Category Archives: James Smith

Again, THIS is how you get things done, people…


This is another little object lesson for Phil Noble and other Democrats who think the way to get worthwhile things done is to be more partisan, in a red state.

This came to my attention today because James Smith retweeted it, saying, “Great work ! Thank you for your leadership:”

Note that Democrat Funderburk makes a particular point of thanking, along with the speaker, Republicans Newton, Pope and Clary, as well as fellow Dems Beth Bernstein and Mandy Powers Norrell.

Here’s the bill in question.

Because, you know, this is how you get things done. By ignoring the partisan junk and working with anyone who wants to make our state better. Just as Smith himself has been demonstrating with his bill to raise the cap on solar, which has considerable Republican support.

Note also the shout-out to our own Lynn Teague. She’s one of those lobbyists who provides valuable information and input to lawmakers — you know, one of those people some of you think don’t exist…

Promising first step on lifting SC’s solar cap

State House

This was good to see yesterday:

The Chairman of the Palmetto Conservative Solar Coalition (PCSC) today applauded a South Carolina House Judiciary subcommittee for its unanimous passage of H. 4421, a bill that would bring more free market solar energy choices to South Carolina consumers.

“In just a few years, South Carolina has become a leader in solar energy growth. I’m thrilled that House members recognize how H. 4421 will continue this positive trend by giving consumers even more free market energy choices,” said Matt Moore, Chairman of the PCSC. “Now the bill moves to the full the Judiciary Committee, where we are confident that despite big power’s objections to energy freedom, House members will support sending H. 4421 to the full South Carolina House for passage.”

That’s James Smith’s bill, called the “SC Electric Consumer Bill of Rights,” that lifts the ridiculous cap on solar energy in South Carolina. The one I wrote about Wednesday.

Moore, the former GOP chair, made a point of thanking Smith along with Republican backers Peter McCoy and Judiciary Chairman Greg Delleney.

It’s a smart piece of bipartisan legislation — I’ve yet to hear a good reason why it shouldn’t pass — and while subcommittee passage is just a start, I’m encouraged by the unanimous vote.

THIS is what political exploitation of gun tragedies looks like

Twitter home

I get up in the morning, I work out, I skim Twitter, I peruse several newspapers, and I get ideas that could be blog posts, but I fritter them away in Tweets before breakfast is over, and the blog lies fallow for much of the day.

So I’m going to start turning more Tweets into posts, so the conversation can occur here as well as there.

Let’s start with this one:

In case the Tweet I was retweeting doesn’t show up, here’s what I was talking about:

Of course, I was far from the only one to react this way. A couple of other Tweets on the subject:

To which Tyler Jones responded, “Egg, meet Phil Noble’s face.”

And an American Party candidate for the House had this to say:

OK, that should be enough to get y’all started…

Bullying local governments: An issue bigger than plastic bags

What do these have in common with bump stocks?/photo by Dan4th Nicholas

What do these have in common with bump stocks?/photo by Dan4th Nicholas

This Tweet reminded me of something I meant to post about:

First, kudos to James for standing up on this: Forbidding local governments to clean up their communities is unconscionable.

But there’s a much bigger issue here than plastic bags littering the landscape: More than 40 years after passage of the Home Rule Act, the South Carolina General Assembly continues to bully local governments, preventing South Carolinians from running their own affairs in their own communities as they see fit.

It was always thus. From the beginning, long before the Recent Unpleasantness, the small class of plantation owners who ran things from the Legislature kept local governments weak, just as they did the governor. Home Rule was supposed to fix that, at least on the county level. But lawmakers kept vestiges of the Legislative State — such as unaccountable Special Purpose Districts (think Richland County Recreation Commission, and the Elections Commission in the same county). In some counties, state lawmakers even continued to run local schools.

And when local officials dare to try to improve their communities without the permission of the state, they can expect to have the state jump on them, hard.

We all saw what happened, nationally and locally, after the mass shooting in Las Vegas: Pretty much everyone, across the political spectrum, agreed that nobody needed a “bump stock,” and that the deadly devices were bad news all around.

And then, on the national level, nothing happened. And here in Columbia, elected officials decided they would act, within their limited ability to act: They banned the use, although not the possession, of bump stocks within the city limits.

It wasn’t much, but it made national news, and was much applauded as a case of some elected officials, somewhere, being willing do something.

So of course, a group of SC lawmakers decided they weren’t going to allow that. So Reps. Jonathon D. Hill, Craig A. Gagnon, Anne J. Thayer, Joshua A. Putnam — none of whom live anywhere near Columbia — sponsored H. 4707, “so as to provide that a political subdivision may not regulate firearm accessories.”

It’s the same old story in South Carolina: These lawmakers don’t propose to DO anything; they just want to make sure nobody else does anything….

A brief, belated report on the Democratic debate


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Democratic race for governor just got even more surprising

Phil Noble's 'response to the response' last week was... eccentric...

Phil Noble’s ‘response to the response’ last week was… eccentric…

I’m trying to figure out what’s going on with the race among Democrats for governor.

Once James Smith made up his mind to go for it, it had looked like that was that. After all, Democrats had been urging him to run ever since he came back from Afghanistan, several election cycles ago.

Everybody who was anybody in the party was lining up behind him, and has continue to do so — Joe Riley from the Lowcountry and Dick Riley from the Upstate (my two favorite SC Dems), along with Jim Hodges and Steve Benjamin. He’s very popular among Democratic women, as evidenced by this list and this Facebook page. He seems pretty well-liked all around.

Yet Phil Noble came forth with his lonely quest. He has been endorsed by… Doug Jones of Alabama. (It seems I’ve heard of a list of actual South Carolinians supporting him, but haven’t found it. If you know where it is, I’ll link to it.) Jones is a pretty big name nationally right now; no doubt about it — but Smith more than cancels that out with Joe Biden.

Marguerite Willis

Marguerite Willis

Digression: Reading some of his Tweets the night of the State of the State, I reached a conclusion — Phil is aiming to be the Bernie Sanders of South Carolina, the spoiler who hobbles the obvious choice for the nomination. You know, the ideologue whose chief beef about the heir apparent is that he’s too moderate and sensible. It seems to really bug Phil that the Democrats might nominate a candidate that someone other than Democrats might vote for. His… eccentric (the videography reminded me of “Wayne’s World,” before Rob Lowe’s slick villain character took it over)… “response to the response” that streamed online that night confirmed it. You should watch it, especially if you already viewed the official Democratic response given by James. Phil kept talking about wanting to “break the back of the good ol’ boy system” in the State House. Which might be understandable if he meant the Republicans who run the place — but he was saying it about the Democrats.

And now, on the eve of the first Democratic debate, another candidate is jumping into it. And her reasons so far seem… unclear. Marguerite Willis says “I just thought, ‘If I don’t, who will?'” To which the obvious answer would be, James Smith and Phil Noble. So she must have a problem with those guys; she must see them as inadequate somehow. But her only complaint so far (that I’ve seen) is, “When I listen to both candidates, I don’t feel a dedication to immediacy.”

Which I must confess goes right over my head. But let’s give her a chance. Perhaps she’ll clarify when she actually announces, on Friday.

This is getting as crowded and active as the Republican race. And, you know, this is South Carolina. So what gives?


Can Democrats bring themselves to reach out to those who are reachable?

I’ve been meaning to share some thoughts about this Ross Douthat column of Oct. 21, headlined “The Democrats in Their Labyrinth.”

Sure I think the headline was cool, although it provoked in me a twinge of guilt for never having finished that novel. (I had thought I would love it, because in 5th and 6th grades my history classes were in Spanish, and Bolívar and Sucre and O’Higgins and the rest were the heroes of the story we were told. Also, I felt that I should read some Márquez and it sounded more cheery than One Hundred Years of Solitude or Love in the Time of Cholera. But it wasn’t.)

Anyway, I like the column for what followed the headline, so let’s get to that:

America has two political parties, but only one of them has a reasonably coherent political vision, a leadership that isn’t under the thumb of an erratic reality television star, and a worldview that implies a policy agenda rather than just a litany of grievances.Douthat

Unfortunately for the Democrats, their vision and leaders and agenda also sometimes leave the impression that they never want to win another tossup Senate seat, and that they would prefer Donald Trump be re-elected if the alternative requires wooing Americans who voted for him.

Consider recent developments in the state of Alabama, where the Republican Party has nominated a Senate candidate manifestly unfit for office, a bigot hostile to the rule of law and entranced with authoritarianism.

And who have the Democrats put up against him? An accomplished former prosecutor, the very model of a mainstream Democrat — and a man who told an interviewer after his nomination that he favors legal abortion, without restriction, right up until the baby emerges blue and flailing from the womb….

But just as this post wasn’t about Gabriel García Márquez, it’s not about abortion, either. That’s just an illustration of the way Democrats push away people in the middle who might vote for them occasionally if not for their rigid, prickly ideological orthodoxy — and the fact that they think people who don’t subscribe to their more extreme manifestations of dogma are barbarians, people they wouldn’t want voting for them anyway, because they’re not the right sort.

The point, in other words, is the assertion that Democrats “would prefer Donald Trump be re-elected if the alternative requires wooing Americans who voted for him.”

This is a problem for Democrats, and a problem for the country. Because, you know, Trumpism needed to end a year ago. And if we wait for Democrats to do anything to end it, we might have to wait the rest of our lives. (We could depend on principle Republicans, the ones who know better, but so far they only seem to want to stand up and speak truth when they’re headed for the exits. As for us independents — well, we lack organization.)

Douthat’s “point is that a party claiming to be standing alone against an existential threat to the republic should be willing to move somewhat, to compromise somehow, to bring a few of the voters who have lifted the G.O.P. to its largely undeserved political successes into the Democratic fold.”

But perhaps you won’t. And admittedly, for those of you who lean Democratic, perhaps a conservative Catholic such as Douthat isn’t the messenger you’re likely to heed — although I believe in that column he means you well.

How about Rahm Emanuel, then? Here’s what he was saying earlier this year:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has warned Democrats they need to “take a chill pill” and realize that they are not going to take back national power anytime soon.330px-Rahm_Emanuel,_official_photo_portrait_color

“It ain’t gonna happen in 2018,” Emanuel said Monday at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business in California. “Take a chill pill, man. You gotta be in this for the long haul.”

As he did last month at an event in Washington, D.C., the mayor expanded on what he believes is the road map back to power for his party — putting moderate candidates such as veterans, football players, sheriffs and business people up in Republican districts, picking battles with Republicans, exploiting wedges within the GOP and fighting attempts to redistrict Congress on partisan grounds….

Remember how Emanuel did just that and won a majority in the U.S. House in 2006? Democrats don’t, near as I can tell.

The problem is, I have the feeling that too many Democrats are doing what the Republicans did after losing in 2008. Back then, egged on by ideological extremists such as our own Jim DeMint, the GOP leaped to the conclusion that they lost in 2008 because they weren’t extreme enough, because they had bet it all on relative moderate McCain. This led to the Tea Party and the Freedom Caucus and Steve Bannon and so forth, which led to our current national crisis.

If the Democrats want to be part of the solution to that crisis, they need to reach out beyond their “safe space” and engage with people who don’t entirely share their worldview. Because, ahem, most people don’t.

Yet there are a lot of people trying to pull the Democrats in the opposite direction. They take the DeMint approach, which goes: The Democrats lost in 2016 because they weren’t extreme enough. They needed more feeling the Bern and less Clintonian Third Way. Perhaps, as New York magazine wrote early this year, The Socialist Takeover of the Democratic Party Is Proceeding Nicely. If so, then the left will dominate the party. But they won’t be running the country, because they won’t be winning general elections.

Let me share one more thing with you, from The New York Times Magazine over the weekend. It begins with an anecdote about a conference call Nancy Pelosi made to House Democrats right after their disastrous defeat a year ago:

Several members on the call later told me they expected their leader to offer some show of contrition, an inventory of mistakes made or, at minimum, an acknowledgment that responsibility for the previous night’s disaster began at the top. Already, Trump’s sweep of what had for years been Democratic strongholds in the Rust Belt had led to a fast-congealing belief that the party had lost touch with white working-class voters.

But Pelosi sounded downright peppy on the call, noting a few vulnerable House seats that the Democrats had managed to hang onto. As for those working-class voters, “To say we don’t care about them is hard to believe,” Pelosi insisted, according to a transcript of the call I obtained. “I have to take issue and say I don’t think anybody was unaware of the anger.” The Democrats weren’t out of touch, she said. They just hadn’t made their case clearly enough to voters — or as she put it, “We have to get out there and say it in a different way.”

“It reminded me of that scene at the end of ‘Animal House,’ where Kevin Bacon is standing in the middle of all this chaos, screaming: ‘Remain calm! All is well!’ ” Scott Peters, a congressman from California who was on the call, told me. “After telling us before that we were going to pick up 20 seats, and we end up with six, underlaid with Clinton losing, I had no use for that kind of happy talk.” During and after Pelosi’s monologue, Democratic representatives who were listening texted and called one another incredulously, but Peters was one of the few who spoke up on the line. “I think we’re missing something,” he told Pelosi. “We’re just not hearing what’s on people’s minds.”…

Yeah, so what did they do? They held a quick leadership election, and stuck with the same crowd who had brought them to this low point. But before they did that, there was a brief moment of truth-telling:

In the end, her only opponent was Tim Ryan, a young congressman and former high school quarterback star from Ohio’s 13th District, the ailing industrial region surrounding Youngstown and Akron. Ryan offered a splash-of-cold-water speech just before the vote: “We got wiped out,” he said, according to a recording of his remarks. “We’re toxic in the Midwest, and we’re toxic in the South.”…

Jaime HarrisonThere are Democrats who acknowledge this — I think. This morning, The State reported that “Jaime Harrison knows how Democrats can win elections. Are Democrats listening?” The story, unfortunately, didn’t really explain what it is that Jaime knows. Perhaps I should give him a call and see if he’ll share the secret sauce.

Smith, if he goes about it right, has an opportunity to make a play for those of us in the middle. After all, the Republicans seem hell-bent on having the most extreme gubernatorial primary in living memory: Oh, yeah? Well I’ll see your imaginary sanctuary cities and raise you a Steve Bannon!

Can Smith, or anyone, reach out to the state’s sensible center and rescue us from Trumpism? I certainly hope so. Because we are in serious need saving. But they can only do it if they go after people who’ve fallen into the habit of voting the other way, and do it competently…

James Smith

Joe Biden on James Smith

Biden at the Galivants Ferry Stump Meeting in 2006.

Biden at the Galivants Ferry Stump Meeting in 2006.

Seeing that Jim Hodges had become the latest Democratic heavyweight to endorse James Smith for governor reminded me that I meant to go back and read the P&C’s story in which Joe Biden explained why he’s backing Smith.

It’s not just because James led the unsuccessful Draft Biden effort in SC before last year’s election.

Here’s hoping the Charleston paper doesn’t mind if I share a good-sized chunk:

Why Biden is backing Smith: “I have met a lot of guys in my career … but this is a guy, I swear to God, that I would trust with anything. This is a guy who I watched, he never puts himself before anybody else.”

“He’s not about tearing the house down. … I look at him and I think this is a guy with the energy, the integrity, the experience that can really have South Carolina get up and start to walk.”

How Smith reminds Biden of his son: He said Smith possesses the sense of duty of his late son, Beau, who passed on taking his father’s Senate seat when Biden become vice president to remain Delaware’s attorney general. Both younger men went on military deployments to the Middle East while in political office.

“They’re kindred spirits. … I know it sounds corny but it comes down to honor, duty and again the guy (Smith) has all tools. He knows the issues. His instincts are right. He thinks you should be able to make a billion dollars if you could, but you ought to take care of people and just give everybody a chance.

“I remember saying to him once that I thought that one of the problems with the elites in both our parties, we don’t have a lot of faith in ordinary people any more. And James started talking about his grandfather and great-grandfather (working class men from poor backgrounds). Ordinary people can do extraordinary things if you give them half a chance. I’m convinced he believes that.”…

Sounds like he knows James. There’s a bunch more, just overflowing with Joe-ness, if you want to go read the whole piece.

I’m still waiting to hear who’s backing Phil Noble. He must be responding to something going on in the party; I’m just not sure what. I didn’t know there was a sizable contingent of Democrats who didn’t like James. I need to learn more…

First video for James Smith’s campaign-to-be (one hopes)

Joel Lourie shared this with me this afternoon, and I’m sharing it with you.

Rep. James Smith is apparently moving closer and closer to launching a campaign for governor, and I think that would be a pretty exciting development. Because, frankly, I’m not terribly inspired by any of the other choices we have before us next year.

I had thought we could look to Henry McMaster for good things, in spite of the inexplicable aberration of his endorsement of Trump. After all those years of Sanford and Haley, both determined not to work constructively with the Legislature, it looked like we might have someone willing to lead.

But nope. What was his first significant act, the one that defned his first legislative session as governor? After Speaker Jay Lucas and other GOP leaders had had the guts to stand up and both fund and reform our roads, Henry stabbed them in the back with a veto, an action that had nothing to do with leadership and everything to do with craven political calculation.

If others now eyeing the office would be better, they haven’t shown it yet.

But James Smith is a guy who has worked with Republicans and his fellow Democrats to try to make South Carolina a better place for its citizens. This is a guy who has served in the trenches for 20 years, not just somebody who has been all about the next big office.

James embodies service, in every sense. This is the man who, with a comfortable billet as a JAG officer, gave it up to enlist as just another dogface so he could go fight after 9/11. He was told that’s what he would have to do to join the infantry, so that’s what he did. He went through basic training as just another another grunt — except he was twice the age of the recruits he was determined to keep up with. He made it, and ended up in combat in Afghanistan, serving with his fellow South Carolinians — Republicans, Democrats and independents.

Y’all know me. Y’all know how much I respect that sort of thing. But the kind of character he showed in that has been borne out in his conduct as a lawmaker.

Have I always been a James Smith supporter? Nope. We didn’t endorse him the first time he ran. We liked him and his Republican opponent, but we went with the Republican. He’s spent all the years since showing me that we might have gotten that one wrong.

Anyway,  this should be good. Ginger, get the popcorn

Capt. Smith takes aim...

Capt. Smith takes aim…