Although the South Carolina Policy Council doesn’t engage in elections, we certainly play a large role in creating the climate in which candidates run. Some of the so-called “reformers” who hold office today (much to the surprise of the establishment) do so because they at least talked a good game on our transparency agenda (which many legislative leaders were calling a “fad” right up until the day they were forced to pass mandatory roll-call voting in the General Assembly).
And while many of them scoffed at our fight to change the corrupt system of government – which benefits them at our expense – most of them are now claiming to be for “ethics” reform.
But there is no denying that the fight is getting harder even as we push it to the brink. That’s to be expected. The establishment isn’t just entrenched in our state; it is entitled. We generally don’t challenge them about their belief that once in office they are “in charge.” Most S.C. politicians – from D.C. to Columbia to every county – believe that once elected they must take their place in the machine and do their best to “work it.”
S.C. politicians don’t know better than to openly equate their success in the system with ours. One S.C. Congressman was quoted saying that the only way he would get an “A-list” committee assignment was as part of a team (that in response to a reporter who wrote about how Lindsey Graham helped him get that committee assignment).
I can’t think of one example in which any politician moving up the leadership ladder has led to more freedom and better protection of our American rights and liberties. That isn’t how they see it, and that’s what has to change.
Until we persuade South Carolinians to engage in the larger fight in our state – tearing down the concentration of power and secrecy that makes South Carolina the most corrupt state in the nation – it won’t make much sense for citizens to challenge incumbents. Remember the last time when there was a wave of challengers, the S.C. Supreme Court threw them all off the ballot on a bizarre technicality. And it’s no secret that many people who consider running against powerful incumbents are strongly urged to reconsider.
The success of Lindsey Graham is a reflection of his investment in the establishment that votes for incumbents because they equal power, and his $11 million war chest. But even putting more money into candidates isn’t likely to deliver a different kind of politician. In fact, with few exceptions, investment in elections has had a very low return on freedom delivered.
The key is in the larger movement itself. Senator Graham brags that his strategy of working with everyone has been validated. I can’t recall a single politician whose slogan was “I am the candidate of compromise and I’ll work with everyone to get that done!” Even Graham’s multimillion-dollar ad campaign didn’t make that case. S.C. politicians all work together and pretty much always have. And that strategy has created a machine so powerful it benefits those who control it so much that they’ll spend any amount of money and effort to keep it.
Politicians talk about how noble it is when they “work together,” but they never seem to celebrate when citizens do the same. And that’s exactly what’s happening now. A diverse coalition of South Carolinians from across the state and across the ideological aisle is growing more vocal and more organized. Our state will change when more people join the fight on the ground to tear down the corrupt system that most politicians have at the very least tolerated, and at worst fiercely defended and even promoted.
No S.C. politician should be elected to any office without boldly declaring how he/she will support the movement to end the concentration of power and secrecy that makes our state the nation’s most corrupt. The rule of law has gone to pieces in South Carolina, and that should have been the No. 1 issue in this election. The fact that so many incumbents returned to office is a sign of only one thing: We still have work to do to motivate more citizens to engage in the movement and raise more resources to keep the fires of reform hot all year, every year. When we change the system we can change everything else, including who runs for office and who holds it.