By Barney Blakeney
Charleston County Republicans last April very likely may have initiated an unprecedented move that could change the local political landscape and usher in a new reality. The county’s Republicans elected two African Americans – Maurice Washington as First Vice Chair and Nicole Claibourn as Third Vice Chair (Communications/Media) – to its executive committee. The election of two African Americans to the county’s executive committee has not occurred in modern times. Larry Kobrovsky, elected to a second term as county chairman, said Claibourn’s and Washington’s elections represent a profound change.
Kobrovsky’s first term was marked by a push for greater inclusion. “I don’t believe in identity politics,” he says, “because all politics is based on human nature and people act out of self-interests based on their concerns. Nothing is all one way or another. I represent several generations of education discrimination,” said the Charleston attorney. “America is exceptional because it aspires to an individualism which carries a message that hard work can enable you to get out of bad situations. As chairman, my job was to find like-minded people who believe things can change.”
Claibourn represents the epitome of that person. The California native and former Democrat moved to Charleston five years ago to experience change. A systems administrator in the insurance industry, she came to Charleston to join her retired Navy father and to slow down from a career on the road that took her to practically every state in the union. The one constant in her life has been change. But a religious rebirth since arriving in the Lowcountry helped her to focus on some conservative inclinations that aligned with some Republican philosophy. She joined the party after attending several Sea Island Republican Women meetings.
Becoming a Republican also encouraged Claibourn to change some other habits. As a Democrat she was a passive member of the party. She had opinions, but didn’t really participate in the activities that set its course. As a Republican she wanted to make a difference. Her friends encouraged her to run for executive office and to her surprise, she won.
Claibourn thinks her experience having lived in many different places and meeting different people of different backgrounds gives her a perspective that can help the Republican Party build to accommodate a changing political landscape. She’s been appointed to serve on the newly-formed SCGOP Minority Outreach Committee. “South Carolina has given more to me than I ever imagined. I want to give back as much as I’ve been given,” she said.
Washington is no stranger to Republican politics and has operated on both sides of the political fence. A former Charleston City Councilman and Democratic candidate for the South Carolina Senate, he served on former S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford’s transition team. That was an experience that made the former South Carolina State University Board of Trustees member and local business consultant realize the power and logic of being affiliated with both political parties, he said.
“My mother always used to say ‘never put all your eggs in one basket’.
As a member of Sanford’s transition team I sat at the table where appointments and decisions were made. Because I was at that table, the first Black woman ever appointed to the Medical University of South Carolina’s Board of Trustees happened and local Black attorney Dwayne Green was appointed to the probations and parole board. That put him in a position to help other Blacks. All that proved to me it just makes sense to look beyond political differences,” Washington said.
As the browning of America looms in the nation’s future, change that must come to the Republican Party has begun in Charleston County. Kobrovsky is confident it’s something that will catch on. “Things change,” he said.