I THROW a big party every December. I bake 25 cakes, and we celebrate the coming of Advent. Yes, it’s a strange way to observe one of the church’s two penitential seasons, but that’s a much-too-long story to recount.
It’s not a networking event, and the very few guests who are involved in politics are on the invitation list for reasons that have nothing to do with politics. You could count on one hand the number of elected officials I have ever invited.
One of them is Henry McMaster. Another is James Smith.
It occurred to me that there was something here worth remarking upon when I received a guest column about this year’s governor’s race from Rusty DePass, a longtime Republican activist in Columbia who, as far as I can tell, has never had anything good to say about any Democrats. (Slight exaggeration, for effect. But only slight.)
Mr. DePass’ point was about Richland County’s long gubernatorial drought: The last real Richland County resident elected governor was Wade Hampton, circa 1878. And he was actually born in Charleston. (James Hopkins Adams, who was born near Hopkins, was elected governor in 1854.)
I was vaguely aware of the history, so what I found striking about the column was the way Mr. DePass referred to Mr. Smith. Oh, he made it clear that he preferred Mr. McMaster, but only in the gentlest of terms. He went so far as to say of Mr. Smith: “James is certainly not the anti-American, Marxist goofball so many of his fellow Democrats have become.”
Which, coming from Mr. DePass, would have been shocking enough to make me spit out my coffee. If I drank coffee. And if I had been drinking it at the time.
Yes, Columbia is a small town, and although Mr. McMaster and Mr. Smith are of different generations and different political parties, they run in a lot of the same circles — or at least run in circles with people who run in the same circles. Just last week, for instance, Mr. McMaster attended the funeral of former Richland County Council Chairman Jay McKay at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Mr. Smith’s church; Mr. Smith paid his respects at the family home the previous evening. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to find out the two candidates are related.
But I believe there’s something far more significant than geography that these two men share — something people who don’t know them need to know about them.
That something is particularly important given our alarming tendency to divide ourselves into warring tribes, to convince ourselves that everyone in that other party eats puppies for breakfast, kicks wheelchair-bound old ladies into busy intersections and is secretly plotting with the enemies of America to destroy our nation.
I generally consider candidates’ character far more important than their political philosophy, and both Henry McMaster and James Smith are good and decent and honest and honorable people, who have displayed great integrity and courage in their political careers.
While I could say the same about a lot of elected officials, it’s exciting to be able to say it about our candidates for governor. I have often believed that one of the candidates met that high standard — sometimes the Republican, sometimes the Democrat — but never both. Until now.
Those character traits are a big part of the reason they are two of the four elected officials I’ve seen fit to invite into my home. They’re also why I was so delighted with the results of last month’s Republican and Democratic nominating contests.
Both men have taken positions I disagree with and been endorsed by people whose values and judgment I don’t share. But both are committed to public service and believe deeply in the power of government to be a positive force in people’s lives, even if they have different ideas about precisely how big or active a force it ought to be.
Both have demonstrated their ability, enthusiasm even, for working across party lines. Neither is an extremist.
Both are people who come to mind when I think about ethics reforms and other good-government measures. Both are people I trust to tell me the truth.
Perhaps you assume that politicians and journalists regularly socialize; maybe you’re disturbed that I would invite even a few of them to my home. I don’t know what other journalists do, and people would be right to be concerned about my relationship with Mr. McMaster and Mr. Smith if I were a reporter rather than an editorial writer.
The rules of neutrality don’t apply to editorial writers, because our job is to write our opinions, not to present a balanced report. Still, I don’t generally socialize with politicians, and I don’t take lightly the prospect of doing so. Mr. McMaster and Mr. Smith got on my invitation list more by accident than design, but still I made the decision to put them there, because I like them both, and I trusted that they wouldn’t do anything to make me regret letting people know that.
For the record, Mr. McMaster has attended several times; I took Mr. Smith off the list a couple of years ago because he never did.
One of the few pictures I have of Mr. McMaster at the party is with Brad Warthen, my former editor and now Mr. Smith’s communications director; Mr. Smith’s priest is one of my most faithful guests. No surprise, I suppose, because: geography. Columbia, which as best as I can tell has never actually birthed a governor, is a very small town indeed.
Ms. Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State. Reach her at email@example.com or (803) 771-8571 or follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook @CindiScoppe.