Monday, September 20, 2010


It seems ghoulish. Political professionals have a bad enough reputation as it is, but when you throw something like this in to the mix, it’s tough to put a smiling face on the profession’s reputation.

I’m talking about the flurry of activity when an officeholder or party nominee passes away.

We’re unfortunately facing this distasteful situation right now in Greenville County with the recent passing of Representative Bill Wylie.

Representative Wylie was loved in his community, involved in local philanthropy, and a sharp-minded businessman who passed away on a Saturday night while dancing with his wife at a college class reunion.

By Sunday, as Bill’s family was still being notified, phones were lighting up across the state with discussions taking place to see who would run for his seat.

Before I go any further, if you're a political activist or a campaign professional, stop reading now. This isn't for you. You'll just say, "Of course. Who doesn't know that?" Well, plenty of people don't, so I'm not writing this note for you. I’m writing this for real people who want to know the answer to a couple of questions:
  1. Why can't these vultures at least wait until he's laid to rest before fighting over his seat?
  2. Have they no couth?

The answer to question two is easy to answer. No. The first requires a little more explanation, so here goes.

Frankly, even as someone who's involved in the process, it gives me pause, too. I don’t think I'd be human if it didn't. There's a feeling in the pit of my stomach that knows how this man served his district and state, is credited by many as the man who put Greenville on Southwest Airlines' radar, and didn't have the chance to be mourned properly.

There wasn't a choice, though, and that's what needs to be explained.

Bill passed away on Saturday the 11th, word began circulating a day later, and his funeral was Friday the 17th. Filing for the special primary opens tomorrow at Noon and lasts until Noon on the 28th with the special primary election slated for October 12. Does any of that matter, though?

Since Bill was originally running unopposed, it matters a lot because any certified political party can field a candidate. There were no Democrats running before, but now they can use this opportunity to put up a candidate for what is now an open seat (no incumbent). At the same time, Republicans will want a strong candidate to defend the seat, so at this point a five-way primary isn't out of the realm of possibility.

If all primary contests are settled with the October 12 special primary, the election for House 21 will stay on the November 2 general election ballot.

If there is the need for a runoff for any party, the special election for House 21 will be taken off the November 2 general election ballot and moved to a special election to be conducted in mid-December.

You with me so far?

South Carolina election law creates a tight timeline. It's one that's legalistically designed for the people of a district to be without their representative (or other elected official) for as short a time as possible. From a strategic standpoint, it's a way for groups with special interests (right wing, left wing, pro-gambling, anti-tax, and so on) to have their voices heard and potentially have their candidates elected.

If the election moves to a special date in December, the race will be decided by turnout -- specifically by who is able to get out their supporters and allies. People aren't as motivated to vote in special elections, so if you're a candidate and can motivate your people to vote on a random Tuesday, you just might get elected.

That's why we're hearing so much talk about so many people running for House 21 and why they started so soon. It wasn't because they were uncaring, unfeeling, or unappreciative of Bill Wylie's work. It was because under our system, both legally and strategically, they don't have time to wait.

Time is a commodity, no matter how you look at it, and it's rarely on your side.

Taft Matney is a partner with TM Public Relations, a strategic communications and governmental affairs firm in Greenville, SC. Follow him on Twitter ( and "like" TMPR on Facebook (

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