Charisma vs. Connections
April 17, 2002
Monday evening's Anderson County Republican Party Bronze Elephant banquet was more than a "who was there" event. It also was an opportunity to hear from the man who most likely will step in to fill the shoes of Third District Congressman Lindsey Graham. With the gossip column out of the way, we'll turn our thoughts to the true intent of the evening.
First, you have to understand that I was observing the forum from the standpoint of a Fourth District voter. George Ducworth, Bob Waldrep, Gresham Barrett and Jim Klauber are names I had heard before, but not enough to form a judgement. Michael Thompson (the engineer and businessman) and Stan Jackson were completely new to me. So, what I will share with you is the impressions these men made upon me during the hour.
After Bill McAbee welcomed the attendees, John Boone gave the invocation. The Pledge of Allegiance was followed by a nice a cappella rendition of the National Anthem by the group Faithful Heart. Rob Carey read the Republican Creed, Michael Morris gave a special award to the caterer, Rick Adkins introduced all of the elected officials attending and then we got down to the business of conducting the forum.
Paul Hyde, associate editorial page editor for The Greenville News, moderated. (I didnít realize that he was a resident of Anderson and had served as an editor for the Anderson Independent-Mail.) Each candidate was given two minutes for opening comments and then Mr. Hyde asked questions that had been formulated before the event by the Anderson County GOP leaders. There were six questions followed by another session of two minute closing comments by each candidate.
The event closed with a unique adjournment. As the applause for the candidates began to die away, a lone voice began singing God Bless America. Soon the entire crowd of over 250 people joined in. After a slight pause at the songís conclusion, the sound of moving chairs resumed and the usual banter filled the air.
There were six questions asked of the panelists. Here they are, as I understood them:
1. Can tax policy be used to help protect and enhance family values?
2. What must be done to salvage Social Security?
3. Does the Homeland Defense position (Tom Ridge) have the power it needs to protect the country?
4. Where do you stand on educational freedom?
5. What is your stand on United States trade practices and policies?
6. Would you vote to stop the automatic pay increases built into the congressional budgets?
The bottom line is that most of the candidates gave very similar answers. I guess you could call it a variations on a theme. As a matter of fact, Mr. Ducworth referred to the previous speakers' points on numerous occasions and seemed to make a point of the fact that there were no great differences. Like him, I will not spend a lot of time in the remainder of this article to focus on the questions and answers, but rather on my impressions of the candidates.
The first to speak was Bob Waldrep. His speaking style did not enthrall me. As I listened to him I got the impression that he was not truly conservative. He seemed to look to Washington a lot for the solutions to local problems. His approach to education seemed to be much more bureaucratic. He felt strongly that there needed to be federal involvement in our local education system.
Stan Jackson followed Waldrep. He continually stressed that he was "not in career politics." This is a good line to use, but to the point were it becomes a sledgehammer to hit your opponent over the head. Being a "career politician" isn't always a bad thing. When he wasn't making that point, he made some other good ones in the area of taxes and Social Security. One line I really liked was when he answered question three. He said, "We are a resilient country when we are a free country." Other than that, Mr. Jackson didn't really rev my engine.
Jim Klauber was third and the first that perked up my ears. It wasn't necessarily what he said but the way he said it. I liked the way he came flat out and expressed his support for a flat tax. He spoke authoritatively on the issue of Social Security. It appeared he had done his homework and avoided the normal jargon. He put a stress on local action with support from the Homeland Defense. As a matter of fact, most of his answers returned back to local control. While against fast track powers for the President, he also showed he realized that we must move to create a more diversified economy. He concluded his two-minute closing statement with a powerful speech on his willingness to swim against the stream in the State House even when it cost him a subcommittee position.
Michael Thompson was next. As he spoke I found myself growing tense. It wasn't that I disagreed with him. It was simply that his speaking style set me on edge. I was reminded of the brilliant research scientist that gets put into the position of professor. He may be a good researcher, but he can't always express his knowledge in a way that educates. He stressed that when you think of him, you should think of Bush. He is like Bush in that he is a businessman. He pointed out that he manages a multi-million-dollar budget (bigger, he pointed out, than the one AG Condon manages). He seems like a nice guy, but he doesn't stand a chance.
Gresham Barrett gets your motor running. I tried to pay attention to the applause given to candidates after their initial speeches. Barrett won hands down. The guy must take a lot of vitamins. He is intenseóbut not in a way that makes you uncomfortable. It appears to be intensity born of conviction. His lead off statement, "Character is not one of the things that matters. It is the only thing that matters." He also was not shy about sharing his beliefs. He let it be known that if elected he would be a representative that you know would be "willing to hit my knees" when faced with difficult decisions. In many ways his positions seemed to be very close to Klauber.
Ducworth: father figure. A recurring theme for George Ducworth was that of his service with Strom Thurmond for four years. He seconded many of the tax ideas brought up by other candidates but added that he would like to see tax credits for volunteers who help families. He agreed with those who wanted more local control over education and made a pointed reference to his personal experience with relatives who home school their children. He made no bones about placing tariffs on textile imports and joined the majority of the candidates calling for reform of INS.
So, where does this leave us? If I were to walk out of the forum and cast my vote, I probably would have voted for Barrett or Klauber. These two guys had the charisma. Frankly, when Barrett stands in front of you and shakes your hand he has Congressman written all over him. Is beauty only skin deep?
Knocking around afterwards I spent some time talking with Mr. Hyde and a some of the various political staff. I learned a little more about the field. It comes as no obvious surprise that Ducworth and Waldrep should have an advantage. They have the connections and certainly the name recognition. I would initially narrow things down to Barrett, Ducworth, Klauber and Waldrep. A run off will probably come out of this and I will go out on a limb and call it as Barrett vs. Ducworth.
Frankly, from all that I have been able to learn and see for myself, the Third District should be very happy with either of these men. So in the end what began as a variation on a theme becomes a battle between charisma and connections.