BY DAVID J. MACK III
It has become somewhat of a rarity these days to see political leaders come together in a bipartisan way to get things done. But that is exactly what happened when President Barack Obama recently announced he was expediting the much-needed dredging project for the Port of Charleston.
This project will deepen Charleston Harbor from 45 feet to 50 feet, allowing larger cargo vessels and other ships to transport goods through our waters. This project will lead to more jobs, more business, and will serve as a boon to our local, state, and regional economy.
But it didn’t happen overnight.
As a sign of South Carolina’s commitment to the Charleston Port, the Legislature allocated $300 million in this year’s budget to cover the construction cost of the deepening project. In July, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that the study phase of the project would be completed by 2016, much earlier than expected. The icing on the cake came last month when the White House announced that President Obama had signed an executive order as part of his “We Can’t Wait” initiative to expedite the deepening of the Charleston Port. That means the deepening project could feasibly be completed, pending authorization from Congress, by 2019.
In 2011, the Charleston Port was the eighth busiest port in the nation and responsible for nearly 280,000 jobs across South Carolina.
The longer we wait to finish this project, the more likely it is that our port will become less competitive and many of these jobs would go to other ports in other states. Once the deepening has occurred, our port will rival the busiest in the country and will create even more jobs around our state. In short, the economic potential for South Carolina is limitless.
There are plenty of people who deserve credit for their hard work in this endeavor, but leaders like Rep. Jim Clyburn, Sen. Lindsey Graham, and Mayor Joe Riley worked extremely hard to see that this project became a reality. While some members of Congress and other state leaders stood in the way of this critical undertaking, these leaders checked their partisan hats at the door, worked together, and put South Carolina’s interests ahead of their own. From the very beginning, these leaders stood tall with Charleston and their work has paid off.
The success of this project and the process by which it came about demonstrates that if our political leaders are willing to work together in a bipartisan manner, government can and will work. But it is impossible to get anything substantive accomplished these days when leaders from both parties simply go to their respective corners and refuse to work collectively on critical issues.
Almost all of our leaders in South Carolina supported this project, but not everyone agreed on how to get it done. Instead of getting buried in the partisan gridlock, these leaders — joined by our president — came together and got something extremely important done for our state. They weren’t thinking about their next election, or what the political risk would be. They wouldn’t take no for an answer. The fought hard for South Carolina.
President Obama should also receive a great deal of credit for his commitment to our port. Since his campaign for president in 2008, he has focused on revitalizing and modernizing our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. In announcing his executive order to expedite this project, President Obama said, “One way to help American businesses grow and hire is to modernize our infrastructure.
Today’s commitment to move these port projects forward faster will help drive job growth and strengthen the economy.” He couldn’t be more correct on this issue. And it goes to show how important investments in our infrastructure can be to our nation’s economy.
Unfortunately, Congress, and to a lesser extent our state Legislature, often see compromise as a four-letter word. Working with the other side has become so uncommon in politics that we are at a constant impasse on almost every issue. Neither side wants to budge on anything.
Imagine if our political leaders, both in Columbia and Washington, could work together the same way these leaders did. Imagine all the great things we could accomplish for South Carolina if leaders cared less about their next election, and more about the next generation.
The Charleston Port will be deepened and our state’s economy will benefit exponentially because of leaders who cared less about who go the credit and more about just getting the job done.
What a concept.
David J. Mack III represents Charleston County’s District 109 in the S.C. House or Representatives.