Category Archives: Mandy Powers Norrell

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…

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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.”

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.

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….