Mike Pitts, who relinquished the S.C. House District 14 seat for health reasons, put on what was essentially his own personal Republican candidates’ forum Monday night for those who seek to replace him, and the Laurens County GOP tagged along.

The affair, at The Ridge, benefited from Pitts’ intentions. The four candidates – Grant Blair, Scott Horne, Stewart Jones and Michael Seymour – agreed on most issues, but Pitts’ pointed questions, each posed to all four, brought out some shades of differences.

The answers fleshed out the profiles. What emerged were four different men with different motivations and priorities.

Blair admits he is running because he didn’t see enough concern for the orderly growth of the lake, particularly on the Laurens County side.

Horne says he isn’t really a politician at all and never took much interest in it until recent years. 

Jones is the man of rock-ribbed conservative principles. 

Seymour is a civic-minded, pro-business, anti-tax Republican.

Pitts has not endorsed a candidate and said he won’t. His forum would have been little different had each candidate visited Pitts individually. Pitts asked them the questions whose answers he wanted to hear.

Among the highlights and points of interest were:

Horne, who served in the Army, is the only veteran.

Jones believes the country is in a constitutional crisis.

All four said they believed welfare recipients should have to work in order to receive assistance. Horne suggested litter pickup. He also said he thought everyone in South Carolina who receives any kind of assistance should be required to take a drug test. Jones agreed and said he would work to eliminate abuses of the welfare system.

The question as to whether judges should continue to be elected by the General Assembly drew tepid responses. Seymour said, “The way we’re doing it now seems to work.” Blair said he’d like to talk with people in other states about how their systems worked. Jones expressed some interest in direct election of judges.

When asked about their support of “open carry” and “constitutional carry” of firearms, the answers dissolved into a hodgepodge of conflicting definitions, “foundational” principles and how to deal with businesses and schools. It was hard to determine what any of them believed beyond the right of any man or woman to bear arms.

General support for education came unraveled a bit when Pitts asked the candidates about a proposed nine percent raise to teachers’ pay over the next two years. The answers were mostly, “Yes, but ...” Horne said he thought all school employees ought to receive such a raise. Jones wanted more accountability and choice and spoke of finding money for pay increases from streamlining administration through consolidation. Seymour said S.C. salaries should be set at the Southeast average and cited some numbers about difficulty keeping enough teachers in the business, but he also conceded that nine percent over the next two years might be a bit hasty. Blair said he believed the state’s education system was still geared toward a textile-based economy that is a vestige of the past.

All four candidates supported privatizing the pensions of state employees, although Jones said they should have a choice of a private or the existing public plan. Seymour said he would get rid of the public pension plan altogether and put retirement investment in the employees’ hands. Blair cited his own experience, noting that his wife had been in a public plan and he had been in private plan, and he much preferred the latter.

In general, all four of the candidates vying to join state government said some of its power should be shifted to local entities.

On the subject of political candidates disclosing their personal financial records, Horne said he saw no problem with transparency, Blair said it was irrelevant to him because he was retired, Jones was an enthusiastic “yes,” and Seymour said his first thought was “no.”

All four said they believed that life, by definition, begins at conception.

Jones said he was in favor of privatizing the state’s public universities. Seymour said he’d like to look at it. Blair and Horne opposed it.

Jones and Seymour said their favorite amendment in the Bill of Rights was the second. Blair said his was the first. Horne said he didn’t know.

Asked to name someone they particularly admired, Jones said Congressman Ron Paul, Seymour said George Washington, Blair said Sen. Lindsey Graham and Horne said Trey Gowdy.

The Republican and Democratic primaries are next Tuesday, Feb. 19.