Category Archives: Debates

The super-cool art of Kirkland Thomas Smith

On October 17, 2018, the day of the first of two gubernatorial debates, the campaign booked a suite at the Hotel Florence — which is a pretty neat place, in case you’ve never checked it out. (And I’m not just saying that because of, as a Pee Dee boy, having a tendency to see Florence as the “big city.” It actually is a pretty cool hotel.)

The suite had a terrace, from which you could see the civic center where the debate would be. James sat out there for awhile alone, studying a bit for the debate, and we talked a bit of strategy around the suite’s dining-room table. But mostly we sat about killing time — James was not a great one for debate prep. He just got his head into the place where it needed to be, and went out and mopped the floor with Henry. Not that it did us any good on Election Day.

I’ve got some photos from that afternoon. There’s Scott Hogan, the campaign manager, on the couch staring at his phone. There’s Phil Chambers on his laptop at the table. There’s Mandy Powers Norrell ironing her dress for that night.

But the person most absorbed in a task was the candidate’s wife, Kirkland Thomas Smith. She was busy making a dress out of beer can pull tabs. She said she was making it for the inaugural ball — then asked whether we thought that was a bad idea. I guessed she meant, was she jinxing the campaign? I don’t think so. I think we can chalk up the loss to other causes — such as most white South Carolinians being physically incapable of pulling the lever for a Democrat.

Anyway, Kirkland is always doing something cool like that, something surprisingly creative. Things like this four-foot-square portrait of James that hung in the foyer of our campaign HQ. That’s what she does. I felt privileged to get to know her better during the campaign.

And I thought I’d share the “Artist Minute” that Alan Cooper put on his site, MidlandsBiz, which shows Kirkland talking about her amazing artwork that she creates from junk. I can’t even begin to see how she takes debris and turns it into a recognizable portrait.

I can’t wait to see what she creates next…

A completed part of the dress Kirkland was working on, sitting on the table in the hotel suite. At top you see a memo of talking points I had put together for the debate. Not that James needed it. He knew what his talking points were.

A completed part of the dress Kirkland was working on, sitting on the table in the hotel suite. Under it you see a memo of talking points I had put together for the debate. Not that James needed it. He knew what his talking points were. But I felt like, as communications director, I should do something to prepare.

Your thoughts on the last debate likely to count?

hands up

It was the 10th debate, which is about nine more than I wanted to watch. Except for Bloomberg, I feel like I got what I was going to get out of these events loooong ago. And seeing Bloomberg in the last two wasn’t all that edifying, either.

You?

Anyway, that’s that. We vote here in South Carolina on Saturday, and practically everyone else does (or so it seems) a week from now.

So how did you think it went?

You can see what I had to say on my Twitter feed. But I’ll use this ranking from Chris Cillizza just as a conversation-starter, not that I necessarily agree with it entirely:

So what did you think?

Quickly, now: Thoughts on the debate?

I’d rather Joe be Peter than Michael Bolton, but whatever...

I’d rather Joe be Peter than Michael Bolton, but whatever…

I’m at the doctor’s office for my annual physical, so I don’t have time, but wanted to put up a place for y’all to comment if you’re inclined.

joe did fine, which is one of only two things I care about. But as a group, they set back the cause of defeating Trump, which of course is the other thing I care about.

Unpleasant to watch…

A friend of my daughter shared with her the image above…

 

What did Harpootlian say that was so bad?

debate NH

I watched the Democratic debate the other night — or most of it — but wasn’t interested enough to Tweet about it or anything.

I almost did at one point, but I wanted to take time to do a little research — refresh my memory.

What I had wanted to say was, “What was it Dick Harpootlian said that was so bad that Steyer thought it could be damaging to Biden?”

So I went back and read the stories about the contretemps between Dick and Jerry Govan — neither of them any stranger to confrontation — and came away still wondering that same thing.

It all started with a Tweet from Harpo:

That one was followed up by this:

Then, this happened:

After the state House and Senate let members out of a joint session, the Legislative Black Caucus met in a closed-door meeting, and then held a press conference in the State House lobby. As members of the caucus exited their meeting, Harpootlian waved and said ‘hello’ to Govan, who stared back and waved his index finger in the air…

At the press conference, Harpootlian was accused of being racist. Harpootlian disagreed, and said “I will not be silenced by those who use race as a shield from criticism.”

By the way, only certain members of the Black Caucus backed Govan in this:

State Sen. Marlon Kimpson, a Charleston Democrat and Biden supporter, noted that he and several other members of the Black Caucus did not participate in the press conference.

“It was to his benefit to give the impression that it was a Black Caucus press conference but it simply was not,” Kimpson said.

Kimpson argued Steyer “took advantage” of an internal dispute between SC lawmakers and “distorted the the facts” to hit Biden…

For his part, after the debate, Tom Steyer couldn’t answer Dick’s question about what Govan has done for the money:

“I’m not the person running the campaign,” Steyer said. “I know he’s a senior advisor and I know he’s been working for us. Exactly what that means, I don’t know.”

So I guess I should have sent that Tweet during the debate. Because I still don’t see what Dick said that was so bad. I mean, especially by Harpootlian standards.

But Steyer isn’t trying to convince me. He’s trying to sow enough doubt among Biden’s black support in South Carolina to damage him.

Which seems to me like a pretty cheesy move. I had been sort of neutral on Steyer before this. This knocks him a notch lower than that now in my book…

Thoughts about Democratic debate Number Umpteen?

jan 14 debate

Did you watch it? I watched about half of it, caught up on what I’d missed by reading written accounts this morning. I didn’t expect to learn anything new, and I didn’t.

Joe Biden is still the one candidate for me, and increasingly the voters in Iowa seem to be agreeing, after flirting with other possibilities. Not that I care, normally, what all those white people up there think. I’ve been to Iowa. Covered the GOP debate there in 1980. Slid around in the ice a good bit. Flew through an ice storm in a four-seater airplane. Not overly impressed.

Joe did fine. Nobody else made any particular impression that he or she had not made before. Bernie and Elizabeth had me about to start banging my head against a wall with their idiotic back-and-forth about whether Bernie had, or had not, said something about the electability of women. But I got through it. I seem to recall that there was another thing just as stupid that a couple of the candidates got into during the last debate, and I’ve managed to forget what it was, so there’s hope for the future.

That’s about it. Your thoughts?

Anyone have anything to say about YET ANOTHER Democratic debate?

Joe on TV

These things are getting to be as regular as Prime Minister’s Questions, but less entertaining.

Anyway, I watched as much as I could stand, and I more or less agree with the assessments I read this morning that it was a good night for my man Joe, and for Pete Buttigieg, and that Amy Klobuchar did well but probably not well enough, and beyond that… bleh. As for that seemingly never-ending back-and-forth about wine caves, double bleh

Anyone have anything else to say?

There was yet another LOOOONG debate last night…

oct 15 debate

I’ll share two or three thoughts, and then some Tweets, just to get things started:

  • Most of the night I waited for Syria — or anything having to do with the rest of the world — to be mentioned and discussed. I tried to be patient, knowing these are Democrats and their fave mode is to pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist. Finally, it came up, and I was pleased with most comments, except Tulsi’s ranting about regime change — as though THAT were the problem with abandoning the Kurds. I liked that my man Joe spoke most on the topic, followed by Pete Buttigieg. Joe spoke about it almost, but of course not quite, as much as Elizabeth Warren spoke about income inequality. Of course, Joe happens to understand better than any other what the presidency is mainly about.
  • A lot of people interpreted the fact that so many were jumping on Elizabeth Warren as being entirely due to her emergence as a front-runner, if not the front-runner. And I’m sure that’s a big part of it. But I think another factor contributed, and I think it’s odd that I haven’t heard it mentioned. I think a lot of them see it as less OK to give Joe a hard time, seeing as how he and his son are the targets of Trump’s mulilateral abuses of power. This makes Joe an even more sympathetic character than usual, so they laid off him.
  • Oh, and I came close to a decision last night. I think I’d like to see Amy Klobuchar as Joe’s running mate, assuming everything goes right and Democrats decide they actually want to beat Trump. It would probably be Mayor Pete if he weren’t so young and inexperienced, and if he didn’t keep reminding us of it (But that happened five minutes ago, and as I may have mentioned previously, I wasn’t born yet…). I don’t see Sen. Klobuchar as quite ready to be president yet, but she comes close, and would be a good understudy.

That’s enough points for now. I’ve got work to do. Here are my Tweets from last night and this morning:

As you can see, I dialed back the Tweeting last night. Just wasn’t inspired all that much, and I’ve heard so much of this stuff so many times already. Of those things I Tweeted about, I’d most like to chat further on ones about Facebook (someone on the stage, I forget who, made the point I’d made about lots of little Facebooks right after I posted it), and the thing about Trump’s Twitter. I’m still thinking I may have misunderstood what Kamala wanted…

Oh, and further discussion of Bernie’s fantasy version of Medicare might be in order. Bernie should have read this in the Post the other day… Dang. I can’t find it. Well, maybe later. Anyway, it was a column by a 64-year-old who seems to have just discovered that Medicare isn’t free, and it doesn’t pay for everything. Like, duh. These kids today and their inflated expectations…

Thoughts on the marathon ‘debate’ last night?

NYT debate graphic

Or perhaps I should say, further thoughts, since some of y’all have started the discussion on the previous thread. Which is cool.

As a conversation starter, I thought I’d post an image of the graphic the NYT ran this morning to go with a piece they had about winners and losers, featuring some of their opinion writers.

I read that this morning, and several other accounts of the night, and the consensus of what I’ve read — and I don’t strongly disagree with any of it — goes kind of like this:

  • Warren had the best night. That’s the consensus. I thought she started strong — I liked her Mayberry approach, with talking about her Aunt Bee instead of her usual intense ranting — but wasn’t as great the rest of the time.
  • Bernie seemed more and more to observers what he has always seemed to me — the cranky uncle who puts people off.
  • Yang embarrassed himself right out of the running with his money-giveaway gimmick. Too bad. I liked him.
  • Castro was second-worst, they say. Personally, I’d put him dead last and move up Yang. Basically what he did was the equivalent of blowing himself up with a grenade, in the hope that he could also wound Joe Biden in the process. Most thought it was bad; I think it was worse. He hasn’t learned what Kamala Harris learned belatedly: In the end, Democrats won’t like you for attacking Biden — and, by extension, Obama.
  • Kamala Harris was too scripted and rehearsed. Pretty much everyone thought she came across as phony.
  • Klobuchar did fine, but it wasn’t enough. And as one writer said, she remains irrelevant as the moderate alternative, unless Joe blows up. I still think she did better than the graphic above indicates.
  • I liked what Gail Collins said about Cory Booker: “So intense he kind of runs you over.” He’s like a younger, slightly (but only slightly) cooler, version of Bernie.
  • Buttigieg did OK, I thought. But others seemed to think he had an off night.
  • Beto was Beto. Most seemed to think he had a strong night. He continues to seem the callow (but earnest) youth to me. In that age bracket, Buttigieg still outshines him.
  • Consensus seems to be that Joe did all right — not great, not badly. He’s still the front-runner — with Warren breathing down his neck.

That’s about it. What did y’all think.

 

 

Oh, no! Is that three-hour ‘debate’ ordeal TONIGHT?

debate

On the radio this morning, a passing reference sort of ruined my day: It was mentioned that the three-hour Democratic “debate” is tonight.

And I don’t feel like I can’t watch it, and I probably won’t be able to avoid commenting on it, at least on social media, and there goes another perfectly good evening.

So you’ll probably find me on Twitter tonight. Unless ennui overtakes me, and I sit it out.

Top Five things I’d rather be doing tonight:

  1. Sleeping.
  2. Watching an episode of “Shetland” on Britbox.
  3. Reading a book I’ve read before.
  4. Reorganizing my sock drawer.
  5. Getting a root canal.

I’m not kidding. As I’ve said before, sometime back, I’m SO ready for this to be over. I’m only asking one thing of the Democratic Party: Nominate Joe Biden, and don’t damage him along the way (there are a number of ways they might do this, chief among them pressuring him to overcommit himself to the left wing). As I said in July:

I just want to fast-forward through this time in our history. I want to skim ahead to a time when Joe Biden has secured the Democratic nomination (and if the future holds something else, let me skim past the next four years of politics as well). No more enduring absurd “debates” with Joe on stage with a score of people, each of whom knows his or her way to victory lies through tearing Joe down, and not one of whom holds out much hope of doing what I think Joe can do — beat Trump.

But I guess I have to watch this thing. I guess…

Thoughts on the Democratic debate(s)?

July 31 debate

Last night I got a text from a friend and colleague in Columbia, asking “Are you watching the debate? I was looking for your twitter commentary.”

(Yes, some real people actually LIKE it when I riff on social media during these events, and miss it when I don’t do it. So there.)

But I wasn’t on the Twitters because a) I’m on vacation, and any time I spend on a keyboard is dedicated to something I just have to do for work or whatever (this post being a notable exception); b) it was my wife’s birthday, and we were having a family celebration; and c) having watched most of the debate the previous night (and Tweeted a bit), I was thoroughly fed up with this reality-TV mockery of our politics, and had no appetite for any more of it.

I had started Tuesday night willing to have fun with it…

…and ended up just disgusted:

So, even if I hadn’t been busy with more important things, I would not have watched Wednesday night with any, shall we say, gusto.

Anyway, today I’ve read a number of accounts of it, and I don’t think I missed much.

Here’s a summary: Joe did all right. That’s all that matters. He didn’t set the world on fire, but the consensus was that he wasn’t damaged and is unlikely to lose his dominant position in the polls — despite the increasingly desperate efforts of the wannabes to pull him down, extending to some really strategically stupid stuff like tearing down President Obama and his legacy.

For me, the only point in watching other than to make sure Joe’s OK would be to see if anyone emerges as a good backup option if he doesn’t make it. And that has not even come close to happening (based on my watching and reading). And not because my mind is closed. I’d like to have a backup plan. I don’t like not having a backup plan. I makes me uneasy. But I’m not going to lie to myself. I’m not going to pretend that someone else looks good just to ease my own mind.

Y’all know what I want. I look forward to the day that all this slapstick nonsense is over and Joe is the nominee and we can get on with the real business.

Anyway, what did y’all think?

Regarding last night’s prelim debate

prelim debate

Sorry, folks. Aside from being tired last night, my jaw thing was throbbing, and I just had to hit the hay with a pain pill.

Some of y’all already posted commentary back on this post. I’ll try to catch up.

I say “prelim,” of course, because there was only one contender on the stage, Elizabeth Warren, and her team had to be kind of frustrated that she didn’t make the cut for the real bout tonight. That put her in the position last night that Joe Biden will be in tonight — although Joe will have stiffer opposition. Interestingly, most of the commentary I’ve seen in the NYT and WashPost (such as Frank Bruni, and Aaron Blake) seems to be to the effect that she did great. I wasn’t that impressed. To me, she was just being Elizabeth Warren, and that has never worn particularly well with me.

Beyond that… a couple of you — Bud and Scout — have already ranked last night’s performances, and Doug has gone into what he liked and disliked in some detail (loves Tulsi, can’t stand Elizabeth). So I’ll take a stab at it myself:

  1. Amy Klobuchar
  2. Jay Inslee
  3. John Delaney
  4. Tim Ryan
  5. Cory Booker
  6. Elizabeth Warren
  7. Tulsi Gabbard
  8. Beto O’Rourke
  9. Julian Castro
  10. Bill de Blasio

Mind you, I wasn’t crazy about any of them, and there’s a big drop-off after Klobuchar, but that’s how I rank them without thinking too hard about it. You’ll note that Warren, whom so many think this debate was about, falls in the middle.

Briefly last night, Doug and I were in agreement about the ones we liked least…

… but I decided overnight I didn’t dislike Warren quite as much as some others.

That done, the real debate is tonight, with Joe facing Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Pete Buttigieg. Too bad we didn’t see how Warren would do against those four.

Here are my Tweets, so you can see how I was reacting in real time:

(And yes, that was an allusion to this skit…)

 

A fun SNL skit to look back at as debates loom

First, this is just plain hilarious, so enjoy.

Second, it’s relevant. As brilliant as Tina Fey’s impersonation of Sarah Palin was, it’s easy to forget how good a job Jason Sudeikis did with Joe Biden. And the Joe Biden that he was making fun of in 2008 is the same Joe Biden we see today.

It seems particularly relevant in light of Joe’s statements last week about working with everyone who will agree to help (even segregationists). What he was trying to say (which I understood perfectly, as did John Lewis and Jim Clyburn, although some people claim to be confused) last week was a lot like what Sudeikis’ Biden is saying about John McCain. I mean that in the sense of Joe’s ability to happily and cheerfully “hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

Or in the sense of his willingness to disagree vehemently with someone, but still regard him as a fellow human.

It’s a message that’s counterintuitive for people who believe that left is left and right is right and never the twain shall (or should) meet. And that’s where the humor comes from in these lines:

Well, I would do what I have done my whole career, whether it’s been dealing with violence against women or putting 100,000 police officers in the streets. I would reach across the aisle. Like I’ve done with so many members of the other party. Members like John McCain. Because, look, I LOVE John McCain. He is one of my dearest friends. But, at the same time, he’s also dangerously unbalanced. I mean, let’s be frank, John McCain — and again, this is a man I would take a bullet for — is bad at his job and is mentally unstable. As my mother would say, “God love him, but he’s a raging maniac…” and a dear, dear friend….

In order to be hilarious, it’s exaggerated. But it also expresses something about who Joe Biden is. And America knows Joe Biden is this way, which is one of the reasons he’s been leading in the polls.

But whether you love or hate the way he is, whether you think it makes him a better candidate or disqualifies him, I thought you might get a laugh out of this look back.

So enjoy…

"As my mother would say, 'God love him, but he’s a raging maniac…' and a dear, dear friend."

“As my mother would say, ‘God love him, but he’s a raging maniac…’ and a dear, dear friend.”

Hey, guys! A frozen moment from the campaign…

cropped-backstage-florence

Don’t know if you’ve seen the above image, one of the headers I recently added to the randomized rotation.

It wouldn’t mean a thing to you, but it made me smile when I saw it pop up just now.

There you have four of the main political operatives of the Smith/Norrell campaign, at a tense moment: They’re watching the first debate, in Florence on Oct. 17. We’re in our green room backstage. There’s nothing they can do at this point but watch and listen intently. There they are:

  • Phil Chambers, the bright young guy we had stolen away from the state party about halfway through my time on the campaign — he had set up all the logistics for the debate, to the smallest detail. (He’s the guy who, a week after the election, was out west working toward 2020.)
  • Kendall Corley, our political director. He and I shared an office at headquarters, but he wasn’t there all that much — mainly out in the field — and when he was in the office he spent all his time making phone calls or poring over maps, talking about how to deploy resources. But right now, he could do nothing.
  • Scott Harriford, deputy political director and James’ “body man” — the driver, the guy who experienced everything James did, going everywhere he went, taking care of details, shooting photos and video and texting them back to me. The first campaign staffer hired, he’d been doing all that since June 2017. But right now he could only watch.
  • Scott Hogan, the campaign manager, a guy I learned a lot from. He joined the campaign almost a month after I did. He was the pro from Dover, and I didn’t know how he’d react to a nonprofessional like me, but we ended up having a great working relationship. Don’t know what he’s worrying about there, maybe one of my Tweets.

I’m at the center of the room, between them and the TV monitor. I’m the one guy with something to do at this moment, with far too much to do, cranking out dozens of Tweets and making adjustments to the press release that I’ll put out within a minute or two of the debate’s end, working simultaneously with laptop, iPad and phone. I’m as busy as Butch and Sundance in that last scene where they’re shooting it out with the Bolivian Army.

But still, I take a moment to stand up in front of my table (you can see it in the uncropped version below) and look back at my comrades arrayed behind me, and feeling the need to record the moment, snap a quick exposure before sitting back down to my work and resuming the furious typing.

And the picture makes me smile now. Don’t know why. Maybe because things are going so well at that moment. James is clearly winning the debate, but there’s still that tension because there are 13 minutes left in the debate (photo taken at 7:47), and Something Can Always Go Wrong.

Maybe it makes me feel like Faulkner’s 14-year-old Southern boy, and we’re in the moments before Pickett’s Charge, and It’s Still Possible to Win, despite the odds.

And maybe I miss the intensity, the exhaustion tempered by the sense of mission, the excitement of this one-time experience, the feeling of doing all we can and leaving it on the field.

I don’t know. But while it’s no great masterpiece of photographic composition, it made me smile…

uncropped Florence green room

Marquerite Willis’ race-baiting radio ad (and the debate, too)

Cynthia Hardy, Jim Felder, me and Jon Parker on the radio Sunday night.

Cynthia Hardy, Jim Felder, me and Jon Parker on the radio Sunday night. At this moment I’m apparently making a terribly cogent point that requires hand gestures, even on the radio.

(Editor’s note: I wrote this last night, but am just posting it today because of problems with the sound file. WordPress will take an MP3, but not a WAV.)

Did y’all watch that Democratic gubernatorial debate tonight? I didn’t get to see most of it, but I heard a good bit on the radio while I was driving first to a program at my youngest grandchildren’s school, then over to my parents’ house to check on my Dad (he had a fall recently, but is doing better), then home. A few seconds after I turned on the TV, it was over.

I did pull over a couple of times to Tweet about what I was hearing. I Tweeted this at the end:

Speaking of unpleasantness…

Sunday, I was a guest on Cynthia Hardy’s show on the Big DM (you can watch the show here). Before the show started, Cynthia asked whether Jim Felder and I had heard the “race-baiting ad” — as she said some had called it — that Marguerite Willis was running. I said no, and she played it for us.

Give it a listen. And (let me know if you had technical difficulties.)

When it was done, I said, “So… I suppose she’s playing that mostly on the country stations…” As soon as I said it, it occurred to me that my joke might fall flat, although Jim Felder laughed politely.

That’s really something. And it’s totally consistent with what I heard of the debate, which at another point caused me to Tweet:

But that ad was something — grossly unfair, misleading and desperate. But the issue remains, will she and Noble manage to inflict enough damage on a good man so as to ensure a GOP victory in the fall? Because surely the two Democratic challengers are bright enough to know neither of them would have a chance in a general election…

So, is anyone paying ANY attention to the races for governor?

Sorry about the picture quality. ETV's online video doesn't have an HD option...

Sorry about the picture quality. ETV’s online video doesn’t have an HD option…

I sort of hesitate to post about the Democratic gubernatorial debate last night, since not one of y’all commented on the GOP one the night before.

I wonder: What was the viewership of those debates? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it was probably lower than the deeply shameful turnouts we get in the actual primaries.

As Cindi noted in her column earlier this week, just 14 percent of registered voters bothered to vote in the state primaries two years ago, and 16 percent in 2014.

Really. Let that sink in. While it’s sinking, reflect that for a huge number of state offices, the primaries ARE the election, with no alternative offered in the fall.

If my guess is correct, and even fewer people watched the debates, that means even among that select few, a lot of people will be voting on June 12 with minimal information about the candidates. Which means that they’ll be voting blind. And while in this race, if not in others, there will be a choice offered in the fall, if it’s between, say, Catherine Templeton and Phil Noble, we are really up a creek.

But let’s not dwell on that.

If you DID watch the Democratic debate, or both of them, what did you think? My own opinion of the three Democrats in no way changed — James Smith is the obvious choice among them, and I’ve yet to see his two challengers offer any reason why they would be better nominees. In fact, they consistently offered evidence to the contrary — although I will say that this debate wasn’t nearly as vapid, to use Republican Micah Caskey’s term, as the GOP one.

Beyond that, just to start things off (or to attempt to start things off), I’ll offer some faves from among my real-time tweets:

Y’all know me. I like to end on a positive note. Throw everybody a bone, why not?… :)

Thoughts on last night’s GOP debate?

GOP debate

Actually, it seems a bit jarring to use any form of the word “thought” in relation to that sorry spectacle. My Republican representative put it well:

There just didn’t seem to be much thinking going on on that stage. In fact, I found myself wondering whether, after all these years, even the GOP base has gotten sick of hearing the same pandering cliches stated over and over, ad nauseam.

Of course, there were exceptions to the right-wing cliche thing:

Old times there are not forgotten. At one point during the debate, someone asked me about McGill, “Is that the one they call Foghorn Leghorn?” No, no, I replied — you’re thinking of Henry. Although even he doesn’t have as firm a claim to that as Fritz Hollings. Of course, with Fritz, you never had the feeling someone was pulling a “Chatty Cathy” string. Fritz always spoke his mind.

My most popular tweet during the debate — 15 likes, which isn’t much by usual standards but I think this was a fairly low-viewership event — came with a typo, I’m embarrassed to say (and with Twitter, once there’s been a like or a retweet, I always hesitate to delete and start over). Substitute “rude” for “ride:”

Lynn Teague had an apropos reaction to that:

Indeed.

In retrospect, I felt a little bad about this one, as I worried it may have been misunderstood:

I didn’t mean to say our lieutenant governor is crazy. I mean he’s got the extreme territory staked out. He’s pretty out there. But at least he’s an extreme conservative, instead of, say, a “buzzsaw,” which means there’s some legitimacy to him, or at least consistency.

Did I have anything positive to say about anybody? Yes, I did:

So good one there, Henry. Nice to hear someone talking about an actual problem that exists in our state, instead of nonexistent things such as “sanctuary cities.” Of course, we know who talks the most about those.

My nominees for lowest point in the debate:

Henry talking about how proud he is to be helping Trump patrol the border down in Texas.

Catherine Templeton expressing her eagerness to execute some prisoners.

You may have your own favorites. Suggestions?

In any case, I didn’t hear anything that made me want to go out and take down my James Smith sign

A brief, belated report on the Democratic debate

debate

I went to the debate between the Democratic candidates for governor sponsored by Progress South Carolina Friday night, intending to blog about it. But the sound was so bad, and my notes therefore so incomplete and uncertain, that I blew it off.

But looking back, I think I can make a couple of observations. If you want more, or if you want to check my impressions, here’s a video of the whole thing. Bryan tried watching it in real time, and reported that “It sounds like they are underwater.” Which is the way it sounded in the Convention Center — loud enough, but mumbly. The good news is that the video available now sounds pretty good, especially with earbuds.

Here’s my main observation: I still don’t know why Phil Noble or Marguerite Willis is running, or what they hope to achieve. Oh, I can write down the words they say as to why they’re running, but I have trouble connecting those words to anything out there in the actual world.

The two of them seem locked in a bitter battle to see which one can be less likable. You’d think this campaign had been going on for years and they were sick to death of each other and of James Smith, to the point that they could hardly stand to be on the stage with each other.

Smith comes across as a guy focused on winning the election — the one in November, which hardly seems to be on the radar screens of the other two. He started his opening remarks with an upbeat, “Who here is ready to win an election? How about it?” Which prompted cheers, because that would indeed be a novel, exciting experience to this crowd.

tick offAfter a weird 12-second pause after moderator Bakari Sellers introduced him, Noble started off with a rambling, ticked-off, populist-tinged diatribe about South Carolina, starting in 1756, when his ancestors arrived. You can hear his tone on the video. At right you see his expression as he was telling this story. I got pretty lost in the story, along about the point where he went into detail about the curriculum of a school that folks like his ancestors started soon after their arrival. Lots of Greek and Latin, apparently.

In Noble’s world, our elected leaders haven’t failed to do what he wants because they disagree with him, but because they’re all “bought and paid for.” (Which is what I meant on a previous occasion when I said Phil is styling himself as this election’s Bernie Sanders.)

Ms. Willis, who had just gotten into the race that day, set her own tone by saying, “OK, let’s get right down to it. I’ve asked Phil Noble to drop out of this race.”

Noble’s response was along the lines of “Perhaps she oughta withdraw from the race!”

It was a “Yeah? And so’s yer mother!” moment that exemplified a tone that ran through the whole event. There have been times in the past when I have faulted my home state for being too polite. On Friday night, I was missing that politeness a bit.

The snapping wasn’t just between the two of them. For instance, after James Smith said some perfectly harmless things about how humbled and grateful he was for all the support he was getting from women across South Carolina, Ms. Willis replied with a sarcastic, “Well, let’s see how many of those eleven thousand women will still be with him when I tell you what I’m gonna do.”

Noble’s main shot at Smith came when he accused him of getting rating of 100 from the NRA, which Smith dismissed, defending his record of trying to reduce gun violence.

That moment sort of crystallized the point I mentioned earlier. Here we have a Democrat running with what would be an asset in the general election — a respect for gun rights, if Noble’s accusation were true — and that’s the beef his opponent has with him. From the start, Noble has seemed to justify his candidacy by accusing Smith of not being enough of a doctrinaire Democrat. He seems bent on making sure that the party nominates someone who can’t possibly win in the fall,

As for Ms. Willis… it will be interesting to see how many of those 11,000 women she can peel away from Smith in the coming weeks. That would seem critical to her chances, as she seemed to repeatedly put her self forward as the candidate for women. I don’t think she made a really strong start on that Friday night.

But y’all go watch it — you should be able to hear it better than I did at the time — and let me know what you think….

Video and a Twitter account of the city council forum

microphone

Having only one microphone was a bit awkward…

When I’m moderating a debate, I’m always thinking about too many other things — keeping an eye on the timekeeper, shuffling through questions from the audience, picking the next question — to take notes on what is actually being said. I mean, I hear this and that, but I can miss the overall flow, and I wouldn’t trust myself to report on it.

Fortunately, the Chamber streamed last night’s city council forum on Facebook Live. This is good for those of you who’d like to hear what the candidates said, and bad for me, because I find my own fidgeting and rocking back and forth in the background too distracting when I try to watch it.

If you’re only interested in one of the two races, we did the at-large contest between incumbent Tameika Isaac Devine and Joseph Azar first, then you see the candidates for District 1 — incumbent Sam Davis and Chris Sullivan — starting at -49:18.

If you’d like to read what the candidates said, Chris Trainor of Free Times Tweeted extensively during the event.

My main aim was to have an informative event that focused on issues rather than irrelevancies. I was pleased that Chris Trainor’s last Tweet said this:

Come to the city council debate tonight

A previous city council debate I moderated at the same venue.

A previous city council debate I moderated at the same venue.

This evening, I’ll be moderating the final debate of the Columbia City Council race.

It’s sponsored by the Columbia Chamber, the Community Relations Council (of which I am a Chamber-appointed member) and the Building Industry Association of Central South Carolina. We’ll be at the Chamber’s offices on Richland Street.

In case you haven’t kept up, Joe Azar is challenging at-large Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine, while veteran District 1 member Sam Davis faces Chris Sullivan.

We’re on a tight schedule, dealing with both races between 5:15 and 7 p.m., so I’m working today on trying to whittle down the prepared questions so I can get the best ones in. I don’t intend to ask about such irrelevancies as who belongs to the NAACP or who might be a closet Republican, because I can hardly imagine anything less relevant.

Of course, the candidates can bring up what they want, but my intent is to get good answers to how they intend to improve the city.

If y’all have any last-minute suggestions, toss ’em at me…

ebate

The Senate District 22 debate went OK — by which I mean, better than the presidential ones

both

My only complaint was that more people weren’t there. There were about 60 in the audience, which isn’t terrible, but in the vast Richland Northeast auditorium, that looked pretty sparse.

The candidates, Democrat Mia McLeod and Republican Susan Brill, were both quite civil and well-behaved, but not shrinking violets. They asserted themselves. More than once, after they both had answered the question and both had rebutted, they asked for more time, so I gave them another round of rebuttal. I think rules should be flexible, as long as order is maintained. I’ll not have any debate I moderate turn into the ugly spectacles we see between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton — if I can help it. Harrumph.

Of course, you can’t always help it, and visions of this debate devolving into a scene from Lord of the Flies caused me to be more nervous yesterday than I think I’ve ever been before moderating a debate. I’ve just seen so much chaos on TV this year, I wondered whether it had set an uncivilized precedent. I could hear the nervousness in my own voice at the outset of the forum, but once we were engaged and we’d interacted a bit, I calmed down. (It was kind of like my wrestling days in high school. I always hated, hated, HATED the circling around at the start of a bout — it made me super apprehensive, not knowing what was going to happen. But once my opponent and I had a grip on each other, I settled down and knew what to do.)

Interestingly, I actually had to stop Susan Brill a couple of times when she interjected during Rep. McLeod’s time, telling her to wait her turn. That made me feel pretty foolish, since I had earlier asked her whether she was assertive enough to be effective in the Senate. (This was a companion question to asking Mia whether her abrasive communication style would work in the collegial Senate. I saw them as sort of opposites on the assertiveness scale — Mia too hot, Susan too cold.)

Only once did the audience get out of hand. Ms. McLeod was speaking when suddenly a man’s voice boomed from the audience something along the lines of Wait, are you trying to say… Everyone turned to stare in that direction — I couldn’t see him for the stage lights. I cut in immediately with something like, No, sir! We are not going to do that… I said he should write his question on a 3X5 card like everybody else, and pass it to Community Relations Council Executive Director Henri Baskins. To his credit, he complied. (As I said that, I knew I probably wouldn’t get to his question, because I had plenty of good questions — many more than I had time for — in front of me already, and I thought polite people’s questions should have precedence. But as it happened, Henri passed his question to me and, deciding I may have implied that I would ask his question, I made it the last one in the program.)

Were there any serious gaffes? Not really, although Ms. Brill got a pretty snarky reaction to her assertion — in trying to prove that the Richland Two school board of which she is a member provides all the district’s schools what they need, without favoritism — that the board had provided Ms. McCleod’s children’s high school with… wait for it… Astroturf for their football field.

At this point, y’all are saying, “Where’s the substance? You’re talking about the style.” Well, that’s the thing: When I’m moderating, I find it impossible to take notes. I’m too busy with the forms — making sure the rules are followed, watching the timekeeper, trying to keep up with what the candidates are saying even as I sort through the 3X5 cards from the audience trying to pick the next question.

But here are my prepared questions — I got to all but one — and a very brief summary of what I remember them saying in response. Sorry I can’t do better:

  1. I think most voters in the district are sorry to see Sen. Joel Lourie ending his distinguished career in the state Senate. He has played a leadership role on a number of issues of statewide importance. I’d like to ask each of you, to what extent to you intend to follow through on Sen. Lourie’s initiatives, and what sorts of issues are you likely to stress that he has not? Both said they would follow through on his issues. Mia mentioned DSS reform in particular. She also said one issue she would work on that she didn’t think Joel had done enough on was gender pay equity.
  2. We’ve had the opportunity to observe both candidates in public office for a number of years. I’d like to ask a question of each of you regarding your personal leadership styles. Ms. McLeod, you have been a very active and energetic advocate on a number of controversial local issues. You sometimes have a forceful, assertive style. Your critics say it’s too forceful, and unnecessarily alienates people. Your supporters say you’re a breath of fresh air, and exactly what’s needed. You’re running to be a part of the state Senate, a body that prides itself on its collegiality. My question is, how effective do you think your approach will be in that body? She had said in opening remarks that she was “a fighter,” so I reworded this to reflect that. She maintained that she had nothing to apologize for, and cited her ability, for instance, to work across the aisle with Republicans.
  3. Ms. Brill, I have almost the opposite question to ask of you. In many ways your leadership style seems the opposite of your opponent’s. We seldom see you stepping out and making headlines in the same forceful way that Ms. McLeod does. Some might see your approach as more passive. Our state, and Richland County, have a number of very contentious, controversial issues lying before them. My question of you is, are you assertive enough to lead on these issues in an effective manner? She argued that she was, too, a leader, although it seems in retrospect (my memory could be playing tricks) that she had to go back to her time on county council years ago to come up with good examples.
  4. As I said, you are both experienced officeholders. Ms. Brill has gained a perspective on education and on local government that many members of our state Senate may lack. And Ms. McLeod well knows that the House can see things very differently from the way senators do. I’d like to ask each of you, what will you take from your specific experience in office that will make you a better senator? Sorry. I know they both had fairly substantive answers to this, but I honestly can’t recall the specifics
  5. Let’s talk about the Richland County Recreation Commission. After a year of upheaval in which many residents of the county began to despair of seeing the matter addressed meaningfully, we have recently seen movement, in part because of stands taken by the legislative delegation. But what has happened falls far short of what lawmakers have demanded. What should happen next, and what would you do as a senator to make it happen? I didn’t feel like either fully answered this, which may be because I wasn’t specific enough about what I meant. Mia sort of leaped ahead to answer Question 7, saying she would change state law to make lawmakers able to remove commissioners. She also noted that she thought the governor had all the information she needed to act. I think Susan also spoke of broader remedies. I considered asking the question again, demanding to know what they think should happen with the problem commissioners who haven’t quit, but I had a lot of subjects I wanted to get to, and moved on.
  6. Here’s a question near and dear to the CRC and its mission: The Recreation Commission issue is like many in Richland County, including on the Richland Two school board. It often breaks along racial lines. Things can get pretty ugly. Even Sen. Lourie, after all his years – and those of his father before him – of leading on social justice issues, has had the race card flung at him. How can we move forward on these difficult issues, which are tough enough without the painful ingredient of racial tension? How would you further communication to achieve the understanding needed to get everyone working together? Mia got slightly defensive on this, and defended herself well by going back to her leadership on the Election Commission debacle, when hers was the loudest voice calling for reform, and saying failing to run an election competently has nothing at all to do with race. (At some point in the debate — I don’t recall if it was now or later — there was some back-and-forth about Mia having injected herself into the incident at Spring Valley last year, something Brill supporters have decried as inappropriate.
  7. One more related to the Recreation Commission. The central political problem it poses is that while the legislative delegation can appoint its members, lawmakers can’t remove them, even if the delegation can itself come to agreement on something so difficult. This, along with hundreds of Special Purpose Districts across our state, is a vestige of the Legislative State, of a time when state legislators ran everything on the local level in their communities. The SPDs just did not go away when the Home Rule Act was passed in the 70s. What should be done about these hundreds of unaccountable little governments called special purpose districts, and will you lead on addressing the situation if elected? Neither seemed as interested in taking this on as I would be, although Susan may have been more willing than Mia — I really can’t recall now. I just remember being disappointed, and moving on.
  8. Let’s talk about infrastructure. Even before the floods of a year ago, our state was struggling to figure out how to maintain its vast network of roads, and failing to agree. Then came the floods, with all those dams failing right here in this district. The damage to dams, roads, bridges and such landmarks as the Columbia Canal was tremendous, and we had not nearly recovered from all that damage when Hurricane Matthew came along and did further harm. What should South Carolina do to address its infrastructure challenge, for the safety and economic development of our state? Both decried the situation, but neither really offered a long-term solution for paying for infrastructure. At some point — but I think it was later — Mia mentioned raising the gas tax, and if I remember correctly, Susan did not disagree. (Anyone who was there, please jump in and correct my memory if I get it wrong.)
  9. Let’s switch to taxes. Speaker Lucas has a committee looking at our tax system, so some pretty big potential changes COULD be before the General Assembly soon. I want to ask about the LAST big change lawmakers made to state law, 10 years ago. I refer to Act 388, which removed the burden for supporting public school operations from homeowners and placed it on a combination of business property and an increased sales tax. This has had a number of unintended consequences, such as stifling business, and people who can’t afford to own their homes paying higher rents, and schools and local governments not being able to raise the money they need to operate. Should ACT 388 be maintained as it is, repealed or amended? And if amended, how? Mia said repeal. I think Susan’s answer was more nuanced, but I don’t remember the details.
  10. South Carolina has a vast army of state retirees, including, I would expect, some in this very room. How would you address the unfunded liability of state retirement systems? I remember nothing at all about their responses.
  11. Here’s something that over the years at the newspaper I ALWAYS asked candidates about. We have before us, as usual, a Democrat and a Republican. I want to ask each of you, how important is party to you? To what extent will you follow the party line, and to what extent will you go your own way? I skipped this question, as after asking some audience questions, I was running out of time.
  12. South Carolina opted not to expand Medicaid when the Affordable Care Act was implemented. Was that the right course? What should our state do about healthcare going forward? Sorry. I forget the details. Dang.

OK, that was a pretty pointless exercise. I just don’t remember enough — and worse, I tend to remember Mia’s answers better than Susan’s. Not that Susan’s were bad; at the time I felt like she was addressing the questions well enough. I just can’t remember them as well.

Dang. Well, y’all should have been there.

Oh, wait — people want to know about zingers. I remember one in particular aimed by Mia at Susan. And it may have been the one thing Mia said that illustrated the unnecessary abrasiveness that her critics cite. One of the audience questions was about Mia’s $49,500 contract with the city of Columbia for communications consulting. That’s the subject of an attack ad from the Senate Republican Caucus, and a sore point for the Democrat (and it wasn’t among my questions because I knew it would come up).

She used it as an occasion to lash out at her opponent as a woman who had never worked outside the home, and didn’t understand people who had to go out and earn a living. She also hit her for failing to distance herself from Donald Trump — something I was about to ask about (another audience question).

Ms. Brill responded accurately that she had nothing to do with the attack ad; that was the caucus. I found her answer about Trump less satisfactory, but let’s be fair: I’m never satisfied with anyone who won’t say she’ll vote for Clinton — which is, of course, the only way of stopping Trump.

Yeah, I know; this was a lousy report. But I just don’t know how to moderate and take proper notes at the same time…