Three Republican candidates are vying for the S.C. Senate District 26 seat.

Jason Guerry of Columbia, Billy R. Oswald of West Columbia and Christopher Smith of West Columbia are all up for the seat in the June 11 Republican primary.

District 26 previously covered portions of Aiken, Calhoun, Lexington and Saluda counties. Due to redistricting following the 2020 U.S. Census, it has been redrawn to include portions of Lexington County and larger tracts of Calhoun and Richland.

The district has been represented by Democratic Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-West Columbia, who is retiring after 47 years of service. 

Despite being held by a Democrat for more than four decades, the Senate 26 seat has become more competitive for Republicans recently.

The Democratic share of the vote has decreased each election cycle from 63% in 2008 to 54% in 2020, according to the S.C Election Commission.

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The GOP winner will face the winner of the June 11 Democratic primary. Current S.C. House District 93 Rep. Russell Ott is facing current S.C. District 20 Sen. Richard “Dick” Harpootlian, who is now in the new district.

Worker Party candidate Harold Geddings will also be a candidate in the general election in November.

The winner will serve a four-year term.

Guerry is a political newcomer. This is the first time the 51-year old has ever run for political office though he says he has been in politics for most of his life.

Guerry says he has also been attending Republican Party meetings with his father since he was 10 years old. His father, Art Guerry, served on Lexington County Council and as auditor for Lexington County.

His wife, Tina, has served as the Lexington County register of deeds since 2016.

“It was all about timing,” Guerry said when asked why he chose to run for the Senate 26 seat.

“A lot of times when it comes to decisions, you have to be in the right place in your life because it does take time to serve. I have wanted to run for years but the timing was not right.”

“I want to see that we have good representation in District 26,” Guerry continued. “The seat has been held a long time by a Democrat. It is time for a Republican to get in there and see what they can do.”

Guerry is excited about the opportunity to “bring some positive change to the Senate.”

Guerry cites his experience of starting and running a business and his business contacts as well as his contacts with current state senators and representatives. 

He is owner of Overhead Construction LLC, a roofing, remodeling and home renovation company since September 2022.

Prior to opening his own business, Guerry served for 12 years as the inventory manager at ABC Supply Company Inc., where he was responsible for $16 million in inventory and management of warehouse staff.

Guerry was also the owner of Chapin Logistics from January 2006 to May 2010.

“It is an easy transition for me,” Guerry said. “The learning curve would be better for me than for somebody just getting into the game. I have gotten a lot of experience for that. It is a good all around fit for me.”

Guerry said his main goal if he gets elected is to be proactive in addressing issues.

“I want to bring a sense of running a business and thinking ahead and planning ahead,” Guerry said. “A lot of times I don’t think we do that in state government.”

Guerry said he will be forward thinking and anticipating how decisions made today will impact the state 10, 15 to 20 years from now.

For example, Guerry said the state needs to do a better job of developing infrastructure and energy needs.

“We need to think about the future and let’s plan now for the future,” Guerry said.

One part of infrastructure development is road improvements, including widening roads, upgrading traffic signals, repairing potholes and implementing traffic-calming measures to create safer and more efficient road networks for communities.

Guerry said another priority of his, if elected, would be mental health. He said getting people working and having good-paying jobs is important to improving mental health.

“We have ignored mental health the past couple of decades in the state,” Guerry said. “The problems we are seeing in youth and in our adult and homeless is around mental health. We need to be more supportive of that.”

 Guerry says he recognizes the complexity of mental health issues and the need for facilities that can provide effective treatment.

Another issue is skilled trade education.

“We need to be more involved in identifying kids earlier on in school and seeing if we can’t find something in the skill trade,” Guerry said. “They are high-paying jobs such as plumbers, electricians, framers and masons.”

Guerry said not all kids who graduate high school have the means or the desire to receive a four-year degree. He said a skilled trade can lead to a good and prosperous life.

“We have a shortage of electricians,” Guerry said. “They can make good money in doing that. Working with your hands is rewarding.”

He said he would support getting skilled trades back into high schools.

Guerry was born and raised in the St. Andrews area of Columbia.

He attended Leaphart Elementary School and then Irmo Middle and Irmo High School, where he graduated.

He has remained in the area.

“It is home to me and it is home to my wife,” Guerry said. “We raised our family here. We have been in District 26 a long time.”

The Guerrys have three sons — one of whom is a U.S. Air Force veteran. The other two are Citadel alumni. The couple also has a granddaughter.

Guerry attends Northside Baptist Church in Lexington.

“I have had a goal my entire life to serve one term in the state legislature,” Oswald said.

Running for the Senate 26 seat will be about the seventh or eighth time Oswald has run to serve in Columbia.

He noted he has come close to winning, at one time coming up about 30 votes short.

He chose to run for the Senate 26 seat after seeing how the district lines were redrawn.

“I knew the way the district was drawn up that a Democrat could have a hard time winning that seat,” Oswald said. “It is a hard race both ways.”

Oswald believes he has the unique skill to serve well in the Statehouse.

He touted the fact that he has a degree in political science and five decades of practicing law in the state.

“I am aware of the laws of the state of South Carolina,” he said.

Oswald became a lawyer 50 years ago this November and has practiced law in the district for all the years.

He is the owner of West Columbia-South Carolina-based Oswald Law Firm LLC.

Oswald said his priorities are to improve infrastructure — roads, ditches, drainage systems — throughout the district.

Oswald said he would also seek reform in the way judges are appointed in the state. He believes a larger pool of individuals needs to be responsible for deciding how an individual is nominated. Currently, state lawmakers are responsible for appointing judges.

Oswald said a concern is the recent discovery that the state lost about $2 billion that moved through a state bank account over the past 10 4years.

The issue started as the state shifted accounting systems in the mid-2010s. State Senate leaders say every time the state’s books were out of whack, money was shifted from somewhere into an account that helped balance it out.

In a different problem, the state was double-counting higher education money to the tune of almost $4 billion.

“I think it is just terrible that we lost $2 billion,” Oswald said, noting he is “not positive” the problem will be solved.

Oswald also said the state’s surplus of $400 million should never have been taken from taxpayers in the first place.

“The state does not have to tell me to save money,” Oswald said. “I can save my own money.”

Oswald said he fought hard against the Lexington County 1-cent sales tax increase, noting there were no good plans about where and how the money would be spent.

“People were already paying way too much in taxes,” Oswald said.

Oswald said another concern is the energy bill debated in the Statehouse.

“I am going to have to do days of research to what is being argued with that,” he said.

The bill — the South Carolina Energy Security Act — stalled in the Senate and will not become law this year, though the Senate vowed to continue studying the state’s energy needs with an intention to pass legislation early next session.

The bill was to address the energy-capacity issues facing the state and the need to upgrade transmission.

Oswald said a 2022 federal lawsuit filed by a former employee alleging sexual harassment at his law office is not an issue in the campaign.

On March 7, U.S. District Court Judge Mary Geiger signed an order dismissing the case against Oswald as the court had been “advised by counsel for the parties that the above action has been settled.”

Oswald declined commenting on the case and said, “It is a total lie.”

Oswald was born Feb. 24, 1948, and grew up in the Grandby section of Olympia in Columbia.

His mother, Berlie Rast, grew up in Calhoun County and his father ran a number of stores heading into St. Matthews, Oswald said.

Oswald said though he grew up in Richland County, he spent weekends in Calhoun County at an 800-acre family farm. He still enjoys hunting and fishing in Calhoun County.

He attended Richland County School District One’s Hamrick Elementary School on the campus of the University of South Carolina and then went on to graduate from middle and high schools on the USC campus. He then went to USC as an undergraduate and then to USC’s law school, graduating in 1974.

“I spent my entire educational career within a mile of South Main Street,” Oswald said.

Since founding his West Columbia law firm in 1988, Oswald has also served with the county and state bar associations.

Oswald is no stranger to elected office.

He was elected to Lexington County Council, serving from 1978 until 1982. He also sat on the non-partisan Lexington County Board of Education for about five years.

Oswald also previously held positions on the South Carolina Health Planning Committee and the board of the Lexington Medical Center.

Oswald is a U.S. Army veteran and is a commander of the American Legion Post 79 unit in Lexington County.

He has been married for 54 years. The couple has no children.

A self-described “conservative Christian,” Smith has testified in front of several Senate and House subcommittees for various issues such as The Right to Life Act, Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act, Save Women’s Sports and the Help Don’t Harm bill.

Smith also used his voice to show support for what is now the Election Integrity Law. The law emphasizes one person-one vote, cleaning up voter rolls and making voter fraud a felony punishable by $5,000 – and five years in prison per offense. 

Smith said he will continue to be the conservative voice in the Senate, where he noted House votes on conservative issues often go to die. 

These include a bill that would have ended Critical Race Theory in South Carolina and last year’s parental rights bill protecting parents who speak up at a school board meeting. The latter was gutted in the Senate. 

“It is time to flip this,” Smith said during his September 2023 campaign announcement.

During the announcement, Smith said, “We have too many attorneys in the Statehouse.

“We need more common folks like me,” he said. “I am just an ordinary guy who cares and I do care a lot.”

Smith unsuccessfully ran against Setzler for the seat in the 2020 general election, receiving 46% of the vote. Smith won close to 20,000 votes.

Smith defeated Perry Finch to win the Republican primary that year.

A real estate broker and retired airline worker, Smith has served as the Midlands coordinator for the National Day Of Prayer.

This year he was presented an S.C. House resolution honoring him for his 20 years of service. A similar resolution was issued by Gov. Henry McMaster.

Smith did not respond to questions for this article.

Contact the writer: or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.

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