Horry County School Board Chairman Ken Richardson stood at a podium next to an empty seat Wednesday, declaring that the U.S. House of Representatives 7th Congressional District seat belonged neither to Tom Rice, R-Myrtle Beach, nor himself. Rather, he said, it was the people’s chair, and he wanted a shot to represent the district’s constituents.
“That’s your seat," he said “Give me a chance.”
Richardson doesn't plan to seek reelection as school board chair, but said he won't shirk his school duties. Instead, he'll work part-time as the school board chair and spend his free time campaigning for the 2022 election.
Richardson, who previously spent 20 years on the Horry-Georgetown Technical College Area Commission, most of it as chairman, said he would make education his priority if he wins the seat in two years. But he declined to stand on any particular policy positions, instead saying he would have to figure out what his constituents wanted.
Horry County Board of Education Chairman Ken Richardson announced Wednesday that he will not…
“When I walk into a restaurant, I order unsweet tea,” Richardson said. “But if nine people are sitting at a table with me and they order sweet tea, if I get to Washington and a vote comes up on tea, I’m gonna vote for the sweet tea, even though I might be an unsweet drinker.”
Richardson announced his run for Congress in the wake of Rice’s vote to impeach President Donald Trump, who faced the charge of incitement of an insurrection. Rice has defended his vote by pointing to Trump’s behavior and lack of leadership as rioters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. But he was still censured by the South Carolina GOP for his vote.
The school board chair made clear that he wouldn’t have voted to impeach Trump and that he doesn’t believe Trump is responsible for the riot. But he said Rice's vote after the Capitol Hill violence wasn’t the sole reason he decided to run for Congress.
“I wanted to run for Congress in 2012,” Richardson said. “I wanted to run for Congress when they created this seat. But I was selling my business, I had just turned 55. I wanted to retire, I wanted to take some time off. Things did not line up for me. But every once in a while, if you wait a little while, good things come. And I’ve waited and good things are here. And I’m gonna run and I’m gonna try to do the best I can.”
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump — again.
A June 17, 2019 meeting with Rice over a hurricane relief bill in the wake of Hurricane Florence is the point Richardson points to as the moment he knew he would run for office.
“When I walked out of that meeting, my gut was telling me that I hadn’t gotten anywhere with Congressman Rice,” Richardson said. “I knew when I got in the car I was going to run.”
Another way Richardson differs from Rice is his support – or lack thereof – for I-73. Richardson said there’s not enough infrastructure to get folks out of the county in case a larger hurricane makes a direct hit, but said a new interstate is not his first priority.
“My thinking is this: why do I need an interstate to get here faster so you can sit in traffic longer?” he asked. “Or, here’s a crazy thought, could we just fix some of our local roads and maybe get some local work done before we think about I-73?”
But if his constituents want the new freeway, he added, “it moves to the top of my list.”
Richardson expects the campaign to be expensive. “I don’t think $2 million is going to touch this campaign,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot more than that.” For context, Rice, the five-time incumbent and shoe-in winner during the last election, raised almost $1.4 million in individual and committee contributions during 2019 and 2020, according to federal election filings. And that doesn’t include ad buys by political action committees.
But Richardson made a commitment to hiring staff and contracting with businesses in the 7th District whenever possible. His campaign treasurer is his son-in-law, Robert Hucks, who serves as an executive vice president for Coastal Carolina National Bank and who sits on the Horry-Georgetown Technical College area commission.
Richardson’s director of field operations is Chuck Canterbury, a former Horry County police major, a former president of the Fraternal Order of Police and a former senior advisor to Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen.
“He’s come from Trump to me,” Richardson said. “He’s living proof that you can be a local boy and do good, because he’s a local boy and he’s come back and he’s hoping to help send me to Washington so that I can do good for you.”
Canterbury got the advisor role after Trump rescinded Canterbury’s nomination for head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms following Republican concerns about his views on gun control. But Richardson himself supports gun rights.
“I support the second amendment,” he said. “I think that speaks for itself.”
Although the backlash against Rice’s vote to impeach Trump helped springboard Richardson’s candidacy, the Conway High School grad and retired owner of Fowler Motors doesn’t want to be compared to the former president.
“The one thing I think that maybe President Trump and I had in common is maybe the way we sleep,” he said. “I never go to bed before 2 o’clock in the morning, and I’m up early. I don’t sleep a lot. I do some of my best work from 11 o’clock at night until 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning. I didn’t agree with all his tweets and some of the things he did, but he was my president. And Joe Biden’s my president now and I understand that. If I go to Washington, or when I go to Washington, I’m gonna have to work with him.”
And Richardson, a Republican, can name at least one Democrat who he said he voted for: James Frazier, a long-serving Horry County councilor who represented Horry County Council District 7 until his death in 2016. (Richardson lives in District 10 now, but said before he moved next to the river, he lived in a different house in Conway that was in Frazier’s district.)
“I can remember, I didn’t vote straight Republican, because every time he ran, I’d have to go down and look for his name and find it and vote for him,” Richardson said. “And did it because he was a good man. I don’t know anybody he ever lied to, and he did what he said he would do.”