McEachern’s pragmatism worth two more years

June 7, 2012 

CHRIS Sullivan is an energetic and enthusiastic young man who says his own brief detour down “the wrong track” awakened him to the need to help other young people escape the cycle of drop out, dead-end jobs, gangs and crime.

He speaks of using government to improve our state in ways that more experienced politicians can’t see, with promising ideas about everything from low-income housing to reengaging kids in education and enticing them to channel their energy into volunteer work. He speaks in post-partisan terms about inspiring a new generation of voters, based on shared ideals rather than differences, and aspires to be a bridge between young and old, Democrat and Republican.

In short, he’s the sort of person we need in civic life and government.

But it’s hard to reconcile his talk of bipartisanship with his Haleyesque pledge to go use “shame and pain” to advance his ideas. When we asked how he would sell his ideas in the Republican Legislature, he said: “I wouldn’t call it selling. I would call it fighting. … If a legislator’s not supporting a bill, let’s go into his district and tell people.”

It’s likewise hard to reconcile his support for government restructuring proposals that Gov. Nikki Haley advocates with his attack on his opponent for scoring a “C” on her report cards, and his pledge to score a “zero” himself.

We suspect those conflicts reflect an understandable lack of maturity on the part of Mr. Sullivan, who at 21 is interrupting his college career to run for the House in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. And we hope we’ll be hearing more from him once he completes his education, settles into a career and manages to temper, without losing, his infectious idealism.

But for now, District 77 already has a representative who has demonstrated that he is past partisanship. As candidates in both parties lurch to the extremes, Rep. Joe McEachern retains the role he first displayed as Richland County Council chairman as a pragmatist first. If there’s one thing that defines him, it’s a lack of definition. He won’t be pigeonholed, not as a “Democratic representative” or a “black representative.” As he told us: “It may be I’ll look like a Republican in this vote, and I may look like a liberal Democrat on this vote, and I may look like something else on this other vote.”

Mr. McEachern advocates overhauling a tax code eaten away by tax break after tax break, with little regard for how those changes constrain government’s ability to provide the services lawmakers say they support, much less how they redistribute the tax burden. He recognizes the vital role the public schools play in improving our state, and the corrosive effect of paying people to abandon the public schools. He advocates difficult budgetary choices and wants to make many autonomous state agencies directly answerable to the governor, so they can be more closely watched and held accountable for their performance. And he is passionate about getting the Legislature out of local decision-making, so it can concentrate on the needs of the entire state.

Mr. McEachern isn’t as dazzling as Mr. Sullivan, doesn’t sell himself quite as well as we would like, but he has a depth of experience in dealing with our state’s most pressing problems, and a record of the sort of anti-partisanship that our state so desperately needs. We believe that voters would do well to send him back to the House for another term.

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