Category Archives: Endorsement interviews

I’m glad I found these pictures I didn’t know I had…

Before I actually get back to work after finally posting Paul’s column, a few words as to why I haven’t been posting.

Mainly, it’s been three things, although there’s plenty of other stuff going on:

  • I’ve been trying to rearrange my home office, which mainly has consisted of building new bookshelves of my own rather unusual, rustic design (made mostly with treated wood left over from the revamp of our deck a couple of years ago, which my wife has been eager to see me use or take to the dump). That, and cleaning out the big closet in the same room, space that could be much better used. This project alone, which is still in progress, would have been enough to keep any normal person from blogging.
  • In the middle of all that, we had new windows installed in our house. So I had to rearrange the wreckage in the office so the workmen could get to the windows, and do the same in varying degrees with furniture all over the house. The biggest part was taking down all the louvered wooden shutter-type blinds in most of the windows. The windows are in, and since that happened last Wednesday, we’ve been installing curtains to replace the blinds, which went to the Habitat ReStore.
  • And in the middle of those things, after a week in which hours were wasted in struggling to reconnect to our wifi, we switched internet providers. This has been fubar in most respects since the start. We’re on I think our fourth new router. The second was FedExed to us to replace the faulty first one. When that one didn’t work (something Spectrum was able to confirm, again, remotely), an increasingly frustrated repair guy spending a couple of hours installing a third one, and, when that didn’t work either, a fourth one. Since then, part of every day has been spent reestablishing contact with one or more of the dozen or so devices in our home that depend on wifi. I’m down to one that still isn’t working, and I’m trying to get in touch with the device’s manufacturer.

And lots of other stuff. For instance, this morning we were on the phone with our old internet service provider to make sure we knew how to send back their equipment so we don’t have to pay some outrageous sum for it.

Of course, there have been good things about all this. One was that, when I was moving some books onto one of those new bookcases, an envelope fell out of one of the books, and I opened it and found these two pictures, above and below.

Well, y’all know how much I liked John McCain, so I was glad to find them. I didn’t know any pictures of him and me together existed, much less that I had a couple of prints of them.

Obviously, because of the setting — The State‘s editorial boardroom — this is before or after an interview with the board. Probably an endorsement interview, given some of the people I see in the room. The question was, 2000 or 2008?

Then, in looking closely at the one below, I saw it was 2000, just before South Carolina’s Republican primary. You may notice that in both pictures, you can barely see that there are people standing directly behind both McCain and me, like shadows, making it look like our heads and shoulders are kind of doubled around the edges. But in the one below, the figure behind McCain is emerging slightly from full eclipse, and I can see that it’s Fred Mott — who was my publisher in 2000, but long gone in 2008.

Ironically, Fred is the reason Sen. McCain didn’t get our endorsement that year. Fred wanted to back George W. Bush. The fateful decision was made in a board meeting immediately after this interview. We normally worked by consensus, but this time, being so divided, we actually took a counted vote. It was something of a mess, since some in the room (my good friend Robert Ariail, for instance) weren’t technically members of the board under normal circumstances. But anyway, it was a 50-50 split. And I could see no graceful way to dispute the idea that in a 50-split, the publisher’s side wins.

Let me be clear — Fred is a great guy, for whom I have great respect. He was just wrong this time. If you want to know the reasons why, I’ll let you know if I also find the 4,000-word memo I sent him several days before this meeting. Anyway, I lost that one, but we endorsed McCain in 2008.

Anyway, I’m glad to have these pictures. Now, back to work…

Remembering a better time, just 10 years ago

That's me interviewing Obama on MLK Day 2008 -- taking notes with my right hand, shooting video with my left. With my Initech mug: "Is This Good for the COMPANY?"

That’s me interviewing Obama on MLK Day 2008 — taking notes with my right hand, shooting video with my left. With my Initech mug: “Is This Good for the COMPANY?”

I retweeted this today…

I passed it on not because it was particularly profound or unique or even one of our former president’s better Tweets, but because it reminded me of a better time for our country.

As it happens, I met Barack Obama 10 years ago, on MLK Day.

That was such a better time for our country.

McCain in the same seat, not long before.

McCain in the same seat, not long before.

A week before, we had endorsed John McCain in the SC Republican Primary, and he had won. We knew, when Barack Obama came in, that we liked him for the Democratic Primary in a few days. But this interview, at 8 a.m. on that holiday, cinched it. We were all very impressed. And since Hillary Clinton declined even to come in for an endorsement interview (I would learn why sometime later) and Joe Biden had dropped out much earlier, that was pretty much it.

We endorsed Obama, and he won the primary a few days later.

As a result, I’ve never felt better about a presidential election than I did about that one — my last in newspaper journalism, although I didn’t know it at the time.

From the time McCain and Obama won their respective nominations, I referred to it as the win-win election. Whichever one won, I felt good about our countries future.

We endorsed McCain in the fall — I’d wanted him to be president since long before I’d heard of Barack Obama, and I was concerned about the Democrat’s lack of experience. But it was OK by me when the latter won. It was the win-win election.

Fast-forward eight years, and we find the Democrat we rejected then running against the worst candidate ever to capture a major-party nomination in our nation’s history — and as if that weren’t bad enough, the worst man won. And we are reminded of that daily, as he goes from outrage to outrage.

So it’s good, if only for a day, to look back and remember a time, not so long ago, when all our prospects seemed good.

The State has it right: John Kasich for GOP nomination


Last Friday, Ohio Gov. John Kasich met with The State‘s editorial board for an endorsement interview. Immediately afterward, he went to speak at an event at the state Chamber of Commerce. I attended that event, which coincidentally was a lot like an editorial meeting — a bunch of people sitting around a boardroom table and talking in some depth about issues.

I was impressed — so much so that I decided then and there that I had found someone I could support without qualms. Up to that morning, I’d been in quite a quandary.

Apparently, my former colleagues reached the same conclusion at about the same time, because a short while ago, they released their endorsement of him.

Why Kasich? Well, for me, a lot of things seemed to line up as I listened to him express sustained thoughts in a venue far better than those painful shouting sessions they call debates:

  • First, he’s sane. Not all of the candidates can boast of that.
  • Second, he’s a grownup — which as you know is an important consideration for me, as the chairman of the Grownup Party. Obviously, when he was a child, someone told him or showed him how a decent human being behaves around other human beings, and he took the lesson to heart. Even in those debates, he stands out in this regard. In a calmer setting, the impression is reinforced.
  • He has a positive vision of governance. He doesn’t define himself in terms of what he’s against or what he’s angry about, which sets him apart from a growing number in his party. He sees it as pretty lame when a politician’s main message is, “I stop stuff.” He sees himself as a reformer and says, “If you’re going to have power, use it… drive innovation and change. Otherwise, get out of the way.”
  • He’s a fiscal conservative — an adamant advocate for balanced budgets — for the right reasons. That is to say, to be a responsible steward of resources, not because he hates government.
  • He’s pro-business and pro-growth, without making a fascist, Ayn Randian, “Triumph of the Will” fetish of it. “I don’t believe that economic growth is an end in itself… We need to reach out to those in the shadows,” those left behind by growth — help them to share in the benefits by getting them on their feet, getting them healthcare, making sure they have a shot at sharing in the bounty. Why? Because “God didn’t make no junk.” Everybody matters.
  • He says things such as “We are Americans before we are Republicans and Democrats,” and truly seems to mean it. Putting on another of my party hats… well, y’all know why I would like that.
  • He doesn’t pass up a good deal for the people he serves just because it’s associated with someone of the opposing party. In other words, while he has problems with Obamacare overall, he jumped at the chance to expand Medicaid, and he extols the benefits that the people of Ohio have derived from that.
  • Speaking of that: Allan Stalvey from the S.C. Hospital Association asked him how Medicaid expansion has been received by business in Ohio. Business “were all for it,” said Kasich. It was supported by “everybody that understood the implications of it.” This was an interesting exchange given the setting, as the state Chamber has declined to oppose our governor on the issue.
  • He is a federalist, or perhaps I should say, he gives indications of believing in the concept of subsidiarity. He would push functions that don’t need to be handled on the federal level down to the states, with the mandate that the money be used for those purposes. An example? Highway construction. The federal Interstate system is already built; leave the money with the states.
  • On the most important aspect of being president — national security — I find much to like and little to object to in his platform, which you can read here. Not to get into the weeds (after all, no one knows exactly what security challenges a new president would face), he sees the need to lead in fighting terrorism, would oppose aggression by the world’s problem regimes and would continue the strategic shift toward the Western Pacific begun by the Obama administration. Am I totally satisfied with what I’ve heard him say? No, mostly because I haven’t heard enough — the Chamber event wasn’t the ideal venue, and there hasn’t been enough rational debate of world affairs in the campaign overall. But I like him on this better than anyone with the possible exception of Rubio. Of course, you know that my favorite guy on national security dropped out of the race.
  • He doesn’t run from his accomplishments for the sake of political expedience. If he were in Mitt Romney’s place, I don’t think he’d run from Romneycare. Were he Marco Rubio, he wouldn’t try to make everyone forget that he’d tried to bring about rational comprehensive immigration reform.

Speaking of immigration, I was struck during the most recent debate when he put forth a reasonable compromise — a path to legalization, not citizenship — and the room didn’t erupt into boos:

Anyway, those are some of my reasons for deciding I like Kasich.

Here are The State‘s.

Kasich 3

Speaking to the media after the Chamber event.

Y’all, an endorsement involves CHOOSING…

And sometimes, the hardest choices are when you like everybody.

You saw the other day that Steve Benjamin endorsed Andy Smith to replace his erstwhile protege Cameron Runyan.

Well, SC Equality PAC set out to do endorsement interviews, and couldn’t choose between the two candidates they talked to:

SC Equality PAC’s Endorsement for the Columbia City Council At-Large Member Election

Columbia, SC.  The mission of the South Carolina Equality Political Action Committee (PAC) is to elect fair-minded people to public office who oppose all forms of discrimination but especially against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities.

We have had an opportunity to personally and rigorously interview two (2) candidates who are running to be the next at-large member of the City of Columbia City Council. We invited all persons who are running for this at-large seat to interview with us but only two candidates responded – Howard Duvall and Andy Smith.

We asked both Duvall and Smith their overall vision if elected, plans for campaigning, and how strongly, if at all, they support the rights of LGBT communities and citizens across a wide range of issues from marriage equality to transgender identity rights.

We were very pleasantly surprised that both candidates demonstrated a genuine, personal commitment to upholding and further advancing the rights of all LGBT citizens in the City of Columbia across various dimensions of quality of life and citizenship.  We also were quite pleased that both candidates articulated a strong vision of progress for the City of Columbia and the equal seat at the table that LGBT citizens must occupy as part of that progress.  They bring unique talents, experiences, and deep ties to Columbia communities and would be outstanding public servants.

Therefore, we are taking the unique step of endorsing both Andy Smith and Howard Duvall for this city council race; for they are both candidates who meet all of our criteria for endorsement and thus we urge the LGBT community and our many allies to see either of their candidacies as in the best interest of LGBT communities.

Andy Smith is well-known by many LGBT leaders in Columbia given his leadership as the Executive Director of the nationally-recognized Nickelodeon Theater on the city’s downtown Main Street.  Andy has experience in electoral politics for in 2006 he served as the campaign manager for Robert Barber’s run for SC Lieutenant Governor.  As a native of South Carolina, Andy has deep ties to this state and the City of Columbia.  He has a very progressive vision about serving the needs of LGBT citizens in Columbia including the city and its Police Department having an LGBT Ombudsman as modeled after the Richland County Sheriff’s Department.  Andy also wants to ensure that the city do all it can to expand ordinances that protect the rights of LGBT citizens while serving as a faithful ally while SC Equality and others lobby the General Assembly to enact Hate Crimes legislation among other measures.  Andy has both a deep and abiding commitment to the LGBT community and a love for the city of Columbia.  He wants Columbia to continue to advance as a not only a progressive city but as an attractive and affordable city where balanced job creation and economic development occur.  He has demonstrated his commitment to such via the Nickelodeon Theater.  In the past ten years, the Nickelodeon has grown from a several hundred thousand dollar operation to a now $5 million organization that has spurred economic development, commercial investment, and patronage in and around its mainstream corridor to the tune of about $1 million. It also has demonstrated that it is a good neighbor in many ways, including it’s media education program with C.A. Johnson High School, it’s outreach program to LGBT youth, and it’s working with local homeless shelters to create an inclusive downtown neighborhood.

Howard Duvall has been described by the Free Times newspaper as, “a candidate with a wealth of experience in dealing with municipal government.”  For 20 years, Duvall served as the Executive Director of the Municipal Association of South Carolina; the state’s premiere organization for advising and researching issues related to the best governance of cities and towns.  He also has direct experience serving in elected office for he has both served as a member of the City Council and as the Mayor of the Town of Cheraw.  But in our extensive interviews we also discovered that Howard has a deep commitment to fairness and equality for all citizens, most especially LGBT Citizens.  Along with the heartfelt story that Howard shared with us about seeing the unjust personal battles persons in his family had to wage because they were LGBT, he has worked within the Episcopalian Church to expand its welcoming of not only lesbian, gay, and bisexual parishioners but transgender persons as well.  He is genuinely committed to maintaining Columbia’s image as a progressive and inclusive city by upholding and further expanding city ordinances that protect LGBT employees and other citizens.  Howard wants to bring his wealth of insights about the best practices of municipal government to the Columbia City Council to ensure even-handed job creation and economic development; the further development of a progressive tax system; and creative ideas about updating the aging infrastructure of the city.

In the wake of the terrible storms and great floods of 2015, we join with both Andy and Howard to encourage persons to get involved to aid families and businesses who are in great need as well as to assist in efforts at recovery and rebuilding.

It is for all of these reasons that we take this unique opportunity to strongly endorse these two leaders who will be good for the LGBT community and good for the City of Columbia overall.

The mission of the South Carolina Equality Political Action Committee (PAC) is to elect fair-minded people to public office who oppose all forms of discrimination but especially against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities. 


Come on, y’all! Belly up and choose! Sheesh. Amateurs…

Yeah, but a ‘long conversation’ with Biden means nothing

Had to smile at this report on Salon, which cites the above Boston Globe video thusly:

Biden has reportedly said he will make a decision on a bid for the White House by summer’s end and when Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who recently met with Biden, was asked if their discussion included any talk of a potential Biden/Warren ticket, she only offered that “it was a long conversation.”

Well, that doesn’t tell us anything. I’ve had a few conversations with Joe Biden myself over the years, and the only one I can recall that was not “long” was a brief chat at the Galivants Ferry Stump Meeting in 2006.

Joe does go on…

What happened to Mike Huckabee when I wasn’t looking?

Huckabee in 2007.

Huckabee in 2007.

When I interviewed Mike Huckabee in 2007, I was fairly impressed. He stood out among self-styled conservatives of the day by speaking of the obligation to govern when in office, rather than merely rip and tear at the very idea of government:

    Mike Huckabee, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president, made reference to this principle when he met with our editorial board Thursday:
One of the tough jobs of governing is, you actually have to do it.” That may sound so obvious that it’s foolish, like “One thing about water is, it’s wet.” But it can come as a cold shock.
Think of the congressional class of 1994. Newt Gingrich’s bomb-throwers were full of radical notions when they gained power. But once they had it, and used it, however briefly, to shut down the government, they quickly realized that was not what they were elected to do.
Or some of them realized it. More about that in a moment. Back to Mr. Huckabee.
Mr. Huckabee is a conservative — the old-fashioned kind that believes in traditional values, and wants strong, effective institutions in our society to support and promote those values.
Many newfangled “conservatives” seem just as likely to want to tear down as build up.
If Mr. Huckabee was ever that way, being the governor of Arkansas made him less so. “As a governor, I’ve seen a different level of human life, maybe, than the folks who live in the protected bubble of Washington see,” he said. And as a governor who believed he must govern, he was appalled when he saw government fail to do its job. He points to the aftermath of Katrina: “It was one of the more, to me, disgusting moments of American history…. It made my blood boil….

Of course, I was comparing him to Mark Sanford. Among other things, the Club for Growth — which has always adored Mark Sanford — hated Huckabee. And he wore that as a badge of honor.

He said he was “a conservative that’s not mad at anybody over it.” (Here’s video in which he said that.) And his demeanor, and the way he spoke about issues bore that out.

So it is that I was surprised at this statement from him, which Jennifer Rubin, the duty conservative blogger at the WashPost, passed on:

On the other side of the religious debate, Mike Huckabee opined: “Everything he does is against what Christians stand for, and he’s against the Jews in Israel. The one group of people that can know they have his undying, unfailing support would be the Muslim community. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the radical Muslim community or the more moderate Muslim community.” Yikes. Not helpful and only designed to provoke Christians and Jews….

Now, the president deserves criticism for what he said, and I plan to get into that in a separate post when I get my head above water for an hour or so. But this was really over the top, and off the mark.

I was sort of vaguely aware, in the background somewhere, that Huckabee had changed somewhat. I don’t know what caused that. Maybe it happened while he had that TV show, which I never saw because I have a TV for watching movies and “West Wing” and “Better Call Saul,” and not much else (and don’t tell me what happened in last night’s episode, because I haven’t seen it!).

But this really brought it home. What happened to not being mad at anybody about it?

Video: Sheheen’s and Ervin’s meetings with The State’s editorial board

I was looking for something else, and happened to run across these videos posted by SCETV, obviously with the cooperation of my friends at The State.

These are a considerable improvement over the low-res, 3-minute clips I used to post from my little personal Canon camera — which could not shoot any video longer than 3 minutes, and which I also used for still shots, so the video record was far from complete. And I was doing it all while running a sound recorder, taking notes and presiding over the meeting. But hey, before I started blogging, you didn’t get any pictures or video from these meetings. So get outta my face.

Anyway. I’m happy to note the progress. And as a connoisseur of these things, it’s fun for me to note the way things are the same and how they differ. For instance, I notice Cindi used the usual “give us your stump speech” opener with Sheheen, but asked a slightly different opening question of Ervin. The Sheheen approach was always our standard. I would do that because I liked to start with the candidate making his or her case in his or her own words, rather than just responding to our questions. I felt that was the fairest way to start, to lay a base, before we started asking what we wanted to know. And even if the spiel was a bunch of baloney, the fact that the candidate freely chose such a pose told me a lot. It was boring for the reporters who would sit in, because they had heard the speech out on the hustings. But these meetings weren’t held for their purposes; they were for those of us trying to make an endorsement decision.

You’ll hear me starting things off that way in this meeting with Barack Obama, just as I did with hundreds of others.

You might notice another, subtler thing. You can sort of tell at the start of the Obama clip that something has gone before — some small talk, some joshing around, before we got down to business. I always did that. You’ll note that Cindi, far more task oriented than I, and nobody’s idea of a social butterfly, doesn’t fool with that. She doesn’t schmooze. An interview is an opportunity to get answers to X, Y and Z, and that’s what she’s there for.

She always knows just what information she needs. I took more of a zen approach. I was always curious to see where an interview would go if I let it have its head. I was looking for column inspiration; I had Cindi and Warren and, in the good times, a couple of other associate editors to make sure all the essential bases were covered.

Oh, you’re wondering where the Nikki Haley meeting is, right? There wasn’t one. My understanding is that her campaign did not accept the board’s invitations to meet. So if you ever wondered what, if anything, Nikki Haley and Hillary Clinton have in common, now you know.

More newspapers have stopped doing endorsements, and their excuses for this cop-out are as lame as ever

Politico notes that more and more newspapers are announcing that they’ll no longer do candidate endorsements.

And as usual with such cop-outs, their excuses for this are completely lame:

Papers in Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine and Texas have all announced this year that their editorial boards will no longer print the traditional candidate endorsements.

The Green Bay Press-Gazette said they are discontinuing the practice in order to be “an independent voice amid the growing clamor of voices espousing hyper-partisan views.”

Yes, that’s right. You are supposed to be “an independent voice.” And if you, the independent voice, won’t state a preference between the candidates, then the only people out there expressing a preference will be the “growing clamor of voices espousing hyper-partisan views.”

To continue:

It’s a trend that’s been spreading throughout the country, CJR reports. In 2012, the Halifax Media chain said they would stop endorsing ” because endorsing candidates could “create the idea we are not able to fairly cover political races.” The Chicago Sun-Times and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution have also ceased endorsing candidates.

Guess what? People will still accuse you of not fairly covering political races. As has always been the case and always will be the case, people will try to read a bias into every word you write. They will always be looking for an indication that you’re really for the other guy, and in their minds, they will find the proof in every news story.

That’s why, as an institution, you should be honest about any preference you do have. So at least readers can take that institutional preference into consideration in assessing the fairness of your coverage. It makes you more transparent, rather than forcing readers to guess about the biases that they assume you have.

Fortunately, there are still some editors out there who understand what newspapers, and especially editorial pages, are for. As CJR reports:

As for movement in the other direction? The Los Angeles Times, which gave up endorsements in presidential campaigns after 1972, in part because of conflict over its support for Richard Nixon, returned to the practice in 2008. The Times’ reasoning tracked pretty closely with the Chicago Tribune’s 2012 statement on why it plans to keep endorsing: Editorial boards take stands on political issues every day, and it would be odd or even irresponsible to go silent at such a key moment.

Amen to that. I’ve said the same many times: Every day of every year, newspapers publish their opinions on every policy issue under the sun — which is a fine thing in theory, but the fact is that in a representative democracy, a newspaper’s readers can’t do anything about most of those issues. The one time they all get a say is at election time, when they choose the people who actually will act on those issues.

To opine about these issues the rest of the time (and if you don’t think newspapers should express opinions at all, then that’s another issue for another day), and then fail to point out which candidates are most likely to enact the policies one favors, at the critical moment when readers all have a decision to make, is both lazy and cowardly.

Cowardice has always been a factor because close to half of the people reading any endorsement are going to get mad at you about it. So has laziness, as endorsements are labor-intensive. The “lazy” factor is playing a bigger and bigger role as newspaper staffs keep shrinking.

And so it is that I’ve been proud to see Cindi and Warren cranking out endorsements this week, here and here and here and here. I know how much work they’re putting into the process, and I appreciate it.


The State’s ‘won-lost’ record

Cindi Scoppe wrote this post on The State’s editorial blog, “And Another Thing…”:

People who don’t get The State’s endorsement or who just like to be snarky love to say that our endorsement is the kiss of death. That never has been the case: Well over half of the people we endorse always have won, and it seems to me like the number is usually significantly higher, but I’m not certain and I don’t feel like trying to figure it out.

But this year’s primary elections were a dramatic example of how inaccurate the sore-losers’ claim is….

Our only loss was in the Democratic primary for education superintendent, where Montrio Belton was trounced. But we endorsed Tom Thompson in the runoff, and he won his nomination. Easily.

So for the record, that’s 7-1, or an 88 percent success rate. Hardly the kiss of death.

The beginning of that post is almost word-for-word what I have written multiple times in columns and blog posts. Except that she didn’t mention the part about endorsements not being predictions, just statements of who should win (and far more importantly, why they should win), regardless of what actually happens.

And except for this: I never did this after primaries, just after general elections. Which is why Cindi can’t cite a won-lost record over time, because the numbers I tracked were for general only. Why? Because I thought that was, a truer measure of the extent to which we were in tune with our readers overall. Also, since we were moderates and the parties were increasingly extreme, tracking primaries is a sure way to pull down your percentages.

(By the way, the record over the years I was on the board was that just under 75 percent of the candidates we endorsed won.)

But the thing about this primary season just ended is, SC voters went for the sober, moderate, experienced candidates this time, rather than the angry ideologues (one exception being the county council race where I live).

So, congrats to Cindi and Warren Bolton on their chosen candidates doing so well. But congratulations even more to South Carolina…

Endorsing Brad Hutto because ‘he’s not a felon’


Knowing the editorial board as I do, I had to do a double-take this morning when I saw Sen. Brad Hutto’s picture on an endorsement editorial in The State.

Not that Sen. Hutto is a bad sort of fellow or associated with other bad sorts — his mother, a longtime devoted reader of the paper with whom I corresponded regularly when I was the EPE, is a lovely lady, and she is the first association that comes to mind when I see his name — but my general impression is that he is at odds with positions taken by the board more often than he is in agreement. Or at least when he is at odds, he’s very visibly so. Also, he’s very much a Democratic Party happy warrior, gleefully engaging in the sort of partisan behavior that tended to set our teeth on edge.

Cindi (I assume) dutifully sets out arguments as to why he should carry the Democratic standard against Lindsey Graham, including one of our default reasons for slightly preferring incumbents, as long as they haven’t misbehaved:

AS POPULAR as it is these days to praise the virtues of outsiders, of political novices, the fact is that there is always a huge danger in electing someone who has never been active in their communities or engaged in public life, much less held public office.

S.C. Democrats, of all people, should understand this, after their disastrous encounter with Alvin Greene, the unemployed Army veteran who defeated a respected retired judge in the 2010 primary to win the U.S. Senate nomination and went on to become a serious embarrassment to the party and a distant loser to Republican Jim DeMint….

But the next sentence spoke more directly to the reason Sen. Hutto got The State‘s nod:

The danger is even greater when the unknown outsider has a criminal record.

State Sen. Brad Hutto has neither of these problems. The Orangeburg attorney is not a felon, and he has served respectably as an outspoken (which is to say high-profile) member of the Legislature for nearly two decades….

“He’s not a felon” may seem to be faint praise, one likely to lead us to lament that the standard should fall so low. But as a bottom-line standard, it’s hard to argue with…

Cindi Scoppe on the now-rare ‘loyal opposition’

Cindi Scoppe had a good column in the paper today — one I might have written myself (ironic, self-mocking smiley face).

She was praising Leona Plaugh for attitudes that used to be fairly common among elected officials, but now are alarmingly rare — and practically nonexistent within the District of Columbia.

An excerpt:

Ms. Plaugh, you might recall, helped lead the opposition to Mayor Steve Benjamin’s rush job on the contract the city signed this summer promising tens of millions of dollars in incentives to Bob Hughes in return for his developing the old State Hospital property on Bull Street in accordance with city desires. She criticized the way the deal was rammed through so quickly that people didn’t know what was in it and she criticized what she did know about its contents. And she was happy to repeat those criticisms when she met with us.

But when my colleague Warren Bolton asked her what happens next, she said, essentially, we make it work.

“Once you vote for something and it’s done, it’s done,” she said. “We all need to get on the bandwagon now and hope it’s the best it can be.”

A few minutes later, when she was talking about her surprise at ending up on the losing end of a 2010 vote to turn control of the Columbia Police Department over to the Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, and we asked why she hadn’t brought that idea back up as the department’s woes have mounted, she recalled all the debate and public hearings that had preceded that vote.

“I don’t think you continually go back and harp on things that this council has already voted on,” she explained, “unless someone on the other side is ready to change their position on it.”


Then we got to the city’s decision this spring to purchase the Palmetto Compress warehouse over her objections, and the news in that morning’s paper that a local development group had tentatively agreed to buy the property, at a small profit to the city. And there wasn’t even a hint of sour grapes when she told us, “I hope I lose my bet with the mayor and that that will be a roaring success.”

What put an exclamation point on all of this was the timing. Our conversation with Ms. Plaugh took place at the very moment that what passes for grownups in Washington were racing the clock to reach a can-kicking agreement to keep the federal government out of an elective default. An agreement that we weren’t at all certain they’d be able to sell to their colleagues.

Which is just mind-boggling….

As Cindi went on to say, Leona was expressing the attitude of a member of the loyal opposition, “a concept that no longer exists in Washington, outside the occasional Senate gang, and is falling out of favor at the State House, replaced with open disdain for the idea of even talking with people in the other party, much less accepting defeat and moving on.”

And our republic is much, much worse off for that quality being so rare.

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.

They threw away my Obama bottle!

My brother, who will be 50 on his next birthday, still complains about the tremendous financial reversal he suffered when Mom threw out his baseball cards.

Well, I can top him on that: I returned from vacation, and the new cleaning people who started here last week had thrown out my Barack Obama water bottle! So much for my best opportunity to get rich on E-Bay.

You may or may not be aware that all things Obama are hot. You would definitely know this if you 
worked here and saw the people lined up in our lobby to buy copies of the Nov. 5 front page pictured at right. And that was just a reproduction of a page ABOUT Obama.

So just imagine how much I could have gotten for a water bottle with actual Obama DNA on it. I had picked it up when I was gathering up my stuff from the table after our editorial board interview on Jan. 21 of last year. Actually, I wasn't entirely clear on whether it was HIS water bottle or MINE. But then, the photographic evidence indicates I was drinking coffee, while he was drinking water (from my special Initech cup from "Office Space"), not water, so it was most likely his (of course, I also have a photo below in which he had no water bottle before him, but what are you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?). The photo above, by the way, is a blown up detail from the wider shot back on this post.

Anyway, I had left it on a credenza on the other side of my office, and it had sat there unmolested for 11 months. Every once in a while I'd look at it and wonder what I should do with it, then promptly forgot about it.

When I went on vacation Dec. 26, I cleaned up my office. My desk was spotless. There was no debris apparent anywhere — except for that old water bottle, which I no longer noticed. But obviously our new cleaning people did. They were getting paid to clean the office, and that was the only thing that looked out of place to them. Just my luck. (I only realized it was gone when I used a water bottle to water a dying plant — which I see the cleaning people or somebody had also trimmed back from where it had been trailing on the floor, and started to leave the bottle next to the plant, but thought that wouldn't be tidy, and happened to think of the Obama bottle…)

Weirdly, they left an empty water bottle on my window sill that says "Galivants Ferry Stump, May 1, 2006" on it. I guess it was more obviously a souvenir.

Of course, it might not have been the cleaning people. But I don't think my Mom has a key to my office, so they're at the top of the list. And there's nothing I can do about it, because they have a perfect comeback — it looked like trash. In this sort of dispute, the authorities never side with the pack rat…

Hoping, audaciously

BACK IN JANUARY, I said — on video; you can view it on my blog — that this year’s presidential election presented the American people with a no-lose proposition.
    It was the first time in my career when the two candidates we (and I) enthusiastically endorsed for their respective nominations actually made it onto the November ballot. So how could we lose?
    Well, there’s one way — the guy we preferred between the two guys we liked didn’t win on Nov. 4. But now that the other guy has won (and did you ever really think he wouldn’t?), I’m putting that setback behind me and looking forward to what happens next, with Barack Obama as my president.
    You could say I have no choice, but you’d be wrong. Unfortunately, we have before us a plethora of examples of how to have a perfectly rotten, stinking attitude when your preferred candidate loses, from the “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for Bush” bumper stickers that appeared on Republican cars before Bill Clinton was even inaugurated to all that nonsense we’ve heard for eight years from Democrats about how the election was “stolen” in 2000.
    We always have the option of being mean, petty, poor losers. But not me. Call me audacious, but every day I see fresh cause to be hopeful:

  • First, there’s Barack Obama himself. Just as John McCain was the best conceivable Republican to unify the country, Sen. Obama offered himself as the one Democrat most likely to put the bitterness of the Clinton/Bush years behind us. As we wrote when we endorsed him in the S.C. primary, “for him, American unity — transcending party — is a core value in itself.” In a column at the time, I cited “his ambition to be a president for all of us — black and white, male and female, Democrat and Republican.” When a guy like that wins an election, nobody loses.
  • Sen. McCain’s gracious (and typical, for him) concession speech left his supporters no room for bitterness, as he wished “Godspeed to the man who was my former opponent and will be my president.”
  • Sen. Obama’s promise that same night, in his first flush of victory, “to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn.” He said, “I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your president too.”
  • The appointment of Rahm Emanuel as White House chief of staff. He’s been called a partisan attack dog, but he was defended against those who called him that by our own Sen. Lindsey Graham, John McCain’s close friend and ally. Yes, he ran the Democrats’ successful effort to take over Congress in 2006, but he did it by recruiting candidates who appealed to the political center — something his party’s more extreme elements haven’t forgiven him for. In an interview just before he was offered the job, Rep. Emanuel said, “The American people are unbelievably pragmatic. Have confidence in their pragmatism. It’s the operating philosophy of our country.” (The Associated Press says exit polls back that up: “This year 22 percent called themselves liberal, compared with 21 percent in 2004; 44 percent moderate, compared with 45 percent; and 34 percent conservative, same as four years ago.”)
  • The image of the Obamas visiting the Bushes at the White House a week after the election. No big deal, you say? It is after the way the current president has been demonized by many Democrats. The presidential election of 1800 proved the miracle of the American system — that power can change hands in a peaceful, civilized manner. That never gets old for me.
  • After days in which the more partisan types in the Senate debated just what to do to Joe Lieberman in light of his unpardonable “sin” of supporting Sen. McCain, the president-elect said that of course the senator from Connecticut should still be allowed to caucus with the Democrats.
  • The fact that on Monday, Sens. Obama and McCain will sit down at transition headquarters to chart ways to move forward together. “It’s well known that they share an important belief that Americans want and deserve a more effective and efficient government,” said an Obama spokeswoman Friday, adding that the two men “will discuss ways to work together to make that a reality.” They will be joined by Sen. Graham and Rep. Emanuel.

    You’ll notice a certain theme in my points, and just in case I haven’t hit you over the head with it hard enough, I’ll say it again: I draw my hope from signs that this country is ready to move beyond the stupid, pointless, destructive  polarization that has been thrust upon us by the two dominant political parties, their attendant Beltway interest groups, the blogosphere and the mindless yammering of 24/7 shouting-head cable TV “news.”
    You might say that mere nonpartisanship — or bipartisanship, or post-partisanship (or my favorite, UnPartisanship) — is not enough by itself. That’s true. But without it, there’s no hope. Fortunately, I see plenty of cause to believe we’re about to see something new, and better.

Join me in hoping at

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

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.

The creeping sense of letdown

This feeling has been creeping up on me in recent weeks, and it’s just emerged into my consciousness in the last days. I hesitated to mention it, and it seems particularly inappropriate given the fact that people are turning out in droves to vote, but…

The election has been a real letdown for me. And I didn’t expect that.

Remember back in January, when I said that if our two endorsees for the major party nominations both made it to the November ballot, it would be a win-win proposition for the country? Well, I did say it, and I meant it. But somehow, between then and now, my enthusiasm has just dissipated, like air slowly but steadily leaking from a balloon.

Part of this is just due to the fact that I was never going to enjoy the general election campaign as much as I did the primaries, nor would I appreciate these two candidates as much as party standard-bearers. They were SO much more appealing as insurgents — McCain running and prevailing against all the diehard GOPpers, over their vehement protests, and doing it even after his candidacy was declared dead. Obama running as the alternative to continuing the vicious, pointless partisanship of the Clinton-Bush years. But the climax of this drama seems to have occurred when they triumphed over their parties’ orthodoxies. Nothing has seemed that fun or that inspiring since then.

McCain picking Sarah Palin to please the base was bad, but Obama leading the charge of the crowd pretending that John McCain was some sort of incarnation of George W. Bush was, if anything, worse. All of it was dispiriting. I first noted that during the Democratic Convention; and while there were moments in McCain’s acceptance speech where he was almost the guy he needed to be to keep me applauding, he fell short of the mark.

Beyond those factors, three things contributed to my present political ennui:

  1. McCain utterly failing to put his best foot — or even his second-best foot — forward. Every time he opened his mouth, I kept hoping he would explain clearly, in a way undecided voters couldn’t miss, why he was the guy. I still thought he was the guy myself, but it would have been nice if he had helped others see it. It’s like he was going through the motions ever since he upstaged himself with the Palin selection. This is a weird and unfair thing to say, but… you know those appearances he did on SNL Saturday and Monday nights? He was game, and I give him that, but… he just fell flat. It wasn’t funny. No, he’s not a professional comedian, but he can be funny — one moment when he was his old self, but I think too few people saw it, was at the Alfred E. Smith dinner. He was hilarious. His timing, and his feel for his audience was impeccable. But the SNL appearances were a letdown. Blame the writing if you will, but it was sort of symbolic to me of the way he generally failed to connect throughout the fall. Sometimes you click; sometimes you don’t. Yeah, I know that seems stupid, but what I’m trying to say is that he no more clicked as a presidential candidate during these weeks than he did on SNL. If you don’t know what I mean, go back and watch the debates. He was saying the right things, but not clicking. As I mentioned in a previous post, our endorsement was about his record, not about what we saw in the campaign. I’d endorse him again given the chance, but next time I would hope he’d help himself out more.
  2. That shouldn’t have mattered given the "win-win" situation I had predicted back in January. With one guy faltering, that left us with Obama. But I found myself less and less enchanted with him as the campaign wore on. He, unlike McCain, never missed a step. He was on his game at every moment of every day, with a steadiness and discipline that seemed superhuman. That wasn’t the problem. The one real up-side I saw to the future, contemplating the future with a President Obama, was that he has consistently shown such stellar abilities with the intangibles of leadership, from his general unflappability to his rhetorical talents. The problem was that I started paying more attention to what he actually had to say about some issues, and started doing so in a more critical fashion, as I pondered our upcoming endorsement. And, as I’ve said in recent days, I got really, really disturbed about some of the things he said, because they were SO off-the-shelf, liberal Democratic dogmatic. (Ironically, the debates had a big impact on me here — even as I was disappointed at McCain’s political skills on those occasions, I became more and more disturbed by precisely what Obama was saying so smoothly.) Before, I had just accepted that he and I wouldn’t agree on abortion, for instance — something I had to accept in backing Joe Lieberman or practically any other Democrat. But then I started peeling the layers, and each new layer worried me more. First, his lack of concern for the moral value of the unborn seemed to go beyond most Democrats, and I just started fully noticing that near the end. Then there was his unwillingness to consider judicial candidates who didn’t agree with him on the issue. Then there was his equating the nebulous "right to privacy" with the right to free speech. Then there was his utter dismissal of the rights or duties of the political branches to decide such issues with that "state referendums" nonsense. Then I saw similar patterns on free trade, and there was a disturbing willingness to be doctrinaire on Big Labor’s agenda, not a transformative figure at all. Combine that with the inevitability of bigger Democratic majorities, and instead of a post-partisan president, you’ve got textbook Democrat, and that set us up for more partisan warfare in the coming years, not less.
  3. Finally, there was the staggering economic news of the last couple of months. On a pure electoral plane, this as much as anything is what has delivered the election to Obama. But I gotta tell you, I sure wish I could be as sanguine as the Obamaniacs are about his ability to lead us through this. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think McCain could, either. It’s just that I have seen little to make me think Obama has a better idea of how to approach this. I wasn’t kidding when I said, several weeks back, that what we need is another FDR. And neither of these guys fills the bill, the way I see it. This factor has done as much as anything else to grind down my enthusiasm, day after day. Did you see the lead story in The Wall Street Journal today? That’s our reality, folks. I really, really hope that the Obama supporters are right and I’m wrong, and he WILL have what it takes to lead us to turn back the tide. But I remain worried.

Maybe I’m just tired. Maybe this is just physical exhaustion. Maybe it’s the wild ride of the past two years, all the excitement — all the fun we’ve had here on the blog, for that matter, with page views now essentially double the year before. And so on pure adrenaline, I’m due for a letdown. But I think it’s more than that.

In the last few weeks, I’ve said a bunch of times that I looked forward to this being over. But I just realized today that I won’t feel that way at all. Instead, I fear, the letdown will be complete rather than merely imminent, and I’ve just come to realize that. No, not because "my guy" lost the presidential election. It’s more because I thought it was win-win, and then I realized that it wasn’t, and that whoever won, we were going to have a mess that we still have to get through. The economy will still be a mess. We’ll still have the same problems with Iran, Russia, Venezuela, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China… and ourselves. We won’t even be poised to solve our health care crisis, because even with a bigger Democratic majority and a liberal Democrat in the White House, no one will say "single-payer." The irony of that is palpable to me. (We’ll get the BAD stuff of liberal Democratic ideology — the activist judges, the intimidation of unwilling workers into unions, trade isolationism, and the like — without a National Health Plan. Sheesh.)

Basically, I realized fully, on an emotional level, that neither McCain nor Obama was going to deliver us from all that. And once the election is over, we no longer have the luxury of pretending that they might do so. So I think that’s why I’m down.

Sorry to rain on the parade. Y’all go ahead and have a nice time, though …

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.

The WashPost’s endorsement of Obama: Hoping he doesn’t really mean it

This post is a spinoff of the last one.

In the earlier post, I mentioned The Post‘s endorsement of Obama. As I said, The Post‘s editorial board believes, as I do, that Obama has been persistently wrong about Iraq, but they rationalize that away:

Mr. Obama’s greatest deviation from current policy is also our biggest
worry: his insistence on withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Iraq on a
fixed timeline. Thanks to the surge that Mr. Obama opposed, it may be
feasible to withdraw many troops during his first two years in office.
But if it isn’t — and U.S. generals have warned that the hard-won
gains of the past 18 months could be lost by a precipitous withdrawal
— we can only hope and assume that Mr. Obama would recognize the
strategic importance of success in Iraq and adjust his plans.

As if that’s not enough, in the very next passage they ALSO rationalize away his position on trade — you know, the thing I was trying to get readers to take a fresh look at by mentioning the Colombian FTA in our endorsement:

We also can only hope that the alarming anti-trade rhetoric we have
heard from Mr. Obama during the campaign would give way to the
understanding of the benefits of trade reflected in his writings. A
silver lining of the financial crisis may be the flexibility it gives
Mr. Obama to override some of the interest groups and members of
Congress in his own party who oppose open trade, as well as to pursue
the entitlement reform that he surely understands is needed.

Here’s the thing about that: I think Obama is an honest man. I hope he’s just boxed himself into a rhetorical corner on Iraq, and I seize hopefully on his statements about other global hotspots as an indication that maybe Iraq is just an anomaly with him. But trade? Sorry, but I’m afraid I have greater faith in Sen. Obama’s veracity than some of his supporters do. He really does believe some of the bad stuff he says — for instance, about judicial selection.

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).