Sept. 11, 1 p.m. — OK, I’m really going to try to keep these endorsement interview posts shorter so that I can get them done and not fall behind the way I did in the last couple of election cycles (resorting to such cheap tricks as running nothing but pictures when I ran out of time).
David Herndon should be a good one for me to practice this new resolution on, since he didn’t have that much to say different from what he said in our primary interview. (And that’s not a bad thing at all, since we ended up endorsing him then.)
An overview of what we talked about:
He said he was better qualified for the House because of his experience in business and in life.
He said opponent Anton Gunn — a "super nice guy" is less qualified because he’s spent his work life out of the private sector, in politics and the community organizer field.
He feels very comfortable with his district. He said that (like Caesar’s Gaul), there are three distinct communities within the Kershaw-Richland district, and at various times he’s lived in all of them.
He thinks the governor’s trying to get the Legislature to come back to prioritize budget cuts is political posturing.
On education, he agrees with most of Jim Rex’s proposals. He sees himself as having a broad perspective on the issue, with one child in military school, another home-schooled, and one in public elementary school.
He sees his job as maintaining his district’s attraction for economic development and as an attractive place to live.
Sept. 11, 11 a.m. — When he first came to see us during the primaries, Michael Koska made a good impression — an especially good impression given that he was a newcomer to electoral politics. He had made himself expert on the issues that had gotten him involved — especially Richland County road needs — and showed a passion for learning about more.
He made an even better impression this time, and here’s one of the reasons why: As he said himself a couple of times in the interview, he’s learned and grown on the campaign trail. For instance, he expressed a tendency toward supporting vouchers. But it was fairly obvious at the time that he hadn’t really thought the issue through. Now, he doesn’t see himself supporting either vouchers or tax credits (last time he didn’t know the difference between them) "in the foreseeable future." He believes that our first priority should be fixing the public schools that need fixing.
Mr. Koska is the Republican nominee in a district that has long been strongly Democratic. But his views are not inconsistent with those of moderate South Carolina Democrats, and he goes out of his way to praise such Democrats as Joel Lourie and Anton Gunn (regarding a recent op-ed by Mr. Gunn in our paper, he said "ditto.") He maintains that if voters elect him instead of opponent Joe McEachern, he will be more likely to get things done, being a member of the majority party in the Legislature.
About the only other time he said anything about his party affiliation was when he expressed enthusiasm for his party’s vice presidential nominee. Much as Democrats have spoken of an Obama Effect this year, he predicted that Sarah Palin would do a lot of good for down-ticket Republicans such as himself.
But mostly he talked about his passion for better roads and affordable health care. His advocacy for fixing Hard Scrabble Road had won him a position on the citizen’s panel on transportation that recommended the sales tax hike, and he feels betrayed that County Council (led by Mr. McEachern) didn’t put the issue to a referendum. He said he believes the $550,000 spent on the study, not to mention the "valuable time, time spent away from their families" by the volunteers like himself, to have been cavalierly wasted. He is also critical of Mr. McEachern and the council for having bungled the county’s representation on the Council of Governments that doles out what road money there is in the area, allowing Lexington County to get the lion’s share of the funding for the next 10 years.
The council’s decision to borrow $50 million for new parks (including one in his area), and to do so without a referendum, while people are still dying on Hard Scrabble is to him an outrage.
He has a small business owner’s perspective on health care. His own personal experience and that of his acquaintances convinces him that the state must act now to make health care more affordable (he has no patience for waiting for the feds to do anything). It was like deja vu when he told about his daughter’s recent $1,800 x-ray, which sounded an awful lot like the x-rays for MY daughter, the one that ate my "economic stimulus check," if you’re recall. He was particularly incensed that when he asked the folks at the hospital in advance what the x-rays would cost, no one had any idea. Speaking of outrages, he thinks (as do I) that the stimulus checks were "the stupidest thing." If only, he says, that money had been devoted to upgrading the nation’s infrastructure…
Energy is another area where he has no interest in waiting on the federal government to act. He says the state should push to have natural gas filling stations built around the state. Natural gas, he maintains, is "probably going to be our bridge off foreign oil," but you can’t get anywhere without the retail infrastructure.
Michael Koska is a good example of what you get when a regular citizen not only gets worked up about an issue, but goes out of his way to get informed and try to do something about it. That’s why we endorsed him in the spring. Of course, we also endorsed his general election opponent, so that makes this race particularly interesting to us.
Sept. 10, 2 p.m. — Chip Huggins has represented this Irmo-Chapin district since 1999. And folks there must like him pretty well, because in all that time he hasn’t had opposition for re-election. And in that area (think District 5 school board, the battles over development in northwest Richland County), not many officeholders can say that.
Since he’s the Republican in this race, given the district, I suspect he’s about to get elected again.
But perhaps because he hasn’t had occasion to explain or defend his positions on issues in past election years, he doesn’t communicate very well where he stands, or where he is likely to stand in the future. It’s difficult to tell at times for certain whether he’s just not all that good at communication, was having a bad day (nervousness, which is common enough in a first interview, could account for some of the mangled syntax that kept posing a barrier for me) or he just did not want to be pinned down on anything. Unfortunately, by the end of the interview, I felt quite sure that that last explanation was most valid — he seemed to have a tremendous aversion to taking definite stands.
The most definite thing he said to us — the most specific, helpful fact that he provided with regard to his record — had to do with how he voted on Mark Sanford’s video of the cigarette tax increase. He indicated that he favored the tax increase (which contrasted with his general belief, also clearly stated, that he believes South Carolinians are overtaxed), and indeed voted for it. In light of that, I asked him, what were we to make of the charge by his challenger, Jim Nelson, who told us Mr. Huggins had supported the governor’s veto of that legislation? He said quite clearly that what Mr. Nelson said was incorrect — that in fact he had voted to override. He offered to get the clerk’s office to back him up on that, but I said no need. Of course, Cindi will check that out to confirm, but it seems highly unlikely that he would assert that so definitely were it not the case — especially since he was so loathe to be pinned down on much else. (Cindi speculated that this could have been an honest mistake all around, because she had noted that the VoteSmart organization, which she normally swears by, had reported that vote in a confusing way. She noted that she has informed VoteSmart, and they’re supposed to be doing something about it.)
As for the rest of the interview — well, I deeply regret that I was having multiple technical difficulties today. I had lent the camera with which I usually shoot video to one of my daughters; I didn’t realize the memory in my digital sound recorder was full until after the interview started, and after shooting three still photos and three short, low-quality clips with my Treo, it refused to record any more, claiming that it, too, was full. (And my dog ate my homework.) But let me try to give you a sense of what it was like.
Early in the interview, he indicated that he favored Gov. Sanford’s campaign to restructure state government, which was fine by us, of course: The governor’s positions on that subject are almost word-for-word straight out of our "Power Failure" agenda. But later I asked him to be a little more specific, and ran into a wall of reluctance: He had no specific ideas about how the government’s structure could be improved, beyond a vague desire to avoid "duplication." So I asked him to tell me, specifically, which of the constitutional officers did he think should be appointed rather than elected? When none seemed to be forthcoming, I started listing them: The commissioner of agriculture — should that be appointed (that seemed like the easiest on to start with)? How about the adjutant general? The attorney general?
He wasn’t saying. "There’s just a lot of duplication," he said. "Going to continue to look at that. I’m not going to be specific about that." When I looked for this quote in my notes, at first I started to copy from the wrong page, because on the page before that, talking about education, he had said, "I don’t have any direct answer on that… continue to look at that."
Mr. Huggins is hardly alone in his fondness for the phrase "look at that" — it’s a favorite among candidates (especially incumbents) who don’t want to take a position, as in "We’ll continue to look at that." It may be a defensible way to talk about a complex issue that’s just come up and you haven’t had time to study in adequately. But there’s no excuse to answer that way about issues that you yourself cite as important, and which have lain more or less unchanged on the table before you for years on end. And Mr. Huggins did that repeatedly. When candidates do that, I tend to think What do they think this is, a weather report? I don’t want their predictions of what the Legislature will continue to look at, I want to know what they think the Legislature should do.
The more frustrating exchanges, for me, were later in the interview, after my Treo was full. But I think you can get the idea if you watch the phone video clip below (again, I apologize for the quality). About halfway in, we get to the subject of the state’s automobile sales tax cap. Mr. Huggins seems to want the cap changed in some way, a way that would be "fair," but when we try to find out what he believes would be fair (simply tax the full value of cars at the rate at which we currently tax the first $6,000? exempt the first $6,000, but charge the full rate on the value over that? some other approach?), but he avoids answering.
And, as I say, that was the pattern of most of the interview. I came away knowing that he disagrees with his opponent’s politically suicidal assertion that we don’t pay enough taxes, but not much else.
Usually I find these interviews quite helpful in forming an impression of a candidate. This time, not so much. If anyone has any further information to offer regarding Mr. Huggins or his opponent, now would be a good time to bring it to my attention. Because we’re continuing, as one might say, to "look at that…"
By BRAD WARTHEN EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR LISTENING to John McCain’s acceptance speech Thursday night was like surfing. That is, it was like surfing if you’re me:
Paddle, paddle, here comes the wave, can I catch it, paddle, paddle, I’ve got it, I’ve got it, I’ve got it, can I get on my feet, yes I’m getting up, I can’t believe it I’m standing, I’m doing this, can I straighten up, yes this is it, whoa, whoa, yow, WIPEOUT, long fall forward, interminable period way under water, scraping on coral, pop back up, swim to board, paddle, paddle, paddle….
Exhausting. I haven’t surfed since 1971, because that’s the last time I was in Hawaii, therefore the last time I saw a wave worth the effort. A long wait. But I’ve waited my whole life for someone to give the speech Sen. McCain set out to give Thursday night. And, in stretches that practically made my heart stop — stretches where I thought, he’s going for broke, standing up, can he ride it all the way? — he actually gave it. Earlier in the week, I had thought I’d have to settle for Joe Lieberman’s paean to post-partisanship, the best bits of which went over like a lead butterfly with that partisan crowd. Most of the week was just like the week before in Denver, the usual party pooge. Sarah Palin did a great job for a rookie her first time at bat, but hers was the usual veep role — take down the opposition. But in the hours leading up to the McCain speech, the word went out that he was going to try the thing that had not been tried before: to accept a major party’s nomination while simultaneously rejecting and opposing all the vicious nonsense that parties have stood for over the past 16 years. Just minutes before he started, I read on The New York Times Web site: “McCain Plans to Speak of Dedication to Bipartisanship.” He was going to try the thing that I had hoped Barack Obama would try the week before — but which, except for a few encouraging passages, he passed on, delivering a pretty standard crowd-pleasing acceptance in Denver. McCain was better positioned to attempt the unprecedented. Poor Obama had to please all those Clintonistas who hadn’t wanted him. McCain had greatly appeased those in his party who least wanted him with his choice of Gov. Palin, which freed him to reach out over the heads of the convention delegates to the rest of America. And for the first 26 minutes and 44 seconds, he delivered a speech that was all that I’d hoped for. “I don’t work for a party,” he said, and you knew he meant it. Then, just when you thought he had decided to give a speech that told all partisans where to get off, wipeout, he’d spend several moments underwater. But then he’d climb back up and gamely start paddling again. There were so many indelible impressions to be gained from that speech, but here are some of the highs and lows for me:
He mentioned, as so many had before him (to the point of monotony), his reputation as a “maverick,” saying “Sometimes it’s meant as a compliment; sometimes it’s not.” That was a mild way to describe the central ironic tension of the moment. That hall was filled with people who had long despised him for going his own way, and now he was their nominee, and what could they do but grin and bear it?
The passage about education was just embarrassing, a wipeout of stupendous proportions. In almost the same breath, he promised the ideologues who hate public schools their “choice” and then implied he’d improve public schools by renewing the teacher corps — attracting and rewarding the best, running off the worst. Let me give you two clues, John: First, the American taxpayer will never foot the bill for both turning around failing public schools and paying people to leave them; it’s one or the other. Second, Ronald Reagan had it right — the federal government has no business trying to run our schools.
“Despite our differences, much more unites us than divides us. We are fellow Americans, and that’s an association that means more to me than any other.” No one could doubt that this man truly believed that. He has lived it.
“His plan will force small businesses to cut jobs, reduce wages, and force families into a government-run health care system where a bureaucrat… stands between you and your doctor.” Oh, spare me. The one thing wrong with what Obama wants to do on health care is that he doesn’t have the guts to say, “single-payer” — and nothing short of that will solve the problem. At about this point, I started thinking how Obama and McCain are a complementary pair: One can sound dangerously naive on foreign affairs, the other on domestic.
The very best part was the part that could have gone very bad: talking about his own heroism. He made it a parable of why radical individualism is a dead end. “I thought I was tougher than anyone. I was pretty independent….” But God sent him misfortune as a gift. “I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t even feed myself. They did it for me. I was beginning to learn the limits of my selfish independence.” And that’s when he truly learned to love his country.
At other points he vacillated between the self-centered ideology that Obama has decried as “you’re on your own,” and assurances that he’d make “government start working for you again,” even extending New Dealish assistance to those workers displaced in the shifting global economy.
On the whole a noble effort, but the occasional dunkings in waves of cold ideology left me worn out. I’m so glad these conventions are over. Maybe once they escape the suffocating embraces of their respective parties, both Obama and McCain can better remind me of why I wanted them to win those nominations to start with. McCain made a good start on that Thursday.
Sept. 4, 9:30 a.m. — Our first endorsement interview of the 2008 general election cycle was Jim Nelson, a Democrat who’s opposing Rep. Chip Huggins in this Irmo-Chapin district. This was the first time I’d met Mr. Nelson — and come to think of it, when Mr. Huggins comes in it may be the first time I’ve met him (and I beg his forgiveness if I’m wrong about that), even though he’s been in the House since 1999.
Mr. Nelson is an easy guy to get to know, an affable character of moderate temperament. Speaking of moderate, he was a Republican when he moved here from New York many moons ago, but was turned off by the insistence on some Kulturkampf-style resolutions at a party convention here. (When we asked for specifics, abortion was mentioned.) On another occasion, he saw an anti-tax protester at a polling place — this was the early 90s, I believe he said — and told him that in his opinion, he, Jim Nelson, didn’t pay enough taxes here in South Carolina. (He still hasn’t quite gotten over how low property taxes are here.) Around that time, he went to work for Bud Ferillo, who remarked that he couldn’t be a Republican because they agreed on two many things. (One area of disagreement he chuckled over: Bud is convinced that desegregation launched the economic growth of the South in the 60s; Mr. Nelson insists it was air-conditioning.)
Evidently, Mr. Nelson and I don’t agree on abortion, although he is not necessarily at odds with out editorial board on the subject. But we found many areas of agreement — on his opposition to vouchers, his opposition to the tax swap for school funding from the property tax to sales taxes, his support of a cigarette tax increase and his support for the governor having wider responsibility for the executive branch. He contrasted his views on vouchers and the cigarette tax with what he said were those of Mr. Huggins, but that’s all I know about that at this point.
He presents himself as a business-oriented pragmatist, who thinks South Carolina is undercutting itself by trying to do everything on the cheap: "In business, we would do it the cheap way first, and go back and do it again the right way," which he notes is wasteful. He believes this particularly applies to education. He said he told that tax protester that where he worked at the time (before Ferillo-Gregg), all the South Carolinians worked out on the loading dock. Why not, he posited, educate the S.C. kids properly so they can have the good-paying jobs "so you don’t have to import people like me."
Mr. Nelson says that demographic changes in the district make it viable for a Democrat. We’ll see.
Anton Gunn is a first-time delegate to the Democratic National Convention from South Carolina, and he has never so much as watched a political convention on television before. Even Barack Obama’s famous keynote address in 2004 didn’t grab his attention (he sheepishly admits he still hasn’t listened to it). In fact, until two years ago, when Gunn ran for a state house seat in Columbia and lost by 298 votes, he’d never been involved in electoral politics.
Obama’s candidacy has brought a wave of new voters and volunteers into the Democratic Party, but even among them, Gunn, 35, stands out. In addition to being a Democratic delegate and a candidate once again for the state legislature, he now has a line on his political résumé few can match: political director for the Obama campaign in South Carolina, the state that more than any other launched the Illinois Senator’s successful candidacy.
Ross Shealy over at Barbecue and Politics has been busy compiling some interesting facts on some of the individual races in our recent state primaries.
Actually, it’s just the same fact over and over, but it’s an interesting one. Howard Rich — that star of video, thanks to Katon Dawson — funneled thousands of bucks to candidate after candidate, right AFTER the final deadline for pre-primary campaign finance reports. So did some other out-of-state voucher supporters.
By Ross’ reckoning, Katrina (no relation) Shealy (to name one) got $97,000 in out-of-state funding, of which voters only had the chance to know about $5,000 before they voted.
For a very short news item in today’s paper, this one raised more than its share of questions and observations:
The New Yorker pouring money into South Carolina’s political races in a
push for school choice says he won’t give up anytime soon.
am not going away, and my groups are not going away,” real estate
investor Howard Rich says in a video released Thursday by South
Carolinians for Responsible Government.
The Rich-funded school
choice group taped the conversation at the Columbia home of state
Republican Party chairman Katon Dawson on Monday. The GOP has written
into its platform support for school choice, vouchers and tax credits.
Of course, we all knew about what the first sentence says — this is one New Yorker who doesn’t give a flying flip what people in South Carolina think or want; he’s determined to make us do what he wants. His way of doing that is to finance misleading campaigns ostensibly based on other issues, since his issue doesn’t sell with the voters, until he gets enough people in the Legislature to back his boy Mark Sanford, and he can remake South Carolina to his liking.
As for the other two grafs:
Does this sort of behavior remind you of anybody? You know, a guy with deep pockets, an extreme vision of how the world ought to be, and the willingness to go to extreme lengths to make it so? A guy you never see, except that periodically he puts out these videos through his faithful followers, and the message in the videos is along the lines of "I’m still alive, and still committed to the cause, and I’m not going away?" Isn’t there somebody this reminds you of? Sheesh. Some of y’all were so sensitive about the link I put on that last sentence, that I cut it out, even though it was simply a straightforward link to what this video reminded me of. So I’ll try the subtle approach, and ask YOU again: What does the above description remind YOU of? (Man — if a guy can’t do free-association type HTML links, what’s the point in blogging?)
This was taped at Katon Dawson‘s house, and with his willing participation? Katon, the chairman of the same party that most of Howard Rich’s targets are in — the very lawmakers he wants to take out — is part of the Howard Rich conspiracy? If I’m one of a number of GOP officeholders this guy has paid for lying ads about, I’ve got a lot of questions to ask Katon right about now. I don’t have a lot of respect for political parties anyway, but even I thought they didn’t do stuff like this to each other. If you’re chairman of a party that is split between Mark Sanford and Jim DeMint on one side, and Lindsey Graham and the majority of legislative incumbents on the other, in what way is it considered kosher to do something like this?
Howard Rich was in town, and he didn’t drop by to see me or even call? Kidding aside, there are a lot more straightforward ways to get your message out than funneling money through surrogate entities and taping subterranean videos. That is, if you are at all interested in open, honest political debate. Which some people aren’t.
How come I can’t find the video on the SCRG Web site? Am I looking in the wrong places?
Week before last, I posted video from our interview with the other local runoff candidate who should not have won but did — Gwen Kennedy. If you’ll recall, I said at the time that getting her to provide a rationale for her candidacy was "like pulling teeth."
Today — a bit late to do any good, but then I wasn’t able to accomplish much with Ms. Kennedy even though it was ahead of time — I provide a similar clip of Jeanette McBride, who just ousted longtime Richland County Clerk of Court Barbara Scott. Here’s what I had to say about that outcome in my Sunday column:
In the primary on June 10, we endorsed incumbent Barbara Scott,
since — and we saw no clear evidence to the contrary — she was doing an
adequate job running the courthouse, collecting child support payments
and overseeing the other routine duties of the office. She was judged
clerk of the year by the S.C. chapter of the American Board of Trial
Advocates, which surely knows more about the quality of her day-to-day
work than we do.
Before making that decision, we considered endorsing Gloria
Montgomery — who had worked in the clerk’s office for years and seems
to understand it thoroughly (certainly better than we or most voters
do) — or Kendall Corley, who offered some interesting ideas for
But we never for a moment considered endorsing Jeanette McBride.
That’s not because Mrs. McBride is married to former state Rep. Frank
McBride, whose political career ended in 1991 when he pleaded guilty to
vote-selling in the Lost Trust scandal. We didn’t consider her because
she offered us no reason whatsoever to believe that she would do a
better job than Ms. Scott. She didn’t even try. She did not display any
particular interest in what the clerk of court does at all.
She said, quite simply, that she was running because she thought
she could win. She did not explain what went into that calculation, but
so what? She was right.
Her victory will inevitably be compared to the defeat of Harry
Huntley — regarded by many as the best auditor in the state — in
Richland County in 2006. And it will be suggested that both of these
incumbents were the victims of raw racial politics. Mr. Huntley and Ms.
Scott are white; Ms. McBride and Paul Brawley are black. A candidate
who can pick up most of the black votes in a Democratic primary is
increasingly seen as having an advantage in the county.
I hope voters had a better reason than that for turning out
qualified candidates in favor of challengers who seemed to offer no
actual qualifications. In fact, I’m wracking my brain trying to think
of other explanations. Ms. McBride, in her interview, didn’t help with
that. And Mr. Brawley didn’t even bother to talk to The State’s
editorial board, so I have no idea what sort of case he made to voters.
I hope he made some really compelling, defensible argument. I just
haven’t heard it yet.
Mrs. McBride was somewhat more forthcoming in her interview than Ms. Kennedy was, but still rather vague. She seemed to be going through the motions with fuzzy observations about the clerk’s office having poor communication, or not being "inclusive" enough. One was left with the distinct impression that she was running, not because she had any clue how to run the courthouse better, but because she believed she could win. And of course, she was right.
Note how, at the end of the clip, she brightens considerably as she explains, with a contented shrug, that "I think the people will elect me." And that seemed to be what really motivated her.
Here’s the final count on how candidates we endorsed did in the primaries, now that the runoffs are over. You’ll recall that I wrote right after the primaries June 10 that, depending on how runoffs and recounts went, between 66 percent and 88 percent of our preferred candidates won their parties’ nominations.
In the end, the official count is 19 out of 24, or 79 percent. As usual, here’s my disclaimer: Endorsements are NOT predictions. They are about who SHOULD win, not who WILL win. But since there are critics out there who persist in saying erroneously that our endorsees tend to lose because we’re "out of touch" with the voters, and because there are others out there who are merely idly curious, I’ve started doing these counts the last few elections years. So there you go.
Here’s the recap:
WON — We endorsed Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who won easily. LOST — We said Michael Cone was slightly preferable to Bob Conley. Conley won — slightly. WON — GOP Rep. Joe Wilson. LOST — We favored Democrat Blaine Lotz in the 2nd District, but he lost to the less experienced and less knowledgeable Rob Miller. WON — Democratic state Rep. John Scott seems to have squeaked by Vince Ford. WON — Democratic Sen. Darrell Jackson will keep his seat. WON — Asserting that the pro-voucher/anti-government groups
that are trying to intimidate our Legislature would claim credit if so
powerful an incumbent as GOP Sen. Jake Knotts were defeated, we reluctantly backed Jake for the first time ever. WON — Richland County Council Chairman Joe McEachern wins the Democratic nomination for the seat Mr. Scott is vacating (District 77). WON — Michael Koska was much more knowledgeable than his opponent for the Republican nomination in District 77. WON — Republican David Herndon survived his runoff. WON — Democratic Rep. Joe Neal’s
(District 70) depth of knowledge in education and health care is
impressive, to us and to the voters. WON — Democratic Rep. Jimmy Bales’
(District 80) work as a high school principal gave him the real-life
understanding of the challenges of educating poor children that most
legislators lack. WON — Democratic Rep. Chris Hart
beat back an attempted comeback from the incumbent he beat last time in District 83. LOST — Republican Mike Miller seemed to us slightly preferable to the incumbent in District 96. WON — Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott,
a Democrat, won easily. WON — Ditto with Lexington County Sheriff James Metts. WON — Democratic incumbent Damon Jeter has the experience in Richland County Council District 3. LOST — This was a double loss — first Johnny Bland in the primary, and then Kiba Anderson in the runoff. But it’s a bigger loss for the voters in Richland CountyCouncil District 7. WON — Republican Val Hutchinson was the better candidate in Richland District 9. WON — In Richland District 10, Democrat Kelvin Washington will keep his mother-in-law’s seat in the family. LOST — Richland County Democratic Clerk of Court Barbara Scott lost in the runoff to perhaps her LEAST qualified opponent. WON — Richland County Coroner
Gary Watts (Democrat) WON — Lexington County Republican Auditor Chris Harmon WON — Lexington County Republican Clerk of Court Beth Carrigg.
One more thing I meant to say before this runoff was over, and AFTER the Sunday page was done sort of wish I’d written my Sunday column about…
There are few things more ridiculous than Mark Sanford and Jake Knotts arguing over who is NOT a "real Republican."
Folks, neither of them is. Jake certainly isn’t. He is a populist, and will act in accordance with that philosophy, or non-philosophy, pretty much all the time. Once, that would have meant he would have been a Democrat. In recent decades, white populists in the South have flocked to the Republican party.
And Sanford? Come on. Do a poll of the real-life Republicans who serve in the State House — in the aggregate, a pretty good cross-section of the party today — and ask them if they think the governor’s a "real Republican." They’ll laugh in your face. And they probably haven’t been privy to some of the gestures of contempt toward the party that he used to exhibit to me back when we were closer, I suppose because he knew the degree to which I held all parties in contempt. It was sort of a bond between us. Still is, I suppose. Here’s one of those anecdotes, which I wrote about at the New York convention in 2004:
I got a floor pass every night so I could mix with our delegates, but the truth is, the
South Carolina delegation could hardly be said to be "on the floor." They were at the very back, up off the floor, where the risers begin their climb up to the nosebleed section – behind Vermont and Idaho, right next to that other crucial electoral factor, the Virgin Islands. "Obviously, what they’ve done is put the battleground states up front and personal," says Rep. Harrell from Charleston. He quickly adds, "I want to be clear, it is fine with all of us." Besides, "I’m closer to the floor than I am during Carolina basketball games." Which is saying something. I’ve seen where he sits. But on the big night, the night the president speaks, South Carolina was no longer in the cheap seats. In fact, now only New Mexico was between South Carolina and the president as he spoke. It was a choice spot, looking straight into the president’s right ear from about 20 feet away. Any closer — say, where New Mexico was sitting — would be too close. You’d have to crane your neck too much. … That night, Gov. Sanford was standing in the shoulder-to-shoulder aisle, quietly
observing the process of whipping up enthusiasm before the acceptance speech. Suddenly he leaned over to me to say, in his usual casual tone, "I don’t know if you’ve read that book, Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds . . .."
It was a classic Sanford moment.
Folks, I know Republicans. I’ve known Republicans all my life. As my father has told me, the one thing he knew about HIS father’s politics was that he was a Republican. One of his earliest memories is of Granddaddy Warthen arguing with the man down the street about FDR.
My Granddaddy wouldn’t have recognized either of these guys as members of his party.
Remember last week when Jim DeMint took Mark Sanford’s side in tomorrow’s Senate 23 primary runoff, and I said that helped clarify things a bit on one of those endorsements that I couldn’t possibly feel good about either way?
The District 12 race has been the most contentious over the past two weeks. Talley has hit Bright for receiving support from "out-of-state special interest groups" such as the S.C. Club for Growth and South Carolinians for Responsible Government and for having two tax liens — one as yet unresolved — placed against his business, On Time Transportation. Bright has painted Talley, a real estate attorney and the co-owner of three Marble Slab Creamery ice cream shops, as a trial lawyer. Both candidates have garnered some high-profile endorsements. U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint came to town Saturday to stump for Talley, while Gov. Mark Sanford gave his nod to Bright on Monday. Bright said he wants to go to Columbia to support Sanford’s agenda. That agenda includes using taxpayer money for parents to send their children to private schools and a one-school-district-per-county system. Bright said the consolidation issue is one on which he disagrees with the governor.
Of course, if the gov didn’t come out for this Bright guy until last Monday, that one is nowhere near as important to him as getting rid of Jake Knotts. Sometimes when you whack a guy, it’s just business. Other times, it’s personal, so you have to do it yourself, as Tony had to do with "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero, or Michael with Sollozzo and McCluskey. And you want to make really sure that your capos are with you.
In a way, that’s what makes the Lexington County race so unusually interesting. It’s SO personal for both Jake and the gov, and Republican capos have had to choose sides in a difficult war. And it’s interesting for the rest of us to see how they line up.
By BRAD WARTHEN EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR MORE THAN THREE decades ago, I saw a “B” movie that was a sort of poor cousin to “In the Heat of the Night.” It was about a newly elected black sheriff in a racially divided Southern town, and the white former sheriff, played by George Kennedy, who reluctantly helps him. At a climactic moment when the two men seem to stand alone, a group of white toughs who had earlier given the sheriff a hard time show up to help. Their leader gruffly says that they’re doing it for the sake of the old white sheriff, explaining that, “You always was a good old boy.” Or something like that. Anyway, I recall it as the first time I heard the term “good old boy.” It got a good workout later, with the election of Billy Carter’s brother to the White House. But the first time I recall hearing it used prominently as a pejorative by a Southerner was when Carroll Campbell ran against the “good old boy system” in the 1980s. The usage was odd, a fusion of the amiable “good old boy” in the George Kennedy/Billy Carter sense on the one hand, and “Old Boy Network” on the other. The former suggests an uncultured, blue-collar, white Southerner, and the latter describes moneyed elites from Britain or the Northeast, alumni of such posh schools as Cambridge or Harvard. Despite that vagueness, or perhaps because of it, the term remains popular in S.C. politics. Which brings us to Jake Knotts, who represents District 23 in the S.C. Senate. Jake — pronounced “Jakie” by familiars — could have been the prototype for that George Kennedy character, had Hollywood been ready for something with a harder edge. He is a former Columbia city cop who by his own account sometimes got “rough.” He offers no details, but a glance at his hamlike hands provides sufficient grist for the imagination. According to a story said to be apocryphal, he once beat up Dick Harpootlian for mouthing off to him. (The mouthing-off part gives the tale credibility, and longevity.) After Jake was elected to public office, he further burnished his “rough” reputation with a legislating style seen as bullying by detractors, and tenacious by allies. This newspaper’s editorial board has always been a detractor. You see, we are high-minded adherents of the finest good-government ideals. Jake’s a populist, and populism is common, to use a Southern expression from way back. In our movie, we’re Atticus Finch to his Willie Stark. (See To Kill A Mockingbird and All the King’s Men.) We were against video poker; Jake was for it. We were against the state lottery; Jake was for it. We were for taking the Confederate flag off the State House dome; Jake was against it. We were for giving the governor more power over the executive branch; Jake was against it. In 2002, we endorsed a candidate for governor who agreed with us on restructuring, and didn’t seem like anybody’s notion of a good old boy. He styles himself as the antithesis of back-slapping, go-along-to-get-along pols, to the extent that he doesn’t go along or get along with anybody. That’s fine by the governor, because his style is to set forth an ideological principle, see it utterly rejected by his own party, and then run for re-election as the guy who took on the good old boys. Jake’s notion of the proper role of a lawmaker isn’t even legislative; it’s helping — he might say “hepping” — constituents on a personal level. This can range from the unsavory, such as helping out a voter charged with a crime, to the noble, such as paying out of his pocket for an annual skating party for kids who’ve gotten good grades. Jake’s slogan is “for the people,” as simple an evocation of populism as you will find. To him, the
proper role of the elected representative is to make sure government “heps” regular folks rather than working against them. That means he will take a bull-headed stand against the concerted effort to undermine the one aspect of government that does the most to help regular folks — public schools. This brings us to what caused us to do something we thought we’d never do — endorse Jake Knotts, the sentinel of the common man who doesn’t give two figs for what we think the proper structure of government should be. We’re endorsing him because he stands against the Old Boy Network (see how different these terms are?) of wealthy out-of-state dilettantes who don’t believe in government hepping folks at all, and want to make our state a lab rabbit for their abstract ideology. We are not comfortable with this. We’ve had some terrific arguments about it on our editorial board. It was not one of your quick decisions, shall we say. Occasionally, when we have a really tough endorsement in front of us, I quietly call a knowledgeable source or two outside the board, people whose judgment I trust, to hear their arguments. On this one, I talked to three very different sources (one Democrat, two Republicans) who shared values that had in the past caused us to oppose Jake. All three said he had won their respect over time. All said he was a man you were glad to have on your side, and sorry to go up against. All three said that between Jake and his opponent who is backed by the governor and the Club for Growth and the rest of that crowd, they’d go with Jake. Not that they were proud of it. All three spoke off the record — one got me to say “off the record” three times. I complained about this with the last one, saying it was all very well for him to urge us off-the-record to endorse somebody on-the-record, and he said all right, he’d go public. It was Bob McAlister, Carroll Campbell’s chief of staff back in the late governor’s glory days of fighting “good old boys.” “I don’t agree with Jake on a lot of issues,” Mr. McAlister said, but “at least you don’t have to wonder where he stands on anything, because he’ll tell you.” In the end, “There’s a place in politics for his kind of independent thought…. I think Jake Knotts has served his constituents well.” In his own staid, doctrinaire-Republican kind of way, I think Bob was saying he thinks Jake is a good old boy.
On today’s page, you saw our endorsement of Jake Knotts in the runoff in the Republican nomination in Senate District 23. You also saw Cindi Scoppe’s column that was her way of thinking through, and explaining to readers, what was for the whole board a difficult decision. (And despite the little bit of fun I had about DeMint "clarifying" things, it was and is a difficult one.)
It’s worth reading, if you only get one thing out of it: This isn’t as simple as being about whether this person is for vouchers (or, worse, tax credits) or that one is against them. This is about what video poker was about — whether a group that does not have the state’s best interests at heart is allowed to intimidate the Legislature into doing its will.
It’s easy to say that, but very hard to communicate to readers. It’s hard to understand if you don’t spend as much time as I have, and as Cindi has (and she has a lot more direct experience with this than I do) observing lawmakers up close, and watching the ways they interact, and the way issues play out among them. I know it’s hard for readers to understand, because all these years later, folks still seem to have trouble understanding what the video poker issue was about for the editorial board, and why we took the position we ultimately did (to ban the industry).
I know we’ll be explaining this one for the next 10 years, and possibly longer. It’s just tough to communicate, and made tougher in this case because video poker was at least unsavory on its face. The face of this campaign funded by out-of-state extremists appears to be perfectly nice, ordinary people like Katrina Shealy and Sheri Few.
But it’s not about them. And it’s not about Jake Knotts, either. It’s certainly not about whether one or two candidates who favor (or might favor) vouchers get elected to the Legislature. By themselves, those one or two candidates can’t change the fact that spending public funds on private schools is (quite rightly) an unpopular cause. What this is about is the fact that if Jake Knotts loses, Howard Rich and company win, and that will play in the Legislature this way: Our money took Jake down. We can do the same to you. And at that point, lawmakers who don’t believe in vouchers and know their constituents don’t either can be induced to vote along with those interests anyway.
We saw it happen with video poker — until the industry was put out of business, cutting off the flow of cash that was corrupting the legislative process. We’re seeing a similar dynamic here. And that’s what this is about.
Anyway, as I mentioned, Cindi had a column about that. On Sunday, I’ll have a very different column about this endorsement. At one point in the column, I refer to one of the big differences between our editorial board and Jake Knotts — his populism. So it is that I post the video below, which features Sen. Knotts talking about that.
This has happened twice now, and it was helpful both times.
As is my usual pattern with these either-way-I’m-unhappy endorsements, I came in on the morning of June 4, the day the original Jake Knotts endorsement ran, with my usual now-it’s-too-late sense of buyer’s remorse. Not that I wished we’d endorsed Katrina Shealy (or Mike Sturkie), it was just one of those that I wasn’t going to be happy any way you looked at it.
Fortunately, Gov. Mark Sanford came to the rescue, making me feel so much better, so much more confident that we did the right thing — or as confident as I could be. We had said the governor was too fixated on getting rid of this guy — meaning that if he succeeded, it would intimidate the whole Legislature — that it was best to re-elect him. And right on cue, the governor stops everything, on the day before the end of the legislative session, to write an op-ed about why Jake’s got to go. It was highly vindicating.
Then this morning, after we’ve gone through Round Two of the Jake wars here on the editorial board, and endorsed him again in the runoff (not doing so was actually on the table, yes), and I pick up my paper today wondering whether that really was necessary, and along comes Jim DeMint to the rescue.
This makes everything so much clearer. Oh yeah, in case you didn’t know: We endorsed McCain in the GOP primary. That’s one we were utterly sure of. And unlike the governor, we actually did so when the outcome was in doubt.
Trying to get Gwendolyn Davis Kennedy to provide a rationale for her Richland County Council candidacy was like pulling teeth. She basically could not provide any good reason why voters should elect her back to the body she left under a cloud a decade ago.
Ms. Kennedy is best remembered for a taxpayer-funded junket she and another council member took to Hawaii. And that’s about it, really. To get further details, I had to search the database, and came up with this editorial from our editions of Dec. 8, 1997:
We should have known Richland County Councilwoman Gwendolyn Davis Kennedy wouldn’t leave quietly after her failed re-election bid. At her last regular meeting, Mrs. Kennedy and three of her children were up for appointments to county boards or commissions. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. This is the same councilwoman who took a $3,000 jaunt to Hawaii on county money to a conference for Western counties only to return with nothing constructive to share. Then, faced with a runoff bid she wouldn’t win, she had a change of heart and admitted the trip wasn’t a good idea. Mrs. Kennedy obviously is intent on having a lasting impact on Richland County by getting family members appointed to boards. Sadly, other council members didn’t see the folly in it all and appointed two of Mrs. Kennedy’s daughters to positions. Kim Kennedy and Fay Kennedy were appointed to the Music Festival Commission and the Building Board of Adjustment, respectively. The lame duck council, four of whom are on their way out, might have selected Mrs. Kennedy and her son, a Richland County sheriff’s deputy, to a position had the two not withdrawn their nominations after they were challenged. Mrs. Kennedy had applied for a spot on the county Planning Commission and her son, Theodore Kennedy Jr., had applied for a position on the Building Board of Adjustment. This was an obvious attempt by Mrs. Kennedy to try to stack county boards with herself and her family members as she leaves the council. Council members should have known better and left all of these appointments to the next council. Shame on them all. It’s these sort of shenanigans that have residents angry over the way the county is operated. The new Richland County Council, the membership of which will be completed in tomorrow’s election, can’t be seated soon enough.
The good news is that the new council was somewhat better. No trips to Hawaii, anyway.
But the truth is that bad candidacies are frequently marked by the lack of good qualities as much as bad ones. And the things that strikes me as I review video of our interview back in April with Ms. Kennedy is her utter inability to articulate why anyone should support her.
Please excuse the length of the above interview. I just included a lot of unedited footage (except for transitions between my camera’s three-minute-maximum clips) so you could see — if you were patient enough — just how far you can go in giving a person every possible opportunity, without that person rising to it. It’s tedious, but telling. In fact, some of you who are accustomed to the contrived theater of TV interviews will wonder, "Why were you so patient and easygoing with this woman?" The answer is that, contrary to what many of you believe, we really do try to go the extra mile to allow candidates a chance to make their case in their own way — particularly the candidates who come in with apparently little chance of gaining our endorsement. Some candidates make the most of the opportunity, and are impressive — an example of that would be Sheri Few, who didn’t think we would endorse her but to her credit wasn’t about to make that decision easy on us. Ms. Kennedy made the decision very, very easy.
Unfortunately, Ms. Kennedy managed to squeeze past a couple of more attractive candidates to make it into a runoff next week. One nice thing about runoffs — it gives me time to present you with more info about the candidates that I was able to do during the crowded initial vote.
If you don’t have the patience to make it through the long video above, here’s a shorter and more interesting one. After having given her every opportunity to deal with her checkered past — a simple, "I did wrong when I was in office before, and have learned my lesson" would have been good — we finally had to confront her (politely, of course, that being Warren’s style) about the incident that lost her the position on council.
Basically, once she was specifically asked about "The Trip," she tried lamely to deflect. She tried to allege that the controversy was over her husband going, and that wasn’t at taxpayer expense. She noted that she’s been to Hawaii a number of times, and only once at taxpayer expense — as though that established anything other than the fact that she likes Hawaii. She tries to make us believe that she believes that if elected, we would falsely report that the European trip she’s saving up for was on the taxpaper’s dime.
But what am I doing describing it? Just watch the video.
Candidates who lose elections seldom do this sort of thing, so when they do I am favorably impressed. After a fairly bitter campaign that featured mutual character attacks, it struck me that D.J. Carson was moved to send this out:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE MEDIA ADVISORY
June 15, 2008 D.J. Carson congratulates Joe McEachern and challenges South Carolina to continue to make public education a priority.… Richland Co. – I want to take this opportunity to congratulate Joe McEachern and offer my support to him and all Democrats running for office in November. Though the media has reported our differences on the issues the past three months, we now must come together as a party, a community, and continue to find solutions to the many challenges facing District 77 and South Carolina overall. When I started this journey nearly three months ago, I did so on the foundation that our public schools are the single most important factor to making South Carolina a more successful and more productive state. I truly believe there is a direct link between public education, low crime, and economic development. I am pleased to see that through this campaign private school vouchers, tuition tax credits, and home-school tax credits and their negative impact on public education came to the forefront. These types of misguided solutions would take valuable resources away from our public schools and put our children at a disadvantage. I along with all residents in District 77 challenge Mr. McEachern and the South Carolina General Assembly to champion public schools and public education over the next two years. Finally, I offer my sincere appreciation to the educators, parents, volunteers, campaign staff, and most importantly the voters who believe in my message and vision. Though we came short in our ultimate goal, we were able to push the message of supporting public education to the center of the debate. Working together we will bring needed change to District 77 and South Carolina as a whole.
Thank you all and God Bless!
Yeah, I know — you can call it just crass "party loyalty" or some such (he doesn’t wish any Republicans or independents well, you’ll notice), or a CYA move to keep his political options open in the future, or both. And yeah, it’s kind of preachy for a congratulatory message.
But when a guy does something more generous than I expected, I tend to want to make note of it. If we don’t encourage good sportsmanship, we can expect it to die out completely.
Nowadays, there are so few classy gestures that I care less about why they are extended; I’m just glad to see them.
We knew Buddy Witherspoon had his problems with people who are different coming into the country. Yeah, yeah, he said the usual stuff latter-day nativists say, about how it’s just because they broke the law, but he was pretty frank that he was worried these folks would "weaken our common culture and national identity." And we know about his past associations.
But hey, at least ol’ Buddy did limit himself to the illegals. Here’s what Bob Conley, whose thin vote margin over Michael Cone for the Democratic nomination to this very same Senate seat will likely trigger a recount, has to say on his Web site:
importation of foreign workers is also driving down wages, and placing
Americans in unemployment lines. This is wrong, and must end.
He elaborated on this in our interview. He complained in particular about foreign engineers coming into the country, making it hard for American engineers to get jobs. Mr. Conley describes himself as "a Commercial Pilot and a Flight Instructor as well as a licensed Professional Engineer," so apparently he knows about these things.
Sorry I haven’t had time to blog today, folks. Not much to say — or at least, nothing that needs to be said immediately — about the primary results. The overwhelming majority of our endorsees did well, I see. More about that later.
Right now, I’m playing hooky from a meeting (Bob Coble and Charles Austin are talking about Columbia city budget matters with Warren Bolton in our board room) to try to catch up on all sorts of neglected work, such as reading the live page proofs that I have to have to Mike in 18 minutes.
This is e-mail I got last night, and am just now seeing. I can’t stop to read it, but I’m sure it will be of interest:
June 10, 2008 News Release – For Immediate Release
Victory Speech: First, let me thank everyone who helped us win our first battle for change tonight, especially my wife Shane and my son Robert. Blaine Lotz called me a few minutes ago. Blain is a good man, and he ran a good campaign. Three-and-a-half months ago, I was a Captain in the US Marine Corps. On February 16, we began our campaign for change. Tonight we celebrate this win, but tomorrow the real battle to change Washington begins. The incumbent is a proud card-carrying member of the status quo. He’s been in Washington for years voting for ballooning deficits and out-of-control spending. He took money from and had fundraisers with corrupt and dishonest politicians like Tom DeLay, who he still says is a man of integrity. Joe Wilson has been in Washington too long. He doesn’t believe in change and is out of touch with the people he is supposed to represent. This campaign, our campaign, is all about change. Unlike the incumbent, we understand that times are tough. We’ll work for change by developing a sensible exit strategy for Iraq and reinvest those resources here at home to rebuild our infrastructure because we need good jobs, we need safer neighborhoods, and we need more affordable health care here in South Carolina. We’ll work for change by pushing Congress to do more to develop alternative forms of energy so we can say goodbye forever gas that’s to $4.00 a gallon. We’ll work for change by making the politicians in Washington balance the budget. Families all over South Carolina live within their means and it’s time for Congress to do the same. The forces of the Status quo will not stand down without a fight. But, after serving 13 years in the Marine Corps, to include twice in Iraq, I’ve never been afraid of a good fight. I understand I can’t win this by myself; I need all of you fighting with me. Go to my web site at RobMillerForCongress.com and join our battle for change. The battle for change begins tomorrow. Thank you.
Noticing the last line, I should point out: "Tomorrow" would be "today" now, since this was sent last night.
Go vote, people. In all too many of these races, the primary is all there is; this is the election.
If you forget what you’re voting on, here’s the recap of our endorsements, and a link to the endorsements themselves. Whether this helps you remember who you wanted to vote for or wanted to vote against, just go vote.
Here’s the brief endorsement recap from today’s paper:
The State’s endorsements IT’S PRIMARY DAY — the only chance voters will get to pick who represents them in many offices. Here’s a recap of The State editorial board’s endorsements: — Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, the quintessential conservative Republican, is an erudite advocate of reason and sound policy, taking courageous stands that make him a leader in the Senate. Michael Cone appears to be the stronger of two weak Democratic candidates for the same office. — GOP Rep. Joe Wilson is dedicated to the service of the 2nd Congressional District, and his views come closer than his opponent’s to those of his constituents. Democrat Blaine Lotz, also seeking the 2nd District seat, is an Air Force veteran and former assistant secretary of defense, and well grounded in both foreign and domestic issues. — Democratic state Rep. John Scott and his opponent have similar positions, and electing his opponent to succeed Sen. Kay Patterson in District 19 would seem like a reward for the unacceptable state of the Richland 1 schools he has overseen for 16 years. — Democratic Sen. Darrell Jackson (District 21) understands our state’s challenges and is focused on fixing the way we fund education, and improving public health and financial literacy. He has a good track record of working across party lines to get things done. — The pro-voucher/anti-government groups that are trying to intimidate our Legislature would claim credit if so powerful an incumbent as GOP Sen. Jake Knotts (District 23) was defeated, strengthening their hand in a battle that goes far beyond their immediate issues. — Richland County Council Chairman Joe McEachern, a Democrat running to succeed Mr. Scott in House District 77, would work to free local governments from the constraints of meddling legislators, overhaul the broken tax system, restructure state government and provide a good public education for all children. Michael Koska’s campaign for the Republican nomination in District 77 grows out of his grassroots involvement in local transportation issues. He would be more effective than his off-putting opponent. — Republican David Herndon seeks to replace Rep. Bill Cotty in District 79 to make sure an avid voucher proponent doesn’t win. He is committed to improving the public schools, in part to strengthen the economy, and he’s fairly knowledgeable about tax policy. — Democratic Rep. Joe Neal’s (District 70) depth of knowledge in education and health care is impressive, and he fights effectively for equal educational opportunity for children regardless of their address, to force attention to the medical needs of those too sick to care for themselves and to promote civil justice. — Democratic Rep. Jimmy Bales’ (District 80) work as a high school principal gave him the real-life understanding of the challenges of educating poor children that most legislators lack; and he appreciates the need to overhaul our tax system and to give the governor more control over state agencies. — Democratic Rep. Chris Hart (District 83) is focused on the big picture that his challenger shows little interest in, and he is committed to creating a stronger public education system to help transform our state. — Republican Mike Miller understands our state’s problems, wants to bring more services to District 96 rather than more parades and seems more supportive of improving public schools than the incumbent. — Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, a Democrat, established a cutting-edge DNA testing lab, has been in the forefront in the battle against gangs and engages citizens through his innovative community advisory board and community policing programs. — Lexington County Sheriff James Metts, a Republican, is an accomplished, experienced law enforcement officer who has implemented groundbreaking programs. — Democratic incumbent Damon Jeter has the experience and broader focus to make him the better choice in Richland County Council District 3. — Democrat Johnny Bland has been active in the community and area schools and outshines his opponents in Richland Council District 7. — Republican Val Hutchinson, running for re-election in Richland District 9, is an effective leader who has promoted good growth, called on developers to help provide infrastructure, opposed the proliferation of billboards and objected to an unneeded baseball park. — In Richland District 10, Democrat Kelvin Washington has a firm grasp of issues, understands how county government works and would hit the ground running. There’s no good reason to elect ministerial positions with no policy-making duties. With competence as the only relevant question, we see no reason to fire any of these incumbents on the ballot today: Richland County Democratic Clerk of Court Barbara Scott and Coroner Gary Watts, and Lexington County Republican Auditor Chris Harmon and Clerk of Court Beth Carrigg.