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First District Deserves Something Different
4/17/2013 2:54:34 PM

By Barney Blakeney

I actually was a little disappointed when I realized I couldn’t vote in the First Congressional District election. The race has been so contentious, it draws people in.

I reside in Jim Clyburn’s Sixth Congressional District. For the past 20 years I’ve voted in that election. But for some reason, the First District race made me forget about all that.

That the Sixth District races have been a foregone conclusion since Clyburn’s initial election in 1992 preventing any serious competition bothers me. Maybe that’s why it was so easy to forget which district I live in. That election always is an automatic. Gerrymandering virtually guarantees Clyburn’s re-election.

And that Clyburn is a capable representative for the constituents of the Sixth District notwithstanding, I don’t think anyone should get such a free ride. Especially when the demands in the Sixth District are so overwhelming.

So I guess it’s been the thrill of the competition in the First District race that’s so enticing.

With some 20 candidates initially vying for the seat, one would think the First District race is truly an exercise in American Democracy. Of course the reality is all the candidates are cut from the same cloth, but the competition has been exciting.

Several months ago when Jim DeMint first stepped down as First District Congressman, a local Republican told me the seat would be bought rather than elected. The choices would come down to which ever candidate had the money to finance the most convincing campaign, he said.

I heard that same criticism of American political campaigns from S.C. Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey. Somehow, the message of who best can represent the people has gotten lost in our electoral system. Elections generally go to the candidate who spends the most money.

That happens more often than most of us think.

I’ll never forget, several years ago, a Charleston County School Board candidate spent about $50,000 to get elected. Now who would spend that much money on a local election to a board that pays only $25 per meeting.

The real deal is Charleston County School Board controls one of the county’s largest agencies - an agency with an annual budget of over $500,000. That’s a lot of ham sandwiches, ya’ll.

Government, like God, is big business. And a lot of money stands to be made.

If a lot of money changes hands through a seat on Charleston County School Board, imagine how much money changes hands through a seat as a U.S. Congressman of Congresswoman. It is a powerful position.

That’s why so many people took a shot at the Republican nomination to the May 7 special election. And that’s also why The underdog Democrats also are banking the farm on electing Elizabeth Colbert Busch.

Now I personally, could care less about whether a Republican or Democrat gets elected to the seat. As far as I’m concerned a Republican is just a Democrat flipped over on the other side. In fact, most South Carolina Republicans are former Democrats.

I have a hankering to help decide the First Congressional race because I think as a constituent, we have to begin to elect people who are willing to move beyond the status quo.

In my mind Sanford is old school politics while Colbert Busch is the new kid on the block, but I’m not convinced their agendas are very different. Sometimes I think they’re both about doing the same things in different ways. I’m not so sure we need to be doing the same things.

The First District, as much as any other part of the state will be facing vast changes over the next few decades - changes in our workforce, changes in the kind of jobs that will be available, changes in how the workforce will be educated for those jobs. We need to elect people who have got their vision set on the future.

In the mean time, there are some very pertinent issues we must deal with today - quality of life issues like crime and justice, the ongoing displacement of traditional communities, educational and income gaps among various segments of the population.

Voters in the First District will decide which, if either of the two candidates, best addresses those and other issues. And they should be looking beyond the next two years. The First District deserves a leader with an eye on the future.

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