Cindi Ross Scoppe

An awful win-loss record, but reasons for optimism

SC Senate Democratic Leader Nikki Setzler attends a joint session along with President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman and then-Senate Republican Leader Harvey Peeler.
SC Senate Democratic Leader Nikki Setzler attends a joint session along with President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman and then-Senate Republican Leader Harvey Peeler. AP

LET’S JUST GO straight to the ugly numbers: Two-thirds of the candidates our editorial board endorsed in last week’s election lost. We have never seen numbers like that since I joined the board in 1997 — and as far as I can tell for decades before that. Normally, it’s more like 25 percent.

Of course, “normally” normally covers a lot more endorsements — at least a dozen, sometimes 20 or more. This time there were just three, because we didn’t have the time to do all the races we normally would, and three — the president and the two local state Senate races — was the only logical cutoff that gave us a manageable number.

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We could have run up the numbers by making endorsements without holding lengthy meetings with the candidates. If we had done that, I have little doubt that we would have endorsed Rep. Kirkman Finlay and newcomer Micah Caskey for the House, and likely newcomer Ivory Thigpen for the House. That would have brought us up to a respectable 4-2. But we feel like those meetings are important, even when we’re confident we know enough about the candidates to make a decision

And if the Democrat who filed against Sen. John Courson hadn’t dropped out this summer, we would have endorsed in that race, and I feel certain we would have endorsed Mr. Courson (5-2). Had we wandered into the Congress, I have no doubt we would have endorsed U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (6-2 — with five Republicans and three Democrats).

But of course none of that happened, so we ended up 1-2. That’s disappointing not because we got anything “wrong” — endorsements are not predictions — but because our endorsements reflect who we believe should win.

Despite our dismal record, I have reason for optimism in all three contests.

▪ Our most enthusiastic endorsement was of Nikki Setzler. Mr. Setzler, who serves as the Senate Democratic leader, likes to tell the story of Shane Massey’s election this year as Senate Republican leader. Mr. Massey has served in the Senate only a quarter as long as Mr. Setzler, but Mr. Setzler went to Mr. Massey’s office to meet with him, to tell him he wanted to work together whenever they could.

Working together is what any smart member of a minority does, but it is increasingly rare. Instead, the party in the minority focuses on making pointless gestures. Mr. Setzler focuses on what I believe the opposition party in any body ought to do: working with the majority to win concessions that will make what it considers a bad bill less bad rather than simply rejecting whatever the other party supports. He will be back next year to continue doing that.

▪ It’s hard to be terribly upset that Rep. Mia McLeod defeated Susan Brill. We had a difficult time reaching a decision in that race, because Ms. McLeod is extremely bright and focused and has been absolutely right on two issues that legislators shouldn’t be involved in but are: the Richland County Election Commission and Recreation Commission. She was the most vocal Democratic critic when the Election Commission bungled the 2012 elections — no small thing in a county dominated by Democrats — and she has been an important part of the bipartisan coalition trying to clean up the Recreation Commission. She rightly points to those efforts, and to a handful of bills in the House, as evidence that she works well across party lines.

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We were concerned that she too often crosses the line between being tenacious and being ineffective, a particular challenge in the relationship-centric Senate. That is why, following the logic that brought us to the Setzler endorsement, we endorsed Ms. Brill, about whom we had no such concerns.

My hope is that Sen. McLeod will work on her diplomatic skills — and letting her blog posts sit for a day, or two, before publishing them might be a good start — because we desperately need consensus-builders in the Senate.

▪ The biggest winner, in a convoluted, around-your-elbow sort of way, is that essential something that did not lose last week: public confidence (such that it is) in our election system. There was a tremendous danger that we would come out of this election with a large minority of voters absolutely convinced that the election was rigged, that the results couldn’t be trusted, that no results could ever be trusted. Donald Trump had repeatedly told his supporters this, and I fear he would still be making that claim today had he lost. As worrisome as I found the prospect of a Trump presidency, this was always far, far more worrisome.

I have confidence that our nation can survive a deeply flawed president. (And who knows but that one of Mr. Trump’s greatest flaws — his willingness to deny he ever said, promised or did things he clearly said, promised and did — could mean he abandons some of his most flawed ideas.) I’m not sure our nation could survive such a massive loss of faith in our election system — and, by extension, in our entire system of self-governance.

We should all be tremendously relieved that we don’t have to find out.

Ms. Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State. Reach her at cscoppe@thestate.com or (803) 771-8571 or follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook @CindiScoppe.

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