GOP Rep. Finlay draws two Democratic challengers for the first time

A pair of Columbia Democrats are planning to unseat veteran Republican state Rep. Kirkman Finlay in next year’s election, possibly setting up the first Democratic primary for that seat in decades.

Rhodes Bailey, the chief litigator in the Richland County Public Defender’s Office, and Heather Bauer, the co-owner of a Columbia gym and a projects manager for a local IT company, have begun raising money for the challenge, according to filings with the State Ethics Commission.

In a statement, Bailey wrote that Finlay’s “do-nothing politics” have ignored “real priorities like schools, roads, dams, healthcare, climate, gun safety and virtually every other issue of public significance.”

Bauer said she is entering the race to provide a woman’s perspective in a General Assembly dominated by men, and to provide more opportunity for other small business owners.

“As someone who was raised on public assistance, I understand the role government plays in creating opportunity and helping South Carolina thrive,” she said.

Finlay, a descendant of one of Columbia’s oldest and wealthiest families and a former city councilman, will be tough to unseat.

The four-term House member handily defeated Democratic opponents in 2018 and 2016. He beat Democrat Joe McCulloch, a well-known Columbia attorney, by 2.2 percentage points to win the seat for the first time in 2012, then beat McCulloch by 7 points in their 2014 rematch.

“It has been fairly consistent for five times now,” Finlay said of Democratic challengers.

Finlay also regularly works with Columbia Democrats on women’s healthcare issues, such as expanding access to contraceptives, and has boasted endorsements from Democrats like state Sen. Darrell Jackson, state Rep. Beth Bernstein and former Rep. Boyd Brown, D-Fairfield.

Still, this marks the first time Finlay has drawn two Democratic challengers.

House District 75 — which spans from the eastern edge of downtown Columbia to Fort Jackson — has not had a Democratic primary in at least 23 years, according to State Election Commission records.

According to ethics filings, Bailey has loaned his campaign $500, while Bauer reported $335 in fundraising on Aug. 6, including a $250 contribution from Richland County Councilwoman Allison Terracio.

Bailey, a 38-year-old Florence native, has worked in the Richland County Public Defender’s Office since July 2015. The graduate of the College of Charleston and University of South Carolina School of Law spent four years as the S.C. Democratic Party’s legal coordinator for elections.

He is also a member of Whiskey Tango Revue, a local country band.

Bauer, meanwhile, has lived in Columbia since 2007, serving on a host of local boards, such as the Vista Guild Board, and working for nonprofits like the Nickelodeon Theatre.

Bauer graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, then earned her masters in Media Arts from the University of South Carolina. She is a 2019 graduate of Emerge SC, a local effort to recruit women to participate in politics.

She currently is a project manager for local IT company VC3. She and her husband own and run the Workhorse Fitness Gym just south of Williams-Brice Stadium.

Filing for the seat is in March.