If you want to get involved in Berkeley County politics, here’s a good piece of advice: grow some thick skin.
Unlike most of the South, where people are all sugary polite — at least to your face — the folks in Berkeley County are refreshingly blunt, their politics bare-knuckled.
Not conservative enough? They’ll slap a “RINO” (Republican In Name Only) sticker on your campaign sign faster than you can say “tea party.”
Supported a school tax increase? They’ll show up at a school board meeting to bash officials to their faces, maybe even read from their emails.
And if one government body even talks about a tax increase, another one might threaten to pass its own tax to block it.
Those last two things happened just last week in Berkeley County. And to outsiders, it might look pretty harsh.
But in Berkeley, it’s business as usual.
Terry Hardesty, chairman of the county Republican Party, showed up this week to bash school officials who allegedly campaigned for a bond referendum on district time.
But when he went to fill out the required “request to speak” card, he found that comments about the ongoing SLED investigation into the 2012 Yes 4 Schools campaign were barred from discussion.
First Amendment advocates jumped on the board immediately. But Chairman Kent Murray says there was no change in policy; the notice was intended to point out a rule already in place.
“We don’t allow people to talk about other people’s children, and I also can’t let people come to the microphone and bash employees,” Murray says. “They have privacy rights.”
Now, Murray is no rube — he’s a law professor and a big fan of free speech. But the board decided long ago people couldn’t come in and slander others on the big stage.
Apparently, this sort of stuff happens a lot in Berkeley.
Of course, that doesn’t sit well with folks who don’t mince words. County Councilman Tim Callanan says you can’t expect the public comments section of a meeting to be about praising government.
“Quite frankly, it’s for the opposite — somebody has a problem,” he says. “Anytime one Berkeley County body does something like this, it makes the whole county look bad.”
Or just brutally honest.
Take it like a politician
If there’s anyone who personifies Berkeley’s tough politics, it’s Callanan.
After all, he’s the one who proposed a county-wide food and beverage tax to stop Goose Creek from implementing its own. Goose Creek has been considering a 2 percent tax, but a 1 percent county tax would have stopped that.
Goose Creek officials raised a fuss, criticized Callanan and accused the county of micromanagement, if not manipulation. Callanan doesn’t care.
He has a thick skin.
“If Goose Creek wants to pass a tax, that’s their right,” he says. “If we want to express our dissatisfaction, that’s our right.”
In Berkeley County, that kind of politics is not just a right, and it’s not unusual.
For better or worse, it’s the way things are.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org