FITSNews Exclusive – S.C. Realtors Carrying A Big Stick September 27, 2007Posted by fitsnews in SC Politics.
ASSOCIATION EMERGING AS POTENT POLITICAL FORCE IN SOUTH CAROLINA
FITSNews – September 27, 2007 – Backed by a growing political war chest likely to top the $2.4 million mark by the time the November 2008 elections roll around, you’ll forgive S.C. Realtors CEO Nick Kremydas for speaking his mind on a few things.
“We’re kidding ourselves if we think we’re moving our state forward in any kind of positive direction right now,” he said during an exclusive interview with FITSNews. “We’ve been spinning our wheels for five years.”
Kremydas, who runs arguably the most powerful grassroots organization in South Carolina, has taken steps in recent months to make it even stronger. His 23,000-strong association of realtors, which promotes home ownership, property protection and other quality of life issues, had already budgeted $1 million toward issues advocacy efforts for the 2008 election cycle, a figure its board recently agreed to double. That’s $2 million – before you even get to the $400,000 the group’s political action committee currently has on hand.
“Money doesn’t translate into political clout unless you spend it the right way,” Kremydas says. “Not only are we actively recruiting candidates, we’re also going to be endorsing candidates, giving PAC contributions and considerably expanding our issues advocacy efforts.”
So what’s behind this mountain of money?
According to Kremydas, the Realtors are hoping to encourage the passage of a property owner protection act, a measure which passed the S.C. House of Representatives last year but failed to make its way out of the State Senate.
“The big doughnut hole is legislation protecting private property owners,” he says. “The House has delivered, the Senate has not.”
The group is also hoping to encourage alternatives to impact fees at the local level, looking to expand market-based approaches to development (such as priority investment areas) and pushing for a broad swath of other pro-business reforms that Kremydas says will encourage higher income levels and increased home ownership.
“There are candidates openly running on no-growth or anti-growth platforms,” Kremydas says. “That’s not healthy. We don’t stand a chance to compete as a state like that. We’re not a ‘growth-at-all-costs’ association, but when you start tacking $20,000 or $30,000 fees on a new home you’re basically taxing people out of their ability to achieve the American dream.”
South Carolina’s average new home price last year was $127,000, Kremydas says.
Legislators who spoke with FITSNews said they appreciated the need to approach growth issues from a collaborative perspective.
“If you look at what’s going on in the mortgage industry and the sub-prime market, clearly home ownership is what drives the economy,” says State Rep. Nathan Ballentine. “There’s a balance that needs to be struck, obviously, but you don’t want to cut off a key economic driver.”
Given a shared goal of enhanced economic competitiveness, Kremydas seemed to indicate under questioning that his group’s ramped-up political activities could dovetail at some point with the efforts of groups like Reform SC, the SC Club for Growth and South Carolinians for Responsible Government.
“I’m sure our paths will cross at certain points, but we’re an independent group,” he said.
So will the Realtors get involved in next year’s GOP primaries?
“I definitely see us getting involved anywhere incumbent Republicans as well as Democrats haven’t had a great track record on housing issues,” Kremydas said, although he declined to single out any specific incumbents that might be targeted.
“We’re also going to continue doing what we’ve always done, which is refrain from negative attacks and focus on the importance of promoting home ownership and protecting property owners,” he says. “In addition to promoting the industry, we’re also promoting communities.”
And just what impact will the realtors’ massive cash infusion have on the 2008 races?
“I think a lot of it will be spent making sure that incumbents stay in line,” said Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon. “On the other hand, if they’ve done their homework and determined that someone has consistently voted against their interests, they’ll go after that person. And if that person happens to be someone who’s been branded by (FITSNews) and others as a RINO, it represents a pretty formidable challenge to their reelection.”
“Businesses interests have a way of overlapping, but they’re also often in conflict,” Huffmon cautioned. “The thing to remember about this type of advocacy group is that their interests are always much narrower than those of more ideological groups.”