COLUMBIA — The never dull and often controversial Sen. Robert Ford will run for governor in 2010 on a platform centered on bringing back video poker, the Charleston Democrat told The Post and Courier on Tuesday.
Ford claims video poker would solve South Carolina's woeful financial situation, generating $750 million by taxing the industry that was outlawed here nearly a decade ago. It's the Christian thing to do, he said.
"I decided to run for governor, but it will be a different type of race," Ford said.
Many people would bet money on that.
Rod Shealy, a South Carolina political consultant, said Ford, a native of New Orleans, shouldn't be discounted, despite the senator's bad grammar and freewheeling sense of humor.
"Senator Ford is a fierce political competitor," Shealy said. "He brought a style of Louisiana politics when he came."
Ford, 60, served in the Senate since 1993 and had been a Charleston City councilman from 1974 to 1992. He worked for Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights era, spent years as a car salesman and now is a full time legislator.
He joins an already crowded field of politicians interested in the state's top job when Gov. Mark Sanford's term ends in January 2011.
Republicans who have expressed interest include Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, 3rd District U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, state Attorney General Henry McMaster and state Rep. Jim Merrill of Daniel Island, who just relinquished the post of House majority leader. Interested Democrats are state Sens. Joel Lourie of Columbia and Vincent Sheheen of Camden and state Rep. James Smith of Columbia.
Ford said his gubernatorial bid would be different because he is working with others to build a coalition that believes taxes on gaming will provide South Carolina with the money it needs to serve the state's neediest while keeping taxes low. Ford wants to put a referendum before the voters to bring back video poker.
Tax collections in the current budget have fallen a billion dollars short of projections, resulting in mid-year cuts. The fiscal year the begins July 1 could be even worse.
"I decided to give the General Assembly up until April to come up with another source of revenue," Ford said. After that, he will put his campaign in full gear.
Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, said video poker brings more problems than it could solve and he is skeptical of the money Ford said it will raise.
"There are a number of people who were sad to see video poker go, particularly the ones who were making hundreds of thousands of dollars off the backs of those who were addicted to gambling," Grooms said. He said those same interests could pump big money into Ford's campaign.
Still, Grooms said, "The upcoming gubernatorial race would not be boring if Senator Ford would be a candidate."
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