The sad soap opera of S.C. Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom continued over the weekend as the incumbent sought to fight back against a threatening to derail his bid for a third term as the state’s accountant.
Eckstrom’s Democratic opponent – Robert Barber – began running a television ad last week attacking the 62-year-old incumbent over a pair of personal issues – a 1997 sexual harassment case that was settled with taxpayer money and his extramarital relationship with a former candidate for State Superintendent of Education.
“Incumbent Comptroller Richard Eckstrom’s job is to protect our money, but Eckstrom spent over $57,000 taxpayer dollars to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit against him,” the narrator of Barber’s ad says.
In an interview last Friday, a spokesman for Eckstrom attempted to downplay the incident – and shift the blame for it onto Eckstrom’s accuser.
“It has been falsely mischaracterized as something to do with sexual harassment,” Eckstrom spokesman Rod Shealy Jr. told Jim Davenport of the Associated Press. “The girl got a bad review and initiated a lawsuit.”
Wait … “the girl?”
Also, isn’t the number one rule of most settlements that you’re not supposed to talk about them?
Anyway, FITS made several attempts to contact Leanne R. Johnson – the woman who initiated the lawsuit against Eckstrom over a decade ago – but our efforts were unsuccessful. Johnson spoke at length about the incident to our founding editor several years ago, however, and described in detail the alleged harassment that prompted Eckstrom to settle the case.
Meanwhile Kelly Payne, a popular local high school teacher and former GOP candidate for S.C. Superintendent of Education, stood by her claim that Eckstrom threatened her during the course of their relationship – an extramarital affair that was first exposed by FITS in February. Payne told FITS on Friday that she is seeking an order of protection against Eckstrom – while Eckstrom’s office insists that no threatening behavior ever took place.
Payne and Eckstrom’s relationship is also mentioned in the Barber ad – with Eckstrom accused of using “state cell phones and computers to send sexually-explicit text messages and emails to his mistress.”
Eckstrom’s office said that Payne was still text-messaging the Comptroller General as recently as Friday morning – although they neglected to point out that Eckstrom was still text-messaging Payne, too, telling her that he didn’t have an “off switch” for their forbidden, highly-combustible love.
Also, here’s a picture of a message Payne posted Sunday evening to Eckstrom’s Facebook reelection page: