A mixed day for democracy in the Midlands

By BRAD WARTHEN
Editorial Page Editor

TUESDAY’S primary runoffs produced encouraging results on the state level, but what happened in Richland County was downright disturbing.

    Voters in the Midlands soundly rejected the governor’s efforts, financed by out-of-state extremists, to use South Carolina as a lab rabbit to test their pet ideologies.

    That’s what was at stake in the runoffs between Sheri Few and David Herndon in the state House 79 Republican primary, and between Katrina Shealy and Jake Knotts in Senate District 23. It would be hard to imagine this newspaper endorsing Sen. Knotts under any other circumstances. But things being as they were, we did. We believed that if the governor and his allies managed to take him out as they were trying to do, it would have intimidated other lawmakers into doing their will — even though the lawmakers and their constituents know better. So the governor needed to lose this one. Fortunately, the voters agreed.

    That would lead me to say that Tuesday’s voting demonstrates the unmitigated wisdom inherent in our system of democracy — if not for what happened, on the same day, with the Richland County clerk of court and the same county’s council District 7.

    Of course, we have insisted for years that it makes little sense to elect the clerk of court — or auditor, or coroner, or any office that is highly technical and has nothing to do with setting policies. It would be far better to let county administrators — who report to the elected councils — hire people to do highly technical, ministerial jobs, based on experience and demonstrated competence.

    The result in the clerk’s race reinforces our point.

    In the primary on June 10, we endorsed incumbent Barbara Scott, since — and we saw no clear evidence to the contrary — she was doing an adequate job running the courthouse, collecting child support payments and overseeing the other routine duties of the office. She was judged clerk of the year by the S.C. chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates, which surely knows more about the quality of her day-to-day work than we do.

    Before making that decision, we considered endorsing Gloria Montgomery — who had worked in the clerk’s office for years and seems to understand it thoroughly (certainly better than we or most voters do) — or Kendall Corley, who offered some interesting ideas for improving service.

    But we never for a moment considered endorsing Jeanette McBride. That’s not because Mrs. McBride is married to former state Rep. Frank McBride, whose political career ended in 1991 when he pleaded guilty to vote-selling in the Lost Trust scandal. We didn’t consider her because she offered us no reason whatsoever to believe that she would do a better job than Ms. Scott. She didn’t even try. She did not display any particular interest in what the clerk of court does at all.

    She said, quite simply, that she was running because she thought she could win. She did not explain what went into that calculation, but so what? She was right.

    Her victory will inevitably be compared to the defeat of Harry Huntley — regarded by many as the best auditor in the state — in Richland County in 2006. And it will be suggested that both of these incumbents were the victims of raw racial politics. Mr. Huntley and Ms. Scott are white; Ms. McBride and Paul Brawley are black. A candidate who can pick up most of the black votes in a Democratic primary is increasingly seen as having an advantage in the county.

    I hope voters had a better reason than that for turning out qualified candidates in favor of challengers who seemed to offer no actual qualifications. In fact, I’m wracking my brain trying to think of other explanations. Ms. McBride, in her interview, didn’t help with that. And Mr. Brawley didn’t even bother to talk to The State’s editorial board, so I have no idea what sort of case he made to voters. I hope he made some really compelling, defensible argument. I just haven’t heard it yet.

    In council District 7, race was not the factor. Both runoff candidates were black. That one seems to have been a pure demonstration of another poor reason to win an election: name recognition. Voters went with Gwendolyn Davis Kennedy, a name they’d heard before, over the young and unknown Kiba Anderson. Unfortunately, they seem to have forgotten that the reason they’d heard the name was that she was one of the council members they booted out of office after she wasted their tax money on a junket to Hawaii.

    In our interview, Ms. Kennedy was like Ms. McBride in one respect: For a former council member, she showed a startling lack of knowledge of, or interest in, issues before the council.

    Mr. Anderson was an unknown quantity, to be sure. But at least we didn’t know he would be a bad council member, which Ms. Kennedy was.

    The optimist in me says that the voters no doubt had some really great reason for sending her back to the council. It’s just escaping me so far.

    That’s the bad news out of the runoffs. I’ll end on a cheery note.

    Before I do, I’ll state as I always do that our endorsements most certainly are not an attempt to predict election outcomes. They are about who should win — and the reasons why — not who will win.

    But several election cycles back, I got tired of our detractors spreading the lie that “our” candidates generally lose, that we are out of touch with the voters, that our endorsement is the “kiss of death,” yadda-yadda. So I started reporting our endorsees’ “won-lost” record after each election.

    The results of the primaries, now that all the recounts and runoffs are done, were as follows: We endorsed 24 candidates. Of those, 19 won. That’s a batting average of .792. So there.

14 thoughts on “A mixed day for democracy in the Midlands

  1. Lee Muller

    Since vouchers have been working for decades in other states, as the laboratories of progress The Founders intended, South Carolina students would not be “lab rats”, but the beneficiaries of systems proven and improved by others.
    I don’t see enemies of public school choice clamoring for abolition of vouchers for college, tech schools, groceries (WIC, Food Stamps, EBIT, AFDC), or medical care (Medicaid, Medicare). As soon as they can figure how to control the money and line their pockets, they will be just fine with public school vouchers.

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  2. Brad Warthen

    Actually, advocates haven’t been able to point to an experience anywhere that supports the absurd idea that either vouchers or tax credits would cause good private schools to suddenly come into being in poor rural communities that lack the wealth and population density to support a single supermarket.
    Everything that anyone knows about markets says that would be impossible.
    The best Sanford et al. can point to is Milwaukee — a densely populated city with an existing Catholic school infrastructure, which is about as far from what you would find in South Carolina’s problem districts as one can imagine.
    And one hears differing reports about how well Milwaukee has worked — a moot point, since South Carolina is not and never will be Milwaukee. Or any other sort of major beer-production center, for that matter.

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  3. Claudia

    “Since vouchers have been working for decades in other states…”
    Can anyone out there cite a source for this claim?

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  4. Carl

    I’ve got two points I want to make so I’ll make them into two posts. First, I don’t understand the vendetta Brad and the State paper have against Gov Sanford. Yea, I know you vehemently oppose the school vouchers. I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re probably too great of an idea either. I’ll get to that in another post.
    And you’re saying that “outside” interests are trying to hijack our state. I really believe that is a bit of a stretch. There are outside interests involved in this state’s issues in the past and there will be more in the future. That’s just politics in this day and age. You and your editorial board clearly state you have major issues with Knotts and yet you endorse him anyway over one issue.
    I don’t agree with Sanford over every issue and I’ll never find any politician that I agree with every time. You have stated several times that Sanford is a ideologue, specifically a liberterian ideologue. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing but that’s another debate. I don’t agree with some of the liberterians issues, but the one thing for sure is that government has gotten too big.
    Is your main problem with Sanford his support of vouchers or do you think his belief in small govt is what gets yall riled up? If you believe in big govt and I belive in a much smaller govt then we’ll probably never come to an agreement on that subject.
    But I know since Sanford has been elected he’s gotten a lot of people mad at him. That tells me as a politican he’s probably doing a pretty good job. I think most folks can agree with that.

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  5. Lee Muller

    Brad,
    Do you also think vouchers for public and private college, don’t work? Tell me how the GI Bill, Pell Grants, Life Scholarhips, etc can work just fine, but the exact same idea won’t work for the same students when they are a few years younger.
    It seems that voucher opponents are most concerned with protecting government schools and their unions, not in providing education to the students.

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  6. Carl

    I want to comment on public schools. My wife is a public school teacher for many years now. After studying the voucher issue, I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re probably not the best solution. So what is the solution. I don’t claim to have THE answer but I’ll throw something out there.
    I believe in a much smaller govt than what we have now. I just don’t think it’s healthy for the future of our country for the govt at all levels to be so big and massive. But I believe education is the only way to better yourself in the long run and it’s in the best interest of our country to have a vibrant public school system.
    There is so much wasteful spending in the school systems. We have an education building in downtown Columbia full of administrators making twice what teachers make handing down decisions that don’t make a lot of sense. I’ve seen first hand through my wife the massive amounts of money thrown at so many different programs that are well intentioned. But they haven’t really made a difference.
    Teachers are all expected to be superheroes. They are expected not only to teacher kids, but to be their surrogate parent, disciplinarian, counselor, advisor, adminstrative assistant, and anything else that takes time from teaching. My wife knows that this is expected and tries her best to fulfil this myriad duties because she loves the kids. That’s why most teachers teach. I personally think it’s ridiculous that teachers are held to such a higher standard than any other profession out there, but that’s what is now expected of them.
    But my wife tries her best to fulfil these duties. Now mind you, these duties are not spelled out in any manual. So with that said, if that’s what they expect, how do you make it happen. This is an impossible task with 30 or 35 kids. But with 10 or 15 kids, this is doable. My wife has said many times with a small class size, she could show the kids the extra attention they need.
    Take all that money the dept of ed. wastes and devote it to more teachers and smaller classrooms. I don’t see a lot of parents taking back their responsibility to their kids any time soon. Not all parents mind you, but plenty of them. So if that’s what they expect, make it happen. Do the one thing that could possibly solve this school problem.

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  7. bud

    We believed that if the governor and his allies managed to take him (Knotts) out as they were trying to do, it would have intimidated other lawmakers into doing their will — even though the lawmakers and their constituents know better.
    -Brad
    That’s just about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. If the lawmaker’s constituents KNOW BETTER they would vote in favor of that sense of KNOWING BETTER. That suggests a vote for the Governor’s cronies is a conscious vote against the voter’s best interest. And that simply makes no sense unless the voter is a masochist.

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  8. bud

    We believed that if the governor and his allies managed to take him (Knotts) out as they were trying to do, it would have intimidated other lawmakers into doing their will — even though the lawmakers and their constituents know better.
    -Brad
    That makes no sense. This implies that a voter is making a conscious vote against his/her best interest. Why would they do that?

    Reply
  9. Jay

    Being against the governor isn’t a small government vs. big government thing. It’s an anti-government vs all other types of government thing. Sanford is anti-government and by portraying him as anything but that obscures the issue.

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  10. Lee Muller

    Governor Sanford is for government no larger than necessary to provide the few, limited services that at unique to government’s role – not as a provider of all the goodies that some people want, but not enough to buy from businesses with with their own money.
    Sanford also wants an honest process.
    Sanford’s opponents want no limits on their spending and wheeler-dealing in a dishonest process that is hidden from public view. They want to use government to steal from taxpayers.

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  11. Carl

    Come on now, that’s quite a bit of hyperbole. No politician who has gotten elected is anti-govt. That’s an oxymoron in itself. The big govt vs. small govt is very legitimate and you’re clouding the issue with outlandish statements.

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  12. Michael

    I see The State newspaper as an out-of-state interest trying to influence a local election, with it being owned by McClatchy, based in Sacramento, California.
    Please explain to me how a California-based media conglomerate lecturing to South Carolina voters about what it feels is in their best interests is any more noble than an out-of-state PAC putting money into the state to advocate their beliefs. One big difference that comes to mind is that the California-based company is not bound by the same campaign finance rules and its actions are more liable to go unchecked than the out-of state PAC. At least there is transparency in the latter case.

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  13. penultimo mcfarland

    Bingo, Michael. And with Mr. Warthen out-of-state in one of the places he apparently actually considers home, Memphis, I’m doubling down.
    I’ve never seen a paper anywhere so persistently insistent on endorsing someone for everything, not just once, but twice, if necessary, when no one in their right mind gives a hurrah what The State, which is no more our state than Newfoundland or Kuala Lumpur, thinks about anything.
    It makes you wonder. What special interest is being protected?

    Reply

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