Self-Help Credit Union's Kerri Smith to Challenge Incumbent Ashley Trantham In S.C. District 28Nov 22, 2023 10:34AM ● By David Caraviello
(Photos: Top, Kerri Smith; bottom, Ashley Trantham)
Kerri Smith’s job hinges on collaboration — working with municipalities to try and find affordable housing options, merging the private dollars of businesses with the public dollars of government entities, and finding creative ways to finance a home purchase for an individual family.
Now Smith, who for nearly 40 years has worked in community development and financial counseling, will try to bring that same spirit to the State House in Columbia.
Smith, Self-Help Credit Union regional president for South Carolina, told Greenville Business Magazine she plans to challenge District 28 Rep. Ashley Trantham in the June 11 Republican primary.
Smith, who has been active in efforts to try and curb predatory lending practices in South Carolina, said she decided to run after witnessing the rancor of the most recent legislative session — much of it involving the South Carolina Freedom Caucus, a group of hard-right legislators of that includes the incumbent Trantham as a member.
“There was so much havoc and division, and not really a lot of time spent working on the issues that are important to my district or the state,” Smith said. “While there's a lot of prosperity in our state, I haven’t talked to one taxpayer that has not felt some pain around roads or infrastructure in particular. I know that there's been some work done to try to address these issues, but we need a real, common-sense approach.”
Trantham was one of 14 House members to vote against an April joint resolution that authorized the expenditure of $2.5 billion in federal funds received by South Carolina through the American Rescue Plan Act.
“That was a disservice to the people of my district,” Smith said. The bill passed both the House and the Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Henry McMaster.
‘It’s not about the name-calling’
House District 28 is a largely rural swath of southern Greenville County that includes some areas of outer Mauldin and Simpsonville.
Trantham was first elected in the district in 2018 when she claimed a special election to succeed Eric Bedingfield, who left the post to take a role with Greenville Technical College.
Trantham has won her last two general elections with 67.8 and 65.1 percent of the vote, respectively, though she did not face a Republican primary challenger in either of those cycles.
“An important part of our electoral system is competition. With that said I hold my conservative record up to anyone’s and am proud of the results we have experienced in Columbia,” Trantham told Greenville Business Magazine when asked to comment on Smith’s plans to run.
“Last year I received the honor of being named Legislator of the year nationwide by Alliance Defending Freedom for my Save Women’s Sports bill. This is just one of many things I’ve been able to do for my constituents and for South Carolina.”
Trantham added: “I agree that we do need common-sense legislators, but we also need courageous legislators. So often people come to Columbia, and they are more worried about being liked than truly representing their constituents. There’s a time to work with others and there’s time to stand firm on your convictions and what you’ve promised you will do. That’s the difference between a politician and a statesman.”
Smith said she has considered running since 2019.
With 37 years in the financial services industry, “I've sat around a lot of board tables where institutions were facing some really hard decisions and been able to sit with them and find common ground,” she said. “And I’ve also been able to work with them on very fiscally responsible solutions to help grow their organizations and meet the needs of their community, so that everyone thrives. And that is what I would like to take to the State House.”
Smith called herself a “fiscally conservative Republican” who believes in finding the root causes of problems.
“Whether it's business, personal or government, if we don't treat root cause we’re going to spend so much more just treating the symptoms of whatever it may be,” she said. “So, I believe taxpayers deserve leadership that will be willing to make hard decisions and work together with their fellow colleagues to get the work done. It’s not about name-calling. It’s about working towards solutions that meet the needs of our citizens.”
‘These things are all interconnected’
Smith said she has the support of her employer, Self-Help Credit Union, which primarily serves customers who have been pushed out of traditional financial services or are completely unbanked — largely women, people of color, and those in rural or low-wealth communities.
Smith has also been a dogged proponent of predatory lending reform in the Palmetto State, having held in her hands contracts that charge customers interest up to 749 percent.
South Carolina law currently has no provisions on interest rates, Smith said, allowing lenders to charge any interest rate as long as they file it with the S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs each year. The South Carolina Fair Lending Alliance has been a proponent of a 36 percent all-inclusive rate cap, which would mirror the rate cap in the federal Military Lending Act.
“These lending practices are really setting people up for failure,” she said. “It is a contributor to homelessness and addiction. I really have seen that none of this happens in a vacuum. Anytime you're working with community or economic development, these things are all interconnected.”
Most of the people who get caught up in predatory lending, Smith added, couldn’t afford the loan if the interest rate was zero.
Instead, they become trapped in an unending cycle due to interest rates that she’s seen go as high as 900 percent.
By being in the State House, Smith believes she could give lawmakers a better view of what’s really happening on the ground and what amounts to predatory lending —and perhaps use those same collaborative skills to further other legislation as well.
“I sit across a desk from people almost every day who are looking to build wealth through homeownership. And because they've been caught up in these predatory type of loans, they are pushed out of homeownership,” Smith said.
“I’m a certified financial counselor, so I believe that having that voice and that experience, and being a convener, I think those are all talents that I could bring to this role.”