A Ashley Johnson campaign sign sits at an intersection near a West Columbia polling place. Johnson was the only political newcomer in the race for District 3’s open seat. (Photo by Raymond Escoto)
Ashley Johnson was the odd woman out in the special election for the recently vacated seat on West Columbia’s City Council.
Johnson, a real estate agent, lost the District 3 race against former West Columbia Mayor Bobby Horton, and former West Columbia Zoning Board member George Crowe.
At 34, she was the youngest candidate by far and the only political newcomer in the nonpartisan race that Crowe won by a handful of votes.
Despite her lack of political experience, Johnson decided to run because of concerns about the lack of new businesses and infrastructure in her district, which borders the rapidly growing river district. She also thinks city government could be more responsive to constituent concerns.
Her husband Corbin was “excited” when she told him she wanted to run, he said.
Johnson’s experience in the real estate business was an asset, said Earl McLeod, the former executive director of the Building Industry Association of Central South Carolina. But he “was a little surprised” when she told him she planned to run.
Once he spoke with her, though, he knew that she had “all the right motives for running for City Council.”
Johnson’s youth was an obvious factor to anyone who followed the race, with the next-youngest candidate being more than twice her age. She made that a strength of her campaign.
“Being involved with the younger demographic gives a different perspective,” Johnson said.
Her campaign slogan, “A Fresh Perspective,” reflected that. But youth wasn’t the only factor that influenced it. Other qualities that made her a unique candidate.
Johnson said she could be more objective than her opponents because she isn’t entrenched in local “grudges, drama and other things not necessary to politics.”
She earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the College of Charleston. She said her education prepared her for running her campaign, especially when it came to marketing herself and answering and asking questions.
Her work as a real estate agent meant she had plenty of experience working with people, solving problems as an intermediary.
“All of that is invaluable to politics,” she said.
McLeod also spoke highly of her ability to listen.
“She can take that info (from her constituents) and be effective working with the rest of the council,” he said.
Johnson said her experience as a mother also separated her from Crowe and Horton. Her children are on the verge of entering the public school system, and one of the main motivations of her campaign was to improve the community for them.
“A fear is our kids will go off to college and not want to go back home,” she said. “They might want to go to one of the bigger cities, like Charleston. This should be a home for them and a serious option as well.”
Her husband agreed.
“I think she cares about the community and raising our children in it,” he said. “She wants the best opportunity for them.”
To that end, Johnson focused on improving business development in the district.
She said she “does not want West Columbia to be known as the land of thrift shops and vape shops.”
She specifically would like to improve the U.S. 378 corridor, creating an environment that caters both to families and young professionals.
In addition to her policy goals, Johnson hopes to inspire the next generation of local politicians.
“It’s important for younger people to be involved, because we are the future, she said. “We are the ones who will live with this progress.”
Despite the election result, Johnson was grateful for the opportunity.
“Either way, I am extremely proud of this,” she said. “I am a woman. A newcomer. I’m not from here. I had everything going against me, and I closed this gap by a couple of votes.”
ABOUT THE JOURNALISTS
Rainey is a junior journalism major at the University of South Carolina. He enjoys covering local sports, food, culture and entertainment. After graduation, he plans on attending law school and practicing media law. In his free time, he co-hosts and produces a sports podcast, watches too much soccer and reads.
Escoto is a junior journalism major at the University of South Carolina. He has written for the opinion section of the student-run Daily Gamecock and won an award from the S.C. Press Association for a column about the growing costs of college. He has written about a variety topics ranging from film reviews to politics. A creative writing minor, Escoto spends his free time writing a fantasy novel. He also plans on attending law school.