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Hope and Optimism as New Democratic Party HQ Opens In Red State South Carolina

Not everybody gets to (wants to) go to some of the Democratic Party political events of which I am the occasional participant. Actually, bystander or onlooker might be the more accurate descriptive words. You might recall my recounting of the Democratic State Party Convention in the South Carolina capital of Columbia some months ago. I went. I walked, sat and listened to some speeches. I came home. I also watched the party biggies scurry about shaking hands. I counted for little more than a warm body seat-holder. I could have stayed home and trimmed branches.

But I’m a slow learner. I kept my hand on the hot political stove and journeyed to Columbia for another trip that was a pleasant improvement over my prior effort. This time it was the “GRAND OPENING” of the new South Carolina Democratic Party headquarters, 915 Lady Street, Columbia. Ron, the whip smart PH.D college prof and county Democratic Party Chairman drove (too close to rear bumpers for my comfort). Nick, a faithful Democrat and garrulous trivia wizard rode shotgun. Being the last to be picked up at a local food market, I was relegated to an SUV back seat. It would have been a slightly more relaxing trip had the seat buckle snapped into place, but what the hell.

Off we went to the mostly I-26, 90-mile trip to the state capital. The cover charge for attending the “GRAND OPENING” was nominal at ten bucks (it somehow ended up at $11.54). For giving the party your credit card number two tickets were sent to your email to download and print off. The whole ticket thing was taken care of by an out state company called Eventbright, a husband and wife ticket-selling venture headquartered in San Francisco. A high school yearbook staff could have done the same thing Eventbrite did, so it gives one pause as to why potential state business would be farmed out to the West Coast.

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After taking the inevitable left when we should have turned right, we finally found the destination, arriving about 15 minutes before the scheduled opening of 1:30 for the two-hour affair. Ron parked across the street. People who had not prepaid, which included pal, Nick, were lining up on the stairs to pay an additional $5.00 penalty for daring not to sign up online or via a special app.

Ron and I were told to walk to the back of the building to register. After ducking a noisy alley-way construction project and walking the equivalent of two football fields, we proceeded to the swelter of the outdoor registration table and became official partakers of the “GRAND OPENING” of the new party headquarters. After it was determined I hadn’t crashed the party, I was handed a small blue raffle ticket with the name ‘Staples’ on the back. I was never told what you could win and had no idea when the drawing took place. If you were there and if the headquarters Democrats are looking for ticket holder, 125829, that’s me. With Staples the apparent sponsor, I might have won a three-hole punch or some other invaluable office accoutrement.

About 100 chairs were set up, many already occupied by the early arrivals. I was introduced to a pleasant ex-coach, teacher and long-time Democratic state representative who was planning to run against the ridiculous State Superintendent of Education, Mick Zais, an extraordinarily radical, right-wing public school destroyer. My new acquaintances’ answer to my first questions was the wrong one. I asked him if he was a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and he said “yes.” After digging a little deeper, it appears that he joined under peer pressure without having the foggiest notion what he had aligned himself with. He’s not been to any ALEC meetings and he’s not listed on the ALEC Exposed roster of South Carolina legislative members. So, until I learn differently, I’m hanging in there. When I returned home I emailed the guy a dissertation’s worth of ALEC info.

One of the tickets reflected my payment for the Panera sandwich box-lunch with a choice of Tuna, Ham or Beef. My Tuna sandwich was quite good. I wasn’t made aware until after I’d tossed the box in the trash, that a cookie lurked partially hidden in the bottom of the container.

The cooler was sitting outside where visitors were expected to eat and sit through a half-dozen speeches in 90 degree heat. New state party Chairman, Jaime Harrison introduced Vincent Sheheen, who ran the second closest gubernatorial race in the county in losing to the hugely incompetent Nikki Haley. He pointed out that during Haley’s tenure, 3 million taxpayers private information was stolen from a state computer. A fact not revealed by Haley for three weeks. Kids in Greenwood, South Carolina were exposed to TB. Haley kept the exposure a secret for 2 months and dirt-poor South Carolina has one of the highest college tuition rates in the country. Sheheen could have enumerated the sitting governor’s shortcomings for an hour, but he had an incoming thunderstorm to deal with.

House veteran James Clyburn, sporting a Hawaiian-print shift mercifully cut things short from the podium when rain started pelting down. After dropping the statistic that 906,000 South Carolina citizens might not have health insurance, he encouraged the crowed to “Keep that fire in your belly.” He then closed by saying, “I was going to talk about Medicaid expansion but I see we’re about to be rained on.”

The crowd scrambled inside. For my part I met a couple of the young men charged with blasting the party into relevance in a backward deep red state. And I mean young. Tyler Jones, the Deputy Director of the House Democratic Caucus looked to be all of 24, while Field Director, Isaiah Nelson might not have yet celebrated that birthday.

This is not met as a criticism. I worked long and hard with the youthful core of the 2008 Ohio Obama campaign before moving South. These young people were indefatigable, bright and committed. I was proud to share our city Obama headquarters offices with them. I also had a couple of conversations with the 40’ish candidate who is taking on Senator, Lindsey Graham if the Tea Party doesn’t whip the perceived moderate Republican in the primary. The Democrat’s name is Jay Stamper and, as far as Wiki is concerned, he’s a character.

He’s the grandson of a former Boeing big shot and may be worth a mountain of money. One thing for certain, he has no fear of Republicans.

We headed home to a bit more rain and a lot more optimism.

Note: I’ve decided to dip my pundit’s pen into the Twitter inkwell. Nothing major for openers, but you can join me and a few initiates @demwriter

Image: South Carolina Democratic Party Facebook

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