Category Archives: James Smith

The new Henry McMaster (we can only hope)

henry

I’ve been meaning to write about this, but when it was timely — on Inauguration Day, and when we had the State of the State — I was too busy to blog, and let it slide.

But now I’m thinking about it again, so…

A number of times lately, I’ve thought, Hey, at least one voter out there was listening to us during the campaign: Henry McMaster.

At least it seems that way. Everywhere we went, James and Mandy touted their plan to raise teacher pay and take other measures to make all our schools places where kids were well educated and teachers loved their jobs and didn’t want to quit. And James had a crowd-pleasing line he used with regard to his opponent that went kind of like this: The only thing Henry McMaster has offered our schools is to arm teachers with guns. I want to arm them with better pay, and with the tools they need to be effective.

The line worked, because Henry offered nothing to counter it. He didn’t talk about schools. Any reasonable person could be forgiven for assuming that he didn’t give a flying flip about schools.

Now, he’s all on fire for education reform. Which is why, after the State of the State, Mandy Powers Norrell tweeted this:

It’s great. It’s gratifying. But don’t think I think we deserve the credit (and I don’t think Mandy does, either). I don’t flatter myself that Henry is taking his cues from the Smith campaign. I do think he’s taking them from House Speaker Jay Lucas. And that’s a good thing.

(Oops, I forgot to use The State newspaper’s recent style. On first reference, and sometimes even in headlines, it’s always “powerful House Speaker Jay Lucas.” It’s become such a part of his title, I expect them to start capitalizing the “P” next. Back in the old mainframe days when we were on Atex terminals, we would have said, “they’ve got it on a SAVE/GET key…”)

Lucas has been wanting to get serious on helping our schools for several years now. Even though the Supreme Court has backed off on forcing the Legislature to provide all the state’s students with a better-than-minimally adequate education, Lucas really wants to do something about it.

And he’s willing to let Henry get in front of the parade and take credit for it.

And to his credit, Henry for once is acting like a leader and stepping out to do something, to lead, to be a governor.

His first two years in office, we saw no sign of that. In fact, when Lucas and others in the State House tried to lead, Henry lay down in front of their efforts. He only cared about the upcoming election. It was painfully evident that, on a twist of another of James’ campaign lines, Henry would rather keep the job than do the job.

The way he tried to block leadership on the roads bill was the perfect example. Rather than support the lawmakers in the risk they were taking, he vetoed the bill, and neither tried to offer a viable argument why nor made any effort to get lawmakers to sustain the veto. He knew they would override him. He just wanted zero responsibility for what happened. (Which reminds me of a postwar German phrase: Ohne mich. They could do what they liked, but without him.)

Now that he’s been elected governor for the first time, he seems to have decided he’s going to act like one. For a change.

I worked so hard to get James Smith elected mostly because of my tremendous respect for him, personally. I’d have been for James even if Henry had been a fairly decent governor. But I worked even harder for him because Henry gave no sign of being any kind of governor at all, decent or otherwise. It was an extra spur to my efforts.

And when we lost, we had little reason to hope for anything better going forward.

Which is why it’s so encouraging to see Henry accepting the mantle of leadership that the Speaker has offered him. It’s not as good as having James as governor, not by a long shot, but it’s something.

I applaud this unexpected development. And I’m daring to hope that something good will come out of it. After all, Dum Spiro Spero

Here you go, Doug…

2789653

I initially used this image when I posted our medical cannabis release on the campaign website. James communicated to me that it wasn’t quite the look he wanted to go with so, ya know, I took it down…

How did we win over Doug Ross back during the campaign (however briefly)? Well, I imagine a number of things went into it, but one think I know played a role was our stance on medical cannabis.

James won’t be around to get ‘er done, but I’m sure Doug will be encouraged by this release yesterday from Tom Davis, the most libertarian member of the Legislature:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

CONTACT:

State Sen. Tom Davis

tdavis@harveyandbattey.com

State Rep. Peter McCoy

peter@mccoyandstokes.com

COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina State Sen. Tom Davis and Rep. Peter McCoy released the following statement regarding their intent to file tomorrow, on Tuesday, January 15, 2019, a bill titled the “South Carolina Compassionate Care Act,” in order to legalize in South Carolina the use of cannabis by patients for certain specific medical conditions, subject to a physician’s authorization and supervision, and to legalize in this state, subject to regulation and oversight by DHEC and SLED, the cultivation, processing and dispensing of cannabis for such medical use:

“For the past several months, we have worked with law enforcement, health professionals, grassroots advocates, and other individuals and organizations to draft the most strictly regulated and tightly supervised medical-cannabis program in the country.  Poll after poll on this issue confirms what we consistently hear from our constituents – that the overwhelming majority of South Carolinians do want physicians to have the legal ability to authorize the use of cannabis by their patients if those physicians believe it would be of medicinal benefit, but that they do not want to legalize the use of cannabis for recreational purposes.

“Our objective in drafting this bill has been to provide for a medical-cannabis program that reflects South Carolinians’ views on the matter – that is, to draw a bright line between medical and recreational use.  We believe the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act, a copy of which is attached, does that.  The summary of the act, also attached, breaks down in detail the safeguards put in place to ensure that a medical-cannabis program does not morph into a recreational one.  In developing these safeguards, we have looked at what has worked and what hasn’t in the 33 states that have already legalized cannabis for medical purposes.

“We acknowledge that the medical-cannabis program we propose is much stricter than the others; that is intentional.  From the tightly defined list of qualifying medical conditions to the level of detail required in the written certifications by the authorizing physicians, from the prohibition against smoking cannabis to the imposition of felony penalties for the diversion of medical cannabis for recreational use, and from the mandatory use of seed-to-sale tracking systems to the testing of medical cannabis by independent testing laboratories, we believe the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act draws the bright line between medical and recreational use of cannabis that the overwhelming majority of South Carolinians want.

We will have a press  conference at the State House in Columbia at 4 p.m. tomorrow, Tuesday, January 14, 2018, to review the provisions of the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act in detail and to answer questions about that act.”

###

Tom notes that polls show a supermajority of South Carolinians favor the change. Well, he’d better get a supermajority of votes in the General Assembly, because the guy who won the governor’s race doesn’t hold with it.

If we’d won, he wouldn’t have that problem.

Reactivated for campaign duty, for one brief moment…

Q4

I was eating breakfast last Thursday, minding my own business, when the call came from Tom Barton of The State.

He said he thought maybe today was the day for campaign finance reports for Q4, and wondered when we might have our report ready.

I didn’t say “What?,” or “Why are you asking me?” or “Take a flying leap!” After all, whom else was he going to ask? So I shifted immediately back into campaign mode, and gave him the response I probably used the most during those four months: I told him I didn’t have the slightest idea, but I’d check and get back to him.

I soon learned that the deadline was today, although there was a five-day grace period, and that a couple of folks who had handled finance for the campaign were working on completing it.

This led to a flurry of multilateral communications via text that lasted all day and into the night. I just went back and counted: There were 64 of them, involving a total of seven people. Although the main communications involved one of the finance folks, James and Mandy and me. And James didn’t weigh in until the rest of us had things sorted out — which was smart.

In other words, it was just like being back on the trail, except more restful because we were only dealing with this one simple thing, instead of 10 or 20 things that made us want to tear our hair out.

The short version is that one of those texts gave me the figures I needed, I wrote a release, James and Mandy approved it, and after holding it for a couple of hours to see whether we wanted to react to anything in Henry’s report when they filed it (we didn’t), I dug up my campaign media address lists and sent it out to 200 and something media types, at 10:28 p.m.

But first, I texted Tom to tell him it was coming, since he was the one person who had asked.

I haven’t seen any reports on the filing, which is not surprising, because it’s not that interesting. (Perhaps I even DID see such a headline, and My Eyes Glazed Over.) But we did what was required.

It was kind of nice and sort of poignant to be working with everybody again, although on such a low-key level.

That’s probably my last release for the campaign, but who knows? I wasn’t expecting that one…

The young folks just love hearing Sen. Land talk about ‘likkah’

James speaking at the event John Land hosted for us in Manning.

James speaking at the event John Land hosted for us in Manning.

On the first day of the Leave No One Behind Tour, we had two reporters and a photographer on the bus with us.

One was Maayan Schechter of The State. Maayan wasn’t at the paper when John Land was in the Senate, but she knew his rep. And when we stopped in Manning for an event the senator had set up for us, she couldn’t resist asking him to talk about “liquor.”

She has not ceased being delighted by his willing response, as I learned when a “like” by Mandy Powers Norrell drew me to this Tweet, featuring video shot that day:

If you want to know more about the senator and likkah, you might want to watch this clip from several years back:

That, of course, was a tribute to this famous bit from Mississippi politician Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat, Jr. in 1952.

Sen. Land is a South Carolina treasure.

By the way, at one point another campaign aide and I had the same idea independently of each other, proving the old saw about great minds: We both thought it would be wonderful to get Land to play Henry in debate prep. Not just because of the accent, but because Land is so sharp that he’d really have given James a workout. We didn’t follow through on it, though. A shame. I’d love to have video of that. Imagine Land saying, “Ah like it, ah love it, ah want some mo’ OF it!

On the bus that same day. That's Maayan sitting next to the photog over on the right.

On the bus that same day. That’s Maayan sitting next to the photog over on the right.

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

One of my favorite moments from the campaign

IMG_0521

While I’m sharing photos of James enjoying the campaign trail, I need to show you this sequence, which never went out on social media, but which was a favorite moment of mine.

This was at the Joe Biden fundraiser. This was after all the speaking, when the candidates and Joe were just meeting and greeting and posing for selfies and such.

A lot of politicians kiss babies. But I’ve never seen one get more of a kick out of a baby than this. And it didn’t seem to bother him that this baby was campaigning for someone else…

 

A guy who really enjoys some retail politics

41368038_10155849050402066_4680849800940224512_o

On a previous post, I said something about James Smith liking the retail politicking way better than the unfun stuff like making fundraising calls. Which of course makes him, well, human.

Someone said he didn’t seem that way at the Gallivants Ferry Stump meeting last spring, that he seemed kind of standoffish there.

Well… I can’t speak for the primary campaign. But during the general, when I was working for him, what I saw was a guy who really dug meeting people. In support of that, I’ll just share a very few of the pictures I pumped out, a couple of dozen a day, on social media.

When it came to interacting with regular folks, I can only think of one guy who might enjoy it more than James, and that’s his longtime political mentor, in the front row of this picture I took on Oct. 13:

DpZZkX5X4AAIhqC

Wait! Isn’t that one of my campaign tweets?

One of the many occasions on which we spoke out about this very thing...

One of the many occasions on which we spoke out about this very thing…

Just saw this, which gave me flashbacks:

Man, how many times in the last few months did I say or type — in Tweets, on Facebook, in press releases, in statements to reporters — some variation of “Some of the best jobs in South Carolina are threatened by the tariffs that Henry McMaster refuses to take a stand against?”

More times than I care to remember…

Not gonna say we told you so… not gonna say we told you so…

Evidently, I was misreading the signs (or lack of them)…

In a comment on a previous post, Scout was talking about how James Smith did better than Democrats usually do in her Lexington County precinct. She went on to say:

James got significantly more votes than Sheheen did against Haley the first time around in actual vote numbers (not percentages), but the turnout was just bigger all around, so it still wasn’t enough.

Clearly James got more democratic votes than typically happens around here. But again, It just still wasn’t enough…

That got me to thinking about this: Statewide, James not only got a lot more votes than Democrats usually do; he got way more votes than Republicans usually do. Consider:

  • In 2006, Mark Sanford won with 601,868 votes.
  • In 2010, Nikki Haley won with 690,525 votes.
  • In 2014, Nikki won even bigger with 696,645 votes.
  • In 2018, James got 784,182 votes — and lost.

It’s sort of a cliche that big turnout favors Democrats. Not this time.

One explanation I’ve heard is that the S.C. population is growing rapidly — and that a lot of the newcomers are people who don’t know squat about either Henry or James, but brought the habit of voting Republican along with them when they came here.

But obviously that’s not the whole answer. A lot of other factors were at work here.

For us on the Smith campaign, that outcome is counterintuitive. The lack of enthusiasm for Henry even among Republicans was palpable throughout this campaign. He barely squeaked by in a runoff in his own party’s primary, and was particularly weak in the Upstate — which is one reason why James did about 20 percentage points better than Vincent Sheheen had done in Greenville.

All over the state, we could see that almost no one wanted a McMaster sign in his front yard. My brother, who lives in a Republican neighborhood in Greenville, kept sending me pictures of Smith/Norrell signs next to signs for Republicans running for other offices. I thought maybe he was just noticing the things he wanted to see, but when I spent the day up there before the second debate and drove around looking, I saw the same thing — Smith signs everywhere, McMaster signs almost nonexistent. (And I’m not the kind of guy who fools himself into seeing only what pleases him. I’m hypercritical — always looking for the things that are WRONG — and attach great importance to bad news. Every McMaster sign I saw during the campaign was like a kick in the gut. But during all those months, I got very few kicks in the gut.)

It would be foolish to go by yard signs alone in trying to predict an outcome (so you can save your breath telling me that), but the McMaster sign deficit was so HUGE that I kept thinking it was a ruse of some sort. Maybe the McMaster campaign was deliberately holding the signs back, and they’d all go up in the last few days before Election Day to give him and his supporters a psychological boost, and discourage our voters. Or something. The lack of red signs was just weird.

(One day shortly after joined the campaign in July, I drove past the McMaster headquarters on Gadsden Street behind the governor’s mansion. The yard was full of signs, and I thought, so that’s where they all are! I almost did a blog post about it, but decided it would be unseemly given my role in the campaign. Anyway, I figured that sooner or later, I’d start seeing them scattered across the state in great profusion, and then I’d regret having made fun. But it never happened…)

Obviously, it seemed to us, we had the enthusiasm advantage. We weren’t counting our chickens or anything, because we knew the odds were always against a Democrat. But we had some things to feel good about. And the reason I’m talking about the sign thing, as insignificant as it it, is that it was something tangible I can point out to you.

It stood to reason that McMaster would get the votes of people who always voted Republican, but from what we could see, that was about it — and he wouldn’t get all of those (we were seeing and hearing a lot of indicators on that point). So how is it that there was both a big turnout, apparently with lots of people who had never voted for governor in previous years, and Henry still won?

It’s impossible to know for sure, but we can speculate…

I took this photo on July 12. I thought, "So THAT'S where all the McMaster signs are -- at his headquarters!"

I took this photo on July 12. I thought, “So THAT’S where all the McMaster signs are — at his headquarters!”

I was left behind by the Leave No One Behind bus

The only photo from the bus that shows me. Probably taken by Mandy. I appear to be engaged in some sort of incantation, probably pumping out a press release or a Tweet. In the background you see Jamie Lovegrove of the Post and Courier, so this was probably the first day on the bus.

The only photo from the bus that shows me, since I was usually shooting the pics. Probably taken by Mandy. I appear to be engaged in some sort of incantation, probably pumping out a press release or a Tweet. In the background you see Jamie Lovegrove of the Post and Courier, so I’m guessing this was the first day on the bus, when I was still relatively sane.

Ken Kesey had one rule for the Merry Pranksters in their acid-fueled magical mystery tour across America in Furthur, the ultimate, aboriginal psychedelic bus: You’re either on the bus or you’re off the bus. As you may recall, I’ve used a variant of that as a tagline for this blog in the past.

With Kesey, it was both a practical admonition — if you’re not on the bus when we’re ready to go, we’ll leave you — and a sort of cosmic statement of connectedness, as he elaborated:

There are going to be times when we can’t wait for somebody. Now, you’re either on the bus or off the bus. If you’re on the bus, and you get left behind, then you’ll find it again. If you’re off the bus in the first place — then it won’t make a damn.

I spent the last week of the gubernatorial campaign on a borrowed RV — which we referred to often as not as “the bus” — that was decorated not with wild psychedelic swirls but with images of the candidates and gigantic representations of our bumper stickers and our tagline, “Leave No One Behind.” In a series of texts with the campaign manager at about 6 a.m. on our first day with the bus, I suggested we call it the “Leave No One Behind Tour,” and that’s what we did.

It was an intense experience. The whole campaign, of course, was an intense experience, unlike anything I’d ever been through, even in my newspaper days. The involvement, and the demand on my physical and mental stamina, was rather overwhelming. For the first month, I didn’t know if I’d make it. Then, I sort of started getting used to it. And then, the pace stepped up, and increased more and more until the end, but my body and nerves kept adjusting. A typical day would involve cranking out my first release by about 6:30 a.m. and continuing at a dizzying speed until fairly late at night — but that doesn’t really fully express it. At first, things would be a bit slower on weekends, but by the end, they were not — a Sunday became like a Wednesday, without end.

But those last days on the bus exceeded anything that went before. And as often as not, I was the only staffer on board for the whole day and into the night with James and Mandy. But as amazed as I am that I made it through, this was only a brief taste of what James, and later Mandy, had been enduring for the past year. For them, and for usual driver Scott Harriford — the first staffer hired way back in the summer of 2017 — the RV was probably more like a vacation.

But they’re all three a lot younger than I am.

Scott Harriford, who had been The Driver for the last year-and-a-half, actually got some snooze time on the bus tour.

Scott Harriford, who had been The Driver for the last year-and-a-half, actually got some snooze time on the bus tour.

The incident I want to tell about happened the morning of Saturday, Nov. 3. But I’ll start with the day before.

We had a slow start on Friday, not rolling out from headquarters until about 8 a.m. I think that morning I even had a chance to run get breakfast at Cap City between pushing out the morning release and boarding the RV. Our first destination was a meeting with officials at Greenville Health System to talk about Medicaid expansion and other healthcare issues. Just one of many, many encouraging meetings J and M had had in the Upstate in recent months with folks some of y’all might expect to support Republicans. But you didn’t read about it because it was private and therefore I didn’t pump out social media about it. I just sat against the wall of the conference room and sort of half-listened, enjoying the break.

Then, it was off to Buffalo Wild Wings in the same city for a lunch meeting that Patrick Elswick (here’s video of Patrick) had set up with some veterans. Here’s social media about that. It was during that lunch that we learned Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson had given to the campaign, and I Tweeted about that, too.

At Buffalo Wild Wings with the veterans.

At Buffalo Wild Wings with the veterans.

At Wild Wings, I think, was where Campaign Manager Scott Hogan joined us. There had been certain… glitches… the day before, which we had blamed on inadequate advance work, and Phil Chambers had drafted a new schedule for advancing every single stop for the rest of the tour, and Scott had joined us to, among other things, see how that was working.

Next stop was an elementary school in Simpsonville. Since it was a public school, we couldn’t park in front of it, so we parked at a park about a mile away, and someone — Phil or one of the Scotts — drove them over in a car. I was delayed getting off the bus, and they were gone by the time I descended into the rain. But then I got tied up with a couple of supporters who had been attracted by the bus, who wanted to help — with signs, or something — so I got their contact info and arranged with their county coordinator to get with them, and got back on the bus. I had to use pictures shot by Harriford for the school event Tweet. I was for a moment flummoxed as to how to post a picture without showing kids’ faces, and Mandy just took a pic and edited out the kids who were facing the camera. Duh. I was getting punchy by then.

Then, on to a literal town hall meeting at Gray Court Town Hall. By this time, various Upstate media were joining us and we started a series of brief interviews. Tim Waller of WYFF would do two or three live feeds during the next hour or two. The town hall went well. Then, on the way back to the bus, we stopped at an antique store where J and M made a fun purchase — a circa-1940s Erector Set, which included a working motor. They showed it off in a video that I Tweeted.

Tim Waller and crew rode back to Greenville on the bus.

Tim Waller and crew rode back to Greenville on the bus.

Waller and crew rode back to Greenville on the bus. Then, James and Mandy spent three hours at the Greenville NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner. I spent most of that time catching up on stuff on the bus. Phil and the two Scotts went off in search of food, and eventually brought German, the driver, and me some excellent takeout — flatiron steak with tiny potatoes and lightly cooked green beans. Way better than my usual McDonald’s.

Sometime after 10, J and M got away from the banquet and headed for an informal gathering with friends and supporters at a downtown Greenville joint, Ink N Ivy. My old colleague Jim Hammond, who had been a huge help to the campaign, was there, and we chatted for a few minutes. But then I heard Hogan and Phil were going to make a breakout, leave the bus behind and head to Columbia. Matt Gassan, who had advanced the event, told me they were at the corner with the engine running. Tired as I was, the flesh being weak, and knowing the bus was scheduled to leave HQ the next morning at 7, I decided to escape with them….

… and found myself, half an hour later, on a godforsaken, wind-and-rainswept vacant lot in some part of Greenville I’d never be able to find again, helping put up a couple of gigantic campaign signs that Hogan and Phil were determined we should not leave unused back at HQ. Sure, I agreed that we were all determined to leave it all on the field in this race, but somewhere about this time, I privately decided they were both lunatics. Eventually, we headed back, getting home sometime well after midnight. I forget when. I then set my alarm for 6 a.m.

It would be much later that I would figure out what had happened. The thing is, I set my usual weekday alarm for 6. It just never occurred to me that the next day was Saturday.

At 7:39 a.m. the buzzing of my phone finally woke me. Multiple texts had been missed, and Hogan was voice-calling me. The bus was, finally, rolling away from HQ without me. Major panic on my part to say the least.

Hauling my old Volvo down two-lane roads I managed to catch up to them in Greenwood, in time to get some pics and Tweet about that first event. I then drove ahead to the next event, at a restaurant in Spartanburg. Ginger Crocker caught a ride with Noah Barker, who was advancing the lunch event — so she could drive my car back to Columbia and I could rejoin the bus, which I did, and we continued on another long, long day.

Eventually, it occurred to Mandy what had happened to me...

Then it occurred to Mandy what had happened to me…

All that day, I was perfectly mortified. I knew just what had happened, and I had been thinking the very same words about it all day. But very late in the day or that night, I was sitting across the little table from the candidates talking over the day, when the words occurred to Mandy and she said them out loud: “You got left behind by the Leave No One Behind Bus!”

James thought this was high-larious! He roared his appreciation of the irony.

Me, I didn’t think it was so funny. I had let down the side, and was full of self-reproach. And I resolved yet again to do a better job tomorrow than I had today…

The first morning of that final tour. I was so intent on getting the bus in the frame I failed to notice J and M were in shadow. I did NOT Tweet this one...

The first morning of that final tour. I was so intent on getting the bus in the frame I failed to notice J and M were in shadow. I did NOT Tweet this one…

The last group picture

Last shot

Phillip and Kathryn have already remarked upon a version of this photo, on Facebook. Said Phillip:

Brad looking extra cool and laid-back there off to the side, showing the youngsters how it’s done.

This was on Saturday. It was the last time campaign staff were together in headquarters. We had cleaned the place out. Or rather, everybody else had cleaned the place out and I had helpfully watched them do it.

I was more helpful on Thursday, when we had dismantled and removed most of the furniture. I went through every sheet of paper in the random heap on my desk — actually, a bare-bones table from Ikea — and then dismantled the table, and left the pieces on the front porch where presumably someone was to pick them up. And did some other stuff, but mainly dealt with my own particularly chaotic space.

But when I got there Saturday, I was late, and everyone else seemed to have a task, and before I could get my bearings we were done, and posing for pictures. (The group you see above is more or less the core staff, with a volunteer or two. Some people who played a major role are missing, such as Phil Chambers.)

It wasn’t a total waste, though. Managing to look cool in the picture is in itself an accomplishment, right?

I’ll have more to say about the last few months, about what preceded the cleaning-out. But I’ll probably unpack it randomly, as a picture or a word or something in the news reminds me. My mind is still decompressing at the moment. All those months of intensity at an increasingly faster pace, culminating with those eight days and nights on the RV — it’s going to take time to process.

In the meantime, there’s the last picture. There will be more. I shot thousands… Below is one (that I did not shoot; this was done by a professional) showing some of the same people the day Joe Biden came to Charleston.

Between those two was the most intense part of the experience. The Biden thing seems in a way like yesterday, and in a way like 10 years ago…

Biden group shot

 

A bit of news: I’m joining the Smith/Norrell campaign

One victory down, one to go.

One victory down, one to go.

Starting today, I’m joining the James Smith/Mandy Powers Norrell campaign as communications director.

In blog terms this means that, while Leo McGarry is still the guy I want to be when I grow up, it turns out that in real life, I’m Toby Ziegler.

It means a lot of other things, too. More important things.

There are other things it does not mean. For instance, it does not mean, “Brad’s a Democrat now!” Nope, as always, I’m no more of a Democrat than I am a Republican. As you know, over the years I’ve endorsed candidates from both parties in almost exactly equal numbers. I go with the best candidate, without regard to party. In this race, the better candidate is unquestionably James Smith.

This is partly because I’ve respected and admired James for the ways he has served his state and country, and I like what he wants to do for South Carolina — and because, while I’ve only recently gotten to know her, I think Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell is a tremendous positive force in our Legislature (a point on which her largely Republican constituency has repeatedly agreed).

It’s also because Henry McMaster has repeatedly failed to stand up and be a leader on the issues that matter to South Carolina — or on anything, for that matter. He’s a born follower, and he’ll follow anyone he thinks will help him hold high office. It’s almost like the office of governor is vacant, occupied by a nonentity who offers only one thing to the voters: “Donald Trump loves me.”

So what you have here is a guy who doesn’t care about party being so persuaded as to who the better candidate is in this important election that he’s quitting his day job to put it all on the line. Which should count for something among fair-minded observers.

This is weird for me. Very weird. My job will involve constantly dealing with reporters, and they are unlikely to do what I tell them to do, the way they did in my former life. (Which is just plumb unnatural.) As I step out into this unfamiliar territory, I try to reassure myself that others have successfully made the transition before me. For instance, one of my earliest mentors, John Parish — the unquestioned dean of Tennessee political writers — went to work for Lamar Alexander in 1978, and that worked out. “The Bear” remained a hero to young journos like me.

This is the second stage of my transition. As y’all know, I’ve been very frank about which candidates I prefer ever since I joined The State‘s editorial board in 1994. But that was all just words, as Doug would say. A couple of months back, I took the unprecedented step of putting campaign signs in my yard for the two candidates I most wanted to see win this year: James (this was before Mandy joined the ticket) and my Republican representative, Micah Caskey.

Micah has already won his election — he won his primary walking away, and has no general election opponent. So he doesn’t need my help.

James and Mandy have a long, tough campaign ahead of them, trying to win the governor’s (and lieutenant governor’s) office in a state that hasn’t picked a Democrat for either of those offices in 20 years.

But there are reasons to think these two candidates can win. It starts with their qualifications and positive vision for South Carolina, and ends with a factor called “Henry McMaster” — an incumbent who had to scramble like an unknown (against an unknown) just to win his own party’s nomination.

In any event, James and Mandy are determined to win. And so am I….

Benjamin, Kennell honored by Community Relations Council

Matt Kennell and Steve Benjamin, with their awards.

Matt Kennell and Steve Benjamin, with their awards.

It occurred to me today that I don’t tell y’all enough about the doings of the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council. Which means I’m not being a very good board member.

So, since we had our big annual luncheon today at the convention center, and I tweeted about it, I thought I’d share a couple of highlights:

For instance:

  • Matt Kennell of City Center Partnership is the 2018 recipient of the CRC’s Milton Kimpson Community Service Award.
  • Mayor Steve Benjamin received the organization’s Hyman Rubin Distinguished Service Award.
  • Jennifer Reed was installed as our new board chair, succeeding Hal Stevenson. Hal made the point that she is Jennifer Clyburn Reed, although her relationship to her famous Dad the congressman isn’t something she brings up all that much:

The awards Matt and Steve received are named for two of the first leaders of the CRC, and are given to people who have led in ways that reflect the same spirit. The Council was formed during the civil rights era of the early ’60s by black and white leaders who wanted to see Columbia integrate peacefully, without a lot of the civil unrest that occurred in other Southern cities. Just meeting to discuss those issues was a sort of radical act at the time, and the black and white leaders met on the USC campus, as the guests of then-President Tom Jones, as there was no other place in town where such a gathering would be been accepted.

Today, the Council continues to promote civil conversations about difficult issues facing the whole community.

The role I play is that I’m co-chair — with Roscoe Wilson, who is also related to someone famous, his daughter A’ja Wilson — of the Council’s Community Affairs Committee. We convene issues forums (such as this one on Bull Street) and candidate debates (such as this city council debate), and we’ll be kicking off this year’s monthly Hot Topic sessions with one on affordable housing in August.

Watch this space for more on upcoming programs.

Oh, and as I mentioned in a comment to Doug earlier, I ran into James Smith and Mandy Powers Norrell at the luncheon. No, I did not see Henry McMaster…

DgtgiFfWAAQGaUR

 

Washington Post sees chance for Smith in SC

There were a couple of SC-related items of interest in The Washington Post today.

One was to be expected: Coverage of Trump’s visit here last night. The headline pretty much says it all:

Trump makes runoff election for SC governor about him, too

For national reporters, that makes it a same-old, same-old occurrence.

The other item is more interesting. The headline is, “Could anti-incumbent fever leave an opening for Democrats in Oklahoma and South Carolina governor’s races?,” and it begins:

Oklahoma and South Carolina don’t top the list for most competitive gubernatorial races in 2018, but Democrats hope to reach for both governor’s mansions this year anyway — especially if Republicans nominate unpopular incumbent and incumbent-tied candidates Tuesday.

The story here isn’t necessarily about President Trump.

Republicans may be victims of their own success in governor’s mansions. They hold a near-record-high number of them: 33 of 50. In states such as Oklahoma and South Carolina, the very fact they’re in power could be hurting them.

Voters in both states with elections Tuesday are incredibly unhappy with their current governors. Some of that discontent is personality-driven, such as in South Carolina, where Gov. Henry McMaster (R) is having trouble unpinning the label his opponents slapped on him as a corrupt insider. His runoff against businessman John Warren on Tuesday is expected to be close, even after Trump goes there Monday night to campaign for McMaster….

After that, the story is mostly about Oklahoma, just briefly returning to SC down in this graf:

In South Carolina, Democrats nominated a veteran and Purple Heart recipient, state Rep. James Smith, who’s been able to campaign while McMaster has been focused for the past few weeks on his runoff….

Which isn’t even entirely accurate. James has mainly left it to the two Republicans to dominate the headlines the last couple of weeks while he takes some family time. His general election campaign has yet to start — but based on a conversation I had with him today, look to hear a lot more soon.

I look forward to somebody from the Post coming down here and doing a fuller job of reporting on what’s going on down here. I’d value that outside perspective…

If the Post had checked Twitter, they'd have seen that James has been hiking in Alaska with son Thomas and dog Laffey.

If the Post had checked Twitter, they’d have seen that James has been hiking in Alaska with son Thomas.

What I told Andy Brack about the primaries

Andy Brack of Statehouse Report was working on a piece for today about the primaries and sent me some questions.

Well, y’all know how I hate to write anything, however impromptu and off-the-cuff, without publishing it.

So here are his questions with my answers:

1.  What did you learn and what are your takeaways from the primaries?

Andy Brack

Andy Brack

While it can be political death in a South Carolina Republican primary to openly oppose Donald Trump, telling everybody he’s your best buddy isn’t a sure road to success. Ask Mark Sanford about the first, and Henry McMaster about the second. McMaster is in a remarkably weak position for an incumbent.

2.  What do the results in the 4th district tell you about the November election?

Can’t say. I didn’t follow it. It seems beyond belief that anyone would vote for Lee Bright for anything, but apparently it happens. It looks like we all might be missing Trey Gowdy this time next year.

3.  Do you expect the governor’s race will be between McMaster and Smith, as I do?  What hurdles does Smith have to winning?  What would keep McMaster from winning?

I don’t know if Henry’s going to make it or not. Everybody seems to be ganging up on him at this point. Smith’s one hurdle is being a Democrat in a state where many white voters seem congenitally incapable of voting for someone with a “D” after his name. McMaster’s problems are his association with the Quinns, his Old School image, the fact that he wasn’t elected to the position, and the possibility that at some point his slavish devotion to Trump — at times, the relationship seems to be all he can say about himself — could become an albatross for him.

4.  Can you measure the impact of Trump on SC politics in general right now?

I sort of answered that on Question 1. But while we know the impact in a GOP primary, it remains to be seen what the effect will be in the general election.

5.  Anything else stand out?

While there were some sour notes Tuesday — Bright’s success, Archie Parnell’s success despite all, and Sanford losing for the wrong reasons — I was deeply impressed by the wisdom shown by the voters Tuesday, especially here in the Midlands. As I said on Twitter, “I’m just so pleased. From @JamesSmithSC ‘s landslide to utter rejection of Templeton to weak support for McMaster to the easy victories of @MicahCaskey and @NathanBallentin to the crushing of Dan Johnson, results were exactly what you’d expect in a rational universe. About time.”

The Three Musketeers (plus Beth Bernstein)

Joel Lourie, James Smith, Beth Bernstein and Vincent Sheheen pose before portrait of the late Sen. Isadore Lourie.

Joel Lourie, James Smith, Beth Bernstein and Vincent Sheheen pose before portrait of the late Sen. Isadore Lourie.

Joel Lourie texted me  this picture taken at the Lourie Center on the day of the primaries.

My reaction: “The Musketeers and their lady friend. And your Dad!”

Back when Joel and James Smith were first in the House in the ’90s, I used to refer to them as “the Hardy Boys,” partly because of their youth (Cindi Scoppe and I referred privately to Smith as “young James” and of course we knew Joel’s father before we knew him) but because they were inseparable allies, always working together, whatever the issue. On more than one occasion, I’d be interviewing one when he got a phone call from the other one.

Then, about the time Joel moved to the Senate, the duo became the Three Musketeers with the addition of Vincent Sheheen.

Then, starting sometime before Joel’s retirement from the Senate, Beth Bernstein became part of the group.

I don’t have a nickname for the four of them, but Joel does. Noting that back in the ’70s his Dad Isadore and other Richland County Democrats used to refer to themselves as “the Home Team,” Joel titles this photo “the New Home Team with the original coach.”

Whatever you call them, they’re a happy crew after the results of Tuesday’s voting came in…

James wins it all! And that’s just the start! These may be the best primary results I’ve ever seen in SC, all around!

I dropped by Smith HQ this afternoon and the front room was empty -- everybody was out working. And they did a great job!

I dropped by Smith HQ this afternoon and the front room was empty — everybody was out working. And they did a great job!

Don’t know what to say, except I couldn’t be more pleased with the results. In fact, I don’t remember a primary election EVER when I was so pleased with the results across the board. By my standards, everything clicked just right:

  • James Smith wins it all in a landslide! 62 percent with 75 percent reporting! No runoff or other folderol! It turns out that Democratic voters (and smart people who crossed over to vote for James) in South Carolina aren’t nuts after all, despite those anxiety-causing polls. On to November!
  • Catherine Templeton is out of it! So I guess Republicans aren’t nuts, either. Perhaps they’re beginning to recover from their malady of 2016.
  • A weakened McMaster came out on top, but faces a runoff against an unremarkable unknown most of us still don’t know (which is way better than being in a runoff with the “buzzsaw”). Which just couldn’t bode better for James in the fall — and a guy with a D after his name needs EVERY break he can get! Which is great news for South Carolina.
  • Micah Caskey seems to be cruising to a big win, so I need not feel guilty for not having personally helped him by voting in his primary. Way to go, Micah (it was that sign in my yard that did it)!
  • Byron Gipson seems to be easily beating Dan Johnson, so I worried about that unnecessarily, too. Maybe. It’s not all in yet by a long shot…

Finally, an actual great day for South Carolina at the ballot boxes…

landslide

Have you voted yet? How did it go?

quail hollow

As you know, there are two candidates I particularly want to see elected this year — James Smith and Micah Caskey. And as you may have noticed, in recent days I’ve been more anxious about James than about Micah — after all, Micah received 97.6 percent support at a recent county GOP meeting.

So I chose a Democratic ballot at Quail Hollow precinct this morning. I felt a bit weird doing so, since not a single Democratic candidate had posted any signs in front of the polling place, as you can see above. In fact, it occurs to me that the closest sign for a Democrat to this location might be the one for James in my yard, 1.6 miles away.

But I wasn’t quite alone — I was the 15th to choose a “DEMOCRATE” ballot, as it was hand-lettered in red magic marker at the sign-in table. (You can’t expect folks in Lexington County to know how to spell every weird, exotic word in the dictionary, can you?) And as it happened, only 44 had chosen a Republican ballot. Which was weird — my precinct going only three-fourths Republican. One of the poll workers told me it seemed a lot of my neighbors had voted absentee.

This, of course, raises the stakes on who those few voters were. Was it only the extreme partisans who would go for a Phil Noble because James is too sensibly centrist, or support a woman who is proud of being a purely destructive force (which is what is meant by “buzzsaw”)?

On my way in, there were two people standing in front of the entrance where candidates or surrogates are allowed to campaign. The young woman smiled at me, but didn’t say anything (was I glowering at her or something?). The young man said, “Mr. Micah Caskey thanks you for voting today!” I said, “Well, I like Micah very much,” which seemed to please him although he probably noticed how noncommittal it was.

(Man, I hope Micah wins big. If he even comes close to losing, I’m going to feel really bad.)

As a result of not having to vote on them, and no longer having to make an endorsement decision, I never made up my mind on a couple of hot races (or at least, they should have been hot) in the Republican primary. Since I didn’t have to, I just didn’t do the legwork:

Attorney General — I like both Alan Wilson and Todd Atwater. I don’t damn Alan for his Quinn association (I don’t do simplistic, or at least not usually), and I think he’s been a pretty decent AG. And I like Todd as well. I just didn’t focus enough to force myself choose between them.

Lexington County Council District 8 — Incumbent Ned Tolar has two or three opponents. I’ve seen a lot of signs for him, and for opponent Glen Conwell (the guy who got all that money from Lou Kennedy of Nephron). I tried doing a little web research on the candidates, and found virtually nothing. I’d have tried harder if I’d been voting in that one.

Anyway, have you voted, and if so, how did it go? I see that there were lines in some locations, even though there were not at mine…

I voted

Where do nice guys finish? Watch James Smith to find out

James greet

James Smith greets supporters in Lancaster on the day of the announcement that Mandy Powers Norrell would be his running mate.

I appreciate my friend E.J. Dionne, who is also a nice guy, bringing this to my attention:

It’s the tale of how a little old lady who served as food critic for a newspaper in flyover land was lampooned by the “sophisticates” on the coasts because she unabashedly gave a rave review to an Olive Garden… then was defended by the late Anthony Bourdain.

Bourdain wrote of the then–88-year-old Marilyn Hagerty of Grand Forks:

“She is never mean — even when circumstances would clearly excuse a sharp elbow, a cruel remark,” he wrote. “In fact, watching Marilyn struggle to find something nice to say about a place she clearly loathes is part of the fun. She is, unfailingly, a good neighbor and good citizen first — and entertainer second.”

Bourdain added that the book “kills snark dead.”

“This is a straightforward account of what people have been eating — still ARE eating — in much of America,” he wrote. “As related by a kind, good-hearted reporter looking to pass along as much useful information as she can — while hurting no one.”

So you can see how the “snarkologists” would give her unmitigated hell. How dare she be a genuinely nice person?

Which brings me to James Smith.

This past week, the three candidates for the Democratic nomination for governor or South Carolina had their final “debate” — an occasion for Phil Noble and Marguerite Willis to snarl, slash and attack James Smith in their desperation (which continues to puzzle me) to tear down the only member of their party who has the slightest prayer of winning the election in the fall.

A number of people — some of them the sort who were just then starting to focus on the race (which is ominous) — thought Smith didn’t come out of the debate well — his opponents kept scoring hits on him, and he failed to deflect the hits and didn’t fight back. (Doug hates that kind of thing. Possibly others do as well.)

It didn’t strike me that way, but then I know James, and I knew that his opponents were making innocent things out to be scandalous. For instance, he has been friends with Rick Quinn, and he was Alan Wilson’s attorney at one point. These are both things that I’ve written about approvingly here in the past, because it shows the kind of guy James is — someone who doesn’t dismiss people because they belong to another political party. You know, exactly the quality you need in a Democrat who wants to get anything done as governor, seeing as how the GOP dominates the Legislature.

His opponents were doing this because with the kind of blind partisans who might (if misled sufficiently) choose them over Smith, it is a prima facie sin to be friends with Republicans. At this point, the snarlers would protest that the sin was the taint of scandal attaching to Quinn and Wilson — but the evidence of his association is from a time years before even the slightest hint of scandal wafted in their direction.

So what’s he going to say? Protest that he was friendly with them then, but not now? An opportunist would leap at the chance to do so. But that’s not James Smith.

James Smith is the kind of guy who offers nothing but positive reasons why he wants to be governor and would make a good one. He’s not interested in slashing out at anyone, or tossing anyone to the wolves.

He could, if he possessed a different sort of character. There are plenty of things he could say about the two spoilers (who will never be anything more) attacking him. I’m picturing, for instance, a pretty devastating ad with one Democrat after another stating clearly precisely what they think of Phil Noble, based on their dealings with him.

As for Marguerite Willis, I can think of a number of ways he could undermine her, but this one would do: He could, for instance, ask her to explain why she said, in their first debate back in the winter, that workers should not have the right to organize into unions. While running for the Democratic nomination, mind. It stunned me at the time (I’m no great fan of unions, but surely people have the right to join them), but the amazing thing is that no one has asked this corporate lawyer to explain that answer — not then, not now.

Unless I’ve missed it. If this has happened, I’d appreciate a link.

Can you imagine what Ms. Willis or Noble, who attack him without letup because the NRA doesn’t hate him, would be doing with such an advantage?

But Smith does not. Because he’s just not interested in doing that.

I imagine that in the fall, James will have some critical things to say about his Republican opponent — because then, there will be substantive differences on policy to discuss. But he’s not interested in playing a gotcha game to get his party’s nomination.

Which raises the question — do nice guys finish last, or does a guy who’s only interested in presenting the positives about himself, and not looking for ways to attack his opponents, have a chance in today’s poisonous political atmosphere?

To find out, watch James Smith on Tuesday.

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…