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Sen. Clementa Pinckney, D-Ridgeland, and political newcomer Leilani Bessinger, R-Beaufort, are competing for the Senate District 45 seat to represent a far-flung geographic area that includes Beaufort County and much of Jasper County.
Pinckney has spent 16 years in the General Assembly -- four as a representative and the past 12 in the Senate -- and cites his seniority as a reason he should be re-elected. But Bessinger has said Pinckney doesn't have much of a record of job creation, securing education funding or representing all of his constituents.
The district has 60,000 residents and takes in St. Helena Island and the Sea Islands, and Sheldon, Dale and Lobeco. It also picks up a portion of southern Beaufort County along New Riverside Drive and Palmetto Bluff Road. Most of Hampton County and parts of Allendale, Colleton and Charleston counties also lie within the district.
Pinckney lists his residence as Ridgeland but is pastor of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
He cites economic development as his highest priority, including pushing forward a proposal to develop a Jasper County port terminal. Pinckney said the idea has some momentum and wants to continue work on it. Small-business tax cuts, programs to encourage growth and hiring, and access to higher education are key for areas like Beaufort, he said.
Pinckney said he believes his role on the Senate Finance Committee places him in a position to "bring opportunities to our area" as they occur.
"I empathize with the concerns and try my best to listen to the concerns of the people, and it has been my pleasure over the past years to serve," he said. "(But) the work is not done, there are still issues out there."
Bessinger, a litigation paralegal, is related to the noted South Carolina barbecue family through marriage. She is making her first bid for political office.
As a military brat, Bessinger moved around a lot with her father, a Marine Corps veteran, she told The (Charleston) Post and Courier newspaper.
As a candidate, she advocates term limits of about three terms per office and wants to change what she calls the "good old boy" system in Columbia.
Like Pinckney, she listed roads, schools and creating jobs as some of the district's biggest needs.
Bessinger did not return a candidate questionnaire sent by The Beaufort Gazette. Pinckney completed a questionnaire, but it arrived after deadline. Pinckney did not participate in a forum Thursday conducted by the Burton-Dale-Beaufort Branch of the NAACP.
"We have the longest legislative session in the country," Bessinger said during the forum. "We should be going to Columbia, taking care of business and going home. The longer they're in session, the more of our money they are spending, and that's money that could be put back into our communities."
Attempts to reach Bessinger for this story were unsuccessful.
The (Charleston) Post and Courier contributed to this report.