S.C. party leaders a lot like oil, water

Harpootlian (left), Connelly (right)

The two men running the state's major political parties have one thing in common: They both attended Clemson University. Beyond that, their paths are far apart.

Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian, 62, a Columbia attorney who previously helped Democrats make Republican David Beasley a one-term governor, is back for a second time.

The trigger-mouthed Harpootlian honed his political philosophy in the 1960s, aligning himself with what he saw as the emerging optimism of Robert Kennedy.

His Republican counterpart, motivational speaker Chad Connelly, 47, of Prosperity, came of age during the Ronald Reagan years.

While Connelly is just a few months into the job, he counts himself among those who awoke from the malaise of the Jimmy Carter years to find optimism in the "Great Communicator."

Recently, both men sat for a question-and-answer session with The Post and Courier.

Their comments are edited for brevity and clarity.

Chad Connelly, Republican Party chairman

Q: Political parties in power often seem to implode from the inside out. How do you prevent that from happening in South Carolina and keep Republicans together, especially with the rise of the tea party as an alternative?

A: I don't expect everybody to follow in line. I'm trying to be the guy who talks about the big picture and unity. Let's find the percent of stuff we agree on. Let's go beat Obama. Let's strengthen our message. Let's add a sixth Republican to the seven congressional seats we're about to have. Let's make a more conservative House and Senate.

Q: What is the Democratic Party's biggest weakness?

A: Their platform doesn't relate to people. South Carolinians don't square with abortion on-demand and more taxes and more government and more intrusion in their lives, or alternative lifestyles that lead to rights for groups instead of individuals. We're a nation that was founded with God-given rights, not state-granted rights. Their platform is the antithesis of what people really believe in their heart.

Q: Is the party prepared to stick by Lt. Gov. Ken Ard for the next two years, given his documented ethical missteps and current criminal investigation into misuses of campaign money?

A) It's just not smart, and it's inappropriate actually, to discuss something that's going to a grand jury. And while that process is being played out, I don't care who it is, I think the process ought to be played out.

Q: Who are your political heroes and why?

A: Ronald Reagan. I read everything that I could get my hands on about Reagan. He's the guy who pulled it all together for me.

Q: How much state and national pressure is on you and the state GOP to put on a relevant or exciting presidential primary this winter, considering what many see as a current field of candidates that is short of inspiring?

A: Any one of our candidates is 1,000 times better than what we got there now. Anybody. We're going to have the first in the South presidential preference primary. It's going to be spectacular.

Q: Who was the better president and why? George H.W. Bush, or George W. Bush?

A: George W. I just related more to him.

Q: What advice, if any, would you give your opposite, Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian?

A: They've got to do a complete re-do. Their platform needs to be bulldozed and started over so that it relates to normal people. They've always said they are the party for the little guy, but all they are doing is making more ‘little guys.'

Q: If I'm a Democrat, what can you say right now to make me switch my allegiance?

A: Democrats think everything comes through government coercion. We believe the individual has to be held responsible for his actions and understands there are consequences for those actions.

Q: Finish this sentence: In 10 years the S.C. Republican Party will ...

A: Be the dominant party in South Carolina. And be more conservative than it is now. And still electing presidents in the presidential preference primary.

Q: Lastly, What about you is Democratic?

A: Whew. I'm stumped. I don't know of anything that I relate to in their party platform very well.

Schuyler Kropf

Dick Harpootlian, Democratic Party chairman

Q: The Republicans are firmly entrenched as the super party of the state, controlling all the constitutional offices, plus both U.S. Senate seats and five of the state's six seats in Congress. How do you make the Democratic Party relevant again?

A: My sense is people want a change. It takes time for people to understand the Republican Party is a corrupt, archaic, good ol' boy party and that they have no new ideas. Ten years of their stewardship has led us into the highest unemployment in the Southeast and the worst education in the country.

Q: What is the Republican Party's biggest weakness you see?

A: Nikki Haley. Whether she is claiming jobs that weren't created or promising to take people to the Department of Motor Vehicles (for identification cards), or claiming credit for things she didn't do, it's becoming a constant pattern.

Q: You've been making waves versus the Republicans and Gov. Haley with some comedic videos. Is that the best you got? How does comedy help sway voters?

A: I think comedy is a good way. Look, boring policy, statistical discussions don't penetrate the ‘ether' out there. Comedy and very sharp pointed messages, do. We have the benefit of the Internet to distribute those, so it's low-cost. You don't have to go up on TV.

Q: Who are your political heroes and why?

A: Bobby Kennedy. Because he had the courage of his convictions and the guts to speak out against the Democratic establishment. Barack Obama, I think has done a tremendous job of moving this country forward.

Q: Beyond the presidential turnout in the fall of 2012, the Democrats really aren't in a position to make much impact in the state scene until 2014. How are you preparing for that? Is it Vince Sheheen for governor again?

A: (Harpootlian disagrees 2012 is a write-off year for Democrats.) I believe we will take back the state Senate and pick up significant House seats. There is a tremendous dissatisfaction with what's going on at the Statehouse, from Ken Ard to Nikki Haley on down. People are not happy with where the state is. You can only point to Washington so much.

Q: Who is the better president and why? Bill Clinton or Barack Obama?

A: I think they are both great presidents for different reasons. Bill Clinton left a balanced budget with a surplus. We were at peace. I think Barack Obama inherited the worst mess any president has inherited since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He's done a tremendous job of getting us out of the ditch, in spite of the whining and carping of the Republicans, who got us into the ditch to begin with.

Q: What advice, if any, would you give your opposite, GOP Chairman Chad Connelly?

A: Don't appear with me in public. He's got a terrible record to defend. He's got a lying governor, a lieutenant governor who can't tell the truth, and a dysfunctional House and Senate. What's to defend? Why are we 50th in education? They've had the government for 10 years, almost. Why haven't they turned that around?

Q: If I'm a Republican, what can you say right now to make me switch my allegiance?

A: Nikki Haley, Ken Ard.

Q: Finish this sentence: In 10 years the S.C. Democratic Party will ...

A: Be without me. I'm in for the short haul. I did this because I'm tired of one-party control. And I'm tired of living in a state that's the laughingstock of the country.

Q: Lastly, What about you is Republican?

A: (Harpootlian holds up a handgun taken from his desk). I'm in favor of Second Amendment rights. But I don't think that makes me Republican. They want to paint Democrats as ‘anti-gun.' Most of the Democrats I know in South Carolina are pro-Second Amendment.

If I smoked crack, or took a strong blow to the head, that might make me Republican.

Schuyler Kropf