When the GOP primary arrives in June for the state House seat representing East Cooper, voters certainly can’t complain that they’ve never seen challenger Joe Bustos’ name before.
Bustos served for years on Mt. Pleasant City Council, but he’s spent the last two losing elections. In 2008, he ran against Isle of Palms Mayor Mike Sottile for the open District 112 seat representing most of Mt. Pleasant, IOP, and Sullivan’s Island. Last year, he lost a three-way race to be Mt. Pleasant’s mayor.
Earlier this month, he announced that he would again challenge Sottile in the GOP primary.
Sitting down with us last week, Bustos was all smiles when talking about his political defeats over the past two years. It’s likely a recognition that you can’t change the past and optimism that lessons learned on the campaign trail will prove successful come June.
Bustos says that his first legislative campaign in 2008 suffered from his inexperience on the trail.
“We worked hard, but we weren’t efficient,” he says. The candidate went door to door without regard to whether people were dependable voters, let alone primary voters.
In last year’s mayoral campaign, Bustos contracted the help of GOP consultant Rod Shealy, who has run campaigns for Congressman Henry Brown, Lt. Gov. André Bauer, and former state Treasurer Thomas Ravnel.
Shealy’s assistance helped Bustos focus his efforts, and he says that polls in that race were moving in his direction.
“We went to 3,000 doors,” he says of the improved door-to-door effort in 2009. “We went to people we were sure were voters and would come out and take interest in the race.”
The polls were improving, but Bustos says the election happened too soon. If the campaign had two more weeks, results could have been different.
“We want to use some of that momentum,” he says of this second Statehouse race.
The campaign is going to need all the help it can get. Bustos isn’t fighting for an open seat anymore. This time, he’s taking on an incumbent and all the support from Columbia and Statehouse leaders that comes with that title.
“Our get-out-the-vote effort is going to have to be redoubled,” Bustos says.
His campaign message is about preserving the area’s quality of life, limiting government, and living up to fiscally conservative principles. There’s an added tinge of anti-incumbency in the rhetoric — something that is being seen across the country in this election cycle.
“The people are tired of politics as usual in Columbia, just as they are tired of it in Washington,” Bustos says, suggesting that Sottile will have to defend votes on taxes and a poor ranking from policy wonks at the Club for Growth.
“People are looking for candidates who will do what they say after they’re elected.”
Bustos says he’s never voted for a property tax increase and fought against other fee increases. He’ll carry that message on to Columbia.
“I believe the only way we’re going to get ahead is to create an environment where business will survive and thrive,” he says.
That includes finding ways to reduce the tax burden on businesses and improving educational programs that actually prepare students for the jobs available in the market.
“We have a vested interest in making sure the young people going to school can contribute and that the jobs are there for them to go into,” he says.