March, Steinberger filed as a GOP candidate for the S.C. Senate District 41 seat, but due to improper filing procedures that plagued nearly 250 non-incumbents across the state, he was removed from the ballot prior to the June 12 primary. Not wanting to run against his fellow Republican in the special election race against a Democrat, Steinberger focused on gathering the needed signatures to run a petition campaign against Harrell. 

No Democrats have filed for District 114. 

On Monday, Steinberger turned in 1,650 signatures, and the county elections board will verify those signatures between now and noon Aug. 15. 

Winning as a petition candidate has been done before in the Palmetto State, but not recently, according to a S.C. Elections Commission spokesman. James Bubba Cromer, a petition candidate, defeated Republican Robert H. Burnside Jr. for House District 80 in the 1990 general election.  

While some have claimed the ballot fiasco in South Carolina potential disenfranchised voters, Steinberger and Murphree said it reinvigorated the anti-incumbent movement, seen in the tea party and liberty groups.

Unlike many candidates now who will say they "align" themselves with tea party ideology, Steinberger fully embraces the question of if he's a tea party candidate by saying "absolutely." He regularly attends tea party meetings and classes. He also attends 9-12 meetings.

Steinberger is known as Fair Tax John — he even has a twitter handle @fairtaxjohn. And someone made a parody handle @johnsteinbuggar to lampoon him for running against Harrell when the Speaker is one of 67 cosponsors on the S.C. Fair Tax legislation.

Steinberger, the real one, isn't appeased by Harrell allowing the legislation to stall.

"It never got a hearing," Steinberger said. 

Fair Tax, a reform in the state's income tax code designed to eliminate loopholes and confusion, and make the system more "fair," is Steinberger's claim to fame. He's on the board of S.C. Fair Tax.

"It will make us the free-est state in the country," Steinberger said. 

Fair Tax isn't his only platform. Steinberger also wants to see economic development funding slashed, school choice and the state directly funding schools, not districts. He also wants to seek a constitutional amendment to not allow budget increases beyond the rate of inflation.

"We're consistently the highest in the nation for unemp ... (our economic development strategy) hasn't been working," Steinberger said. "I'd like to see us grow jobs and incomes."

reg July 20, 2012 at 05:57 PM
We already have low state income taxes; it's the flat fees that are used in many cases of state sales taxes that hurt us (and disproportionately, too - consider the vehicle sales taxes, for example). In comparison to all 50 states, SC ranks 47th in personal income tax rates; that's 4th lowest in the country. Under FairTax, it seems like more sales taxes would be used to replace the income taxes, and that would restrict individual purchasing power, in my opinion - everyone will have to pay more upfront, which will reduce the gross amounts that can be purchased at the same time.
SDR July 20, 2012 at 06:46 PM
The fairtax would apply when money is spent, not when it is earned. The income(and payroll) tax keeps the poor man down. With a dynamic understanding of economics, Thinking people get excited about the Fairtax once they are familiar with the concept. The small thinkers are intimidated by something different, even if it helps them and the poor.
reg July 20, 2012 at 08:23 PM
the formats of 'fair tax' that I've seen, sdr, would only give low income (12 to 15K/annual) another $30 to $40 a month. The taxes on necessary items they purchase, though, would go up, and would cost those same people more than $50. How is that "fair"? Study after study says this would benefit part-time minimum wage workers who have little expenses, and wealth - that's it. That would reduce gross sales at businesses, too, since a majority of people would be spending less on goods to cover the more on taxes. it would also increase costs of operating a business slightly, too, since each would be responsible for calculating yet another tax, processing it in its sales, and remitting that tax to the state.
maizenbluedoc July 21, 2012 at 12:07 AM
reg: You omitted one important aspect of the Fair Tax-the approximately 50% of people who pay zero tax would pay "their fair share" as BHO so often speaks. The Fair Tax would also require illegals, foreigners, and people involved in illegal activities to pay taxes on the products or services they use. Just about any tax is better than the antiquated system that creates fraud and abuse by legal and illegal means.
reg July 21, 2012 at 04:03 AM
sorry, maizen, but everyone within the borders of the USA pay sales taxes. You can be American, Mexican, Chinese or Martian - every purchase you make has taxes added automatically. Sounds like, then, you're referring to income taxes - And don't forget that 90% of those "illegals" were LEGAL when they first entered, meaning that their employers still take out tax/SS/Medicare from their paychecks. And if ANY of them don't pay income taxes, then that's the fault of the companies that hire them, and that don't collect them. Creating this fraudelent and misdirective tax system will NOT correct the problem - it will only give tax cheaters another avenue to continue their tax cheating.


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