Why a McMaster-endorsed small-town mayor is challenging SC Rep. Josiah Magnuson

Gun Rights

SPARTANBURG — Jason Shamis started his foray into politics because of a truck.

The truck was an GMC Yukon with over 200,000 miles of wear and tear. He had just left the Air Force after 23 years and moved to Spartanburg County. When he arrived, he realized he had to pay $400 worth of taxes on the truck.

So he went down to the Spartanburg County Administration Building and paid what he owed. But he wasn’t happy.

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“I was ticked. I was so mad all the way home — I was so mad,” Shamis said.

Jason Shamis

Campobello Mayor Jason Shamis is running against incumbent S.C. Rep. Josiah Magnuson for S.C. House District 38.

He didn’t like paying hundreds of dollars of taxes on his worn-out truck. So, with an opening on the Campobello Town Council in 2019, he decided he’d run to try to make a change.

After winning that seat and serving for two years, he ran for mayor in 2021, again filling an opening. He won the seat and was now leading the town of fewer than 700 people only a few years removed from the military.

Shamis, also the owner of a small real estate business, has almost halved property taxes during his time with the Campobello government while increasing city services.

But his current political venture is different. This time, he’s running against someone and not just filling an open seat. Plus, the guy he’s running against has been in office since 2016.

An eight-year incumbent who has frustrated the governor

State Rep. Josiah Magnuson began his political journey much earlier than Shamis. He was only in his mid-20s when he defeated six-year incumbent Doug Brannon to win a spot in the S.C. House of Representatives representing rural S.C. House District 38 that borders North Carolina.

Magnuson, who also works in sales and marketing, has made a name for himself while in office. He sponsored a bill that proposed banning abortion at conception and making people who have abortions eligible to receive the death penalty in 2023, a piece of legislation that received nationwide attention.

Numerous legislators removed their names from the bill. Magnuson never removed his support. The bill died in the House Judiciary Committee.

Hate Crimes South Carolina - Magnuson (copy)

South Carolina Rep. Josiah Magnuson, R-Campobello, speaks during a debate over a hate crimes bill on March 8, 2023. Magnuson is facing a Gov. McMaster-endorsed primary challenger in Jason Shamis for his seat.

He said fighting these kinds of fights against what he calls “the swamp in Columbia” is what his constituents in ruby-red northern Spartanburg County want and why he’s been reelected three times, always unchallenged in the general election.

“We have to actually stand up and have a backbone for what Republicans say that we believe in. If we sit back and do nothing, our freedom is going to erode beyond recognition,” Magnuson said.

In 2018, he handily fought off his last primary challenger, Joan Clyborne, winning by a nearly 40-point margin.

This time around, though, his challenger Shamis comes armed with an endorsement from S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster and nearly $50,000 from campaign contributions. This cycle is the first time McMaster has endorsed a challenger to a sitting Republican legislator.

Shamis has also received the backing of the political action committee OneSpartanburg, Spartanburg’s de facto chamber of commerce that advocates for economic growth, giving his campaign $3,000.

Magnuson has raised nearly $80,000 and has been endorsed by U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman and conservative groups like the National Rifle Association.

He said he represents his district’s values, not downtown Spartanburg and “liberal corporations.”

Also, cash isn’t everything. Clyborne raised over $114,000 in her campaign against Magnuson, although $96,000 of that war chest came from a loan.

Either way, the governor is backing challengers to Magnuson and his colleagues in the hardline S.C. House Freedom Caucus. McMaster also endorsed Adam Crisp, a Lyman town councilman, and lawyer Kyle White, both Republicans challengings incumbent Freedom Caucus members.

What the voters want

Recently, Freedom Caucus members killed a bill urged by the governor that would have restructured the state’s health agencies.

Again, though, Magnuson said this is the exact kind of representation his constituents want. He called the legislation the “health czar” bill and said it was unpopular.

“To suggest that all we have to do is kind of obey leadership and listen to the experts rather than listening to our districts is preposterous,” Magnuson said.

Shamis disagrees that this is what the district’s voters want. He has criticized the Freedom Caucus and railed against these kinds of moves, calling them divisive and only benefiting Democrats by making Republicans look chaotic.

“The Republicans need to come together,” Shamis said. “As long as there’s fighting within the Republican Party, you’re going to have things not getting done.”

He has focused on more mainstream Republican issues during his campaign such as funding infrastructure, backing first responders and teachers, and cutting taxes and spending.

Shamis also is not backing away from the abortion issue. Like Magnuson, he supports a ban at conception with no exceptions. He also favors criminalizing abortion, except in cases of incest or rape.

He added that he would not be against looking at the death penalty for people who get an abortion when there are no instances of incest or rape. Shamis said the procedure is the same as killing a human being.

Communication and transparency with voters are also a big focus. He said Magnuson has lost touch with his district.

Magnuson said most Republicans agree with his positions and that Shamis is ignoring that they support many of the same priorities.

“(Shamis) is pretending that I don’t agree with infrastructure funding or law enforcement when he knows that I have fought for more funding for roads and more funding for my district,” Magnuson said.

He’s called Shamis a “yes man” and a puppet for Columbia’s special interests because he has received money outside the district. He added that he’s held town halls consistently since he was elected and said he communicates with the community.

Shamis vehemently disagrees with Magnuson’s labels, saying the district’s constituents asked him to run, but added that Magnuson can run his campaign how he wants. He said that donations coming from outside make sense because the race is for a statewide office that affects all of South Carolina.

Regardless, voters will decide who best represents their values. 

Voting has already begun. Early voting runs through June 7. The primary is June 11.

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