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S.C. Lawmaker Resigns Over Sexual Harassment Allegation

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LOWCOUNTRY “REPUBLICAN” DECIDES NOT TO FIGHT CHARGES

Looks like S.C. Rep. Eddie Southard isn’t going to fight the sexual harassment allegations recently leveled against him after all …

Southard resigned his post in the S.C. House of Representatives on Wednesday – his letter of resignation read across the desk of the chamber shortly after 2:30 p.m. EDT.

A week ago, Southard told us he intended to fight the charges – which stemmed from an incident that occurred on the floor of the S.C. House in late March during the debate over the budget.

The 69-year-old “Republican” lawmaker was accused of touching a young, black female page on the knee, tapping her on the sole of her shoe and calling her “beautiful.”

Southard said the page was at his desk to help him prepare an amendment he wanted to offer to the state budget.  The page in question volunteered to assist him and never gave him any reason to believe that he had behaved improperly toward her, Southard said.

He said he was “shocked” weeks after the fact to discover she had filed a complaint against him.

Frankly, there has to be something more to the story than this … because if that were grounds for resignation, we would have no male House members.

Southard’s story – first reported by FITS last week – sparked a flood of reaction from State House insiders.  Roughly half of those who responded to our story described him as a harmless old man who simply liked to flirt with women (especially black women).  Others said his behavior was consistently inappropriate and that he ought to resign.

S.C. Rep. Kenny Bingham – whose committee reportedly received a copy of the complaint – declined to comment on the original allegations against Southard when we reached out to him last week.

Whatever happened, Southard’s resignation means the S.C. House District 100 seat (map here) he has held since 2011 is officially vacant – triggering a special election on August 30.

Filing for the seat will open on May 13 and run through May 23 with primary elections scheduled for July 12 (with runoff elections scheduled for July 26, if necessary).

We think …

Some GOP officials believe Southard’s resignation is so close to the general election calendar that there might be no interim election to fill the final few months of his current term.

We think they are a week off in their calculations, but we shall see …

Either way, Southard is the second lawmaker in less than a year to step down on sexual harassment-related charges.

Former S.C. Rep. Nelson Hardwick was indicted last November on the basis of far more serious allegations.  The 64-year-old was accused of luring a S.C. House staffer to his office and touching her “inappropriately.”  Hardwick gave up his seat in the aftermath of the charges – but later attempted to rescind his resignation.  Legislative leaders were having none of it, though – and told Hardwick they would not seat him.

Sexual harassment is rampant at the S.C. State House, although it is rarely reported.  Also, given that the legislature polices itself in such matters (which we addressed here), it’s rare for a complaint to generate much momentum unless there is some political benefit to be derived from pursuing it.

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