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."