FYI, the UnParty almost ran its first candidate this year

The candidate that wasn't, posing on the State House steps (for the ADCO website, NOT for a campaign!)

The Candidate Who Wasn’t, posing on the State House steps (for the ADCO website, NOT for a campaign!)

Actually, “almost” is a little strong, but the UnParty’s unleadership did think about it a good bit. (You think Ethan Hawke was good as Hamlet? That was nothing compared to this.)

I just got off the phone with both Micah Caskey and Tem Miles, who are in a runoff for the GOP nomination for Kenny Bingham’s House seat. I plan to post something about both of them before the day is over. (OK, so it took me until the next day.)

But before I do I should tell y’all something that I’ve mentioned to a handful of people, but not to you or the world at large:

When I heard that Kenny Bingham, my representative, was stepping down, I immediately thought about running for the seat myself — as an independent, of course. (I’ve told Messrs. Caskey and Miles this.)

Ever since I left the paper, I’ve thought about the fact that, after all these years of telling politicians what they ought to do, maybe I should get off the sidelines and do something myself.

The most logical office for me to run for would be the House. My understanding of state government and issues is far greater than my knowledge of local government. And the idea of trying to raise the resources needed to run as an independent for Congress, especially in my über-Republican district (represented by Congressman-For-Life Joe Wilson) was too high a mountain to contemplate climbing. Anyway, I think people should hold other offices before aiming that high.

And the state House would be easier than the state Senate.

But I wasn’t interested in running against Kenny (or my senator, Nikki Setzler), largely because I think he’s done a good job over the years. Also, I didn’t see how I could beat him.

So this seemed like my chance. And a good one, in one sense, even though an independent is always at a disadvantage: If I ran, I would run overtly against both political parties. I would tell voters exactly what I think of the parties, and that I was running because I didn’t want Columbia to become any more like Washington than it was. (I’d tell them a lot more than that, but that would be the thrust of my elevator speech.)

I’d be running against my opponent’s parties, not the opponents themselves.

If that pitch was ever to be effective, it would be in a year in which voters are highly disaffected from the parties — with most Republicans picking a non-Republican for president, and almost half of Democrats going with a non-Democrat. And when disgust with the partisan gridlock of Congress is at an all-time high.

If I would ever have a chance, that is. My chief handicaps would be:

  • Running as an independent, period. Despite all that disaffection, voters in this country for the most part have no practice at wrapping their minds around the concept of an independent candidate. It takes a lot of explaining, which means you start out in a hole. You run as an independent in a Republican district like mine and people assume you’re really a Democrat and trying to hide it. (Sure, I’ve written thousands upon thousands of words explaining my distaste for both parties, but how many people will go read all that?) Beyond that, it’s a hugely difficult task logistically — you have to gather thousands of signatures on petitions to get on the ballot. (At least I think so — I didn’t get to the point of actually going to the election commission and finding out all the rules.)
  • Raising the money. Because I simply cannot self-finance, even partially. I can’t spend what I don’t have. And raising money is hard for me, just as it’s hard to go out and sell ads on the blog. Not my forte. (I have raised money with some success — such as when I was on the Habitat board. But asking for money for a cause like that is far easier than when the cause is me.) Which means I’d be ill-equipped to overcome the difficulties that an independent would have with fund-raising to start with.
  • This is the biggie: There has possibly never been a candidate for public office in South Carolina who is on the record (on the easily-accessible record) on as many issues as I am. And none of my positions have been crafted to help me win elections. (In fact, I’ve spent a lot of time urging pols to do the right thing even when the right thing is unpopular.) I don’t regret any of them, but the fact remains that there are thousands of cudgels out there for an opponent to beat me with. And while every one of my opinions is chock full of nuance and careful rationale that I think would help if the voter bothered to go read it, a lot of them could be misrepresented with devastating effect.

But those aren’t the things that cooled my ardor to run. Two factors stopped me. (Or at least, stopped me so far. I’m 90 percent sure I won’t run. Let’s see how this runoff ends up. But the truth is, I’ve now waited so long that I’ve made the already-long odds close to impossible.) Here they are:

  1. Some people I liked — and who I thought would be strong Republican candidates in the general in this Republican district — filed to run. I liked Bill Banning when he was my county councilman, and was sorry to see him lose his seat. And I had breakfast with Micah Caskey (I was curious to meet him because my mother was friends with his grandparents and great-grandparents in Bennettsville) a couple of months back. I agreed with practically everything he had to say about why he was running. And oh, yes — he’s a combat veteran. I didn’t talk with Tem Miles until today, but knowing I liked both Bill and Micah, and that they would both be formidable opponents, was enough to seriously discourage me.
  2. I had a bad spring with my asthma. For the first time in years, it wasn’t under control, and I couldn’t do my daily workout — and undertaking a campaign of going door-to-door nights and weekends was just unimaginable for me. I’m better now, by the way, but I lost a lot of precious time. You’ve got to feel GREAT to undertake something like this, and I didn’t there for awhile.

So anyway, now you know where things stand — or might have stood. I thought you should know this stuff before I write about either of these candidates, which I hope to do within the next 24 hours…

When I told Kenny Bingham himself that I might run, he was kind -- he didn't laugh.

When I told Kenny Bingham himself that I might run, he was kind — he didn’t laugh.

11 thoughts on “FYI, the UnParty almost ran its first candidate this year

  1. Doug Ross

    I still think you should give it a try sometime. It will be an eye opening experience. I learned a lot about what politics is about when I ran for school board in 2002. Even at that level, the lying and cheating and gamesmanship was appalling. The district has its preferred candidates and does what it can to help them.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      You say “even at that level.” From my experience, you should say, ESPECIALLY at that level.

      School board elections are a different animal. They’re intensely local (TOO local — they should be countywide), and they occur in the dark. Unless you personally know the candidates, you don’t know how to vote.

      The media are no help. Even when we were flush with resources, there were just too many of them occurring simultaneously to provide decent coverage. Which is a big reason why there should be only one board per county. More transparency.

      My greatest regret about political endorsements was that I couldn’t figure out a way to do them on school boards. Such examination of the candidates would have been of great value to voters, I believed, but it was just beyond my reach.

      In a typical election cycle, we’d have 50 or 60 candidates to interview, just doing statewide and contested elections in the Midlands. That was all but impossible even when we were fully staffed — we’d do four or five in a day on top of the full-time job of putting out the pages.

      Doing the seven districts in Richland and Lexington counties alone would generally double that candidate load. And they would be MUCH harder to do. We knew the issues and most of the candidates going in in the case of statewide, legislative, and county offices. We knew nothing about the school board people or their respective issues.

      One or two election cycles, I had Nina Brooks (the associate editor who handled education at the time) write a column about each of the districts, mentioning the candidates and briefly describing the issues. That took quite a bit of work for her, but it was thin stuff in terms of really informing the voters…

      1. Doug Ross

        Nina replaced me as PTO president at our kids’ elementary school. I am fairly certain she voted for me for school board. We got along very well.

  2. Tex

    Have you held any kind of elected position? One thing I wish is that state and federal positions should be required to have held a lower level elected position. Big pet peeve is when the spouse of a dead politician is handed the position when they’ve likely never held a political position higher than hallway monitor.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      No, and you’re absolutely right — I prefer candidates who have experience in local government or school boards to run for Legislature.

      But I explained why I think I’m a better candidate for House than for, say, county council. And it has to do with unusual qualifications that you don’t find in most candidates.

      I’ve spent almost 30 years carefully studying the Legislature, guiding and supervising the journalists who cover it, and reporting on and explaining it to the public. I’ve lived and breathed this stuff for decades. I know the State House, I know how the system works (and how it doesn’t work), and I know a lot of the players really well.

      By comparison, I’d be relatively lost on a county council or school board, scrambling to figure out what in the world was going on. I’d never be able to hit the ground running.

      It’s not that I know everything; far from it. A freshman legislator who’s made it through his first session will have experienced some things I haven’t. But I will still know more about a lot of aspects of state governance than he does.

      And I would know a LOT more going in than someone who has spent several years in local government but isn’t familiar with the State House.

      I’ve thought about this a lot, and due to my own unique (among office-seekers) background, the place where I’d have the most chance to make a meaningful contribution would be the Legislature.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        To elaborate…

        Truly, the place where I’d be most effective would be the Senate. Individual senators have a lot more ability to have an effect than individual House members. That would be the best place for an independent.

        But I think running for the House first is more realistic politically. And besides, I don’t want to run against Nikki, just as I didn’t want to run against Kenny.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          The drawback in being in the House is that key decisions are all made in the GOP caucus. If you’re not a Republican, forget about it. But at least the Democrats have each other to coordinate with and TRY to have an effect.

          By contrast, the Senate has a history of being less partisan, and Senators are treated more like individuals by their colleagues…

          1. Lynn Teague

            You say that it is easier for an individual to have an effect in the Senate. Well, yes, some kinds of effect. It is much easier to file an objection and force a special order vote (which often fails to override the objection, effectively killing the bill) than to argue the issues in open debate and put your one vote in with that of your colleagues. So, it is easy to obstruct but very hard for an individual to actually accomplish something useful in the Senate. I don’t think you’d be happy.

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            Most legislative power in SC is negative power, the power to stop things from happening — especially in the Senate.

            That’s why the Legislative State is the most conservative form of government possible. Change is very, very difficult to bring about.

            That’s what the notorious bumper sticker — “The Senate, Now More Than Ever” — referred to…

          3. Brad Warthen Post author

            Oh, and let me add that there is a LOT about the Legislature that Lynn knows and I don’t.

            I know it from 30,000 feet. Yeah, I know some of the players pretty well, and I know issues, and I know how they play in our State House.

            What I don’t know is nuts and bolts about procedure. Whenever I’m at the State House, I try to stand next to someone who DOES know that stuff, so I can say, “What just happened?”

            For most of my newspaper career, I supervised people who WERE expert at that stuff, and I learned a lot from them. But it’s not the same as being there day after day for years, and while I visited the State House more than most editors, it was nothing like what a reporter experiences. And the last time I was a reporter covering a legislature (the one in Tennessee) was early 1980. And even then, I did it infrequently enough (I wasn’t in the Nashville bureau; I would just go there to cover big events or particular issues I was following) that I had to ask the regulars, “What just happened?”

            1. Lynn Teague

              There are times that I still ask that question. Huh? What just happened? When I was starting in the lobby the best thing my colleagues in the League of Women Voters did for me was to organize a session of Rules School with John Ruoff, whose knowledge of the inner workings of the General Assembly, both theoretical and practical, is encyclopedic. It is great that he still is very generous with his knowledge, even after deciding that he personally has had more than a solid sufficiency of life in the lobby.

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