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….

57 thoughts on “A bit of news: I’m joining the Smith/Norrell campaign

  1. Claus2

    I knew it, you telegraphed this announcement weeks ago when you started with the Smith can do no wrong articles.

    So I guess we can expect it to get worse here before it gets better. Let’s all prepare for the mother of all McMaster bashing on this blog.

      1. Doug Ross

        ” Noah Barker, a rising high school senior, who recently was elected governor of Palmetto Boys State, will handle the campaign’s social media.”

        Interesting. I’m all for giving youth the chance to excel but this seems like a HUGE leap for a campaign for Governor. I hope he’s old enough to vote.

        1. Bob Amundson

          As a Boy’s State alum, I appreciate the political skill Noah must already have to be elected Governor. An American Legion Post thought enough of him to send him, and then he stood above the rest and was elected Governor.

          1. Doug Ross

            Ok. As I said, it’s interesting. I actually hope he does well because it would disprove the notion that experience is more important than ability. But you’d have to agree it is somewhat of a rick for a campaign, especially in these days when social media’s value might exceed that of print.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Remember, Doug… I’ve spent more time in recent years dealing with social media than I have with print.

              First thing I asked Noah to do today is inventory for me the various Twitter and Facebook accounts we have out there and get the passwords for me.

              I’m familiar with some, but not all, of them. Some of them have been highly energetic, such as the Women for James Smith Facebook page. Some others might need some more attention. We’ll see.

              Of course, we can’t neglect the MSM, either. I went over the media contact spreadsheet today before sending out the release about the staffing change, and was slightly surprised to find we had more than 200 of them. “Surprised” because it hadn’t seemed like there were that many people LEFT in news media in SC….

              1. Doug Ross

                According to the Post and Courier, Noah is 17 years old. This will be very interesting to see how it plays out.

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Yeah, and I’ve got a couple of other folks close to that age helping me — an intern, and a volunteer. All very bright. Noah’s just the only one listed as staff. I’m still trying to figure which things I can give them to do that lets me focus on things only I can do…

          2. Richard

            “An American Legion Post thought enough of him to send him”

            ??? When I went back in the early 80’s the American Legion was begging guys to volunteer. As someone who went, I wouldn’t recommend anyone go… the whole week sucked if you weren’t a 16 year old aspiring politician. The three of us didn’t even have to go back and speak about it.

            But an interesting twist was the guys elected Governor and Lt. Governor ended up being classmates of mine in college and weren’t actually as dorky as I thought back then. The Boys State Lt. Governor ended up becoming the actual Lt. Governor.

              1. Richard

                I said that the two guys who I thought were dorks as Jr.’s in high school were tolerable in college. But both had a cool nickname for me so there was that going for them. Plus excellent study partners, they were standouts in the classroom and anything I didn’t quite understand was nerdily explained well enough for me to regurgitate it onto test papers which lead to excellent marks even though if I didn’t fully understand what I was writing. I don’t think I’ve seen either once since graduation.

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          Noah’s a very bright young man. I first met him a couple of months ago — the day I went up for the announcement about Mandy in Lancaster — and after speaking to him for a few minutes was shocked to find out how young he was.

          We had lunch together today — first chance we’d had to talk this week — and I was reminded of something I noticed when I first met him… you can bring up ANYTHING having to do with politics, anywhere in the country, and he is completely conversant with the players and the issues.

          You’d like this, Doug — I believe he mentioned when we met before that he’s home-schooled…

          1. Doug Ross

            Why would I like that he is home schooled? I have no real opinion on home schooling, good or bad. I think it’s more interesting that it appears James Smith’s kids attended private schools.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Sorry. I just thought you liked that sort of thing.

              By the way, do you know that two of my grandchildren go to a charter school — which, if you’ll recall, is a form of “school choice” I’ve always favored. They’re public schools, but laboratories of innovation.

              Personally, I’m the biggest lab rat you’ll ever find. I went to 14 schools from K-12. I was in private schools twice, two years of that in a foreign country. I attended public schools in Virginia, New Jersey, Maryland, South Carolina, Louisiana, Florida and Hawaii.

              I did the first few weeks of the 4th grade in SC, the next few weeks in Maryland, then went down to Ecuador, and since the school year there was about to end (right after Christmas), I did the rest of the grade with a tutor.

              And if there’s a type of school experience I haven’t had, my kids or grandkids have. So I’m pretty well-versed in the varieties of educational experience…

              1. Doug Ross

                All three of my kids went through 13 years of public school. In fact, I can’t think of a single relative going back to my grandparents who didn’t attend public schools.

                It’s what I saw going on in the public schools over the course of 20 years as a parent that has caused me to believe that good results are independent from how much money is spent. More money doesn’t equal better results.

                1. Mark Stewart

                  Really? Does this apply in business as well? Like your own? Or do advancements require investments? Yes, of course there is waste; how about we just focus on trimming that and keeping our eye on the big picture?

  2. Doug Ross

    Good luck. It will be interesting to see if you develop a different perspective on the political process from what I would assume to be an inside position. But. see, you DID take my advice and DO something. That’s a good thing.

    I hope nobody kicks you out of Lizards Thicket for supporting a Democrat.

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    Thanks for all the good wishes. It’s a scary step, wildly different from anything I’ve ever done. A leap into the void. But … speaking of West Wing, which I did before above, I ran across a previous post in which I quoted President Bartlet’s secretary, who always kept him in line:

    Just thinking about Mrs. Landingham telling Jed, for the second time in their long association, that if he didn’t want to proceed because he didn’t think it was right, fine, she could respect that, but if he didn’t try because it would be too hard, “Well, God, Jed, I don’t even want to know you”…

    I wouldn’t want to disappoint Mrs. Landingham, so when James and Mandy asked me to, I signed up…

    1. Richard

      Especially when you likely jumped from one job with benefits to one that most likely has none.

  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    Also, y’all… I don’t know what effect this will have on the blog, except that I’ll probably have a lot less time for it. And when I DO post, I’ll probably do more nonpolitical posts like this one, just as a little recess from what I’m doing all day…

  5. bud

    Good luck. A bit more pizzazz would help Smith’s campaign. (Just my 2 cents) But he has my vote.

  6. Philip Mathews “Phil” Cheney

    Is it true that Mandy is currently running for BOTH her seat in the South Carolina House and as Lieutenant Governor in the Smith/ Norrell ticket?

  7. Doug Ross

    Here’s a challenge: Convince a libertarian to vote for Smith. I’m not voting for McMaster so you have a shot.

    It IS possible.

    Say you’ll take the Medicaid money but tell me how you will pay for whatever percentage the state has to pick up. If you say “We’ll save money on ER visits you already are paying for”, that’s not good enough… because that is one of those unmeasurable promises.

    Say you will support a bill to decriminalize marijuana use and make it available for medical use. Follow the lead of the many states which have already done so.

    Say you will support gay marriage. Time to enter the 21st century instead of staying in the 19th.

    Those three issues will at least give him a shot for my vote. I know the rest of what I want is impossible.

    1. Vicki

      James has already supported medical marijuana and he surely supports same-sex marriage. It’s all on his public record and in his personal life. As for how we pay for Medicaid, we’re already paying. The money is just going to other states. Healthy people are tons cheaper than sick ones.

      1. Doug Ross

        Neither medical marijuana or same sex marriage are listed as issues on his web page. If he supports both, let’s see it put out there publicly. That’s not hard to do, is it?

        As for healthy people being cheaper than sick ones, then it would seem worthwhile to show how he will pay for whatever portion the state has to pick up for Medicaid. What will it cost the state in tax dollars to implement the Medicaid funding? If it’s zero, great. If not, just tell us how much it will cost so we can be informed voters.

    2. Coley Adams

      Doug Ross, it has been a few years since I set up the first Medicaid public information program in SC, and the program has changed but the fundamentals have not. Medicaid is a shared program between each individual state and the federal government. The feds set up a series of basic rules regarding the basic program, which the state agrees to follow in return for the federal government matching the state’s financial participation. This monetary agreement follows if the state decides to expand its Medicaid program. At one time, most states had a 50-50 arrangement with the feds: For every dollar spent by the state, the feds provided one matching dollar. In SC, it was 75-25 (one state dollar drew three federal dollars) and was near 80-20 when I left to set up a similar information program for the Older Americans Act network in SC. All this is preface to saying this: We had an academic paper prepared that looked at the economic impact of these federal dollars coming into SC. In my previous life I had been an editorial writer for two newspapers, and without fail at some point we would run an editorial extolling the virtues of the local Chamber of Commerce netting a convention to our city and bringing a positive economic impact to the community. On a much larger scale, the same is excepted as the gospel when we talk about tourism, and all the out-of-state money the visitors bering and spend. So as we sat around one day talking about how difficult it could be to persuade our legislators to address unmet health needs, I likened the flow of Medicaid matching dollars to those tourists. At any rate, we asked several economists at different SC colleges and universities if Medicaid matching dollars had a positive impact on the SC economy, and all agreed — with some difference of opinion about the exact percentages of that impact, but all in full agreement that each matching dollar provided at least one dollar of positive impact and most thinking far more. So we asked Dr. Doug Woodward to write a paper and he did. Few read it with discernment, but the conventional wisdom was that the state got back in tax revenue about 80 cents for every Medicaid dollar it budgeted. One factor is that health care is largely purchased in the form of professional fees, that, in turn are broken down into internal business offsets for wages, capital improvements, and operating expenses. So out of each federal matching dollar flow individual business opportunities to meet payrolls, expand employees, build or improve facilities, and distribute profits — all of which the state finds ability to tax. When SC turned down $10 billion in free federal money to expand its Medicaid program to cover working families (too rich to qualify for standard Medicaid guidelines but too poor to afford health insurance) the state took a huge financial loss (which is immeasurable since you simply cannot quantify with any precision a notional, or something that did not occur). And aside from the financial realm there is also the notional of improved health (or health expenses that did not occur because of medical intervention, like pregnancies that did not happen because birth control was made available). I could go on for an intolerable amount of time, but I accept on good faith that if I have a problem (like SC ranking in the top 10 for all the health factors and statistics that you want to be in the bottom 10) and someone will offer to match my financial efforts to address that problem — then that is an excellent concept.

  8. Harry Harris

    Will having this position restrict what you can do on the blog? I certainly wish you well in the job, and hope the campaign is a success.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Harry, what it will restrict the most is TIME for blogging. It’s almost 9 p.m. and my day’s just winding down to where I’m thinking about having dinner…

      1. Claus2

        So I can expect my wait time for message approvals to go from 1-2-3 days to what… once a week, twice a month now?

          1. Richard

            But you’re not guaranteeing anything. Between now and November those of us on “by approval only” status might as well be that guy who reopens topics that ended 3-4 years ago.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Nope. I’m not even promising I’ll keep the blog going. This job is likely to take all my energy, and all my time, too. But for now, I’m going to try…

  9. Bart

    Congratulations Brad! Not going to say “I hope” you do a good job, “I know” you will. Smith is fortunate to have you on board. With that said, I sincerely hope if he wins he will address the real needs of South Carolina and not give lip service with no results. We need a vastly improved infra-state road structure, we need vastly improved schools and qualified teachers, we need to address the medical marijuana issue (not recreational), and a long list of improvements that have been ignored for so long.

    Sometimes the voters in this state remind me of the person who refuses to give a turn signal because in his or her opinion, “it is none of yer dam bizness where I’m agoing”.

    McMaster is another empty shell politician and if Smith convinces me, he will have my vote, McMaster will not under any circumstances.

    1. Coley Adams

      I agree with every word, Bart. Brad will help SC elect James Smith, and we will have a better state.

  10. Harry Harris

    What? You’re working to replace a Governor who tried to stop the gas tax for highway improvements hoping to fix the roads based on BS and borrowing. (Magic money, I guess.) A governor who thinks it’s OK to pursue oil drilling off the SC coast? You want to replace a guy who sides with SCE&G against its customers who were bilked out of billions? How can SC do without a Governor who grandstands against Planned Parenthood despite no state or federal money ever paying for abortions?
    If your messaging is clear, consistent, and honest, you may find a lot of traction with the very people needed to turn the state around.

  11. Burl Burlingame

    You . . . whore!
    (Delivered like Bill Murray in “Tootsie.”)

    Seriously, congrats on a big step on the other side of the rope line. I know it runs against a whole lifetime of professional practice and conditioning — and also extinguishes finally that tiny hopeful candle that some day you might get back into professional journalism. Those days have passed us by, and although we took it to heart, it wasn’t personal.

    But you have skills, baby, picked up in a lifetime of professional observation and analysis. Time to swing the bat. And naturally, you’re working for the underdog.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Thanks, Burl!

      I really like the “time to swing the bat” part.

      I’ve got to make the rest of my life count, in some way. Maybe I can do this; maybe I’ll fail. But I’m going to do my best.

      I rewatched “The Natural” the other day — which I love, corny as it is. I like when Pop Fischer says, “People don’t start playing ball at your age, they retire!”

      And then in the next scene or so, Roy Hobbs says to Red, “Red, it took me sixteen years to get here. You play me, and I’ll give ya the best I got.”

      That’s all I can do…

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