Category Archives: James Smith

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…

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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…

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?… :)

That 2010 picture was an expression of something good, and rare, in our politics

My original caption on this picture was, "Dogs and cats, living together -- Republican Rick Quinn and Democrat James Smith at the Benjamin victory party."

My original caption on this picture was, “Dogs and cats, living together — Republican Rick Quinn and Democrat James Smith at the Benjamin victory party.”

Remember the night Steve Benjamin was elected mayor back in 2010? It was a heady evening, and a lot of people, including people you might not expect, were excited about it.

There were the usual suspects, of course. A lot of black voters were thrilled to have had the chance to elect the first black mayor of a major South Carolina city, only 15 months after seeing Barack Obama become president. And even though this was a nonpartisan election (as all elections should be), it was quite natural that white Democrats would be happy, too. Steve had been their party’s nominee for attorney general several years earlier, and had also served as an agency head in Gov. Jim Hodges’ administration.

But Benjamin’s appeal was much broader than that. There were some very prominent Republicans at his celebration, and they were as happy as anybody. In all my years in South Carolina, I had never seen these people at the same victory celebration:

But the best part of all? Seeing the happy Democrats (James Smith, Anton Gunn, Boyd Summers, etc.) and Republicans (Rick Quinn, Butch Bowers, Kevin Hall — at least, I heard Kevin was there) together there, and hearing the chant, begun by the mayor-elect, of “ONE Columbia.”

Reminds me of that awesome night in that same building when the people chanted “Race Doesn’t Matter!” in celebrating the Obama victory in the SC primary…

(By the way, if you’re not all that involved in politics, you might not know just how Republican Butch Bowers and Kevin Hall are. They were law partners at the time, and their clients included pretty much every statewide elected official in the state — all Republicans, of course — as well as much of the congressional delegation. We’re talking big-time GOP lawyers and movers and shakers behind the scenes.)

What I meant by that observation about Obama’s SC victory was, it was almost like people at the Benjamin thing were chanting, “Party doesn’t matter.” And you know what music that would be to my ears, feeling as I do about parties. I definitely got caught up in it myself, in a way I wouldn’t have back when I was at the paper:

It was pretty awesome being in the room when Steve made his victory speech. I was right up front, and when I congratulated him, I got one of those regular-guy combination handshake-hugs — which was also embarrassing for a serious journalist, but I was happy for him. In fact, I was caught up enough in the moment to Tweet this, which DID actually post, during his speech:

This is awesome. I’m happy for Steve, for everybody in this room, and for Columbia…

And I meant it. It was a big moment. I mean, the man had tears coursing down his face as I sent that out. And if you didn’t get a contact high from being in that crowd, you’ve got ice water in your veins….

So, in that atmosphere, with everyone enjoying the moment, I ran into James Smith and Rick Quinn at the same time and said something to them like, “This is not a sight you see every day. I’ve got to get a picture of this!”

So that political Odd Couple, in the spirit of the moment, gladly posed for me, and then went back to the celebration.

Why were so many different kinds of people happy about this result? Well, Rick’s motive was pretty clear — his Dad’s political consulting business had worked to get Benjamin elected. But the next question is, Why would the Quinn’s — as solidly identified with Republican candidates as anyone in South Carolina — work for this Democrat, even in a nonpartisan election?

I can’t answer that precisely because I don’t think I ever asked. But it seemed natural to me that such lines were crossed. My impression at the time as to why his support was so broad was because his message had been so unifying. Check out my shaky video from his victory speech, which he started out by repeating his campaign slogan: “We are ONE Columbia.”

His campaign had been about pulling together a fragmented community — not just split by party and race and class, or by town and gown or government and private sector, but by the fact that government itself here is the most fragmented I’d ever seen in my career when I arrived at The State to become governmental affairs editor in 1987. I came here from Wichita, Kansas — a city of about the same size at the confluence of two rivers, with a deep cultural split between the east and west sides of the water. Sound familiar? But it was easy for Wichita to move forward together because it was one city in one county with one school board and so on.

The economic community of Columbia is split not only between two politically incompatible counties, but into about 10 municipalities, seven school districts, and a confusing array of little special purpose districts that provide services cities and counties should provide (Richland County Recreation Commission, anyone?).

Benjamin had spoken of all of that as ONE Columbia, with optimism about what we could do together, with eloquence and Kennedyesque vigor (vigah?), and people were pumped about it.

So it was a night when it looked like it was possible to sweep aside all the usual garbage that divides us and causes so many of us to become depressed at the mere mention of the word, “politics.”

Speaking of all that garbage — that’s what causes me to bring up the subject of that night eight years ago.

I hear that someone is about to use MY photograph of James with Rick Quinn — without my permission, of course — to attack, to smear, to malign James Smith, to damage his chances of becoming governor, or even of getting his party’s nomination in the June 12 primary.

The photo couldn’t possibly damage him among people who know him or his record or his character. No, this would be a smear based on exploiting and manipulating voter ignorance, an attempt to generate this sort of reaction: I don’t know that James Smith, but he sure seems to be buddy-buddy with that Rick Quinn, and while I don’t recall exactly what Quinn DID, I’ve heard he’s some kinda crook or something! I better find somebody else to vote for…

Or, the hoped-for reaction could be as simple and stupid as this: That Rick Quinn’s a Republican! That James Smith must be one, too…

If this attack emerges, and it’s anything like what I’m hearing (I hope the rumors are wrong) it will be an expression of the things that make our politics ugly, relying on such things as blind partisanship, mistaken impression, damning a person for incidental association rather than for anything he ever did….

Will Folks predicted something like this would happen several months ago, having gotten wind of a group that was prepared to spend a lot to try to take down James Smith’s candidacy, by trying to make him appear to be something he’s not. I don’t know if what I’m hearing about now is the same thing. We’ll have to see when it emerges.

The thing is, James Smith is that rare thing in politics — a guy who not only looks like a Boy Scout, but really is one. He’s always been a clean, honest, diligent public servant. To try to suggest he is something else would be disgusting. And it would be especially appalling if a photo of mine was misleadingly used to do that.

I just hope what I’ve been hearing is wrong…

Steve Benjamin on that heady night in 2010 when he was elected mayor.

Steve Benjamin on that heady night in 2010 when he was elected mayor.

Mandy Powers Norrell’s first speech as James Smith’s running mate

I mentioned earlier that I went to Lancaster yesterday for the announcement that Mandy Powers Norrell would be running for lieutenant governor alongside James Smith.

I think she made a good first impression as a candidate. But I’ll let y’all watch it and see what you think.

Discuss amongst yourselves until I come back. I spent today (Saturday) reinforcing part of my deck that was sort of threatening to fall through. I did a pretty good job, but now I’m wiped out…

A good time was had by all: Terry Alexander, Norrell, Smith and Jim Clyburn.

A good time was had by all: Terry Alexander, Smith, Norrell and Jim Clyburn.

From John Spratt to Ed Jones: Twitter is awesome

John Spratt with Mandy Powers Norrell and James Smith.

John Spratt in Lancaster Friday with Mandy Powers Norrell and James Smith.

I ran up to Lancaster yesterday to catch James Smith’s announcement of Mandy Powers Norrell becoming his running mate (an excellent choice, by the way — I’ll post video later). One of the highlights of the day was seeing John Spratt, whom I hadn’t seen in years.

So I looked at this Tweet from the AP’s Jeffrey Collins with interest:

That kicked off a digression in my head (sort of my default mode, really) and I replied with this:

Rob Godfrey, whom you’ll remember as Nikki Haley’s press guy, joined the conversation:

I laughed and replied that Ed Jones was a nice guy (“Mr. Ed’s” campaign slogan was “The congressman from the heart of the district, with the district at heart”), but thinking on his feet wasn’t his strongest suit. Then Meg Kinnard said:

Meg is originally from Memphis, and knows that neck of the woods. I decided to take a stab in the dark — Meg’s the age of my kids, but I thought just maybe we’d have an acquaintance in common:

To my surprise, she replied:

 

Twitter is awesome! In what other way could I have possibly made a connection like that? I need to get Kelly’s contact info from Meg — assuming he even remembers me after more than three decades — so we can get a beer together next time I’m at the beach…

That's Mr. Ed Jones on the right, and Kelly Sharbel in the middle. I'm probably somewhere nearby....

That’s “Mr. Ed” Jones on the right, and Kelly Sharbel in the middle. I’m probably somewhere nearby….

Weak parties, strong partisanship: a poisonous combination

1964_Democratic_National_Convention_2

Back when parties were parties…

Our own Karen Pearson said some very true things in this comment:

I’m all for keeping “parties ” out of it. We’re far too far along the way of voting for party instead of person. The candidates are forced to go farther and farther left or right in order to win a prime spot in their own party. This response encourages each party to go become even more “liberal” or “conservative.” Which means that in the next election the division becomes even greater, and ultimately excludes one side or the other from any possible voice in the ruling party. The ability of government to function disintegrates. Then we all stand around and decry our representatives because they can’t get anything done. This is madness.

She’s absolutely right, talking about the parties we have today. But her excellent points remind me of a phrase I’ve been hearing a good bit in recent years, most recently in a Dana Milbank column this morning in The Washington Post:

Political scientists have observed that American politics has deteriorated into an unstable combination of weak parties and strong partisanship — dry brush for the likes of Trump and Blankenship to ignite. The 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform restricted party fundraising, and the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling in 2010 essentially destroyed parties by giving everybody else freedom to spend unlimited sums to buy politicians. The moderating influence of parties was replaced by the radicalizing influence of dark money.

Related to this, partisanship in Washington escalated, aggravated by partisan redistricting that puts almost all House members in safe seats where the only threat comes from primaries. Primary voters tend to favor extreme candidates — who, once in Congress, turn politics into warfare.

Democrats suffer from the weak party/strong partisanship phenomenon too, as seen in the Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) campaign’s squabbles with the Democratic National Committee and the recent efforts by some Sanders followers to taint any candidate supported by the party. But the problem is most severe among Republicans…

Oh, excuse me. I meant this phrase: “an unstable combination of weak parties and strong partisanship.” Milbank cites “political scientists,” plural, but the phrase seems to have started on its current rounds with Julia Azari, a political science blogger and prof at Marquette University. As she put it a few days before the 2016 election, “The defining characteristic of our moment is that parties are weak while partisanship is strong.” And as she said, that’s a bad combination.

Y’all know I don’t think much of parties. But that’s largely because of what they’ve become. If they were more like what David Broder used to reminisce about, reliable institutions for winnowing candidates and putting forth the strongest ones — institutions that answered the question, “Who sent you?” — I wouldn’t hold them in such contempt.

We’re not just talking about the most dramatic case — the GOP’s utter helplessness to keep Donald Trump from waltzing in and taking their presidential nomination. A weak GOP is what gave us the Tea Party — which toppled party stalwarts left and right. It’s what weakened John McCain’s hand and made him think he had to pick Sarah Palin as his running mate instead of Joe Lieberman. More recently, it’s given us Roy Moore, and now this Blankenship yahoo in West Virginia. Line up enough know-nothing extremists behind you, and the party is helpless.

And Democrats, don’t think you’re immune. Some of the same forces weakening the GOP have been at work on your party for a long time. The Bernie bros whine about how the party leadership tried to cheat their guy out of the nomination. What stuff. In a time of strong parties, Hillary Clinton wouldn’t have had to spend a moment’s thought on Bernie Sanders. She’d have been a shoo-in, and she wouldn’t have done any of that pandering to extremes, such as turning against TPP.

Look back at my post about James and Micah. If the Democrats had a strong party, I would just go ahead and vote for Micah in the Republican primary, knowing that James had the Democratic nomination for governor locked up — everybody who is anybody in the party is lined up solidly behind him. But as polls have shown, Phil Noble — and to a lesser extent Marguerite Willis — have a shot (a long shot, but a shot) at denying it to him. Or at least forcing him into a runoff — which given the weakness of their candidacies should be impossible.

You don’t believe those polls? Well, I’m not convinced by them, either. But folks, this is the South Carolina Democratic primary electorate, the crowd that gave you Alvin Greene. A lot of people gave then-chair Carol Fowler hell for not preventing Greene from sneaking in and taking the U.S. Senate nomination. But what could she have done?

And folks, Alvin Greene wasn’t entirely a fluke. Such absurd things happen when parties are this weak.

Milbank is wrong to blame the problem on money, by the way. Sure, that can exacerbate the problem, but the fact is that Broder and others were writing about this in 1991, long before the campaign-finance developments that Milbank bemoans.

A lot of trends have gone into destroying parties. The rise of radical individualism and decline of institutions in general have done a great deal to undermine parties’ ability to produce the best candidates — as has the growth of excessive faith in direct democracy (such as primaries usurping the decision-making prerogatives of conventions), which has been a long-term problem throughout our history.

Lately, the decline in traditional news media (this morning on the radio, I heard the number of professional journalists plying their trade in this country was now half what it was 15 years ago; I’m shocked the number isn’t far lower than that), combined with the rise of new media that make every Tom, Dick and Harry his own publisher, have accelerated the problem. Not caused it, but further pushed a wheelchair that was already going downhill pretty fast. The cost for extremist flakes to go it alone is now lower than ever.

Combine all that with partisan redistricting, which forces the people who get elected under party banners to become more and more extreme, and the result is that our electorate is filled with people who have little loyalty to and no deference toward parties as institutions, but who are filled with passionate, increasingly extreme partisan sentiment, defining themselves as the only good people, and those who vote for candidates of that other party as the enemy.

And it just keeps spinning further out of control….

I refuse to be an ‘idiot.’ I’m joining the ranks of the involved

signs

This is my front yard. As of Monday night, for the first time in my life, my yard features a campaign sign for a political candidate. In fact, it boasts two.

I’ve decided not to be an idiot any more — in the ancient Greek sense, which meant someone who was not involved in public life. As I noted the other day, Bobby Kennedy once summarized the ancient meaning as “One who is not involved in politics.”

Well, with these two signs, I’m stepping out of the ranks of idiots (which my career as a journalist forced me to be, at least in a sense), and joining the polites — the involved public citizens.

James Smith is the best candidate for governor by far, and Micah Caskey is easily the best candidate for his House seat, if not the best running for any House seat this year. They are the two people I most hope to see elected this year, for reasons I’ve gone into in the past and will elaborate upon again, I assure you.

By erecting these two signs, I also take a stab at resolving a dilemma.

A couple of weeks ago, Micah Caskey, standing on the State House steps, asked me to vote for him on June 12. Specifically, he nodded toward James Smith — whom he knows I like for governor — a few feet away and said he hoped I wouldn’t be voting in the Democratic primary, because he needs my vote in the Republican.

The fact that I have to choose, and can only vote for one of the two people I want most to elect on primary day, is a gross injustice. But it’s one I have to confront.

Normally, I take a Republican ballot. Not because I’m a Republican, any more than a Democrat, but simply because of where I live. If I don’t vote in the Republican primary, I get no say in who represents me in most offices. If I lived in Richland County, I’d probably vote mostly in Democratic primaries — especially this year, with that solicitor’s race. We have to choose carefully: Our primary vote is critical because far too often, it’s the only time we get a real choice.

That we have to choose one ballot and miss having a say in the other races that are contested in the primary (but not in the fall) is wrong, a denial of our rights as citizens. It thoroughly disenfranchises us. But those who make the rules refuse to see that.

At least this way, whichever primary I vote in, I’ll have done something for both of these fine candidates. I just wish I could vote for both of them…

Finally, some substance: James Smith’s campaign playlist

James Smith playlist

Before I get into the important stuff, I’ll share this: On my downtown walk yesterday, I ran into James Smith and Mandy Powers Norrell leaving the State House, and I asked James why he hadn’t released his tax returns — since some of y’all keep bringing that up.

He told me he was going to make them available to the media on Thursday and Friday. He said he wasn’t passing out copies, but folks would be free to peruse the documents on those days. I didn’t dig into why he doesn’t want copies going out: We were talking while crossing the street, he was going to meet with his campaign manager at one of those sidewalk tables in front of restaurants on the first block of Main north of Gervais, and I was in a hurry to get back to the office and drive to the twins’ school to hear them sing. So I just made a mental note: financial disclosure, Thursday and Friday, and hustled away.

At least, I think he said Thursday and Friday. So if I’m right, you read it here first. If not, I’ll correct it.

Anyway, in keeping with my campaign to drive Bud crazy (Look, Bud, more style over substance!), I’m more interested in something the candidate sent out today: his campaign music playlist, which he describes as “what’s been keeping me rocking as I travel the state.”

In my defense, this is more relevant in his case than in other candidates’, because he’s a musician himself — he used to play bass with the Root Doctors, many years ago. As he put it in the release:

Music has always been important to me — it can lift you up when you’re feeling low, make you run when you are tired, and inspire hope just when you need it.

Here’s his list, which you can find at Spotify:

  1. Sunday Bloody Sunday,” U2
  2. One,” U2
  3. Perfect Duet,” Ed Sheeran & Beyoncé
  4. Message in a Bottle,” The Police
  5. Happier,” Ed Sheeran
  6. Beautiful Day,” U2
  7. Pride (In the Name of Love),” U2
  8. De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da,” The Police
  9. Find Me,” Kings of Leon
  10. Castle on the Hill,” Ed Sheeran
  11. Sign, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours),” Stevie Wonder
  12. We Take Care of Our Own,” Bruce Springsteen
  13. Come Together,” The Beatles
  14. Feeling Good,” Nina Simone
  15. Vertigo,” U2

Some general observations:

  • OK, we got it: You like U2. And “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is a perfectly fine song for kicking off a playlist, particularly in this case because it’s politically serious. It’s sort of the pop music equivalent of quoting W.B. Yeats. (For this purpose, we would also have accepted “Zombie,” by the Cranberries.) But five out of the 14 songs? Come on! You don’t want to come across as that… I don’t know… monochromatic. And let’s face it: U2 isn’t that great. Two or even three songs from Elvis Costello maybe, but five from U2? Nah…
  • Who is Ed Sheeran? I think I know what you’re trying to do here: Jack Black, as Barry in “High Fidelity,” would describe it this way: “Ohhh, kind of a new record… Very nice… A sly declaration of new-classic status slipped into a list of old safe ones….” I would not say that, of course, because I’m nicer than Barry. I appreciate that there’s something this old guy doesn’t know (the singer was born in 1991, saints preserve us!). And he sounds good. But again — should he appear on the list twice?
  • “Come Together” — the messaging may be a bit heavy there, but a communitarian like me never tires of that message. Thanks for including something for us Boomers. Which is smart, since we vote.
  • Good Springsteen choice, and I know it’s meaningful to you as a guy who served in the war. And no harm in reminding people of that. And while I’m not a huge fan of the Boss, another song from him couldn’t have hurt. Something fun, like “Pink Cadillac.” Or, especially since you’re doing some of that campaigning in the Pee Dee, “Darlington County.” Bruce is good politics for a Democrat, and he’s better than U2.
  • Who are the Kings of Leon? Never mind; we’ve already covered that ground with Ed Sheeran. And in the end, a guy who’s serious about music should have some performers not everyone has heard of. Broaden people’s horizons a bit. Be a leader, not a follower…

Anyway, that should get a discussion started. What are y’all’s thoughts? And speaking of High Fidelity, remember Rob’s rules as you consider the list:

To me, making a tape is like writing a letter — there’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again. A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You’ve got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention ***, and then you’ve got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, and you can’t have white music and black music together, unless the white music sounds like black music, and you can’t have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you’ve done the whole thing in pairs and… oh, there are loads of rules…

Yeah, he says “tape” instead of “playlist,” but give him a break: It was the 90’s and anyway, he’s a fictional character. But the rules are the rules…

Yeah, U2's good, and they sort of have political seriousness going for them, but they're not THAT great...

Yeah, U2’s good, and they sort of have political seriousness going for them, but they’re not THAT great…

In stunning reversal for people of SC, utilities manage to kill solar bill AFTER it passed overwhelmingly

It's like if, after the Death Star was destroyed, Darth Vader used the Force to snuff out the Rebellion anyway...

It’s like if, after the Death Star was destroyed, Darth Vader used the Force to snuff out the Rebellion anyway…

If you had any lingering sympathy for the big utilities in South Carolina, this should wipe it out:

Under pressure from the state’s major utilities, the S.C. House killed a solar bill Tuesday that was intended to protect thousands of jobs and save customers money on their monthly power bills.

The bill’s defeat, a stunning reversal from a House vote last week, brought withering criticism from many lawmakers, who said the House caved in to opposition by Duke Energy and SCE&G, derailing the legislation. Utilities have expressed concern about how competition from solar could affect them.

State Rep. James Smith, the bill’s chief sponsor, also blamed Republican Gov. Henry McMaster. Smith, a Democratic candidate for governor and potential opponent to McMaster in November’s general election, said the Republican urged some lawmakers not to vote for the bill — a point McMaster’s office hotly disputed.

“He called House Republican leadership and raked them over the coals,” Smith said he was told by fellow legislators. “It was giving me a victory. But it ain’t about me. It ain’t about Henry.”…

The solar bill died Tuesday in the House after utility boosters raised a technical point, saying passing the bill would require a two-thirds majority vote. The House voted for the legislation, 61-44, but that was short of the two-thirds required for approval….

Wow. This is bad on so many levels — particularly if our governor got involved in order to screw over his likely Democratic challenger. But even if he didn’t, this is a stunning example of bad faith, and the kind of oligarchic, anti-democratic maneuver that almost makes the anti-elite paranoia of a Bernie Sanders sound sane.

Matt Moore, the former GOP chair who has been heading up Palmetto Conservative Solar Coalition, reacted this way:

Ten-plus years? I think that’s an understatement. In my more than 30 years of covering SC politics, I haven’t seen the likes of this. You have to go back to before my time. There probably hasn’t been a case of the powers-that-be frustrating the public will to this extent since the Old Guard found a way to disqualify charismatic gubernatorial candidate Pug Ravenel on a technicality in 1974.

The will of the people, acting through their elected representatives (which is how you do it in a republic), had been clearly expressed. The best people in the General Assembly were all for it — Democrats, and both flavors of Republican (Regular and Tom Davis).

And now, the people who gave us the shaft on the nuclear fiasco have shown us what they think of that. And of us.

So… what are we going to do about it?

Belated congrats on a bipartisan solar victory

A shot of the voting board posted by Boyd Brown...

A shot of the voting board posted by Boyd Brown…

I was deliberately avoiding actual news the end of last week while at the beach, but now I want to congratulate James Smith and his allies of both parties on their big victory in the House last week.

Their bill to lift the cap on solar power passed the House 64-33 Thursday, after representatives rejected a competing bill pushed by the big utilities — which obviously don’t have the clout they had when they passed the Base Load Review Act.

Out of those 64, Matt Moore of the Palmetto Conservative Solar Coalition particularly thanked   and my own rep, .

See how everybody voted on the board above.

Now, on to the Senate!

If these guys are all for solar, who can be against?

Matt Moore, Sen. Tom Davis and Rep. James Smith in front of the rally crowd.

Matt Moore of the Palmetto Conservative Solar Coalition, Sen. Tom Davis and Rep. James Smith in front of the rally crowd.

I dropped by the pro-solar rally at the State House awhile ago, and I had to ask: “When AND AND are all for liberating solar power in SC, who can be against? (Aside from the big utilities, that is…)”

And there’s the rub. The big utilities, and their dozens of lobbyists and those who do their bidding. Who are those who do their bidding? We’ll be able to see that clearly, since right now there are two competing bills — H. 4421, which would lift the cap that the big utilities placed on net metering, and H. 5541, the bill that aims to essentially kill solar power in South Carolina.

There is seldom a choice that’s as black-and-white as this one.

Joining Smith, Ballentine and Davis — representing the three main “parties” in the Legislature (Democratic, Republican, and those other Republicans) — were Reps. Mandy Powers Norrell and Gary Clary, and Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant. My own representative, Micah Caskey, showed up as the rally ended, apologizing for being late.

The crowd standing on the steps behind the pols were mainly folks employed in the solar installation industry. Which makes sense, since their phony-baloney jobs are on the line, gentlemen!

This was one of those reverse rallies where the demonstrators were all up on the steps behind the speakers, and the audience consisted of media and a few lobbyists.

This was one of those reverse rallies where the demonstrators were all up on the steps behind the speakers, and the audience consisted of media and a few lobbyists.

SC Sierra Club endorses James Smith for governor

Sierra Club - Rep. James Smith

Aside from more of Trump’s stupid protectionism, there’s not a lot of news out there today. But this item did come in a little while ago:

South Carolina Sierra Club Formally Endorses James Smith for SC Governor

COLUMBIA, SC – Today, on the beautiful banks of the Congaree River in downtown Columbia, the South Carolina (SC) Chapter of the Sierra Club formally endorsed Representative James E. Smith, Jr. for Governor of the state. This endorsement was unanimously voted upon by the Steering Committee of the state Club following the Midlands’ area John Bachman Group of the Club also unanimously voting to endorse Representative Smith in his gubernatorial bid.

 This is the first time in its history that the SC Sierra Club has endorsed a gubernatorial candidate prior to a primary election.

Current Chapter Vice Chair and former longtime Chairwoman during the majority of Rep. Smith’s House tenure Susan Corbett said, “James Smith has done more for environmental protection and citizens’ rights to protect South Carolina’s natural wonders than any other lawmaker in the history of this Chapter’s work in this state. It’s not just his work to advance renewable energy, protect ratepayers, promote enforceable water standards and oppose offshore drilling; it’s his work on the ground which he has done day-in and day-out to stop tremendously bad legislation from being enacted throughout the years that also matters.”

Chapter Chair Ben Mack added, “Ever since I was present to hear James call for a citizens’ Environmental Bill of Rights as an amendment to our state’s Constitution while introducing the state Club before the House of Representatives, I knew we had a real leader and champion for natural resources before us.”

James Smith has been a longtime advocate of the work of the SC Sierra Club. He has been a regular supporter and speaker before the Midlands’ John Bachman Group of the state Chapter.

Conservation Chair Bob Guild noted, “Most recently, James drafted well over 200 amendments to do everything he could to stop a ham-fisted bill seeking to significantly roll back citizens’ rights to challenge bad government environmental permitting decisions. The bill, known as the rollback of the automatic stay, gives waste giants, toxic incinerators and tree-cutters, among others, the tools they need to remove the public from the process of moving forward on doing environmental harm. The current Governor signed the bill into law last week, showing his disregard for the people who James had so courageously fought to protect.”

“This is a no-brainer; no other candidate even compares,” concluded Ms. Corbett. “We’re talking about the Representative that pretty much single-handedly stopped polluters from passing a bill to take away citizens’ rights to stop illegal pollution in our state.”

The South Carolina Sierra Club has over 20,000 members and supporters across South Carolina and is dedicated to its mission to explore, enjoy and protect our state. The Sierra Club is the nation’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization with over 3 million members and supporters.