Monday. No. 1 of 55 interviews I’ll be doing before the June primary.
"This is Artie White. Go ahead. Ask him your question."
She had this big grin. I looked at her. I looked at Artie.
"You know, the one you always ask."
I looked at Artie again. I didn’t want to start off by asking, "How old are you?," which I tend to ask anyone who looks nearly as young as he does. (I asked it of Daniel Rickenmann, for instance, and my colleagues had a terrible time convincing me in the end that he was, indeed, old enough to endorse for Columbia City Council.)
"’Who’s your Daddy?’" Cindi asked, a bit put out with me. It’s a running joke between long-serving editors in our rather dynastic state. It’s not uncommon for us to interview candidates whose fathers we know — James Smith, Rick Quinn, Joel Lourie, Barney Giese, Vincent Sheheen and so forth.
"Oh, I know who his daddy is," I said. Art White, who goes to my church. Man of many trades — lawyer, surveyor, Navy Reserve officer. I had recognized the name, although I hadn’t known for sure this was Art’s son until Cindi said that.
Thus distracted, I never did ask the younger Mr. White his age, but I know the approximate answer: Quite young. He’s two years out of college, and working with his dad. He kept calling me "sir," and — even more strangely — Cindi "ma’am." So you know he was raised right. But to those of us who have spent years interviewing the likes of Fritz Hollings and Strom Thurmond, such respect can still be jarring.
He has worked in the past for U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson. He says he liked working behind the scenes in politics, but he would rather be the guy out front. So he’s starting with running for the state House.
The nice thing about talking to a candidate so recently out of college is that he still remembers more than most politicians have forgotten (or in most cases, to be perfectly honest, ever knew) about representative democracy and how it’s supposed to work.
He knew to say that while he would represent his district, he knew that a House member is obliged to make laws with the entire state in mind as well. When we started probing his understanding of the role of a representative (we usually have to explain the question, saying something like, "Would you try to vote the way you think all of your constituents would vote if polled, or would you study the issues in order to reach your own conclusions, based in the values…" — he jumped in to explain it to us:
"The two terms are ‘delegate’ and ‘trustee,’" he said confidently. "You should be both… they voted for you based on what you stand for … when there’s a conflict, just be consistent. Do the right thing… and they can punish or reward you for it, either way you look at it."
Young Mr. White sets less store by party than his former boss, Joe Wilson (which is a good thing). When asked whether he would make a point of regularly voting with the GOP caucus, he said, "I don’t really think it’s important."
His opponent, the incumbent? "He’s an alright guy," but "You don’t seem to hear much about what’s going on," meaning he thought Mr. Bingham needed to communicate better with the constituents in his Lexington County district.
His main issue? Eminent domain. He’s very concerned that governmental power to condemn be confined to infrastructure and other works that promote the general benefit of the whole community. We asked him about the concept of "regulatory takings," but he wasn’t familiar with it. That was OK, we told him; it was a recent (and somewhat ridiculous, we could have added) invention.
"Property rights in this country … is the basis of a free country," he pronounced. Without them, we would be "no better than Britain." I wasn’t sure what that meant about Britain, but I never went back and followed up.
He wants to get rid of all property taxes, including those that pay for county and city government. He would replace the revenues with much higher sales taxes. Local governments could set their own. There would be no tax on groceries.
"I think public education is getting the job done better than many people realize," he said. Nevertheless, he could go for vouchers — income-based ones, however, as opposed to the sort of tax credit the governor pushed last year, which would of course go first to those who paid enough in state income taxes.
But he would be wary of letting such breaks undermine public education funding overall.
Artie White’s greatest strengths? Sincerely good intentions and good theoretical knowledge of how government is supposed to work. His greatest weaknesses? Youth and inexperience. Mr. Bingham’s last opponent had had good theoretical knowledge about government — he was a middle school political science teacher. But we thought he was awfully young, and he was older and more experienced than Artie White.