A reader tells his story. You decide.
Yesterday Ron Aiken surveyed a number of ways in which South Carolina politicians have used their authority as government officials to bully people they perceive to be threats. In truth, if you live and work among Columbia’s politicos, you will hear these stories fairly often – though they tend not be the sort of thing you can document.
Of course, sometimes they are provable – as when House lawmakers two years ago tried to pass a measure forcing anyone who testifies before House commitee to first be put under oath. Once under oath, the rule furthermore mandated, anyone giving “willfully false, materially misleading, or materially incomplete testimony” would be charged with a felony and imprisoned for up to five years. (See proposal 26 here.)
The rather unsubtle message: Think long and hard before you call out lawmakers during legislative hearings.
And so, with all this in mind, we relay an email we received a few weeks ago that bears very much on the topic of political intimidation. The name has been withheld by request of the author.
I wanted to pass this story along for your website. Please clean up the grammar! A few years ago, I gave money to a candidate running for state Senate. I had supported the incumbent years before, but in my opinion he had been a disappointment. I won’t go into the reasons – I just thought he’d been there long enough, and my wife and I chose to support another candidate in the primary. We campaigned for him, too. And once I saw the incumbent at a county fair. We exchanged pleasantries but I gave him a piece of my mind, too. I told him we were supporting his opponent with our time and money. He didn’t like that, and I thought he would have dropped it and moved on, but he argued with me pretty heatedly.
So that election happened, and our candidate (the challenger) lost the primary. There was no general election, if I remember. The incumbent is still the incumbent.
Well I own a small restaurant in his district. We’ve always kept to the absolute highest standards of food safety and hygiene. But naturally the inspector nitpicks at every tiny apparent infraction. For example, a push broom was left in the wrong place, too close to the food. A bottle of vinegar didn’t have the cap on it. That kind of thing. We got a “B” rating – I was outraged. I complained to DHEC but got nowhere until the next scheduled inspection, and we went overkill to get our “A” back. Even then, though, the inspector claimed to find things that were wrong.
If this had only happened once, I would have chalked it up to just an over-aggressive inspector. But it happened again and again, and it would be a different inspector every time!
So look, I don’t know if our state senator had anything to do with it, which is why I’m withholding his name and my name. But I know his reputation as a bully-boy, and there’s no way you’ll convince me he didn’t have anything to do with it.
At one point I found myself thinking, “I’ll definitely be more careful next time I want to support a challenger.” But then, if the senator really is responsible for this harassment, wouldn’t that have been his aim the whole time? So no – I will not be bullied. I’ll support any decent candidate who wants to run against him, and I’ll do so openly.
I hope you can use my story. But again please do not use my name.
It’s no wonder that some observers, such as the policy analysts at our parent organization, the South Carolina Policy Council, have expressed concern about a proposal now in the legislature that would force some organizations that do not participate in campaigns (electioneering) to disclose their donors as if they were electioneering.