McConnell opponents at College of Charleston picked the wrong fight
There are some people out there who don't think Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell should become president of the College of Charleston.
Most of them, frankly, are faculty members.
They say McConnell's high-profile role in issues related to the Civil War could present the college in a negative light and hurt its efforts to increase diversity.
As if C of C could be doing any worse. Right now, only 6 percent of its students are black.
These faculty types want one of their own to ascend to the presidency - a professor, an academic - and they have begun a stealth preemptive strike against McConnell.
But they have messed up. Not only have they stereotyped McConnell unfairly, they have unwittingly exposed him to be a stronger candidate than they would like.
Because given his track record on diversity, the College of Charleston could probably use a guy like McConnell right about now.
People who have only a casual acquaintance with politics know McConnell as the former state senator who played a key role in the recovery of the Civil War submarine H.L. Hunley.
They know he is the guy who used to participate in Civil War re-enactments and had a store that sold war memorabilia.
Here are a few things most people don't know:
* When McConnell took over as Senate president pro tem, he appointed black senators to two of the body's five seats on the Judicial Merit Selection Commission.
At the time, the state had too few black judges. Some candidates didn't bother to apply because they figured they wouldn't get a fair shake.
But McConnell said the commission, and the judiciary, needed more diversity. Within a decade, the number of black judges in the state more than doubled.
* In the late 1990s, McConnell was chairman of the African American History Monument committee. Black lawmakers had noted that the Statehouse grounds told only part of the state's history, and lobbied for a monument that would detail the black experience in South Carolina, from slavery to civil rights.
McConnell led a $2 million fundraising campaign and hired nationally known sculptor Ed Dwight to build the monument. It is one of the largest edifices on Statehouse grounds, and the only monument of its kind at any state capitol.
* Black lawmakers credit McConnell with securing lottery money for the state's historically black colleges and universities. As chairman of the committee that set the formula for allocating lottery money, McConnell forced the Legislature to set aside between $5 million and $7 million a year for those schools.
McConnell has caught a lot of heat for a legislative deal that put a Confederate flag on a Confederate soldiers' monument on Statehouse grounds.
And that was just from the right.
See, 15 years ago the Statehouse was rife with Confederate battle flags (actually they were Naval Jacks - the flag often appropriated by hate groups). There was one in the lobby, one each on the House and Senate podiums and another atop the dome.
McConnell was part of the compromise team that removed all four of those flags, replacing them with one infantry flag on the soldiers' monument.
As a part of that deal, in 2000 South Carolina became the final state to recognize Martin Luther King Day. People had tried and failed to recognize the holiday in this state for 20 years.
McConnell got it done.
Do those things qualify him for the presidency of a college? Not particularly. His supporters say his strengths are his leadership skills, his management and fundraising prowess, and his deep devotion to his alma mater (where he was once student body president).
Lawmakers make no secret that they are pushing for McConnell to get the job. The funniest thing is that most of them - black and white, Republican and Democrat - are in accord. That should say something.
The board of trustees will hire the new president, and you can bet those board members will be lobbied hard between now and March.
If faculty members want to push for someone other than the lieutenant governor, that is their right.
But if they want to attack McConnell on diversity, well, they need to study up on their history.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org