WOOTEN COLUMN: Giddy Democrats should thank a quitter
BY FRANK WOOTEN
Mark Sanford isn’t perfect.
Neither is Elizabeth Colbert Busch — or anybody else.
But 1st Congressional District voters will elect either Sanford or Colbert Busch to the U.S. House on Tuesday. And though lots of folks lament choosing between a man who remains a national punch line and a relative unknown with big-bucks backing from Nancy Pelosi and labor unions (horrors!), the victor will have this much to recommend him — or her:
He — or she — is a safe bet not to skedaddle for another job before finishing the one the voters gave him — or her.
That’s more than you can say for Jim DeMint. Elected to a second term as our state’s junior senator in 2010, he quit on us with four years left on what was tantamount to a six-year contract.
If DeMint had bolted to become vice president, that would have been OK.
Running out on us to snag a lucrative offer to become president of the Heritage Foundation, however, was not OK.
This conservative admires the Heritage Foundation — and the profit motive.
This voter, who has cast ballots for DeMint at every opportunity, also admired his stinginess with taxpayer dollars.
Well, most of the time — but not when DeMint, like Sanford, took that frugal principle too far by opposing federal earmark funding to get the Charleston Harbor dredging ball rolling.
Yet regardless of conflicting notions of fiscal responsibility, politicians who seek elective office have a civic responsibility to serve out the terms they win. The only legitimate reasons for leaving early: death, grave illness, serious family issues, resignation-forcing disgrace or a worthy government-service opening (Supreme Court justice, Cabinet member, presidential or vice presidential nomination, etc.)
Tim Scott met the last standard in taking a promotion to the Senate from Gov. Nikki Haley after DeMint’s desertion. Still, to make that upward move, Scott had to resign the 1st District House seat mere weeks after winning a second term.
And while Scott’s a fine conservative, there’s biting irony in this consequence of DeMint’s self-aggrandizing exit:
Democrats now have a realistic shot at doubling their ranks — from one to two — in our congressional delegation.
But rather than further dwelling on DeMint’s dereliction of duty or wallowing in home-stretch Sanford-Colbert Busch mudslinging, ponder the 1st District’s political past — and test your knowledge — by trying to name ...
1) the former big leaguer supported by the Charleston power base in the 1940 1st District Democratic primary, back when that was the real contest.
2) the first Republican to win the seat since the 19th century, starting an ongoing GOP 1st District winning streak that’s at serious risk Tuesday.
3) the first Democratic nominee to lose the seat since the 19th century.
4) five notable also-rans in the 1971 special election to replace a man who had held the seat for more than three decades.
5) the first black U.S. House member.
6) the 1st District representative censured by the House soon after he resigned amid allegations of improprieties involving appointments to West Point and the Naval Academy.
7) the representative who touted himself as “a work horse, not a show horse.”
8) the last Democrat not named Mendel to represent the district.
1) Alfred “Fritz” von Kolnitz, who played for the Cincinnati Reds from 1914-15 and the Chicago White Sox in 1916, and was the College of Charleston’s athletic director two decades later. His political timing was lousy: He lost his 1940 House bid to Mendel Rivers, who wasn’t shy about reminding voters of von Kolnitz’ German heritage. Rivers then kept the seat until his death in 1971.
2) Thomas Hartnett, who first won the seat in 1980, then chose not to seek a fourth term in 1986. Instead, he ran for lieutenant governor, losing the general election to Nick Theodore.
3) Former Harvard quarterback Charles “Pug” Ravenel.
4) Palmer Gaillard (Charleston mayor from 1959-75, back when that seemed like a long time in that job) and future Congressman Hartnett (who hadn’t changed parties yet) lost in the 1971 special-election Democratic primary to Rivers’ grieving godson Mendel Davis. Future Congressman Arthur Ravenel and future S.C. Department of Transportation Chairman Buck Limehouse lost in the Republican primary to future Gov. James Edwards, who then lost to Davis.
5) Joseph Rainey, a Republican from Georgetown, served four terms (1870-79) as the 1st District representative during Reconstruction.
6) Benjamin Franklin Whittemore, a Republican carpetbagger from Massachusetts who moved to Darlington after the Civil War.
7) Henry Brown.
8) Clara McMillan, who won a 1939 special election to complete the final year of husband Thomas McMillan’s eighth term after he died.
So see, South Carolinians really can elect a woman to Congress.
It’s just been a while.
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.