Summerville, S.C. - The Dorchester District Two School Board election this year is leaving many confused. The 12 way race with 4 available seats ended with Cynthia Powell, Kellie Bates, Justin Farnsworth, and Gail Hughes winning the available seats. Powell, Farnsworth, and Hughes were all endorsed by the left leaning SCEA. Since unions aren't allowed in SC, the SCEA is the closest thing we have to a teacher's union. These educators tend to put their interests above the interests of the community as a whole, such as when the members of the SCEA and their endorsed candidates advocated for school lockdowns and mask mandates. With SCEA endorsing just three candidates, and doing a good job of getting the word out among like minded people in the district, it allowed for their votes to be more focused than Dorchester Republicans in the at-large voting style system we have.
At large voting forces all candidates to run district wide, and the top 4 candidates with the most votes earn a spot on the school board. Dorchester County is the only county in the Lowcountry with this method of voting. Berkeley and Charleston now have school board candidates running in small districts that represent County Council boundaries rather than running across half the county like what candidates have to do in Dorchester County. This means in Berkeley or Charleston to win a school board race a candidate would need 4-6,000 votes to win, and a candidate in DD2 would need 12-14k votes to win.
You'd think needing more votes to win in DD2 that the candidates with the most money would win. That wasn't the case this year. Jimmy Tupper and Frankie Staropoli raised the most money (20k & 15K respectively) and both took losses on Tuesday night. So why is that?
A divided GOP.
The Dorchester Republican Party had to compromise on the candidates it supported because of fringe elements of the party demanded Bob McGuigan (who finished second to last) and Eric Unger be endorsed because they were the "true conservative candidates" in the eyes of a vocal minority within the party. The DCRP Executive Committee voted to give $1,000 to 6 candidates, even though there were only 4 open seats. This endorsement allowed Unger and McGuigan, who didn't raise even half the amount of money for their campaigns as Kellie Bates, Erica Miller, Frankie Staropoli, and Jimmy Tupper to split the Conservative vote. The endorsement allowed less-viable candidates to claim they were "Republican endorsed", and gave them earned media on television with multiple local stations covering the endorsement.
Unfortunately that led to only 1 of the 6 endorsed candidates winning in this year's election, Kellie Bates who seemed to be on everyone's Republican ticket whether you were voting for the viable Republican ticket (Bates, Miller, Staropoli, Tupper), or the less viable Republican ticket that included Unger and McGuigan.
Going forward the conversation around principles still matters. All of these candidates were vetted with a survey to see if their values aligned with the party's. All 6 of them did and passed the test. In a year where two incumbents were on the ballot that locked down schools causing learning loss, mandated masks even after the large Covid waves had passed, and unnecessarily raised taxes each year without ever looking for ways to run the district more efficiently - it was more important than ever for the GOP to be united to ensure their candidates won. Dorchester County Council is all Republican and every resident State level official is Republican, yet DD2 voters just elected 3 liberal leaning school board members because candidate quality and viability wasn't considered by the Dorchester Republican Party.
Had candidate quality and viability been considered after the issues survey, and the EC chosen 4 candidates instead of 6 we might be having a different conversation today. The SCEA teacher's association that advocated for policies that hurt kids and families out maneuvered the local Republicans by focusing their support to just 3 candidates. It's no surprise that Berkeley GOP and Charleston GOP got behind viable candidates and swept their school board elections handily. Berkeley and Charleston aren't more Republican than Dorchester, they simply chose to back the most principled and highest quality candidates available.
So what now? First, going forward the fringe elements within the DCRP need to be pushed out in the upcoming Spring reorganization. They hold responsibility for digging in their heels and not budging. They hold responsibility for spreading conspiracy theories about candidates like Frankie Staropoli, who they endorsed, yet claim is a secret CRT agent without any evidence whatsoever.
Second, the Dorchester Legislative delegation can no longer ignore that their County needs single member districts immediately in the next legislative session. The school board no longer represents the values of the community when those who implemented harmful policies under Covid get reelected in a County where every resident elected official is a Republican. If passed, the entire board would have to run again in 2 years in smaller districts, making the SCEA endorsed candidates much more likely to be defeated in County Council sized districts.
To look up who your State Representative is and find their contact info to let them know we need single member districts immediately, click here.
See the full results of the DD2 election here: