THE BIGGEST THREAT to our democracy — and thus to our very way of life — is not Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. The biggest threat is the collapse of the sensible center of our society, the rejection of consensus as the foundation on which government is built.
And here in South Carolina, the most important institution that is under threat by the erosion of these values is the state Senate. Although cooperation across party and ideological lines remains a hallmark of the upper chamber, a growing number of senators on the right and the left increasingly demonstrate by deeds if not also by words that they are willing to be as disruptive as they can be in order to get their way or else sabotage whatever effort is under debate. And the Senate rules allow a whole lot of disruption.
So in a year when we’ve already lost three of our most important pragmatists — Sens. Larry Martin and Wes Hayes to defeats in the Republican parimaries and Democratic Sen. Joel Lourie to voluntary retirement — the most important questions to ask about Senate candidates are how close they are to the political center and how strongly they believe that the best laws come from the best ideas from the left and the right and everywhere in between.
In the race to fill Sen. Lourie’s District 22 seat in Richland County, the candidate who best embodies the ideal of consensus-building is Republican Susan Brill.
Ms. Brill, who served seven years on the County Council and the past 10 on the Richland 2 school board, certainly is not an ideologue. She aspires to be “a voice for public education” (hardly the usual aspiration for a Republican), goes out of her way to note she would have voted to raise the gasoline tax and argues that the Legislature needs to stop passing unfunded mandates on to local governments.
But she is most animated when she talks about finding common ground, about setting aside partisan considerations to develop pragmatic solutions to our problems. Even when she criticizes her Democratic opponent as being too divisive, she quickly turns back to her central point: “Even when I disagree with you, I respect your right to your opinion,” she says. “Let’s compromise. Let’s work it out.”
Beyond that attitude, the very experience of having served on a school board and a county council is of tremendous importance, because such experience is so sorely lacking in the Legislature. When senators start shortchanging local governments — again — and when they hatch their next plan to strip elected county council members of yet another power to govern their communities, she can speak from experience about what’s wrong with those proposals.
We don’t mean to suggest this is an easy choice. Democratic Rep. Mia McLeod also brings valuable traits to the table. She can explain our major challenges far better than Ms. Brill — no small thing when your job is to persuade. She also has shown tenacity that is too often lacking in our legislators, who are too often willing to work quietly behind the scenes, or even ignore problems, rather than calling out colleagues.
We applaud her efforts four years ago to correct problems at the Richland County Election Commission and this year to clean up the Richland County Recreation Commission — both bodies whose boards are, inappropriately and unwisely, appointed on recommendation of local state legislators. While she was far from alone on those fights, Ms. McLeod’s support was crucial, both for sheer numbers and also because she was one of the few African-American legislators to demand change.
But being this outspoken is a double-edged sword, and unless it is wielded with extraordinary expertise, it can produce serious damage. We worry about how effective Ms. McLeod would be as a Democrat in an overwhelmingly Republican state Senate where Democrats can be quite effective — if they are able to build the right relationships and work those relationships ever so carefully.
At a different time in the history of the Senate, we might prefer Ms. McLeod’s approach. But at this moment, with the sensible center at such great risk of collapsing, we are more confident in Ms. Brill’s demonstrated ability to work year in and year out across party lines, and in the extreme value she places on consensus-building. For this reason, we believe she should be elected to the seat that Sen. Lourie has so ably filled for these past 12 years.