In a video released Wednesday by Peter vonLehe Ruegner, a Republican candidate for S.C. House of Representatives District 110 seat, Ruegner starts off talking about a divine calling, and Charleston County GOP chairwoman Lin Bennett disagrees.
"I have been praying a lot, and I will be running for the House of Representatives," Ruegner says.
"You haven't been praying well. You've been following your heart," Bennett replies. "Can I talk to you about this before you do this?"
The video was shot by a member of Ruegner's campaign team on March 24, when Ruegner filed to run against Republican incumbent Chip Limehouse in the June primary contest. Ruegner was one of hundreds of non-incumbent candidates for state and local offices around South Carolina whose place on the ballot was in jeopardy due to a filing technicality, but he says he's back on the ballot thanks to evidence from the video, which shows him trying to hand Bennett an important document and her telling him it was unnecessary.
South Carolina law requires that candidates file a Statement of Economic Interest (SEI) at the same time as they file their Statement of Intention of Candidacy, but Ruegner, like many candidates, filed his SEI before filing for office via a relatively new online filing system. Incumbent candidates were not affected, as they are not required to re-file an SEI after their first election. An organization called Operation Lost Vote is currently advocating for voters to help put the hundreds of disqualified candidates back on their respective ballots by collecting signatures so they can register as petition candidates.
Ruegner, who just wrapped up his final semester as an undergraduate student at the College of Charleston, has already raised some hell in Republican circles, calling out incumbents as Republicans In Name Only (RINOs) in events put on by the conservative group RINO Hunt.
Ruegner says he sent an e-mail to Bennett on March 13 asking what forms he would need to bring to her office to make the filing process go smoothly, and she responded by telling him she had another position in mind that he could run for. Bennett has not returned the City Paper's requests for comment on the video.
"It's pretty clear to us that she didn't want me to run for this seat," Ruegner says. "I just wonder how many times this type of thing has happened."
The video is 10 minutes long, so we'll fast-forward to the interesting parts. There are actually some weighty theological questions in the middle of it all:
Bennett: You can do this, but I want you to understand the implications of what you're going to do — that's all. And I don't think you have all that.
Ruegner: What don't I understand?
Bennett: Well, I'm not going to say it in front of all these people, so I need to talk to you personally, OK? Then, if you still want to do it, you're welcome to do it.
Ruegner: I do believe that this is what God's will is for me.
Bennett: I don't.
Bennett: I have a seat for you, but you wouldn't call me to talk about it.
Ruegner: Not in the district I live in.
Bennett: Yes sir. In the district that you live in.
Ruegner: For the Statehouse?
Bennett: Peter, I love you, sweetheart. I really do. And I never told you not to run. I told you to call me so I could talk to you about [unclear].
Ruegner: I've talked to a lot of people about this. I've prayed about it.
Bennett: I have too. So you're saying God's not going to answer my prayers, and He's going to answer yours? And I'm sure the other people have prayed.
Bennett: I thought we were friends. I thought I could talk to you. Obviously that can't happen.
Ruegner: I've always been nice to you. I remember coming and helping —
Bennett: I've always been nice to you, Peter.
Ruegner: I understand that you are upset with me doing this. However —
Bennett: I'm not upset with you doing this. I don't think you get the big picture … You made your decision, and that's fine. It really is fine.