Category Archives: 2008 S.C.

Sheriff Lott back in the day

This previous post got me to thinking that some of you might be interested in traveling down memory lane a bit with regard to Sheriff Leon Lott, since he's recently become nationally famous.

As y'all know, I feel a certain kinship for the sheriff (whom we endorsed in the last election). We call each other "twin" because we were both born on the same day in the same year in South Carolina. Also, he has been named "Toughest Cop"
twice, and if there were such a thing as a "Toughest Editorial Geek" contest, y'all know I would have won it at least twice by now. (He's also won the Miss Vista Queen drag pageant, but there I can draw no parallels to myself. It seems we are not identical twins.)

As for the controversy in which he is currently engaged, I'm not as stirred up as a lot of folks one way or the other. I sort of go back and forth on it. I think the law should be enforced equitably — but I also wonder how many people who were not white and famous have been prosecuted when they weren't at the very least caught holding. I most emphatically do NOT agree with the folks who see this as evidence that the War on Drugs is stupid or useless or whatever. I think it's a good thing this stuff is illegal. But I also doubt that this particular case is really worth the resources devoted to it thus far.

Anyway, wherever you stand on all of this, I thought I'd provide this reminder that Leon has never been shy about going after people who break our drug laws. He's devoted a career to it, done it with a great deal of dash, panache and personal courage, and has often been controversial.

Here is a profile Clif LeBlanc wrote for The State when Leon was on the way to unseating his ex-boss as sheriff. I pulled and scanned some photos from our pre-electronic files by way of illustration.

Published on: 10/30/1996
Section: FRONT
Edition: FINAL
Page: A1
By CLIF LeBLANC, Staff Writer
Illustration: PHOTO: color & bw

Editor's note: This is the second of two articles examining the candidates for Richland County sheriff.

Leon Lott lives to catch the bad guys. He revels in the nitty-gritty and the glitz of being a cop. He may like it a little too much.

The 43-year-old Democratic challenger in Tuesday's election for Richland County sheriff believes in working hard and getting his hands dirty.

The way he went about busting pushers and users earned him a reputation and awards. But his boss, the incumbent sheriff, said it cost Lott the job he loves.

The long hours he put in as a narcotics detective for nine years also claimed his marriage and hurt his relationships with his daughters.

Nearly four years after reaching the depths of his personal and professional life, Lott feels he is a better officer who has grown enough to become the forward-looking "sheriff for the 21st century."

Dirty Harry and Sonny Crockett were personas Lott once wore with relish during high-flying days when he drove seized Porsches, sported an 18-carat Rolex, worked choice undercover cases with federal agents in Florida and postured for cameras.

Now he blames the Hollywood image on the media, though his best friend admits Lott enjoyed playing the role to his advantage. Lott still wears the $2,650 watch.

Citizens or celluloid? Lott has been chief of the tiny St. Matthews Police Department for three years. That has helped him appreciate real-life role models.

"I see myself as a combination of Frank Powell, Chief Austin as far as PR, and Sheriff Wells as far
as being involved in investigations."

Powell is the former five-term sheriff of Richland County who hired Lott in 1973 and has come to epitomize, for Lott, the lawman unswayed by political influence.

Chief Charles P. Austin is known for his ability to sell the community policing philosophy that has brought him and the city of Columbia success.

Union County Sheriff Howard Wells won national recognition for his handling of the Susan Smith case.

But Lott's critics don't buy that he is anything but the hot-dog narc who fashioned himself after make-believe cops and tried to live by rules that work only on the screen.

"He actually thinks he's Don Johnson. He actually thinks this is 'Miami Vice,' " said GOP opponent Allen Sloan, refering to the freewheeling fictional narcotics officer from the TV police drama that ended in 1989.

"That still exists today," Sloan said of Lott. "All the rules apply, except to Leon."

Two law enforcement officials who worked years with Lott in Richland County share a similar concern.

"He has an ends-justify-the-means mentality," one said, requesting anonymity because he would have to collaborate with Lott if he wins the election. "That's frightening in any law enforcement officer and especially in the top person."

Lott says he is a college-educated professional who can breathe new life into a tradition-bound agency.

"I never considered myself a hot dog," Lott said, wearing a tie and chatting from an easy chair in his modest living room. "The Sonny Crockett thing … I think I fed off what the news media created. I turned it around and tried to use it to our advantage."

Lott's best friend, Jon Fins, said the brash label comes from people who don't know him.

"To me, Leon is a guy in sweats who works out real hard to stay in shape, grabs a sandwich at McDonald's and goes right back to work," said Fins, co-owner of an Assembly Street pawn shop where Lott bought his Rolex.

Fierce or fair? Lott's detractors say his zeal often overrides good judgment.

Just before Christmas 1987, for example, his aggresiveness got the best of him, said Jim Anders, then-5th Circuit solicitor and now a strong supporter of Sloan.

Anders produced a blistering order from a federal judge over the seizure of a new, black BMW convertible during a drug bust.

Judge Clyde Hamilton ordered the car returned to its owner and blasted the U.S. Attorney's office, the FBI and then-Capt. Lott of the sheriff's office. The judge cited "many irregularities" and "questionable motivations" for taking the BMW.

"Captain Lott's testimony raised the possibility that he had sought forfeiture … for an improper purpose, specifically to serve as his private vehicle," the judge's ruling said. It appeared, Hamilton said, that Lott wanted to drive the care to the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va.

Lott was scheduled to leave for coveted training at the prestigious academy in about the time the BMW was seized.

The car had only the remains of a marijuana joint, Anders said, adding he refused to seize the car because state law required a minimum of 10 pounds of pot before government could move to confiscate a vehicle used in the drug business.

"That's the kind of reckless behavior that I'm concerned about," Anders said. "It's less character than ability. A smart police officer doesn't get himself involved in cases like that."

Lott's explanation? "That's not pointing any finger at me. It's pointing fingers at the Richland County Sheriff's Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney's office. They made the decisions to move forward. I didn't force them to do that."

But Lott initiated the seizure and pressured the young woman who owned the car to voluntarily turn it over for forfeiture.

Caught in middle? Lott's most publicized criticism as a narcotics agent occurred in 1991. A circuit court judge threatened him with contempt for changing agreements with drug suspects, for ignoring a court order to arrest a father- and-son drug-dealing team from Miami and especially for not adequately supervising drug peddlers who were out on bond so they could help police make cases.

Enrique and Fabian Valencia were busted at Owens Field in February 1990 with 11 pounds of cocaine. In exchange for reduced sentences laid out in written agreements, they pledged to help Lott lure bigger dealers into South Carolina.

Judge Carol Connor stung Lott for his actions, but didn't punish the pushers because they met their terms.

Anders said he doesn't remember the agreement and Sloan publicly backed Lott when the deal made news in March 1991.

Lott produced his records of the case, which show that Anders' chief narcotics prosecutor signed the agreement. A Feb. 19, 1991, memo from Lott to then-5th Circuit Solicitor Dick Harpootlian, who disavowed the deal after suceeding Anders, indicates that Sloan "had been advised of the situation."

Lott maintains he was caught in the middle between officials who made an agreement in writing and a new prosecutor and judge who took a different view after the fact.

"If I did violate it," Lott said of Connor's order. "It was with the approval of the sheriff."

Harpootlian was so concerned about Lott's judgment at the time that he announced he would review all his drug deals and recommended to Sloan that Lott be taken out of narcotics enforcement.

Sloan moved him to what Lott calls a do-nothing administrative position, where he stayed until he was fired in December 1992.

The demotion and dismissal was the bleakest time in Lott's life. His marriage fell apart during that time and he had to try to explain to his three daughters why he was out of the profession he loved.

It took Lott six months to land the chief's job with the seven-member St. Matthews department.

Harpootlian and Lott have made peace and the prosecutor-turned-defense-lawyer is backing Lott's campaign.

"I think Leon had a life-changing experience," Harpootlian said. "He lost his wife. He lost his job. He's somebody who realizes he's screwed up. He's matured. The guy's real talented. He gets up every morning wanting to be a cop."

Lott doesn't agree with all of that. "I don't think I made immature or bad decisions," he said.

But asked if he would OK the BMW and Valencia decisions if he were sheriff, Lott responded, "I would approve."

Lott conceded that he has changed and plans to continue his professional growth. "I guess age matures you. I feel like I'm a more rounded law enforcement officer now."

But controversy has followed Lott to St. Matthews.

Before the June primary, Lott ran afoul of the federal Hatch Act, which limits political activity by employees whose agencies get money from Washington. Federal officials said Lott should not run for office because as chief of the Calhoun County town he administered nearly $59,000 in federal grants.

The dispute was settled this month after Lott agreed to drop the title of chief and sever any ties to supervision of the grants. But Lott remains chief in every other way after the town named him police "administrator."

Lott has built his campaign on the theme of higher standards. He said he will be fairer, he has the energy to be an administrator as well as a street cop, and he has fresher ideas.

He promises a network of 24-hour, full-service substations, a lower crime rate and all without a tax increase

The making of a cop. Lott fell into a career in law enforcement. More accurately, he threw himself into the job.

It was a boring summer evening just before his senior year at Aiken High School. Lott and some friends decided to egg cars from an overpass on I-20, which was under construction.

"I think the first car we egged stopped. We had egged the chief investigator for the sheriff's department," Lott recalled. "Me, being a (baseball) player … I had been the only one to hit the car."

The teen-agers tried to get away, but the detective pulled them over. He didn't rough them up or charge them, but he did behave professionally as he called their parents.

"It made such an impression on me … it just grabbed a hold of me," Lott said. The job appealed to his sense of rooting for the underdog (crime victims), to his interest in untangling things that are puzzling and to his restlessness with monotony.

The work also served as an outlet for his competitiveness.

Lott is media savvy and at ease before cameras, having appeared dozens of times in local newspapers and TV as well as nationally on "America's Most Wanted." But that self-assured image clashes with the quiet, reserved teen-ager Lott said he was.

He finds it odd that he's called a hot dog now when that was the kind of athlete he disliked in high school. "I thought actions spoke louder than words," Lott said.

The words have been loud and harsh in the Sloan-Lott race.

"There's been a lot of talk that this is about revenge," Lott said. "It's not. When he fired me … he gave me a chance to go out and show – prove to myself – that I could be more than just a narcotics officer. I got my revenge by being successful, by showing I could be a chief.

"I want to come back to Richland County, personally, so I can see my kids everyday and, professionally, because I can do a better job."

In case you're wondering, here's a key to the five photos on this post:

  1. Top: The original cutline from August 1986 said, "Columbia's version of 'Miami Vice'…Narcotic investigator Lt. Leon Lott shows off his sports car, a Porsche 944"
  2. Mug shot: The notation on the back of the print, dated May 24, 1984, says "Richland Sheriff's investigator Lt. Leon Lott (chief narcotics deputy)"
  3. On a bust: The July 2, 1986, cutline said, "Leon Lott before entering trailer of suspected grower."
  4. In coat and tie: Dated Nov. 11, 1988, the cutline says "Capt. Leon Lott displays some seized equipment."
  5. Below: Photo taken by me during the sheriff's endorsement interview in May 2008.

In praise of good ideas, starting with school district consolidation

You know, I sort of damned the good news about the growing DHEC consensus with unfairly faint praise earlier today. (Or darned it, at the very least.)

I need to start looking more at the bright side. I don't spend enough time looking at things that way these days. We're all so overwhelmed by the economic situation — and if you are in the newspaper business, you are steeped in it (nothing is more sensitive to a slowing economy than an already-troubled industry that is built on advertising revenues). It's very easy to dwell on such facts as this one that has stuck in my head since last week: That not only did the U.S. economy lose 2.5 million jobs in 2008, the worst since 1945, but 524,000 of those jobs lost were in December alone. To do the math for you, if the whole year had been as bad as the last month, the total would have been over 6.29 million. And there's no particular reason to think January won't be worse than December.

I'm not a big Paul Krugman fan, but stats like that make me worry that he was right in his column, which we ran on Sunday, saying that the Barack Obama stimulus plan, overwhelming huge as it is, won't be nearly big enough.

And these are not cheery thoughts. Nor is it cheery to reflect, as I did in my Sunday column, about how resistant policy makers in South Carolina are to policies that make sense — even the more obvious policies, such as increasing the cigarette tax to the national average, or restructuring government to increase accountability, or comprehensive tax reform.

That's what we do in this business. We harp. Year in, year out. We can be tiresome. We can, as I suggested Sunday, get tired of it ourselves. But little victories such as this emerging consensus on DHEC, or the signs that we saw last year that even some of the stauncher opponents of restructuring in the Black Caucus are coming around on the issue (which is a real sea change) are worth celebrating, and encouraging — like putting extra oxygen on an ember.

So it is that I applaud Cindi today for, instead of doing her usual thing of mocking the stupider ideas among the prefiled bills, giving a boost to the better ideas. There were some good ones on her list.

In fact, I was inspired to do a little followup on one of them:

H.3102 by Reps. Ted Pitts and Joan Brady would shut off state funds to
school districts with fewer than 10,000 students, in an attempt to make
inefficient little districts merge.

Now that's the beginning of a good idea. Like most obviously good ideas, it isn't new. We've been pushing for school district consolidation as long as we've been pushing restructuring and comprehensive tax reform, etc., and with even less success. Everybody says they're for it in the abstract; no one lifts a finger to make it happen. Even Mark Sanford gives lip service to it (but won't work to make it happen, preferring to waste his energy on ideological dead-ends such as vouchers).

So it's encouraging that Ted Pitts and Joan Brady (and Bill Wylie and Dan Hamilton) want to at least set a starting place — a numerical threshold, a line that the state can draw and say, "We won't waste precious resources paying to run districts smaller than this."

Mind you, I'm not sure it's the RIGHT threshold. I've always thought that the most logical goal should get us down from the 85 districts we have now to about one per county — which would be 46. The 10,000 student threshold overshoots that goal, as I discovered today. I asked Jim Foster over at the state department of ed to give me a list of the sizes of districts. The latest list that he had handy that had districts ranked was this spreadsheet
(see the "TABLE 1-N" tab), which showed that as of 2006, only 18 districts in the state had more than 10,000 pupils. One of those — Kershaw County — has since risen over the magic mark, so that makes it 19.

Maybe we should have only 19 districts in the state, although I worry that a district that had to aggregate multiple counties to be big enough might be a little unwieldy.

But hey, it's a starting point for discussion on an actual reform that would help us eliminate ACTUAL waste in our education system, and provide more professional direction to some of our most troubled schools (which tend to be in those rural districts that just aren't big enough to BE districts to start with).

So way to go, Ted and Joan (and Bill and Dan).

I was particularly struck that Ted was willing to put forth an idea that would have an impact in his own county (although perhaps not, I suspected, in his actual district). That's the standard reason why district consolidation gets nowhere — lawmakers balk at messing with their home folks districts, because voters tend to be about this the way they are about other things; a reform is great until if affects them.

I suspected, and Jim's spreadsheet confirmed, that while Lexington 1 and District 5 were big enough to retain state funding under this proposal, Lexington 3 and 4 were not. More than that, Lexington 2 falls below the threshold, and at least part of Ted's district is in Lexington 2. (Unless I'm very mistaken. Ted is MY House member, and my children all attended Lexington 2 schools.) As for Joan Brady — I think her district would be unaffected, as Richland 1 and 2 would be untouched (even though they shouldn't be — they should be merged). But I still applaud her involvement.

Anyway, way to get the ball rolling on this, folks. Let's keep talking about this one.

Nikki vs. the Speaker

One day last week (I’m thinking it was Monday the 10th), Nikki Haley called to say she wanted urgently to talk with me. She came by later that same day. With her approval (she had initially asked just to speak with me), Cindi Scoppe sat in with us. (I TRY not to meet with sources alone, on account of the fact that it’s pretty much a waste of time if someone OTHER than me needs to write about the subject, which is usually the case. Also, in case the meeting leads to an editorial, it helps if more than one board member hears the pitch.)

She didn’t want us to take notes, though, so what I’m writing here is from memory. At the end of our meeting, she agreed to go on the record — which meant that, since Cindi and I had to get back to work that day, Cindi had call her back another day and go through the whole thing AGAIN in order to write her column today, which  I hope you read. Antsy sources can be a problem that way.

Cindi’s column deals with the main conflict between Rep. Haley and her leadership in the House. This post is to provide some additional context from what she said — according to my memory (Cindi and Rep. Haley are welcome to berate me for any errors, which I will be happy to correct). Mind you, since I’m writing neither a column nor (perish the thought) a news story, I’m NOT spending a week running down reactions from other parties the way Cindi had to do to write her column. If anyone, including Speaker Harrell or Harry Cato, would like to ADD their comments to this post, they’re more than welcome. I’m just trying to offer as faithful an account of what Rep. Haley said as I can, before I forget it entirely.

When she first called to request the meeting, she didn’t tell me what it was about, but referred to what had happened when she ran against incumbent Larry Koon back in 2004. She mentioned that again when she arrived. In retrospect, I see only two things the previous incident had in common with this: Both were instances in which Ms. Haley felt embattled, and in both cases she was initially reluctant to go on the record. There was a third potential commonality: I DID write about what happened in 2004, and she seemed to hope I would see my way clear to do so this time. For what it’s worth, here’s a copy of what I wrote in 2004.

Anyway, last week Nikki began her tale by harking back to her chairmanship of the subcommittee that tried to pass a payday lending reform bill. What she tried to do did not go far enough in the opinion of this editorial board — she wanted regulation, not a ban. She can present all sorts of pro-biz reasons WHY regulation is better, and did so at the end of this video I posted here back during the recent election. Probably the most pertinent part is the very end of the video, when she says she had really, really wanted to pass a bill, and so had others on the subcommittee who had worked hard on it — but that was not allowed to happen. That struck me as interesting at the time, but she added to the story last week. She said the bill died after she was called in to meet with the speaker and Chairman Harry Cato and another member of the leadership (I want to say Jim Merrill, but I could be misremembering), and she was told that’s not what they wanted.

But that anecdote was sort of a warmup. She says that’s not why she’s at odds with the leadership now. She says the current conflict is all about her having become a champion, over the summer, of the notion that all House votes should be recorded. That led to various machinations aimed at denying her the chairmanship of the LCI committee, culminating in the speaker wanting to change the rules so that HE appoints committee chairs directly. Currently, the speaker appoints members to the committees, and the members choose their chair.

Speaker Harrell, as you’ll see in Cindi’s column, disputes Rep. Haley’s version of events, and says she’s making herself out to be more important in all this than she is. But they agree about one thing: The House leadership didn’t like it a bit when she went gallivanting about the state with the governor promoting her recorded-votes bill. Note that he says he’s for more recorded votes and all that (you may recall his recent op-ed on the subject). He prefers to portray Ms. Haley’s main sins as being a) working with the governor, and b) setting herself up as holier-than-thou.

Another House member who’s apparently gotten a bit too big for his britches in the leadership’s view is Nathan Ballentine, who has been writing about this all on his blog, here and here. He’s not the only one, by the way. So has Earl Capps, here and here. So has Will Folks.

Interesting, huh?

Election results certified (finally)

Cindi has a column for tomorrow about early voting, in which she more or less expresses support for the idea, and mentions me as the elitist, paternalistic mossback who doesn’t like the idea.

You just can’t get good help these days.

Anyway, I’ll write more about that tomorrow, after she’s had her say. Suffice it to say that my reasons for opposing it (aside from the fact that I am just at heart a traditionalist, which doesn’t change anyone’s mind about me being a mossback) are related to why I oppose the way people like Mark Sanford look at public schools. That will bear explaining, and I will explain it — later. Basically, I look at this as a communitarian, while Cindi is looking at it as a small-d democrat. Or at least, as somewhat more of a small-d democrat than what I am.

But speaking of outmoded ways of doing things, a few minutes ago I got the regular notice that the state election commission has certified the election results:


COLUMBIA, S.C. – (November 12, 2008) – The State Election Commission met at 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, November 12, 2008, as the State Board of Canvassers to certify the results of the November 4, 2008 General Election.  Official results can be found at  No recounts were necessary in any federal, state, or multi-county contests.
    The certification, protest, and appeal schedule is attached.

Every election year, I am struck by how LONG that takes.

Mind you, I’m not being critical. Far as I know, the folks at the election commission have really been busting their humps getting the results certified. And I DO want them to get it right, even if it takes more time.

But it still always strikes me as very horse-and-buggy to take so long — especially with electronic voting. Part of it is that in my business, it’s about getting it right away (AND getting it right, of course). Even long before we used computers for this stuff, we moved Heaven and Earth to get complete election results to the reader the very next morning, moving back deadlines, holding the presses to the limit then holding them some more, to get the job done. And if there were results we could NOT get you in that news cycle (often due to the fact that the poll workers didn’t have our same sense of urgency), you got them 24 hours later.

So it still strikes me as … anachronistic to get the certification a week later. Not that I’m complaining; it’s just something I always think about.

Here’s how ‘our’ candidates did

Editorial Page Editor
THE TIME for reckoning has arrived. No, not the election; we just did that. I speak of my traditional post-mortem, in which I look back on the candidates this newspaper endorsed, and how they did.
    First, the obligatory disclaimers:

  • Endorsements are about who should win, in the judgment of The State‘s editorial board, not who will win. Predictions are another thing altogether. You want predictions, go to my blog. On this page, we do endorsements.
  • Political party is an unimportant consideration to us. We do our best to eliminate it from our considerations entirely. In fact, nonpartisanship is a quality we actively look for in candidates, and those who possess it are more likely to win our nod than those who don’€™t, other things being equal.

    There was a time when I contented myself with the disclaimers, and airily brushed aside any thoughts that ran against them. But even those of us who have grown accustomed to referring to ourselves by the editorial "€œwe"€ are human –€” when you prick us, do we not whine? And a human can take only so many years of people saying "€œYour candidates always lose,"€ and "€œThe State‘™s endorsement is the kiss of death,"€ or that we are part of the "€œliberal media" cabal or "€œthat right-wing Republican rag"€–€” especially when said human can offer objective data to the contrary, on all points.
    So, several elections back, I spent some time in our musty archives calculating just how many candidates we had endorsed had won and how many lost, and what the partisan breakdown had been — going back to 1994, the year I joined the editorial board. (No one else who was on the board then is on it now, so elections before that year did not concern me.) I just wanted to know.
    I was gratified by what I found, which was the same as what I had suspected: First, most of "€œour"€ candidates had won –€” which bodes well for policies we advocate, and also helpfully indicates that we are not "€œout of touch"€ with our community (to cite yet another tiresome accusation). Secondly, we had pretty much split down the middle between Democrats and Republicans –€” although we had endorsed slightly more Democrats, which will no doubt shock those Democrats who only remember our presidential endorsements, which have uniformly been Republican.
    The trend continues.
    Each year since I put those numbers together, I have added the latest election’€™s numbers to them. I’€™m always careful to do this after we’ve made all our endorsement decisions, to avoid being influenced by the wish to keep our numbers good. While sometimes we form a rough impression –€” one of my colleagues observed several weeks back that it felt like we were headed for a "losing season,"€ and at one point I remember thinking we were flying in the face of the Obama Effect with each Republican we chose –€” we’€™re careful not to keep a count. Not doing so is a tricky mental exercise, rather like a pitcher telling himself, "€œDon’€™t think about the fact that you’€™ve got a no-hitter going," but election seasons are so busy for us that it’€™s easier than you might think to avoid stopping to calculate.
    Anyway, I went through our endorsements (all of which you can read at to do the partisan count the week before the election, and indeed we were defying the Obama Effect: We had endorsed eight Republicans and five Democrats. (And Elise Partin, running in the nonpartisan race for Cayce mayor.) That brought our eight-election running total (every two years, starting in 1994) to 60 Democrats and 54 Republicans, or 53 percent to 47 percent. Back in 2006 we had backed 12 Democrats and only five Republicans. (Since we don’t consider party when choosing a candidate, it’€™s sort of random — one election year we might be lopsided for Democrats; the next year for Republicans. So it’€™s nice to see this running total, if you value nonpartisanship the way I do.)
    And as always, once I added them up after Tuesday’€™s results, we had a "winning season"€–€” although, to be brutally honest, "€œour"€ candidates didn’€™t dominate quite as much as usual.
    This time, nine of our candidates won their elections, and five lost. That’€™s a winning percentage of 69. That brings our running record since 1994 to 85-31, or a .733 batting average — which is down from .753 as of four years ago, but still satisfactory in my book.
    That’s the strictest way to look at it, and the way I’m going to keep it on my running spreadsheet. If I wanted to be generous to us, I’d say that John McCain did win in South Carolina, and surely you can’€™t hold us responsible for what the rest of the country did? But I won’€™t let myself do that. And if we included ballot questions, on which the voters agreed with us four-to-two… but that would be inconsistent with the way I counted past years.
    Looked at another way, the voters agreed with us on four of the Democrats we endorsed, and four of the Republicans, and disagreed with us on one Democrat and four Republicans. That’€™s counting McCain as a loss, of course. And they agreed with us in the one nonpartisan race (if only there were more!) for Cayce mayor.
    So I’€™ve told you what I know about our stats — except for one thing. You might still wonder, what if he had been making predictions? Well, I did, on my blog, on Tuesday before the polls closed. You can go look. I got 13 predictions right, and one wrong, and on that one I had been tentative, hoping more than believing Mike Montgomery would keep his seat on Richland County Council.
    So that’€™s how we did. How’€™d you do?

Come tell me about it at

Graham likes Obama’s 1st pick

Thought y’all might find this interesting:

Graham Statement on Rahm Emanuel as White House Chief of

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham
(R-South Carolina) today made this statement on the news Illinois Congressman
Rahm Emanuel has accepted the job as White House Chief of Staff.  Graham spoke
by phone with Emanuel earlier today.

Graham said:

“This is a wise choice by President-elect Obama. 

“Rahm knows Capitol Hill and has great political
skills.  He can be a tough partisan but also understands the need to work
together.  He is well-suited for the position of White House Chief of Staff. 

“I worked closely with him during the presidential
debate negotiations which were completed in record time.  When we hit a rough
spot, he always looked for a path forward.  I consider Rahm to be a friend and
colleague.  He’s tough but fair.  Honest, direct, and candid.  These qualities
will serve President-elect Obama well. 

“Rahm understands the challenges facing our nation
and will, consistent with the agenda set by President-elect Obama, work to find
common ground where it exists.  I look forward to working with him in his new
position and will continue to do everything I can to help find a pathway forward
on the difficult problems facing our nation.”


After reading of Mr. Emanuel being a hard-ball operative from Clinton days, and how he was expected to play "bad cop" to Obama’s "good cop," I was prepared not to like him. I mean, didn’t we choose Obama over Hillary Clinton to get away from that stuff? But if Lindsey likes him, I need to reconsider.

By the way, I’d have included a picture of Graham from our recent interview with him, but MY LAPTOP GOT STOLEN, so all those pictures are gone!

Just in case you didn’t know.

Does the gender of lawmakers matter to YOU?

Just got a post-election e-mail from the Southeastern Institute for Women in Politics, which had also hit me with releases a number of times before Tuesday. Here’s the gist:

Congratulations to all of the brave female candidates running in South
Carolina and their support teams. Women made progress in the South Carolina
House of Representatives, increasing their numbers from 13 to 17, though still
down from a peak of 20 in 1992. Women were elected across South Carolina to
local offices including solicitor and the first female mayor for Cayce, Elise

While South Carolina women offered for federal, state and local
offices in record numbers during the 2008 election cycle, fewer than hoped
succeeded at the polls in November.

The list of winners includes 10
incumbent representatives and 6 newcomers:

Candidate Seat Party
Anne Peterson-Hutto
Chandra Dillard
Cathy Harvin*
Gilda Cobb-Hunter*
Jenny Horne
Nikki Haley*
Rita Allison
Shannon Erickson*
Wendy Nanney
J. Anne Parks*
Laurie Slade Funderburk*
G. Knight*
Annette D. Young*
Denny Neilson*
House District 115
House District 23
District 45
House District 64
House District 66
House District
House District 78
House District 87
House District 36
District 124
House District 108
House District 22
House District
House District 52
House District 97
House District 98
District 56

The Challenges Ahead

No women were elected to the South Carolina Senate, returning that chamber to
an all-male bastion not seen in more than 30 years. South Carolina is also the
only state in the nation lacking women in its senate.

The Southeastern
Institute for Women in Politics, a non-profit organized to attract, encourage
and train women to run and win, delivered hundreds of thousands of email
messages about available candidates in an effort to create visibility for female
candidates. Biographies
and responses to specific questions
were posted on the Institute’s website
to help educate South Carolina voters regarding choices.

Members of the
board of directors
vowed to move into the 2010 and 2012 election cycles
aggressively, beginning with recruitment and training as early as February,

Support the Institute. Become
a member today
Interested in future training events? Tell
us about it

And I find myself wondering. Does it make a difference to YOU that there are no women in the Senate, or that there are four more in the House? If so, why? If not, why not?

I ask because I just don’t generally think in these terms. If the best candidate is a woman that’s who we endorse. If not, we don’t. We certainly wouldn’t choose a candidate BECAUSE she’s a woman, any more than we’d reject her on that basis. Nikki Haley was a stronger candidate that Ed Gomez. Margaret Gamble was strong, but not as strong as Nikki Setzler. Based on the evidence, I guess you’d say we’re more likely to endorse a candidate on the basis of whether his/her name is "Nikki," rather than gender.

Gender doesn’t matter any more than party, in terms of determining which is the better candidate.

Not that I don’t believe men and women are different. I noticed a while back that they are. In fact, when folks try to equate gender issues to race issues, I tend to object by saying, "Boys and girls are different; black people and white people are not." I’m not arguing necessarily for doing like Will Stockdale in "No Time for Sergeants" and saying I don’t notice whether it’s a man or a wawmun; I just see a lieutenant.

But I’m not recalling offhand when gender ever caused me to pick one candidate over another.

Biggest disappointment of the night: Mike Montgomery’s loss

Looking at both our endorsements AND my predictions I made yesterday, you might have already figured out that my biggest disappointment in last night’s results was Mike Montgomery’s apparent loss of his seat on Richland County Council.

Actually, last night was a bad one all around for you folks who live in Richland County, whether you know it yet or not. In the only other contested race, Gwen Kennedy — remembered mainly for her Hawaiian junket at taxpayer expense (and for almost nothing else because she basically accomplished nothing in office that I can recall) when she was on the Council before — won. But we expected that — there was no way a Republican was going to win that seat against a Democrat with name recognition, even BAD name recognition.

But Montgomery was arguably the best, brightest, hardest-working member of council, a guy who truly had the interest of everyone in the county, regardless of party or anything else like that, at heart. On a council that had lost its way recently — putting $30 million for parks ahead of transportation and other critical needs — he was one guy who was right on those and other issues, an extremely level-headed pragmatist with his priorities straight. This is a deep loss for anyone who cares about the future of the county.

And he lost to a guy who — and I kid you not — had exactly two reasons for running:

  1. He didn’t think Decker Boulevard was getting redeveloped quickly enough.
  2. He thought there should be a Democrat on the ticket to take advantage of the Obama Effect. Really. That was his reason. When his wife, who lost to Montgomery in the last election, wouldn’t run again, he put his own name on the ballot. That’s pretty much his story.

So basically, we have here a monument to party line voting over merit, the most stark that I saw in this election. And it’s a real shame.

Oh, and I would have given you some pictures of these two guys on this post, BUT MY LAPTOP GOT STOLEN LAST NIGHT. But perhaps I already mentioned that.

Post comments on returns HERE

Y‘all, I just got home and I’m going to go into the kitchen to get some of the dinner that Mamanem fixed, and then start paying attention to returns. But I thought I’d go ahead and put up this post in case y’all can’t wait.

On my way home from the office, right after the polls closed, I saw on TV over at my daughter’s house (where I had stopped to check on the twins) that one of the networks was reporting exit poll data that indicated the black turnout in Virginia was 22 percent. It was 21 percent in 2004, they said.

Data such as those cause me to say to myself, I’ll wait for some real numbers

My predictions

Here are my predictions as to what I think will happen on the contested races that we dealt with in our endorsements. As always, endorsements are about who should win, not who will win. To fill that vacuum — and to help you see the difference — here are my prognostications (in which I place far less faith, because they are not nearly as carefully considered):

  • Obama will win the presidential election — the real one (electoral college, with at least 300 electors) as well as the popular vote. He’ll win it decisively enough that we’ll know by midnight. BUT McCain will win in South Carolina, probably 55-45. We endorsed McCain.
  • Lindsey Graham will easily win re-election. No prediction on the numbers; I have no idea. In fact, I’m only doing numbers on the presidential, because I really have no idea on any others. We endorsed Graham.
  • Joe Wilson will win against Rob Miller, but it will be close. We endorsed Wilson.
  • Jim Clyburn will have a blowout victory over his GOP opponent. We endorsed Clyburn.
  • John Spratt will win with a margin somewhere between Wilson’s and Clyburn’s. We endorsed Spratt.
  • Nikki Setzler will survive the challenge from Margaret Gamble, and thanks to the Obama Effect, it will be the first time it helped him to be a Democrat in 20 years. We endorsed Setzler.
  • Anton Gunn will beat David Herndon, but it will be fairly close. We endorsed Gunn.
  • Joe McEachern will cruise to victory over Michael Koska. We endorsed Koska.
  • Chip Huggins will roll right over Jim Nelson, who will NOT benefit appreciably from the Obama Effect. We endorsed Nelson.
  • Nikki Haley will win big, again in spite of Obama. We endorsed Ms. Haley.
  • Harry Harmon will again be Lexington County coroner. We endorsed Harmon, although we again made the point that this should NOT be an elective office.
  • Elise Partin will — I hope I hope — win the Cayce mayor’s office (this is the one I have the LEAST feel for, since we’ve never endorsed for this office before). We endorsed Ms. Partin.
  • Gwen Kennedy, despite being best known for a Hawaiian junket the last time she was on Richland County council, will ride the Obama Effect to victory over Celestine White Parker. We endorsed Ms. Parker.
  • Mike Montgomery should prevail (note my hesitation) over challenger Jim Manning, who seems to be running as much as anything because he felt like there should be a Democrat in the race with Obama running. We endorsed Montgomery.

Oh, and Ted Pitts will roll to victory over his last-second UnParty challenger. We didn’t endorse in this one, but if we had, we would have endorsed Ted.

UnParty makes its move (better late than never)

Sometimes when I see someone running unopposed — even someone I like, such as my state Rep., Ted Pitts — I feel prompted to make silly gestures. I did so today. Yes, I wrote in my own name for House District 69, partly just to try out that function on the electronic machine.

That makes Ted Pitts the first incumbent of either of the dominant parties to feel the wrath of the mighty UnParty machine. Such as it is. Sorry, Ted; I couldn’t resist the temptation when it popped into my head. I could have made my empty gesture on one of the other unopposed offices — but I don’t want to be sheriff, for instance. I just didn’t vote at all on any of the unopposed slots — except the House seat.

No, I won’t win this impromptu campaign — I started it just a tad late, even I will admit. But we’re looking at this strategically. (Who’s "we?" Just me. You may or may not have noticed that candidates often refer to themselves as "we" when they mean "I," and I believe in observing the conventions when they don’t violate my principles.)

I’m building name recognition. Sure, we’re not liable to win this one. But the experience losing to Ted will help me get ready to lose a last-minute run for governor in 2010. Then, who knows — I could decide to become an extremely minor obstacle to President Obama’s re-election plans.

A lot of quixotic candidates start off losing at the top — Ralph Nader, for instance. But I think that’s just presumptuous. As I keep telling Doug, experience is important. I need to lose races for lower offices before fumbling the brass ring.

Anyway, I gotta run now, and make the last-minute arrangements for my unvictory party….

Your voting anecdotes here


t took me an hour and forty minutes to vote at the Quail Hollow precinct — most of it standing in the breezy fine mist of rain, which gets cool after awhile even in a camel-hair sport coat. This was the first day in more than a week that I did NOT wear a sweater, which was stupid. I had looked at the weather report on my Treo — mid-60s, it said — and it simply never occurred to me that I would spend 90 minutes of the day standing outside.

But it was OK. Here are some pictures. The one at top was looking toward the front of the line, just after I joined it. Voting3The blurry one at right is a little later, showing all the way to the front of the line. (That’s my wife in the white sweater and dark hair about halfway up, although I didn’t know that until I called her on the phone and she told me she was there; I had thought she was in Shandon watching the twins. If it had been any other sort of line, I would have gone up and cut in to join her. Somehow that seemed a violation of electoral etiquette, though.) The one below is from
about 15 minutes later, at which point the line stretched back about twice as far as the point where I had joined it at 10:08. Note that the mist was falling when those behind us got out of their cars, so they had umbrellas. Many of them did anyway; the lady colonel in the foreground did not, but she was dressed for inclement weather.

All during this there was a steady flow of old folks being escorted to the front of the line, and after a while, I must confess, I was tempted to say, "Oh yeah, right! Like you really need a walker — I’m onto you!" But I didn’t think it would be nice, so I didn’t say it.

When we finally got inside the little building behind the church, the line waiting to check in consisted of about 10 people. Then there was a long, undulating space for a line after registering with only four or five people standing in. Apparently it didn’t occur to the poll workers that they weren’t managing the flow as well as they might. The lady checking in the first half of the alphabet was moving people along pretty well — story of my life; if there’s a way to screw over the W’s, it will be found and acted upon. My half of the alphabet had to wait while our worker was distracted by the old folks bypassing the line. (The whole curbside voting thing seemed very haphazard. They had a van for awhile, but that left. Some cut to the front of the line; some went to a side door, and I got the impression that each person who did so was a bit of a surprise, and was dealt with in an ad hoc manner. But perhaps I didn’t fully perceive what was happening.)

At the front of the line, there were seven machines (not counting the young lady holding the curbside machine — why she was in there, waiting for people to check in and then accompanying them out to the voter in the car, I don’t know). But only five were in use. One of them was specially equipped, I overheard, for the hearing impaired (what role hearing played in the process I don’t know). Maybe it was rigged for sound for the blind, and I misunderstood — it appeared to have headphones attached, which for all I knew was so that the "Rock the Vote" kids could hear loud music while voting.

Why the seventh machine wasn’t in use, I don’t know.

So how did it go for you?


Our 2008 endorsements favor GOP; overall record still tilts to Dems

This is an all-things-to-all-people post.

Those of you who think we’re just another bunch of wild-eyed liberals who only back Democrats, just read this paragraph! I’ve done the count on this year’s endorsements (which you can go read here), and here’s the final count: We endorsed 8 Republicans (John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Joe Wilson, Nikki Haley, Michael Koska, Mike Montgomery, Celestine White Parker and Harry Harmon), 5 Democrats (John Spratt, Jim Clyburn, Nikki Setzler, Anton Gunn and Jim Nelson). And one independent (Elise Partin, in a nonpartisan election for Cayce mayor).

Now, those of you who think we’re that right-wing rag that only endorses Republicans, just read this paragraph! As you may recall, I started keeping score a couple of election cycles ago, and our running total in general elections, from 1994 through 2008, is 60 Democrats, and 54 Republicans, so we’ve endorsed Democrats 53 percent of the time.

As I’ve explained about a gazillion times, party is not a consideration for us. The only reason I know the numbers above is that I got tired of people constantly accusing us of being one or the other, so I went back through all of the general elections since I had joined the editorial board in 1994 (and everyone else currently on the board joined later than that).

Since then, I have kept the count up-to-date. But I only total up the numbers for the current year after we’ve decided all our endorsements. That makes for some pretty lopsided years in which someone might think we were pushing mainly for one party or the other. For instance, in 2006 we endorsed 12 Democrats and only five Republicans.

Here’s the year-by-year breakdown (and here it is on a spreadsheet):

Year      Democrats  Republicans Independents
1994          10                  4              1
1996            2                  5
1998            8                 11
2000            7                 10
2002            9                   4
2004            7                   7
2006           12                  5
2008            5                   8             1
TOTALS      60                54            2

Looking back at this, I wonder about the low number of independents, and then I remember that most of our opportunities to endorse nonaligned (or at least NOMINALLY unaligned) candidates have come in Columbia city elections, and these are not counted. I’m just looking at the November elections here. I think that one independent in 1994 was Bubba Cromer.

Have fun trying to find patterns, if you’re so inclined. I notice that, except for 1998, we have a tendency to go for Democrats in years when we elected statewide officials to S.C. government, and Republicans in presidential election years — except for 2004, which was a tie. I’m no statistician, but I sort of doubt that someone who IS a statistician would think a trend that involves only 8 elections and has two exceptions is much of a trend.

You could also compare the time BEFORE I became the editor (when the makeup of the board was quite different) to AFTER (I became editor in 1997), but you don’t get a dramatic difference. In the two elections before I was promoted we went for 12 Democrats and 9 Republicans, since then it’s been 48 Democrats and 45 Republicans — indicating that I have kept it closer to even than previous leadership did! Which of course is also statistically meaningless.

If we were trying to create a trend, it would be to aim for a 50-50 breakdown, so neither party could claim we were biased against them. But we’re not trying, so the results are imperfect.

You know what’s most startling to me? That in all those years, we’ve endorsed only 116 fall candidates. Seems like a lot more. But then, the primaries are always busier than the general.

Our congressional endorsements today

Yesterday, I wrote the editorial that I dread each election year — the one dealing with Congress. (Actually, some years we do separates on the individual districts, but this year I decided to do it all in one piece — like ripping off a Band-Aid suddenly.) I put it off until it became the VERY LAST endorsement we did. I’m the one who had to write it, and I took advantage of being the editor to keep postponing it.

Now, before anyone gets all huffy about my dismissive attitude — I think Joe Wilson is a really nice guy who tries hard, and I know that Jim Clyburn is deeply and passionately committed to his constituents. But they are both, to me, emblematic of what is wrong with Congress and with our system for apportioning districts.

They are both deeply committed to the agendas of their respective political parties, and you know how I feel about that. Joe is just breathlessly eager to implement GOP initiatives, and Mr. Clyburn (I don’t feel I know him well enough to call him "Jim"), as the Majority Whip, is the very embodiment of Nancy Pelosi’s House. And I don’t like any of that one bit.

So why don’t I do what Doug always says I should do, and endorse the challengers? Because I have too great a sense of responsibility. (As you know, I’ll make a futile gesture with my own personal vote, but I wouldn’t feel right indulging myself that way on behalf of the newspaper.) For all their partisan flaws, Messrs. Wilson and Clyburn are obviously more knowledgeable and better qualified than the people running against them. I have the greatest respect, admiration and appreciation for young Rob Miller’s service as a United States Marine. (As some of you know, the very first thing I wanted to be as a kid — and one thing I could never be, for medical reasons — is a Marine. So the Corps has a particular mystique for me.) But I can’t see where serving as a captain in the Corps has equipped Mr. Miller for the very different duties of a congressman. I’d like to see some other things on his resume — such as service in some lower elective offices. I have a great reluctance to send people off to Washington before we’ve had a chance to see how they serve in office a little closer to home, where we can keep more of an eye on them.

And from what little I’ve seen of the lady running against Mr. Clyburn, I am deeply unimpressed. Watch the debate on ETV if you doubt me.

Now John Spratt is a somewhat different story. I’ve never been conflicted about endorsing him, because he seems to have so much competence, and his partisanship has been far more muted than either of the aforementioned gentlemen.

Those three are the only districts we endorse in, because those are the areas where we deliver the paper.

Anyway, here’s the endorsement(s).

2nd Congressional District debate last night


Excuse me forgetting, but these things I do — I failed to let y’all know in advance that I’d be on the panel of the 2nd Congressional District debate on ETV last night. I know y’all would have stopped what you were doing to watch and all, what with the World Series being delayed another day….

In case you’d still like to see it, here’s the video below. And here’s the ETV page with links to all of the congressional debates. I only did the 2nd District one because it was the only one in the Midlands that looked like any sort of a competition. And whether it is or not is hard to say. I think ex-Capt. Rob Miller, USMC, is well positioned to take advantage of the Obama Effect. But you just can’t count out a Republican incumbent in the 2nd District.

As Blease Graham said to my Rotary the other day, if you want to beat Joe Wilson (or, back in the day, the late Floyd Spence) in that district, you’d better come into Lexington County with a 26,000-vote lead. That’s a tall hill to climb, even for the Marines.

Anyway, here’s the video. And thanks to Chris Berry of The State‘s photo staff for the photo above, in which you get to see just how geeky I look in my Jimmy Olsen sweater vest and bowtie. He apologizes for the quality of the photo, by the way — says if he knew I’d have been asking for an overall shot such as this, he’d have made sure to get a better one. I told him not to worry; this is way better than what y’all are used to on this blog, and that anything better would just spoil all of you.

Endorsing Lindsey Graham


It is perhaps ironic that while his buddy McCain is struggling so, Lindsey Graham is coasting to easy re-election. Of course, if McCain only had to win South Carolina, he’d be sitting pretty, too. (Although I don’t for a moment believe he’ll win by 20 points, as that poll said the other day.)

Anyway, for your perusal, here’s our endorsement of Graham from today’s paper.

And just to give y’all a little extra something for coming to the blog, here’s a video clip from an interview we had with Sen. Graham in our offices on Oct. 6. This was just before the second presidential debate — in fact, the senator was on his way to Nashville to help McCain with debate prep — and I had just asked him about Sarah Palin. Essentially, I’d aked why her and not Joe Lieberman, and did he not think she had hurt the ticket?


This could be a ‘bad’ year for our endorsees

Turning away from the presidential endorsement to the endorsements that we here on the board actually spend more of our staff time on — the state legislative and county races — this may not be a good year for our endorsees.

Now mind you, "not… a good year" is a relative thing. Typically, close to 75 percent of the people we endorse in general elections in South Carolina win. A "bad" year for our endorsees is 50 percent. There is a chance that this year, it may be even lower than that.

I should pause at this point to say, as I always do, that our endorsements aren’t about naming the person we think WILL win, but the person we think SHOULD win. You might say, "Duh!," but the fact is that a lot of people don’t seem to understand that. How else does one explain the people who say, when one of our endorsees loses, that we got it "wrong?"

But that doesn’t keep me from thinking about whether someone is going to win or not. I’m usually conscious of a candidate’s chances as we’re making the decision, and we tend to know when we’re backing a Don Quixote and when we’re not.

But the other day Cindi said something I hadn’t thought of — that we may be backing more losers than winners this time. That was based on the endorsements we had decided on up until that point (we’ve decided some more since then). If so, so be it. That won’t change our decisions. But I thought I’d share the thought with y’all.

Consider the ones we’ve done so far:

  • Jim Nelson — LIKELY TO LOSE — Conventional wisdom heavily favors the incumbent, Chip Huggins, in House District 85. This is the Irmo area, and Rep. Huggins is the Republican. Of course, the Irmese are quirky and can surprise you. Also, a Democrat could benefit from the Obama Effect, which is expected to pull up down-ballot Democrats even though Obama will lose the state himself. But not a Democrat who, like Mr. Nelson, is given to going up to strangers and telling them he thinks his taxes are too low. Not in this district.
  • Michael Koska — LIKELY TO LOSE — There is no incumbent in this race, which should make it more of a toss-up. But Mr. Koska’s opponent in House District 77 is the closest thing you’ll find to an incumbent — Richland County Council Chairman Joe McEachern. Mr. McEachern is a strong candidate whom we’ve endorsed multiple times, including in the primary for this seat. Add to that the fact that Mr. Koska is a little-known white Republican in a district long held by a black Democrat (John Scott), and the usual math of elections in South Carolina runs against him. Mr. Koska has the ability to win over voters who sit down and listen to him at length as we did, but few voters ever do that. No, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Mr. Koska will pull this off, but he would need greater-than-usual help from his national ticket to do so, and that’s just not happening this year.
  • Nikki Haley — ALMOST CERTAIN TO WIN. I could have told you before our interviews that Rep. Haley would hold on to her District 87 House seat. After talking to her and opponent Ed Gomez, it was a dead certainty. Yes, the McCain-Palin ticket may be imploding, but not so much as to deny re-election to this highly engaging Republican incumbent, not in Lexington County.
  • Anton Gunn — DON’T KNOW, although I suspect GUNN HAS THE EDGE — What makes this one uncertain for the better-known and stronger candidate — Mr. Gunn — is that this has been a Republican district. In fact, Democrat Gunn lost to the incumbent, Bill Cotty, two years ago. But Mr. Cotty isn’t running, and the district has been evolving. Most of all in Mr. Gunn’s favor is the fact that if anybody is going to benefit from the Obama Effect, it would be him. He was Obama’s state political director. So I think he has the edge, but it’s just impossible to know without polling info, which I haven’t seen. All we know for sure is that we prefer Mr. Gunn to his opponent, David Herndon.

As always, you can look at all our endorsements from this year (going all the way back to the presidential primaries in January), plus columns related to endorsements, on this Web page.

Rob Miller’s new TV ads

till catching up on e-mail, I ran across this from this afternoon:

Miller Begins TV Advertisement Blitz

Democratic Congressional Candidate and Iraq War Veteran Rob Miller began his TV advertisement blitz today. The campaign is running two introductory commercials that feature Miller’s service in the US Marine Corps and outline his platform of reducing wasteful spending, balancing the budget and protecting American jobs.

Miller Campaign Manager Lachlan McIntosh said the ads are designed to introduce Miller to voters and emphasize the change he represents. "Voters understand that to get out of the mess we are in, we’ve got to change Washington. Rob represents the new ideas and new leadership we need," McIntosh said.

He promises to "fight for us" in Washington. Arrrghhh. You know how I hate it when that happens.

Our first endorsement ran today

A couple of weeks ago, I came up with the idea of doing something different with endorsements this cycle. Back during the campaigns for the June primaries, I became frustrated that we had so many candidates, and so little time and space, that we didn’t serve readers as well as we should have. After hours and hours and hours of interviews, research and discussion, in some cases our explanations of endorsements were absurdly abbreviated, in extreme cases amounting to less than a sentence. And as I’ve always said, to me the endorsement is ABOUT the explanation, so I was very dissatisfied. All of that work, and so little of it shared with readers.

So I said to my colleagues at the time, we either needed to do better in the future, or quit endorsing altogether. Our staff is too small to spend that much time on something that produces such thin gruel for readers.

Of course, being obsessive, we resolved to keep doing it, but do it better. Fortunately for that purpose, we had far fewer contested races to deal with in the fall. This fact is UNfortunate for democracy — the fact that primary contests are far more numerous than general election ones is a testament to the power of incumbency and partisanship in redistricting. But at least it offered us a chance to be somewhat more thorough in our presentation, to make it more reflective of our preparation.

A couple of weeks ago, I thought of a way to do even better: Do our endorsements earlier. In the past, we’ve held them as long as we can, given the number we have to do — the theory being that that’s when voters are paying the most attention. Also, it meant we had as much information as possible, preventing post-endorsement "surprises" about the candidates.

But I proposed to Warren and Cindi that we start doing them as soon as we can. It keeps them from being jammed up, thereby allowing us more space. It also frees us up as commentators. Increasingly, I have found it hard to write the summaries of interviews without going ahead and saying "this is the guy for us" or "no way on this one." You’ll note that I haven’t written anything from the interviews with the candidates in today’s endorsement of Anton Gunn, because the choice was so clear, and I hate to scoop my colleagues. Now, I’m free to go back and write those blog entries from the interviews — which I will, perhaps today — as well as to write columns. I suspect that Cindi and Warren will find additional things they want to say about their candidates once the ice is broken with an endorsement. Maybe not, but we’ll see.

In any event, I’ve been pleased with the first two endorsements (one running today, the other tomorrow), even if that’s all that is written. They flow better, they’re less cramped and hurried in their style. They’re more thoughtful. And that’s supposed to be the point — provoking thought.

Anyway, here’s the endorsement of Anton Gunn. More commentary on that contest will be forthcoming.

Video: Ed Gomez vs. Nikki Haley

First, I apologize for the length of this video clip, but I think it gives a pretty fair glimpse of what our interviews were like with the two candidates in S.C. House District 87.

You have newcomer Democrat Edgar Gomez challenging Rep. Nikki Haley. Four years ago, Nikki was the longshot going up against a very Old School incumbent in Larry Koon. If anything, Mr. Gomez is probably a longer shot, if only because Rep. Haley is hardly the symbol of entrenched seniority that Mr. Koon was; hers is still a very fresh face on the S.C. political scene.

On the video, you will see the candidates’ respective remarks about or answers to questions about several issues, starting with an open question about what they consider the top issues to be, then moving on to taxation, school "choice" and payday lending.

And yes, I will still be doing separate posts on these two interviews, just not today. In the meantime, you have the video.