A week ago, this news outlet reported South Carolina lawmakers were eyeing former state representative Kirkman Finlay III as their top choice to replace outgoing S.C. comptroller general Richard Eckstrom – who is stepping down from his post on April 30, 2023.
This week, Finlay has built what appears to be an insurmountable lead in his bid to replace Eckstrom – who is resigning in disgrace.
According to sources familiar with the whip count, Finlay currently has 105 commitments out of the 170 members of the S.C. General Assembly (46 senators and 124 representatives). Assuming those commitments hold – which is always an interesting proposition at the S.C. State House – he would easily eclipse the 86-vote threshold required to win the legislative election for this seat.
Eckstrom announced his impending resignation last week in a letter to governor Henry McMaster – succumbing to a scandal involving a $3.5 billion “anomaly” in the state’s general fund budget.
Just a little rounding error, right?
Lawmakers were preparing to boot Eckstrom from office earlier this month, saying he “willfully neglected his duties.”
Known for his brusque demeanor and willingness to ask blunt questions, Finlay is favored for the position because he does not brook incompetence. A farmer and businessman from Richland County, Finlay spent a decade in the House of Representatives. Prior to that, he spent four years as a city of Columbia, S.C. council member.
“Kirkman wouldn’t put up with the financial mistakes,” S.C. speaker pro tempore Tommy Pope noted in a social media comment endorsing Finlay.
Finlay said if elected he would “work to ensure our state government functions in an efficient and effective manner.”
“My promise to you is to restore trust to this office,” Finlay said. “In fact, my first act in office will be to perform a complete audit of every aspect of the comptroller general’s office, making the findings available to the public once the audit is complete.”
While Finlay appears to have locked up the votes for the post, not everyone in the legislature is thrilled with the process by which he would assume office.
“I’ve been reviewing the process of just how Mr. Eckstrom’s position will be filled,” said state senator Katrina Shealy. “This election was just held in 2022 and with three years remaining in the term of this office we need to look very closely at who-slips in as a ‘placeholder.’”
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“As the law is currently written the legislature will take nominations from the floor and vote in joint session on the person that will fill this very powerful important seat that serves all the citizens of South Carolina,” Shealy added. “Much like judicial races in South Carolina this is a system where we might as well just let the House of Representatives pick the person but the only difference is the House will pick the person with no screening, no necessary qualifications and sway the vote which ever way they want on that day or what ever deal they have made.”
Shealy has questioned whether Finlay has the qualifications to serve in the position.
“This is not a popularity contest and the legislature should be accountable for putting a qualified person in this position,” she said. “Those who vote to put someone without the education, experience and background should be held accountable.”
One Finlay backer fired back that “the last guy had all the qualification in the world and still lost $3.5 billion.”
Whomever the General Assembly elects to take Eckstrom’s place will serve out the remainder of his unexpired term – which runs through January 2027. Looking longer-term, lawmakers could move to make this office an appointed position – but such a change would require an amendment to the state constitution.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
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More legislative perks and backscratching. “Former legislators” are a step up to better state positions. Just ask former legislators Mike Pitts and Rita Allison……