Politics & Government

Former SC representative finds niche as CNN commentator

Bakari Sellers introduces Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at Denmark-Olar Elementary School earlier this month during a campaign stop.
Bakari Sellers introduces Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at Denmark-Olar Elementary School earlier this month during a campaign stop. File photo/The State

There have only been 40-plus days in 2016, but Bakari Sellers estimates that he has made more than 100 television appearances this year.

And counting.

The appearances are part of the Columbia attorney and former South Carolina representative’s newest role as a political commentator for CNN.

“This week I was in Iowa, New Hampshire, New York, back to New Hampshire and I just left New York and landed back in South Carolina,” Sellers said in a Feb. 11 interview with The State. “I’ve got a show at 11 tonight and then I’m driving to Atlanta tomorrow to present the Founder’s Day speech at my alma mater, Morehouse College.”

When Sellers was elected as a state representative at age 22 in 2006, he made history as the youngest African-American elected to office. He served in that role until 2014 when he gave up his seat for an unsuccessful run at S.C. lieutenant governor. From 2007-08, Sellers served on the Obama for America state steering committee.

In February 2014, he accepted a position as the honorary national co-chairman for the “Ready for Hillary” Millenial Council – a group of professionals under 40 raising money to encourage Clinton to run for president. He is a Clinton supporter in her presidential run.

Since running for lieutenant governor, Sellers has made multiple cable news appearances on issues relating to race and politics. He appeared regularly after the killing of Walter Scott in North Charleston last summer, allegedly by a police officer there, and after the killings of nine African-Americans at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church.

Last summer, CNN offered him a position as a contributor and political commentator for the network.

“When I’m on air, it’s rapid,” said Sellers who regularly appears on multiple CNN shows. “I constantly try to consume as much information as possible especially out there where the candidates are.”

The appearances have certainly increased Sellers’ prominence nationwide.

“On Twitter your popularity increases, people recognize me or recognize my name more,” he said. “There are many more people who have opinions about you and what you say, but I still am South Carolinia through and through.”

And that is a good thing for the state, according to Sellers’ friend and former South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges.

“I think he always represents South Carolina well and he has been an articulate voice on the political process,” said Hodges, who said he talks with Sellers on a weekly basis. “It’s very unusual for someone that age to do the things he’s doing. I think he’s got a career in this if he chooses to pursue it. The challenge for him is going to figure out what path he wants to take – does he want to focus on a media career or law or politics? He’s blessed to have a variety of options.”

Though the work and travel have become increasingly time-consuming as election coverage ramps up, Sellers’ world outside of politics and CNN “keeps spinning” Sellers said – and with it general life challenges have not ceased.

On Dec. 21, Sellers’ mom was admitted to intensive care in Columbia and recently improved enough to be transferred to a rehabilitation center where she is working to regain strength to return home. Just a few weeks after the onset of his mother’s sudden illness, Sellers’ wife of less than six months lost her brother unexpectedly Feb. 7 after he had a massive heart attack while attending the Super Bowl in Santa Clara, Calif.

“I was on my way to a show and my wife called and was just breaking down. It’s one of those things where I just pull my car over on the side of the road and we just cried and prayed together,” Sellers said. “Being a new husband, trying to be stepfather to a 10-year-old girl, dealing with my mom’s sickness and the death of my wife’s brother, still attempting to be a good lawyer at the Strom Law Firm and doing this (CNN) – you say a lot of prayers and you just wake up and make the most of each new day.”

Sellers said he is “just so thankful” for the opportunity at CNN.

“The coolest part is I’m from Denmark, South Carolina, where we have three stoplights and a blinking light and I get a chance to be on CNN,” Sellers said. “I want more than anything for the young people growing up – especially those in rural South Carolina – to see that you can do anything anywhere.

“Personally, my goal and my daily task is to make my mom and dad proud. That’s my watermark.”