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Taking care of (local) business

LAST WEEK, a friend and source whom I won’t embarrass by naming here (but who knows good and well who he is) included me in a group e-mail that began, “Hello All: Take a look at this flip flopping by the straight talker.”

Needless to say, the home of this friend and source is lavishly decorated with pictures of Democrats he has known and loved.

I didn’t look at the YouTube clip about John McCain to which he was pointing me, but responded, “Geez... can’t this stuff wait until after Labor Day?”

The next morning, The Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed piece about Barack Obama having “shifting explanations for his views.” The piece was written by Karl Rove (the Republican James Carville).

So now we know: The next president of the United States — whichever one we choose — is less than perfect. It’s possible to pick his words apart. He’s human. Allegedly. Whoopee.

I’m glad I have the June 10 state and local primaries to think about. While the national spin machines idle at full speed on a subject about which we don’t have to make a decision until November, I’ve been absorbed with matters closer to home. Here are some passing observations that we haven’t had room for in the editorial endorsements (so far):

  Youth vs. experience

Unfortunately, you can’t get away from national politics when you’re dealing with a congressional race.

At first glance, the two men seeking the Democratic nomination to go up against U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson in the fall are a study in contrasts. Rob Miller is a young man just starting out in (civilian) life, after serving as a Marine captain in Iraq. Blaine Lotz has had two careers, first in the Air Force, then in the civil service, both dealing with military intelligence.

While both decry partisanship in general (a good point to make, because Joe Wilson is very much a partisan), most of their positions are cookie-cutter national Democratic Party material. Both would, for instance, withdraw combat troops from Iraq, but not all troops; both care deeply about the economy, and so forth.

In the end, you go back to the resume differences. A Miller aide wanted to make sure I knew that Mr. Lotz, who says our Iraq invasion was “ill-conceived,” served right under Donald Rumsfeld at the time. Mr. Lotz says giving operational intelligence advice was not his job, and he was not consulted.

But if he is tainted by that experience, Mr. Miller has a lack of depth on issue after issue. He takes the positions that you expect a Democrat to take, but he is largely unable to go deeper than the slogans.

Experience vs. innocence, the taint of association vs. lack of sophistication. That’s the choice.

  No way to know

On Friday, we endorsed the incumbents for clerk of court in both Richland and Lexington counties, auditor in Lexington and coroner in Richland. We did so because no independent source has indicated to us that there is anything wrong with the jobs these functionaries are doing.

We made the point (as always) that such purely ministerial positions, which do not set policy, should not be elective. The functions of their offices are simply too esoteric for voters — or editorial page editors — to tell from the outside who is best suited.

To illustrate our frustration:

Gloria Montgomery is one of four people seeking the Richland County clerk of court position. She worked in the office for years under incumbent Barbara Scott, and ran unsuccessfully against her boss four years ago. “As a result of my running, I was terminated” two days after the election, she says. Ms. Scott says politics “had nothing to do with it.” So why was she fired? The incumbent won’t say because it’s “a personnel matter.” Under South Carolina law, that’s that.

Does that make us uncomfortable endorsing the incumbent? Sure. But we lack evidence that Ms. Scott isn’t doing her job, or that Ms. Montgomery, or either of the other two candidates, would do it better. So we took the less risky option, and came away believing more firmly than ever that such nonpolitical jobs should not be filled by election.

  Quick takes

I’m almost out of space, so here are some very quick impressions about other races:

 We recently endorsed David Herndon for the GOP nod in House District 79. Last week, he blasted the private-school-voucher advocacy group SCRG for using misleading tactics in backing his opponent Sheri Few. SCRG responded by telling the world that Mr. Herndon indicated on an SCRG questionnaire that he supported vouchers. Mr. Herndon responded that the form was mistakenly filled out that way by a campaign worker, and reiterated that his opposition to such schemes is a large part of why he’s running (and of why we endorsed him).

 We backed Kelvin Washington to replace Bernice Scott in Richland District 10, but we didn’t mention that he is Ms. Scott’s son-in-law. (He’s also a sharp dresser, being the only candidate out of 45 to wear a bowtie to his interview.)

 Sheriffs, unlike clerks, should still be elected. But we believe those elections should be nonpartisan, and Lexington County Sheriff James Metts agrees with us. With all three candidates (Jake Knotts, Katrina Shealy and Mike Sturkie) in the heated, high-stakes GOP contest for Senate District 23 all seeking his support as South Carolina’s longest-serving Republican, he could do without the party label right now. With two primary challengers of his own, he’d prefer they leave him out of it.

Sort of the way I feel about presidential politics right now.

For more about the primaries, visit thestate.com/bradsblog/.

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