State Sen.-elect Marlon Kimpson credited many people for his landslide win Tuesday — his wife and family, his campaign staff, advisers and volunteers, Democratic leaders — and tea party Republicans in Congress.
That might sound strange coming from Charleston’s newest Democratic lawmaker, but Kimpson thinks last week’s government shutdown helped push his vote toward 80 percent.
“In this district where President (Barack) Obama won in large numbers, people were sick and tired of being sick and tired,” he said. “They channeled that frustration to going to the polls to make a difference in the form of a vote for Marlon Kimpson.”
During the campaign, Kimpson made it clear that a vote for him is a vote to further Obama’s agenda in South Carolina, adding, “This extremist agenda to shut down the government really frustrates the people in District 42. ... We doubled our numbers from the runoff.”
Kimpson will be sworn in Monday to the seat formerly held by Robert Ford, the veteran Democratic senator who resigned in May amid ethical and health problems.
And while Kimpson has several ideas for how state government should improve public education, health care, organized labor and the environment, he said his immediate goals are to learn the Senate’s rules, learn his committee assignments and study the bills pending in those committees.
In a broader sense, he said his goal is simply this: “To make sure government works for the people.”
When Kimpson spoke to more than 100 supporters on election night, he recalled his father’s humble upbringing in rural Calhoun County.
“His biggest claim to fame was picking 250 pounds of seed cotton,” Kimpson said, “but my daddy picked seed cotton so that he could go to Benedict College and graduate and go on to be a math teacher. My mamma? A Title One school teacher.”
Kimpson was born in Columbia and grew up there, within sight of a public housing project. He graduated from Morehouse College and worked as a banker before going to law school and joining the Lowcountry’s large plaintiff’s firm, Motley Rice.
Charleston County Democratic Chairman Richard Hricik said Kimpson’s rise from humble beginnings is part of his political appeal.
“It’s a Horatio Alger story, and that resonates a lot with me,” he said. “I’m the first person in my family to graduate from college and to graduate from law school. Marlon is the America story. Here’s a guy who literally came from not-very-much and here he sits as a state senator. That’s a testament to his character.”
Hricik gave an unusual boost to Kimpson during his Democratic primary battle, mainly by frequently pointing out that Kimpson’s main opponent, former Charleston City Councilman Maurice Washington, had as much history with Republicans as Democrats.
Kimpson said he is not familiar with Alger, a 19th century American author who wrote stories about boys rising from poverty to great success, but said his family’s story resonates with voters in the district.
“You have people who are hard-working, and they want their children to participate and enjoy the American dream.”
To say Kimpson was not Ford’s hand-picked successor is understating things.
Ford actively backed Washington during the Democratic primary, and made a last-minute endorsement of Kimpson’s Republican opponent, Billy Shuman, just days before Tuesday’s election.
Kimpson and Ford clearly clash on one issue — the idea of providing vouchers or tax credits to parents who send their children to private school.
Ford was open to the idea; Kimpson is not.
And where Ford had expressed support for legalizing forms of gambling, such as video poker, to raise state revenues, Kimpson has not gone there.
Kimpson also did not want to go into detailed comparisons about how he would differ from his predecessor. “I’m not in a position to judge what Senator Ford did or didn’t do. I just want to move forward to usher in a new era of leadership and play a substantive role for citizens who live in the district.”
But he did draw an oblique comparison, noting that he has a full-time job.
“I am a very good lawyer, and I enjoy practicing law,” he said. “That was a positive in this campaign: I had an independent source of income that I can keep. I think it’s important when you are in public service that you have the ability to say no to special-interest groups when it’s not to the advantage to the people you represent. Having a source of income helps you do that.”
Ford, who had no other job outside his senate position, ultimately was found to have misused his campaign donations for personal expenses.
Kimpson’s election Tuesday makes him one of Charleston’s highest-profile African American politicians. At his relatively young age, 44, some will surely throw his name in the mix for higher office, but Kimpson said that all can wait.
“I have not thought of anything beyond the state Senate,” he said.
Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Hartsville, said he has known Kimpson for almost 30 years, and both are members of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. “That’s a big deal to folks in the community,” Malloy said.
Kimpson felt strongly enough about his fraternity that he used its purple and gold colors and four stars — which represent manhood, scholarship, perseverance and uplift — on his campaign signs.
Malloy said he liked Ford, and he expects Kimpson, like Ford, will represent his constituents, a group that includes much of metro Charleston’s African-American population.
After the election, Sen. Paul Thurmond, R-Charleston, called to congratulate Kimpson, who went to law school with Thurmond’s brother and who works with one of Thurmond’s friends from law school.
“I’m interested in seeing what Marlon’s ideas and desires are. I haven’t talked to him about that,” Thurmond said. “He’s a very capable, high-intensity individual, and I think he is going to be a good addition. I look forward to working with him. Most of all, I hope I can be persuasive with him.”
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.