U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., made his maiden speech Monday on the Senate floor, mentioning those who helped him grow up and what the country must do to get its economy on track.
Scott’s speech came about six months after he became the first ever black senator from South Carolina, and only the seventh black U.S. senator in history.
During his remarks, carried live by C-SPAN2, Scott said he would focus on three things as a senator — education, economic empowerment “and controlling our spending addiction.”
He called for rewriting the federal tax code, improving education and streamlining regulations on businesses.
If the government were to do all that, he said, “we will create the best economy known to man.”
Scott began his remarks, which lasted only a few minutes, by praising the Palmetto State and the success it has had creating manufacturing jobs, particularly by attracting companies such as Boeing, BMW and several tire companies.
He also recounted his formative lessons growing up in North Charleston — stories familiar to those who have heard him during his previous campaigns for Congress.
Scott singled out his mother, Frances Scott, who worked two jobs as a single mother to support her family. “She wanted us to have the good example of someone who believes in hard work,” he said.
He also mentioned his mentor, the late John Moniz, who owned a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Northwoods Mall. “John believed you could literally think your way out of poverty,” Scott said, adding that Moniz also taught him this lesson: “If you don’t like where you are, look in the mirror.”
Gibbs Knotts, chairman of the College of Charleston’s political science department, was not surprised that Scott talked about his personal story, which Knotts called “very compelling.”
It’s also not surprising that Scott waited six months to take the floor.
“The Senate has a lot of norms and a lot of expectations for junior senators, who go in and defer to some of the seniority and first get to know the leaders and the rules,” Knotts said. “You saw that even with (former New York Sen.) Hillary Clinton, who came in with a pretty high profile.”
Scott’s speech quickly shifted into policy. He referred to the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act health-care law, saying small businesses faced “staggering” costs to comply with it.
“We do not simply need a delay in the employer mandate,” he said, referring to the administration’s move last week to push back a deadline for some businesses from 2014 to 2015. “We need a repeal in the employer mandate.”
On education, he called for a new national debate on the merits of charter schools, school choice and home schooling.
“Parents need more choices so their kids will have a chance,” he said. “Whatever can improve our education system should be on the table for discussion.”
Scott, who held the state’s 1st Congressional District seat from 2011-13, was sworn in this year to occupy the seat formerly held by Jim DeMint, who resigned to lead the Heritage Foundation.
Scott is expected to run for the final two years of DeMint’s term next year, and he could have a relatively easy ride. Scott already had more than $1.3 million in the bank as of March 31, and no announced competitors.
Most early political stirrings have revolved around the seat held by his GOP colleague, Sen. Lindsey Graham, who will seek re-election next year to a new six-year term.
An April Winthrop Poll found Graham with a 44 percent approval rating among the state’s registered voters, but that rating had dropped among Republicans. Scott had a 40 percent approval rating, 18 points higher than the percent who disapproved of his performance. Almost 40 percent weren’t sure about how he was handling his new job.
Knotts said Scott seems to be in good shape in this very Republican state. “He’s engaging, and part of it is your positions and your policies,” he said, “but we learned from Strom Thurmond that so much of it is constituency service. ... That will be something for Scott to continue to pay attention to, to make sure he has quality people paying attention to constituents in the office.”
Scott ended his speech on an upbeat note. “The best and brightest days are still ahead for America. I believe in the greatness of America because I have experienced the goodness of her people.’
Once Scott finished his speech, several of his Republican colleagues rose to praise him, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Whip John Cornyn.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.