South Carolina GOP says group's 'purity' pledge is against state law

The State (Columbia, S.C.)March 6, 2012 

A resolution by the Laurens County Republican Party is raising eyebrows — and questions — about what it means to be a Republican in South Carolina.

At issue is a “purity” pledge – quickly rejected as illegal by the state GOP – that the Upstate county’s party approved Feb. 28, requiring those who file to run in the June 12 Republican primary to promise they did not have premarital sex, will be faithful to their spouses and will not watch porn while also fighting to protect gun rights.

The 28-point pledge also requires candidates to:

• Oppose abortion, in any circumstances

• Endorse the ideas of balanced state and federal budgets

• Hold a high regard for U.S. sovereignty and be committed to peace through “strength in foreign policy”

• Not favor any government action to allow civil unions by same-sex couples

“The purpose of the resolution was to try to ensure that candidates who wish to file to run on the ticket simply support the party’s platform,” said Bobby Smith, chairman of the Laurens County Republican Party, adding the county party also hopes to interview potential candidates. “Our party has had much success over the past few years, and we want to make sure they uphold the party’s principles if running on the party’s ticket.”

The county also has had its brushes with scandal.

In June, Laurens County Sheriff Ricky Chastain, a Republican, admitted to an extramarital affair with a woman who worked at the county’s detention center. At the time, Smith and the executive committee of the Laurens Country Republican Party called on Chastain to resign. Chastain, who remains in office, is seeking a fourth term as sheriff.

State Republican leaders say the pledge is illegal and cannot be enforced.

“The state party does not endorse this action, and no county party can legally keep a qualified candidate off the ballot,” said Matt Moore, executive director of the S.C. Republican Party, referring to state regulations that require only that candidates meet age requirements, not be convicted felons and live within the area they seek to represent. “It’s against state law to add anything on to that.”

Beyond the legality issue, Moore said the resolution doesn’t jive with the state party’s goals.

“These kind of purity tests are at odds with our long-term strategy of being a dominant party,” Moore said. “We’ve got to be for limited government, less taxes. That’s what our platform is about.”

Laurens County chairman Smith said Monday the county GOP would not deny any candidate a place on the primary ballot because they failed to sign the pledge. Instead, he said the pledge is a way to encourage candidates to back the principles important to Laurens County Republicans.

The pledge is giving S.C. Democrats a good laugh.

“It’s absolutely absurd,” said Phil Bailey, director of the state Senate Democratic Caucus. “While the rest of the country is living in the 21st century, South Carolina Republicans are stuck in a social time machine.”

State Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, said Monday he had not read the pledge and could not comment on it. Pitts added he generally does not sign pledges.

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