South Carolina hasn't always had senators for life
Want more job security?
That is, if you still have a job.
Well, you could try getting elected as a U.S. senator from South Carolina.
Trivia test: Who was the last elected senator from our state to lose that seat at the ballot box? (Answer at column's end.)
After first being elected to the Senate, Strom Thurmond served from 1954-2003 and Ernest F. Hollings from 1966-2005.
Lindsey Graham has been a senator for a decade, and at 57, should be one for much longer — unless hardheaded “conservatives” who still scorn “Lindsey Grahamnesty” foolishly fire him.
Jim DeMint, 61, has been a senator for nearly eight years, and likely could keep getting re-elected if he hadn't recently decided to walk off that job with four years left in his second term.
But our state's last appointed senator — Donald Russell — served less than two years.
Russell was governor when Olin Johnston died in April 1965, ending his Senate stint of a mere 20 years.
Russell, in effect, decreed himself Johnston's successor: Russell resigned. That turned Lt. Gov. Robert McNair into Gov. McNair, who immediately appointed Russell to the Senate.
Russell's self-promotion rationalization, from the Charleston Evening Post of April 22, 1965:
“In these critical times South Carolina must not and shall not be without effective representation in Washington and strong, progressive state government at home.”
No, “progressive” didn't mean then what “progressive” means now.
Less than 14 months later, Russell suffered a 60.8-39.2 percent thumping from Hollings in the 1966 Democratic primary.
So whoever thinks Gov. Nikki Haley's appointee is a lock to win the 2014 election to complete DeMint's term, and to remain in that office for many terms to come, should think again.
Meanwhile, whoever thinks politics in the supposedly good old days were far more civil than they are now should review anti-civil rights rhetoric from that 1966 Senate race.
On June 14, 1966, the day of that Democratic primary, The News and Courier reported that Hollings “challenged 'smear sheets' he said had been distributed to help Russell's campaign by a group headed by Columbia segregationist L.M. Bessinger. The sheets alleged Hollings had sought and was receiving the support of the NAACP, CORE and other Negro groups.”
And: “A spokesman for the Hollings campaign was quick to point out that it was Russell who had received the backing of Negro groups, including a weekend endorsement by CORE in Sumter.”
Remember, those were charges and countercharges in a Democratic primary.
OK, so most S.C. Republicans weren't exactly enlightened on racial matters in 1966, either. For instance, longtime civil-rights foe Thurmond, then only 61 years old, had bolted to the GOP in September 1964 as the party veered rightward by nominating Barry Goldwater for president.
(Full disclosure: Frank Wooten, then only 11 years old, was also an avid Barry backer who took it hard when the original Arizona straight talker suffered his landslide loss to President Lyndon B. Johnson.)
Back to the 1966 battle for South Carolina's junior senatorship:
The Republican nominee was Marshall Parker, a state senator from Oconee County. Two days after Hollings' romp over Russell, this headline appeared in The News and Courier:
“Parker charges Hollings has Kennedy backing.”
Parker asserted in that story: “I'm convinced the people of South Carolina are not going to let Bobby Kennedy come down here, establish a camp and take over South Carolina.”
Though Hollings later became good friends with Ted Kennedy, he offered this assurance to alarmed S.C. voters in the June 25, 1966 News and Courier:
“The question has come up before, and I won't hesitate a minute in saying that there hasn't been, isn't and won't be any Kennedy money, influence, contacts or connections involved with me or my campaign.”
Hollings edged Parker in the general election (51.3-48.7 percent), then won re-election six times before stepping down from the Senate nearly eight years ago.
But Fritz does still occasionally try to set us — and everybody else — straight with guest columns on our Commentary page.
The ever-ardent advocate for matching government revenues to expenditures will turn 91 on New Year's Day.
And if that sounds old to you, remember, Hollings didn't become our state's senior senator until age 81.
Trivia answer: Ellison D. “Cotton Ed” Smith was the last elected senator from South Carolina to lose that office at the ballot box. Olin Johnston defeated Smith, who was 79 and in failing health, in the 1944 Democratic primary. First elected to the Senate in 1908, Smith died in November 1944 before finishing his final term.
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.