Three candidates vie for House 44 seat

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By Reece Murphy

Running up the middle of the county and encompassing Kershaw, Heath Springs and most of Lancaster, S.C. House District 44 is among the largest political districts in Lancaster County.

The battle for retiring seven-term Rep. Jimmy Neal’s (D) seat is also among the most hotly contested state-level races in this year’s general election.

Come Nov. 6, when District 44 residents head to the polls, they’ll be asked to choose between three candidates, none of whom have held office before: Democrat Mandy Powers Norrell, Republican Ryan Payne and petition candidate Joseph Coy.

Petition candidate Joseph Coy

Coy, 41, owns Coy’s Woodworking and JAC Drywall in Heath Springs.

Originally a Republican candidate, Coy was one of  the 200 candidates the S.C. Supreme Court blocked from their respective  party primary ballot in June for improperly filing statements of economic interests. 

Coy refused to give up and persisted by getting enough petition signatures to get his name on the general election ballot.

Coy said he decided to run for the seat after years of hearing politicians talk about the problems facing Lancaster County, South Carolina and the nation.

“I’ve heard about jobs, every politician has been promising jobs for the last four or five years, but nobody is saying how,” Coy  said. 

“They make promises, but they don’t have solutions.”

Coy said he believes the jobs answer lies in attracting manufacturers to the county and state, a goal he said starts with creating more vocational high schools to train the skilled workforce manufacturers need.

The rest of the plan, he said, comes by keeping fuel taxes low and improving infrastructure to help manufacturers ship their goods.

Coy said he also supports raising the dropout age without parental consent to age 18 ½.

Coy said if elected, he plans to stay in touch with Lancaster residents much like he’s done throughout his campaign, by getting out and talking to folks one on one.

“There are three tickets for District 44; you have a Republican, petition candidate Joseph Coy and a Democrat,” Coy said. “Think of it like a sandwich and I’m the meat in the middle.”

Democrat Mandy Powers Norrell

A Lancaster native, Norrell, 39, is a partner in the law firm of Norrell & Powers Norrell. She has served as city attorney for Lancaster for 14 years and the town of Kershaw for three.

Norrell ran against now U.S. Congressman Mick Mulvaney for the S.C. Senate District 16 seat in 2008, and though unsuccessful, she won Lancaster County.

Norrell said she’s running for the District 44 seat because she wants to make Lancaster County a better place with more opportunity for both her children and her constituents.

“I’ve seen how the last few years have really taken a toll on people I really love and I want to make it better for all of us,” Norrell said. “I work in government and down in Columbia there’s a lot of legislators who just don’t have the people’s interest at heart.

“That’s frustrating because in my business, I see firsthand what that is doing to families and people who are struggling,” she said.

Norrell said the key to making Lancaster County attractive to employers is a “holistic approach” of improving public education, infrastructure and quality of life, including public safety.

“I think the main thing about me is that I have 14 years experience in government and wouldn’t have to get up to speed on the issues,” Norrell said. “While it’s not a perfect system, we need someone who is familiar with it and knows how to get things done in our district.”

Republican Ryan Payne

A Heath Springs native and a 2009 Andrew Jackson High School graduate, Payne, 21, recently graduated cum laude from Clemson University with a bachelor’s degree focusing on political science.

The former chairman of the Lancaster County Young Republicans, Payne said he decided to enter the District 44 race because no one in Columbia was talking about the issues he thought important.

Payne said he found the state’s deal with Amazon earlier this year upsetting. He calls it a move that put him at odds with his core economic philosophy.

“It just seemed unfair to me that small business owners that are struggling in Lancaster County didn’t get a tax break like Amazon did to go to Lexington,” he said. “I think it’s a bad policy.”

Payne places taxes as his No. 1 issue. Next is infrastructure, an issue under which is followed by  roads and education.

The right infrastructure and tax environment, Payne said, encourages existing businesses and the creation of new businesses and jobs, resulting in more money in Lancaster County residents’ pockets.

Payne dismisses concerns about his age by saying “age doesn’t equal ability” and vice versa. The important thing, he said, are the political connections, of which he has many, and knowing your constituents, which he does.

“I think it’s the relationships that I’ve already built that are going to help,” Payne said. “The biggest thing is my phone is always on, I’m going to be accessible.

“My job is to fight for Lancaster County in Columbia,” he said.

Other races

The only other state-level race in Lancaster County this election season is for voters in the Spring Hill precinct, who will vote in the S.C. House 53 race.

The three-way race features incumbent Democratic Rep. Ted Vick (D) and Republican Richie Yow against petition candidate Phil Powell, a democrat.

All other candidates up for re-election are incumbents and uncontested: 

– S.C. House District 45 Deborah Long (R)

– S.C. House District 65 Jay Lucas (R) 

– S.C. Senate District 16 Greg Gregory (R)

– S.C. Senate District 27 Vincent Sheheen (D)


Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151