Two weeks ago, this news outlet previewed what we referred to as “the drama set to consume” state representative Kevin Hardee.
As we noted at the time, the looming saga we referenced has its roots in Hardee’s contentious separation from his estranged wife, Kim Hardee. Complicating matters further? Kim Hardee is now engaged to an ex-colleague of her estranged husband’s, former state representative Eric Bedingfield.
“The bad blood emanating from this situation has spilled over into multiple arenas – including court rooms, the chambers of Horry County government and the lobby of the S.C. State House,” we noted at the time.
And since we first addressed it, the bad blood has only grown colder …
Over the Memorial Day weekend, the soap opera spilled into the public view for the first time after text messages from an anonymous North Carolina-based phone number hinted at “allegations of adultery” involving Hardee and other officials in Horry County.
We have chosen to largely ignore these reports, noting that “if we had to write about each and every extramarital affair involving a South Carolina politician we would have no time to write about anything else.”
Such stories would obviously spike our traffic, but they would also detract from the discussion our state desperately needs to have if it is ever going to become competitive and start materially enhancing opportunity and prosperity for its citizens. Accordingly, we really don’t get interested in affair allegations unless there is something “more” to the story – i.e. a nexus to misappropriated funds, abuse of power or some sort of glaring hypocrisy on the part of the individual officeholder.
We were interested, however, in a number of documents provided to us related to Kevin Hardee – as well as a specific allegation involving votes cast on the floor of the S.C. House of Representatives.
The voting allegation “is particularly troubling for both husband and wife,” we noted, “especially seeing as (it) has been confirmed by two House members who spoke with us on condition of anonymity.”
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This week, Kim Hardee (above) spoke with us on the record about the situation – confirming that she has cast potentially “hundreds” of votes on her husband’s behalf while he was not on the floor of the chamber.
Kim Hardee also alleged that two of her husband’s colleagues – Mike Ryhal of Myrtle Beach, S.C. and Will Wheeler of Bishopville, S.C. – cast votes for him as well and that Ryhal also “used to mark him present when he wasn’t even there.”
She further alleged that Hardee allowed his daughter from a previous marriage – Chandler Hardee – to cast votes for him.
“I had no idea I was doing anything wrong,” Kim Hardee told us. “I assumed after watching Mike Ryhal and Will Wheeler along with Kevin’s daughter, Chandler … I assumed it was something they allowed,” she said.
How many votes are we talking about?
“I couldn’t count them,” Kim Hardee told us. “I was there almost everyday the first couple years. He kept putting me in compromised positions by leaving and letting me do the voting.”
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Kevin Hardee (above) vehemently denied the allegations made by his estranged wife.
“She has never been on the House floor without me,” he told us. “She’s just trying to discredit me. It’s unbelievable to me that she would even say that. It’s just not true. She is using you to discredit me.”
Wheeler backed up Hardee’s claim.
“I remember Kim was there during a budget session but they were there together,” he told us. “I don’t remember any extended period when she was there and Kevin wasn’t.”
Again, though, this news outlet spoke with two GOP lawmakers last month who told us they saw Kim Hardee casting “numerous” votes on behalf of her estranged husband during the 2018 budget debate. These lawmakers spoke with us on condition of anonymity, citing fear of “reprisal” from House leadership.
Contrary to popular perception, House members do not vote by pushing a button at their desks. Well, we take that back they do push a button … but their votes are recorded on the basis of individualized electronic key cards, which can be inserted at multiple “portal” locations within the House chamber.
Lawmakers carry these key cards with them and can cast votes from any portal in the chamber using them.
“The individualized cards will work at any member’s desk but the vote is ascribed only to that particular member,” one lawmaker explained. “Without the card in the portal the button does not work.”
According to our sources, it is common practice for lawmakers to leave these cards in their portals when they are not in the chamber – allowing their desk mates (or others) to cast votes for them.
Our guess is this practice is about to come under some serious (and well-deserved) scrutiny, however … especially since we can find no statute that expressly prohibits it.
Hardee, 54, has represented S.C. House District 105 (map) since 2013 – winning reelection without opposition in 2014, 2016 and 2018.
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