COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — In her pursuit of South Carolina's top education job, Republican Ellen Weaver has received endorsements from a number of party leaders across the state, as well a political action committee led by one of the state's top GOP newcomers.
In a statement to The Associated Press, honorary chairman John Warren said South Carolina's Conservative Future would be backing Weaver's campaign for state education superintendent, calling the school-choice advocate “by far the most qualified candidate in her knowledge, skillset, and conservative beliefs."
Weaver — the first woman to chair the state's Education Oversight Committee, a nonpartisan group of political appointees tasked with enacting standards to improve South Carolina’s K-12 education system — is “a lifelong conservative Republican who has fought in the trenches for school choice,” Warren added.
A wealthy businessman who forced Gov. Henry McMaster into a 2018 GOP runoff, Warren launched his PAC before the 2020 election, seeking to recruit and support “conservative, capable and courageous” candidates for legislative races based on the “conservative reform movement” he posited during his gubernatorial campaign.
Claiming victory in most of the 2020 races in which it sought to play a part, the group is already supporting legislative candidates competing in South Carolina's June 14 primary elections, with plans to announce other endorsements. Warren opted not to challenge McMaster to a rematch this year, saying he would focus on his Bitcoin company, but didn't rule out politics forever.
Superintendent Molly Spearman’s decision not to seek a third term set in motion a wide-open race for the state’s top education job, an election anticipated to garner copious attention amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic, given Spearman's high visibility as she grappled with how best to educate South Carolina’s K-12 students safely.
Among six Republicans seeking the GOP nomination, Weaver has been racking up endorsements from establishment Republicans including the three sitting Republican congressmen — Jeff Duncan, Ralph Norman and William Timmons; former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, Weaver's former boss at the Palmetto Promise Institute; and more than two dozen members of the state Legislature.
Weaver also is backed by two former South Carolina education chiefs: Barbara Nielsen and Mick Zais, who also briefly served as U.S. Secretary of Education.
The Republican field shrank in April as two GOP hopefuls, activist Sheri Few and Charleston County School Board member Cindy Bohn Coats, acknowledged they lacked a master's degree — as required for the post under a 2018 change to state law — and dropped out.
Weaver also lacks a master's, but said she would earn one online through Western Governors’ University before the November general election. Weaver has switched to a master's in educational leadership program at Bob Jones University, a completion her campaign said this week remains on track.
Coats subsequently endorsed Weaver, while Few has backed Lexington County educator Kizzi Staley Gibson, who is also endorsed by Republican congressman Joe Wilson. The other GOP candidates are Travis Bedson, Bryan Chapman, Lynda Leventis-Wells and Kathy Maness.
The three Democrats seeking their party's nomination are teacher Lisa Ellis, state Rep. Jerry Govan, Jr., and school board member Gary Burgess, who says public dollars should not be diverted to private, parochial or religious schools. Democrats have not held an elected statewide position in South Carolina since Jim Rex won the education superintendent race in 2006.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.