Newton and Stewart will debate Friday night at 6 p.m. at an invitation-only event at the Technical College of the Lowcountry in Bluffton. Watch the broadcast on The County Channel.
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With Laura Sterling off the ballot, the Republican race for the S.C. House District 120 seat is now a two-man contest between Beaufort County councilmen Weston Newton and Jerry Stewart.
Newton and Stewart agree on many issues, including the need for comprehensive tax reform, fewer sales-tax exemptions and a new public-school funding formula. Both would give the governor new authority over the budget and personnel decisions and both want to cut state spending.
However, the two candidates have different visions for economic development and whether public funds should be used for private school "voucher" programs.
District 120 was re-drawn after the 2010 Census. It includes Bluffton, Okatie, Burton and a sliver of northern Hilton Head Island.
Newton, 45, is a partner in the law firm Jones, Simpson, & Newton, which has offices in Bluffton and Beaufort and on Hilton Head. He has served on the County Council for 13 years and has been chairman for the past 10.
Stewart, 67, worked as a college chemistry professor, for the U.S. Department of Energy, and as chairman and CEO of Industrial Technologies, Inc. He was elected to County Council five years ago.
Sterling was disqualified this week after the state Supreme Court ruled candidates in Florence County who failed to submit all relevant documents at one time were barred from running. The court urged other counties to follow the same standard. Sterling filed her statement of economic interest about two weeks after she filed other forms.
Newton says he supports making public education more "competitive," saying parents should have options ranging from magnet and charter schools to tax credits and vouchers.
Stewart says he supports more choice but does not think public tax dollars should fund private schools.
Stewart said he takes a "regional approach" to economic development, arguing for partnerships with communities from Savannah to Charleston to attract high-paying jobs to the area.
Newton notes that he runs a small business and "knows what it's like to skip a paycheck." He also noted that the S.C. Chamber of Commerce endorsed him over Stewart.
Newton said his record of achievement on County Council speaks for itself, citing passage of tough stormwater rules and repatriation of millions of local tax dollars for highway projects.
Stewart argues his background in education, government and as chief executive of a public company would pay off in Columbia. As a retiree, he says he could devote his energies to serving the district.
No Democrats are running for the seat. Barring the entry of an independent candidate, whoever wins Tuesday's primary will be unopposed in the November general election.