Why is Russell Fry challenging SC’s Tom Rice for US House? Here’s what he told us

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South Carolina state Rep. Russell Fry said in an interview Wednesday that, unlike Republican House U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, he would not have voted to certify the Electoral College votes confirming Joe Biden the winner, but at the same time the Horry County attorney would protect one of Rice’s biggest passion projects — the Interstate 73 expansion.

This month, Fry, 36, launched a campaign to take on the five-term incumbent, joining a crowded GOP primary field motivated after Rice stunned many South Carolinians and Republican political watchers when he voted to impeach former President Donald Trump over his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Soon after, Rice voted to create a bipartisan House panel to look into the events that day, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol as Congress was set to certify votes declaring Biden the November election winner. Hundreds of people have been charged, including in South Carolina, for their role in the riot, which followed a speech given by former President Donald Trump.

“Tom rice broke the trust of the people in the Pee Dee, in the Grand Strand, and they deserve a congressman that they can trust — one who is basically supports Donald Trump’s America first agenda,” said Fry, who lives near Surfside Beach, and represents part of Horry County in the South Carolina House. “My record in Columbia shows that I’m a consistent, proven conservative.”

Fry spoke to reporters with The State and the The Sun News by phone Wednesday, outlining why he is running for Congress.

Elected to the state House in 2014, Fry rose through Republican Party politics, holding leadership positions with the Grand Strand Young Republicans and the South Carolina Republican Party as an executive committeeman.

In the House, Fry sits on the House Judiciary Committee, a powerful panel of mostly lawyers, who oversee the court system in South Carolina, shape laws that affect policing and help draw political district lines every decade. In 2018, Fry was named chief majority whip for the House Republican Caucus, charged with building consensus around legislation and the party’s priorities.

Through his time in the legislature, Fry said he’s pushed for conservative policies regarding gun ownership and abortion, for example.

He was a chief proponent of the open carry with permit gun legislation — which he called “the greatest Second Amendment advancement in South Carolina in nearly 25 years” — and helped push forward a bill that bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, now held up in court. He also said he’s “led on election integrity, school choice, certainly the opioid epidemic and human trafficking.” Fry also serves on the House’s Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee.

Though Rice voted with Trump 94% of the time, Fry said 7th District voters want a representative more committed to conservative values.

“That is my motivation to run, is to restore that trust to the Grand Strand, and the Pee Dee for their congressman in Washington,” Fry said.

Here’s what else Fry said:

On 2020 election, Trump’s second impeachment

Asked who won the 2020 presidential election, Fry told reporters he has serious doubts about the outcome, questioned how votes were counted and whether court challenges were handled appropriately. Had he been in Congress, Fry said he would have voted against certification.

“I think that there are a lot of questions about (the) processes that individuals took, that government officials took, that courts took, and those are continuing to play out,” he said. “What I do know is that if people had, if we had universal voter ID, if we had more robust election laws in states, that President Trump would have won that election.”

Rice, who also has in past questioned how the 2020 election was run, has said he accepts that Joe Biden won.

If elected, Fry said he would continue to pursue “election integrity” laws in Congress like those he’s pushed for in South Carolina.

Trump was impeached by the U.S. House, but not convicted by the Senate, after he encouraged his supporters to protest at the Capitol as Congress was certifying votes. Ultimately, at least five people died during or shortly after the storming of the Capitol and federal authorities and Congress are continuing to investigate the rioters and the events of the day.

But Fry said he felt the impeachment process was too fast and that Trump wasn’t given “due process” to properly defend himself against the accusations that he had incited the mob.

“The speed at which Congress brought forth the Articles of Impeachment and passed them was incredibly reckless and damaging to the American people and to the faith in the system,” Fry said.

For his vote to impeach, Rice said he did it only after learning more about what the former president was doing throughout the day on Jan. 6 and how he had criticized former Vice President Mike Pence, making him a target of the rioters. Rice said he felt Trump violated the Constitution that day. Fry disagreed.

“Even presidents are afforded due process, and President Trump was never afforded that process,” Fry said.

Still, despite Fry’s questioning of the 2020 election, he said it’s important voters have faith in the electoral system. He said it’s a person’s duty to vote and lawmakers’ job to “perfect” their election laws.

“People need to go and vote. I mean, that’s ... our obligation as a nation to vote,” he said. “I think it’s also important, too, that states look at and always perfect their laws.”

Support for I-73

Despite his criticism of Rice’s vote to impeach Trump, Fry told reporters he would protect one of Rice’s key projects: Interstate 73.

Rice has pushed for the interstate — the southern leg of which would connect Interstate 95 to Highway 22 near Conway — throughout his decade in office. Rice said he’s currently working to secure federal funds for the project, through both the infrastructure package and the American Rescue Plan, which passed earlier this year. He’s said the project is necessary to bring new jobs and industries to the region, and to give residents another way out during major storms.

Fry agreed.

“I think it’s a meritorious project for both the Grand Strand and the Pee Dee,” he said.

Asked how he might win the support of area conservatives who support Trump but not the interstate project, Fry cited Trump’s support for I-73.

“I stand with President Trump in supporting I-73. He said that he was a supporter of it. I’ve been a supporter of it,” Fry said.

If elected, Fry said he would continue Rice’s work on the project, working to pull together federal, state and local resources.

“Being the advocate for that project in Washington is important, as well as working with your state and local partners,” he said.

And, like Rice, Fry said he supports the project because it will help boost the region’s economy and keep residents safer.

“I think it’s a meritorious project for families in and around here,” he said. “It is a public safety issue. It is a a jobs and economy issue. It’s a connectivity issue. There are a lot of benefits that come from interstate access that would that would be great not only for the Grand Strand, but the entire Pee Dee region.”

Local priorities

Like Rice, Fry said he would work to combat the effects of flooding in the district and work to grow the economy. He praised the Dillon Inland Port — which Rice had a hand in establishing — as a quality project that could attract jobs.

To combat flooding, Fry said he would consider supporting a diversion canal to improve stormwater flow, and would support raising low-lying roads and dredging rivers and canals.

Fry also said he’d work to loosen regulations on businesses so that companies could more easily locate in the eastern corner of South Carolina and hire residents to work quality jobs.

“In many ways, both state and federal regulatory environments really need to be robust in promoting this area,” he said. “Because we do have a lot to offer.”

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