I HAD PLANNED to wait until the very last minute to decide how to vote in Tuesday’s primaries. Not which candidates to support, but which primary to vote in.
If it seemed absolutely clear that Gov. Henry McMaster was going to win the Republican nomination, then I would be able to vote against 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson in the Democratic primary — which would have the added advantage of allowing me to vote for Rep. James Smith for that nomination for governor.
If it wasn’t clear that Mr. McMaster had the nomination locked up, I’d stick with my normal pattern of voting in the Republican primary in statewide contests, since the Republican is most likely to win in November, and I want to help put the best (or at least the least-bad) candidates on the general election ballot and likely into office.
But then I realized I would have to be out of town on Tuesday, so I couldn’t wait until the last minute. So this week, I voted in the Republican primary. Because even in South Carolina, it’s more important who the governor is than who the solicitor is. Even when the solicitor has unquestionably squandered public money on an embarrassing extravaganza of parties and trips to exotic locales and apparently has not learned about appropriate conduct with subordinates.
I voted for Mr. McMaster not because I agree with all of his positions — and certainly not because I agree with his efforts to get to the right of crazy in this primary. I voted for him because I believe he is an honest and trustworthy man of great integrity. That’s also why I would have voted for Mr. Smith if I had cast a Democratic ballot.
This has become a very unpopular thing to say, but there is great value in candidates having served in elected office. Of course there’s the value of the experience itself: I wouldn’t trust my surgeon to do my taxes or my accountant to defend me in court or my attorney to operate on me. Likewise, I don’t want a governor who doesn’t understand the difference between running a business, where you get to make the decisions as long as they’re legal, and running a government, where you get to make the decisions as long as a super-majority of the House and the Senate agree with your decisions.
The even greater value is that we’ve been able to see what kind of people they are, what their values are. And by this I don’t mean whether they support or oppose taxes or abortion or Medicaid expansion. Particularly in a primary, and certainly in this one, the candidates’ differences on issues are too small to matter … particularly since subtle differences get settled by legislators, not governors.
We’ve been able to see what elected officials are like when they aren’t just delivering carefully crafted speeches or regurgitating their applause lines. We’ve seen whether they keep their word, whether they lead or follow, whether they work to build consensus. We’ve seen how they manage the tension between doing what voters want and what they are convinced is responsible. We can guess all that about political newcomers — and our guesses might be a little better when they’ve been public figures — but in many cases even they don’t know, because they’ve never faced the sorts of tests elected officials face.
I’ve watched James Smith argue passionately for legislation he thought we needed and against legislation he thought would do us harm. And when it was clear that the House was going to pass legislation he opposed, I’ve watched him work with his GOP colleagues to make it less bad from his perspective. And then, to keep his end of the bargain, vote for the less-bad legislation, rather than casting a symbolic but ultimately meaningless vote against it. Which is how our government ought to work.
I’ve known Henry McMaster even longer, and even when he was a party official, he has displayed a deep and abiding respect for the rule of law — which might be the most important value an elected official can hold. I watched him act with tremendous courage and integrity as attorney general, defending our state’s constitution even when that wasn’t politically popular. I’ve seen his tremendous love for and devotion to our state, and a seriousness about public service that is missing today in far too many elected officials. I’ve seen his dependability and persistence as he did the hard work to put together smart proposals and winning coalitions to tackle unglamorous problems.
Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant has also served in elective office, but he made it clear from the start that his goal was to not build consensus, to hold the Senate hostage to get his way on whatever legislation was most important to him at the moment. Not once, but over and over and over again. I don’t care what the issue is; I don’t want someone like that as my governor. And former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill … well, he’s a nice man, but not governor material.
I suppose I could be convinced to take a chance on an untested gubernatorial candidate if the people I had watched lacked integrity or had some other deep flaws — and if the inexperienced alternative had been able to demonstrate the necessary qualities through long exposure to public scrutiny. But I didn’t need to take that chance in this year’s Republican primary — and there’s no need to take it in the Democratic primary.
Editor’s Note: The State decided not to endorse candidates this election cycle. As our publisher, Rodney Mahone, settles into his new role, we’ll continue to have discussions on how to make our election coverage most relevant and useful to our readers.
Ms. Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (803) 771-8571 or follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook @CindiScoppe.