MAY 13, 2022
DAVID M. RUBIN
The 94th Assembly District in the Summerville area was the launching pad for one of South Carolina's more bombastic politicians---Katie Arrington--- and that is saying something in a state filled with bombast.
Arrington represented the 94th from 2016-2018. After a single term, she used it as a stepping stone to run for Congress. She shocked incumbent Mark Sanford and won a primary against him. Then she angered Republicans by losing to Democrat Joe Cunningham in the Blue Wave of 2018.
Arrington has resurfaced to challenge Republican incumbent Nancy Mace in a nasty primary that should aid Democratic Congressional candidate Annie Andrews in the general election. The current holder of the 94th is one Gil Gatch, who is finishing his first term. So far he is the anti-Arrington, at least on the bombast meter. He has sponsored few bills, made no significant speeches, and stayed out of the news. He is, however, far too conservative in his views and voting record to represent the increasingly Blue 94th. The more voters know about him, the more vulnerable he will become, so consider this column an introduction.
Gatch is as green as they get in politics. Born in Charleston, he spent seven years as a pastor in Charlotte, NC before moving to Summerville and starting a law practice in 2020. He holds a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, where he studied with members of the Federalist Society and "originalist" legal theorists. He burnished his conservative credentials with
a brief internship at the Heritage Foundation. When Republican Con Chellis decided to leave the 94th in 2020 after his one term, Gatch was tapped to be a reliable Republican foot soldier. He has delivered.
With one exception, he has voted for every piece of contentious Republican legislation during his term. He opposed mask mandates. He authorized South Carolina to join the Convention of States which could seriously disfigure the United State Constitution. He voted to permit persons with concealed carry permits to openly carry their firearms. He would prohibit abortion as soon as a
fetal heartbeat is detected. He voted for the Save Women's Sports Act that will keep transgender students out of female sports competitions in public schools. He sports a 92% favorable rating from the NRA.
The only area in which Gatch strayed from conservative Republican orthodoxy is in opposing the death penalty (which he says he cannot reconcile with his opposition to abortion). We can find hints of how Gatch will likely vote in the future through his responses to the Freedom Voter Guide candidate questionnaire. He favors using public resources to support charter and private schools. He would allow health care workers to practice medicine in accordance with their personal beliefs. He does not favor raising taxes on the wealthy. He opposes a single-payer healthcare system.
When he came into office, Gatch told Ballotpedia that his three legislative goals were better roads, more equitable education funding, and greater accountability and transparency in government. However, Gatch did not sponsor any legislation to achieve these goals. They were hollow promises. His performance rates a grade of F.
What he DID propose is somewhat puzzling. His major legislative initiative was a bill (H.3981) to require insurance companies to offer coverage to all policy holders for loss or damage resulting from an earthquake. Gatch frequently uses social media to warn of the dangers of earthquakes in the Summerville area. (Summerville was, in fact, at the epicenter of the great quake of August 31, 1886, the largest in the history of the southeast. Predictions are that another BIG ONE could hit in the next 500 years, so Gatch is planning ahead.)
Some insurers offer earthquake insurance or can obtain it for clients, but it's not cheap. It's strange that a supposedly free-market conservative Republican would mandate that it be offered. But this is Gatch's legislative hobbyhorse. So far he has not gained any traction. Nor has he been successful with H.4347. This bill would permit teachers and summer camp counselors to assist students in applying sunscreen if they have written parental consent. It would also shield school personnel from a civil suit
for applying sunscreen. Who could have guessed that the application of sunscreen needs legislative attention? Nor surprisingly, this hasn't advanced out of Gatch's Education and Public Works Committee. The impression one gets from Gatch's breathtakingly modest legislative agenda is that he is either feeling his way, is afraid of controversy, is on a short legislative leash, or is simply content to take orders from his Republican bosses and vote for their priorities. That he has done.
The most frightening side of Gatch was revealed in February of this year when he and MAGA Republican Lin Bennett (AD 114) were at the side of Representative Russell Fry to support his primary challenge against Congressman Tim Rice. Rice, you will recall, angered Donald Trump by voting to impeach him for his attempted January 6 coup. For this act of political courage, Trump made Rice one of his top targets and endorsed Fry. Gatch chose to stand up for Fry, not Rice. This puts Gatch on the side of Trump's Big Lie about election fraud and his attempted coup. For this act alone Gatch is a threat to law-abiding residents of the 94th. Add in his feeble legislative record and there is every reason voters should aid his
Democratic opponent, Ilene Davis of Summerville, and make him another one-term Republican.