My wife and I attended the South Carolina State Democratic Party-sponsored John Spratt Issues Conference in Myrtle Beach late last week. If Spratt doesn’t ring a bell, he was a hard-working and effective South Carolina member of the House from 1983-2011 and served a four-year stint as the Chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee.
Myrtle (as the locals call it) is 240 miles from my front door and you have to navigate the garish, billboard-laden, stop-lighted highway 501 just before getting there.
On the other hand, the Sheraton Hotel Convention Center was the perfect host, not counting a couple of 12-year-old girls who thought 11:30 PM was a perfectly reasonable time to sprint up and down the 4th floor hallway.
After registration, the Friday festivities began around 1:30. There were five training session options. I opted for Building a Relevant County Party.
My session was presided over by Carol Fowler, one-time state party chair and wife of Don, the former National Democratic Party Chairman. The Fowlers have been ensconced in party politics for many decades and one would be well served to listen attentively to either one of them.
From 6:30-8:30 PM, a fundraiser was scheduled for Democratic National Committee head, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. For $50, you were allowed to mingle in the general vicinity of the Florida Representative and DNC head. Problem was, the Republicans dragged the Department of Homeland Security funding vote out to the early hours of the evening and Wasserman-Schultz was stuck on the House floor.
So, the Mrs. and I defaulted to another gathering of our fellow Democrats who kept their half a C-note and had just as much fun at the Welcome Reception that was included in the ticket price.
Saturday morning greeted the 301 conference attendees, twice last year’s inaugural session, with the promise of a nine-hour day of nothing but Democratic politics. Party Chairman Jaime Harrison and the Issues Conference Chair Ginny Deerin delivered the official opening remarks.
I had talked with Deerin during the campaign and was very impressed. She lost the 2014 Secretary of State race, but I thought Deerin was an extremely valuable party resource. The party chair must have agreed. In addition to running the Issues Conference, she had announced her candidacy for the November, 2015 run for mayor of Charleston. It seems ten terms (4 years per) was enough for current Mayor Joe Riley. He’s planning on stepping down at the end of this go-around.
Deerin, who’s a real firecracker, told the assembly, “We need to shake it up. Let go of what hasn’t worked and find out what works.” She faces a huge field of at least a dozen other aspirants. One guy announced in April of 2014. Some candidates have fair-sized coffers already, but if the Ginny Deerin I visited with, emerges, she can win.
Chairman Harrison told the gathering to ask two questions: “What does it mean to be a Democrat and why am I a Democrat?” He added “We can’t grow the party if we don’t know what the party is about.” Harrison blamed the 2014 state and national mid-term debacle on “not putting our message out there. Don’t be quiet about being DEMOCRATS!”
Martin O’Malley was the next to mount the dais. He’s the former Maryland governor with a string of policy successes. He backgrounded the initiatives that drove his state to the top of the education heap and threw in a historical analogy from the war of 1812. After the British had reduced Washington to ashes, they thought they could do the same thing to Baltimore. Didn’t work out that way. He talked of the American flag stitched together by white and black hands and a white, black and immigrant population that successfully defended the city.
He railed against his predecessor’s failed’trickle down’ master plan that he turned into the robust “Power of economic inclusion.”
O’Malley rattled off his accomplishments in the governor’s office and was quite believable. Problem is that when out on the pre-campaign trail, he just doesn’t move the polls. Methinks Hillary and her people are taking a very close look at a possible running mate.
Keynoter Wasserman-Schultz was next. She had to catch either a ‘red-eye’ or the earliest flight available for the 960-mile round trip to coastal Carolina. She looked a bit weary, but gave it her all. She called for a cohesive national narrative, aggressive legislation and a legal strategy for a new constitutional amendment meant to shore up 15th Amendment voting guarantees. The amendment proposal is a newly-minted centerpiece that will soon command national attention. You can learn more about the “Right to Vote Amendment” here.
She also said that middle-class economics works, pointing out the 59 straight months of private sector job growth. After a few more words, she beat a hasty retreat (as would you) to probably jump aboard a private jet rushing her back to DC. She was well received, but the biggest ovation by far went to O’Malley. Still, conference goers had nothing but praise for an elected official who keeps her word.
After the speech and a break, I attended a panel on bridging the gap between law enforcement and African-Americans. The highlight (lowlight?) was an enraged outburst from a very middle-class looking black man who yelled “I’m very angry. You keep killing us, then you’re going to be killed.” I recognized the rage and talked with him afterward. He was very bright and civil, but didn’t back off his rhetoric. He’s not alone.
The last direct participation of the day for me was a “Business Caucus.” I’m now a member of that state caucus.
There were three panels to end the conference. The most compelling was a Domestic Violence Panel. There was talk of lack of funding and problems with a legal system that lets early offenders off with wrist slaps through absurd plea-bargaining and the statutory mandates of requiring multiple minimal sentence offenses until the perps are menacing and abusive to the extreme. In one statistical period, 70% of the killings of women by men were by guns.
The issue is truly scary and in need of immediate and intensive legislative attention.
The other two panels yielded some interesting ideas and suggestions. Just a couple of observations. A panel member from the “Ready for Hillary PAC” didn’t seem to draw much reaction. Democrats appear to have already conceded the nomination to Hillary. There was the anti-American revelation that the Koch brothers are planning on spending $900 million on the 2016 election cycle.
One of the panelists was a super-sharp guy named Jason Perkey, who has assumed the executive directorship of the South Carolina Democratic Party. He formerly held the same position in Kansas, the state government equivalent of an animated cartoon. He wants the party to ask people what’s bugging them; listen to their answers and follow up with solutions. That’s as good a way to end the conference as I can think of.
We’ll keep the wipers going and wait for the sun.
Image via WMBF