IN THE S.C. HOUSE, THE Democratic leader can be counted on to come out with a pointed attack on most of the priorities of the Republicans; in that sense, he fulfills the traditional role of a minority leader. In the S.C. Senate, the Democratic leader can be counted on to … sit down and try to work things out with the Republicans.
Sen. Nikki Setzler doesn’t always succeed in his quest to find common ground — sometimes because the Republicans aren’t interested in compromising, and sometimes because the Democrats aren’t interested in giving up a campaign issue — but he routinely tries. He understands that in nearly all cases, it’s more important to win concessions that will make what he considers a bad bill less bad than it is to score partisan political points by rejecting whatever the other party supports.
And that, more than his position on any particular issue, is why Sen. Setzler is an easy choice for re-election in Senate District 26 in Lexington, Aiken, Calhoun and Saluda counties.
Our governmental institutions are under attack by people on the left and right who are convinced that “compromise” is a dirty word, that it’s better to lose everything than to accept a 20 percent concession — or even a 90 percent victory. And especially after the loss this year of three of our most important pragmatists — Sens. Larry Martin and Wes Hayes to defeats in the Republican primaries and Democratic Sen. Joel Lourie to voluntary retirement — the central questions to ask about Senate candidates are how close they are to the political center and how strongly they believe that the best laws are built by taking the best ideas from the left and the right and everywhere in between.
Republican challenger Brad Lindsey is a bright, likeable young man who seems in large measure to embrace the idea of consensus-building, and who definitely has the right instincts on such important issues as letting the governor control state agencies and letting county and city councils control their communities, without legislative interference. Indeed, in some Senate districts, he would be the most attractive candidate.
But his criticisms of Mr. Setzler are that the senator has been in office for a long time and is “more progressive” than the district. His priorities are even more underwhelming. When we asked how we should judge his success or failure after four years, he suggested we consider how well he had done on constituent service, whether he had helped create a citizens movement to demand term limits and whether the Legislature has a smaller role in policing its own ethics. (We agree that the third item might be a good measure.)
While Sen. Setzler didn’t provide very specific measuring sticks, he did identify a sound set of goals for the next four years: developing a long-term solution to our infrastructure problems, adopting a statewide 4K program and improving public education in rural and low-performing schools, and adopting policies that result in more jobs with better pay. That is to say, he is focused on the big problems confronting our state — which is what we ought to want from all of our legislators.
Moreover, Sen. Setzler is a respected voice in education policy, working with Republicans and Democrats to fight off efforts to undermine public education, and valued by Republican leaders as a key ally in our state’s essential efforts to improve education in those poor, rural school districts.
Certainly Sen. Setzler is not a perfect senator; no one is. He and other Senate Democrats too often facilitate obstruction, supporting filibusters even when they don’t agree with the person who is preventing the majority of senators from voting on legislation they support. And he and the Republican leaders in the Senate have been talking a good game for years on providing a decent education to children in all school districts, but have yet to deliver so much as a clear plan. That has to change, and it has to change this coming year.
The chance of that and other important changes is much greater when those Republican leaders have the leader of the Senate Democrats working with them, rather than against them. Without Nikki Setzler, there’s little reason to believe that would happen.