South Carolina is a tough state for Democrats. We’re undoubtedly one of the reddest states in the union. So for a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, it can be depressing to live here. Not only does the electoral college system render our votes irrelevant in a state that has only voted Democratic twice since 1960 (and never since 1980), but viable candidates rarely run for major office. We had a Democratic governor for one term a few years back, and a Democratic senator for several decades (overshadowed by the infamous Strom Thurmond), but those tend to be exceptions. In 2002, I voted Green Party for Congress as a protest, because there was no Democrat running against Republican Henry Brown. He’s never faced any serious challenge since. So, after volunteering for the Obama campaign back in January, I was resigned to living in a write-off state. On a whim, though, I went to scdp.org to see if any good Dems were running in my state, and was thrilled to find out about Linda Ketner.
Ketner is a Democrat running for U.S. Congress in South Carolina’s first district. The first district consists of most of the coastal areas of SC, including most of Charleston, Georgetown, and Myrtle Beach. Ketner hopes to take the seat of Republican Representative Henry Brown. Ketner is a businesswoman, philanthropist, and former High School and college teacher. Her position on the issues is a dream for liberal/progressive Democrats. Education: "Save what is good out of No Child Left Behind and scrap the rest. Under-funding, uneven implementation and measures have crippled No Child Left Behind. Students cannot simply be test-taking machines. Teachers cannot simply be test-giving machines." Economy: "Accelerate minimum wage to reach $7.25 by November 2008... Require American made cars to meet a standard of 40 mpg by 2015... Increase the speed of the Renewable Energy Sector with tax incentives to create more jobs of the future..." Energy: "Offer tax incentives for the development of renewable energy companies and technologies... Sign the Kyoto agreement...Strengthen anti-trust laws on anti-competitive actions by oil companies." Iraq: "Iraq has failed to meet 13 of its 18 benchmarks... The cost of the war is 4,000 brave men and women as of the fifth anniversary of the war: fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers. Forty-six from South Carolina... I would support withdrawal over an 18 month period from Iraq while U.N., NATO partners, India and friendly Arab countries prepare to work together to assume responsibility for the stability of Iraq and the Middle East." Health Care: "Government's role in our country's healthcare system should be that of watchdog and policy-maker with the responsibility to reduce costs and increase the numbers of insured Americans...Revamp the system to reward prevention and health rather than illness, and require basic preventive treatments to be insured... Insure all children 18 and under under SCHIP in families making 300% of poverty level... Bottom line, we must reduce the costs of healthcare to a level where we can guarantee access for every working American."
What of the incumbent, Mr. Brown? His voting record is available on votesmart.com, along with ratings from various interest groups. Congressmen Brown has, in various years since 2000, received ratings of 0 from NARAL and Planned Parenthood, Citizens for Tax Justice, the ACLU, the NEA (National Education Association), the Sierra Club, the Children’s Defense Fund, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the American Public Health Association, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, the Alliance for Retired Americans, the Secular Coalition for America, the U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce, Disabled American Veterans, and a 4% rating from the AFL-CIO. He voted for the Iraq war and most continuations and funding of it, against the Electronic Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Review Act (which would investigate and limit the administration’s wiretapping actions) twice, against the Sexual Orientation Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), for the PATRIOT Act three times (with two abstentions), for the Military Commissions Act (which established secret military tribunals for trying "enemy combatants" and denied them the right of habeas corpus), and against the recent GI Bill expansion. In other words, he’s not just red, he’s maroon. It would be hard to find someone more conservative than Henry Brown. Even our Senator Lindsey Graham, also up for reelection, occasionally broke step with the White House, which is something I can’t find Mr. Brown doing on any significant occasion.
So South Carolina’s first district is held by a dark red congressman who is being challenged by a bright blue woman. Certainly SC 1st would be a terrific pickup. All this would be for naught, of course, if she doesn’t win the election. Could she? In the last quarter, she raised $413,000, three times Brown’s total (despite the overwhelming advantage incumbency tends to provide), and far more than the embarrassing $15,000 raised by challenger Henry Maatta in 2006. The last serious Democrat to run was Andy Brack in 2000, and with five months to go she’s already raised nearly as much as he did during his entire campaign. Ketner has also been endorsed by many SC Democrats, including Charleston mayor Joe Riley, who also endorsed Barack Obama back in mid-January. So Ketner’s doing very well for herself. Meanwhile, Brown is busy fighting off two primary challengers.
Speaking of primaries, is there another Democrat running? Well, technically. From the Charleston City Paper, April 23, 2008: "Gaming the System: Perennial candidate appears to play both ends." Is there any more discouraging phrase than "perennial candidate?" Wait, it gets better: "[A] black man named Ben Frasier has run for Congress nine times in the First Congressional District, calling himself a Democrat, while defending the Confederate flag atop the Statehouse, challenging a woman's right to abortion, and saying gays should be kept out of the military and prayer should be kept in public schools. Before he was a perennial congressional candidate, he was an aide to segregationist Congressman L. Mendel Rivers... It seems that the man who claimed Wadmalaw Island as his home in his filing for the First Congressional District primary also has a home and a homestead tax credit in Maryland. He has four businesses in Maryland and claims himself as the resident agent for each of those in his filing with the Maryland attorney general's office. He has at least 12 times in recent years gone to court in various matters and on each of those occasions stated — presumably under oath — that he is a Maryland resident." So, he’s an ethically questionable crank candidate, a carpetbagger, and a DINO, at least on social issues (is anyone else picturing Alan Keyes?). Fortunately, I don’t think we’re crazy enough to nominate this kook, but it is important that residents of the first district vote for Linda Ketner in the primary on June 10 if we want to take this seat.
South Carolina Democrats need to get energized. We cannot wait another two years when we have a unique opportunity this year. We know Democrats have strong prospects in 2008 across the board, but there’s more. In January, Barack Obama carried this state’s primary with 55% of the vote (and keep in mind there were still three viable candidates at the time, making it a two-to-one landslide). The possibility of SC voting for Senator Obama in November is remote, but even if it doesn’t happen, Obama will still have long coattails in SC, likely exploding voter turnout. One disappointment I have is that the DNC does not even mention Linda Ketner’s name on its website. I was looking for SC Dems to support months ago, and was unable to find any candidates. I eventually checked the SCDP website and found out about Ketner a week before the primary. I hope Howard Dean’s rightly praised fifty state strategy has not forgotten that we are one of those fifty states. Maybe the DNC is simply staying neutral until the primary. So we need a strong showing on June 10th to get the attention and support of the national party, which will be vital if we are to prevail. If they do not start paying attention soon, Democrats should contact the DNC and request that Ketner receive critical support.
But can we win? Certainly it’s a long shot. However, when I get discouraged about our chances, I remember an old saying we have in South Carolina: Thank God for Mississippi. We always knew that, no matter how much of a laughingstock we were or what national standards we were trailing in, we were usually better than Mississippi. Well, guess what? Mississippi just turned out a rock-hard Republican for a Democrat in a solidly conservative district. If they can do it, so can we.
Talking Points:- Linda Ketner is a liberal Democrat running against a solidly conservative Republican in a district that is itself highly conservative. - Linda Ketner is fundraising at an unusually prodigious rate for a Democrat in this district, and is trouncing the incumbent Republican. - Prospects for the Democratic party are high enough this year that Linda Ketner has a real chance of winning, but only if South Carolina Democrats put their all in. - The DNC needs to support Ketner, so Democrats should petition it to support her. - Visit www.lindaketner.com to learn more, donate, buy promotional merchandise, or volunteer. She is also listed on Act Blue, but they have little information available.