New faces take center stage as S.C. delegates tout diversity
TAMPA, Fla. — Celestine Parker of Columbia said she wasn’t surprised by the diversity of South Carolina’s delegation showcased Tuesday as the Republican National Convention kicked off, but others might have been.
Not only did Gov. Nikki Haley — the state’s first female and nonwhite governor — speak during prime time, but U.S. Rep. Tim Scott, one of only two black Republicans serving in Congress, also took the podium briefly.
For a state and party that has struggled to expand its political tent to include more than white men, this marked a milestone.
Parker, a black retired social worker and an alternate delegate, worked for the party’s minority development committee. She has been involved a long time making a day like this come about.
“We’ve made great strides,” she said moments after Scott’s brief address.
“These things have to happen if you’re going to grow, and we’re growing.”
Scott agreed. “It certainly is a wonderful opportunity to showcase that South Carolina voters are evolving as the state evolves and that our state really cares about values more than complexion,” he said.
Scott’s remarks targeted the nation’s first black president, Democrat Barack Obama. “The past four years of ‘hope’ and ‘change’ have led me to one simple conclusion,” he began. “Our only ‘hope’ is to ‘change’ the current resident of the White House.”
Carroll Duncan, chairwoman of the Dorchester County GOP, a delegate and County Council candidate, said she was glad to see South Carolina’s diversity on display to the rest of the country.
“I think we’ve made a lot of progress, and we’re still progressing,” she said, adding that the party’s younger members also are pushing for change. “It’s very, very, very encouraging.”
Charleston County GOP Chairwoman Lin Bennett was equally upbeat. “I think South Carolina has grown up,” she said.
Despite high-profile officeholders such as Haley and Scott, S.C. GOP voters remain overwhelmingly white, while its Democrats attract a much more diverse mix of voters.
Some say the GOP’s harder line on immigration and abortion makes its job tougher to reach minority and women voters.
Phil Noble, a Charleston businessman and head of the S.C. New Democrats, released a statement critical of Haley’s policies and their effect on women, such as her vetoing funding for 15 state rape crisis centers and her ousting businesswoman Darla Moore from the University of South Carolina’s governing board.
It quoted state Rep. Mia Butler Garrick, D-Richmond, calling Haley “a loyal foot soldier in the Republican War on Women.”
Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, said the diversity is important. Clemmons and S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson arrived on the convention floor Tuesday fresh from arguing for the state’s new Voter ID law before a federal court in Washington.
The controversial law is being challenged by the U.S. Justice Department because of concerns that it will reduce voter participation among blacks.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.