The Buzz

The Buzz: S.C. Democrats reflect on Jimmy Carter

Then-S.C. Gov. Dick Riley shaking hands with President Jimmy Carter during a 1980 campaign rally in front of the S.C. Governor’s Mansion, a few days before Carter lost his re-election bid to Republican Ronald Reagan.
Then-S.C. Gov. Dick Riley shaking hands with President Jimmy Carter during a 1980 campaign rally in front of the S.C. Governor’s Mansion, a few days before Carter lost his re-election bid to Republican Ronald Reagan.

Former President Jimmy Carter called Dick Riley a few weeks ago just to talk, the former S.C. governor told The Buzz last week.

The two talked about the Carter Center and Carter’s international work. They talked about former staff and old friends, Riley recalled.

That was before Carter announced last month that cancer had spread to his brain.

“It was a sad moment,” Riley said of Carter’s announcement.

“I hope and pray for him,” said Riley, who chaired both of Carter’s S.C. campaigns.

“He was a person who said he would always be honest with the American people and would always be a strong supporter of a Constitution and democracy and human rights – and he was.”

In 1979, during Riley’s first year as S.C. governor, then-President Carter normalized relations with China.

In the fall, Carter sent Vice President Walter Mondale with a group to China to negotiate agreements. Carter designated Riley to represent the country’s 50 governors, and Riley toured parts of China and sat in on the treaty discussions.

In 1980, Riley had a fundraiser for Carter’s re-election bid at the Governor’s Mansion a few days before the presidential election.

Riley thought Carter had a very good chance of winning. Then, in the last weekend of the campaign, polls showed Carter’s numbers had dropped, largely due to the Iranian hostage crisis.

South Carolina has not voted for a Democratic president since voting for Carter in 1976. In 1980, the state flipped for Republican Ronald Reagan.

When Inez Tenenbaum was elected S.C. schools superintendent in 1999, Carter wrote her a congratulatory letter.

Carter, who had heard from a friend that Tenenbaum was inspired to run for office because of him, wished her the best.

Carter is a very down-to-earth man, Tenenbaum said, adding, “It was not an imperial presidency at all.”

Tenenbaum grew up in Georgia and campaigned for Carter when he ran for governor of the Peach State. She also stayed at the Georgia Governor’s Mansion once with a high school friend, who married Carter’s son Chip.

Tenenbaum remembered her first impression of then-Gov. Carter — “how very serious he was about all of the issues.”

Tenenbaum moved to South Carolina to work for the Department of Social Services in 1975 as Carter was starting his campaign for president. She met her future husband during the campaign.

Carter’s tenure as president was less romantic.

“Jimmy Carter had terrible luck as president,” Tenenbaum said, recalling high inflation, a gas shortage and the Iranian hostage crisis.

Carter had “so many pocketbook issues, so he was voted out,” Tenenbaum said.

In terms of policies, University of South Carolina political scientist Don Fowler contends Carter was the best U.S. president since Franklin Roosevelt.

Fowler was chair of the S.C. Democratic Party during Carter’s term as president, and Carter approved his selection for the committee that chose Atlanta as the site of the 1980 Democratic National Convention.

Carter did not let his re-election defeat in 1980 get him down, Fowler said.

Instead, he founded the Carter Center, his human rights nonprofit.

Carter’s foundation has improved and saved the lives of millions, Fowler said.

“We all sympathize, and we all are sorry he is facing what he faces,” Fowler said.

2016 in S.C.

Rick Santorum: The former Republican U.S. senator from Pennsylvania will march in the Chapin Labor Day Parade at 9 a.m.

Marco Rubio: The Republican U.S. senator from Florida will be the guest at one of U.S. Sen. Tim Scott’s town-hall meetings at 6 p.m. Monday at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center

Bernie Sanders: The Vermont Independent senator running for the Democratic nomination will visit three cities on Saturday: Columbia —Benedict College, HRC Arena, 11 a.m.; Florence —Florence Civic Center, 4 p.m.; Rock Hill — Winthrop University, The West Center, 7:30 p.m. Doors open an hour before the events.

Reach Cope at (803) 771-8657.

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