Politics 2004Week of June 14

SOUTH CAROLINA SPRINT “David Beasley is disliked and always underestimated by the political intelligentsia in South Carolina and Washington. But watch him: I say he leads in the primary, wins the run-off, and then wins the election.” So predicted a top national Republican operative at a lunch with two colleagues and me on June 3, five days before South Carolina GOPers took the first step toward selecting a nominee for the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Ernest Hollings. Sure enough, he was on the money on the first part of his prediction: Controversial former Gov. (1994-98) Beasley topped three other heavyweight contenders last week with 42% of the vote. With voters to determine the nominee in a run-off between Beasley and Rep. Jim DeMint (the primary runner-up with 27%) in two weeks (June 22), their contest is more a sprint than a marathon and, therefore, the better-known Beasley is the strong favorite. (Rounding out the primary last week were Charleston developer Tom Ravenel with 15% of the vote and former State Attorney General (1998-2002) and ’02 gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Condon at 14%). The winner of the run-off will almost surely face State Superintendent of Public Instruction Inez Tenenbaum, who has so far raised more than $1.3 million. Democrat Tennenbaum’s campaign website sparked a recent profile in the Washington Post because it featured an article that said, “Tennenbaum has been careful not to become too closely identified with the national Democratic Party or with the presidential campaign of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.” A decade after he last won office and six years after he became one of only two GOP governors in the nation to be defeated for re-election, Beasley has taken the first step toward rebuilding a career that formerly had him bring called one of his party’s bright young leaders. Nominated for governor at 37 over two better-known “establishment” Republicans and elected in a landslide in the fall of ’94, the conservative Beasley appeared to have everything going for him. But his retreat from a campaign pledge to keep the Confederate battle flag flying above the Capitol Dome and his steadfast opposition to state gambling proved his undoing and, in ’98, he was ousted by Democrat Jim Hodges. Two years ago, however, the former governor achieved some measure of vindication when Hodges was defeated by Republican Mark Sanford, whose positions on the Confederate flag and gambling were not unlike those of Beasley. After stints doing relief work for a church group on Bosnia and teaching at the John F. Kennedy School at Harvard, Beasley began laying the groundwork for a comeback. Like Richard Nixon after his defeat for governor of California in 1962, Beasley began hitting the “rubber chicken” circuit, freely discussing past errors, and securing support from old and new friends for a future race. His latest campaign was quarterbacked by veteran Columbia political consultant Richard Quinn, who has a long history of taking on the GOP establishment, and Beasley was no doubt given a pre-primary boost with an endorsement from Carroll Cambell, III–namesake-son of the former governor who is probably the most beloved figure among South Carolina Republicans (and who, like Ronald Reagan in his twilight years, could not go on the campaign trail himself and is seen increasingly less in public because of Alzheimer’s Disease). DeMint (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 91%) remains a conservative hero because he defied both President Bush (who had initially encouraged him to make the Senate bid) and the House Republican leadership I by joining 27 of his GOP House colleagues in December in voting against the controversial prescription drug package. But given polls showing Beasley the second choice of most primary voters and DeMint’s pro-Bush free-trade stance (Beasley promises to convince President Bush “to re-evaluate our approach on trade”), it would be a major upset for the Greenville congressman to win the fast-approaching run-off. Also in South Carolina: In the only open U.S. House district of the five in South Carolina, former Rep. (1992-98) Bob Inglis made the first stride toward a comeback of his own. In the 4th District (Greenville-Spartanburg) vacated by DeMint, stalwart conservative Inglis won the GOP nomination with 60% of the vote over three opponents. Inglis, who left the House in ’98 to challenge Sen. Hollings, is a near-cinch to return to Congress in November. One of the first House members to make a term limits a plank in his platform, Inglis honored his “three-terms-I’m-out” promise and supported close friend DeMint (who made and honored the same pledge). In this race, however, Inglis made it clear he would not have any self-imposed limits on any new term in office. MOORE INFORMATION Two weeks after the Alabama primary, pundits are still debating the political clout of deposed Chief Justice Roy Moore. Three races for the state Supreme Court were closely watched by the state and national media because of the involvement of Moore. In one race, a former Moore aide unseated a sitting justice, while in another, a candidate who backed Moore was badly beaten. In a third race, a Moore supporter managed to force a run-off. “A powerhouse would have gotten three or four of his candidates elected,” said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato– lately considered an authority on politics outside the Old Dominion–about Moore, who was forced from office for defying a federal court order to remove his Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building. “Is Moore a one-issue wonder who will fade in time? Asked Sabato. We’ll have to wait until 2006 to find that out.” Echoed Hastings Wyman of the Southern Political Report: “Moore is a force to be reckoned with, but not enough to dominate the Alabama GOP.” In the most-celebrated of Republican primaries, for the supreme court, Tom Parker, who headed the Administrative Office of the Courts under Moore, edged out incumbent Justice Jean Brown, who had voted to remove the monument Moore had placed in the rotunda. Parker, whose wife is the niece of former Republican Gov. (1978-82, 1994-98) and staunch Moore ally Fob James, now faces Democrat and Mobile lawyer Robert Smith in November. But in the race for Place 2 on the Supreme Court, Criminal Appeals Judge and Moore supporter Pam Baschab was badly beaten by Shelby County District Judge Patti Smith. In the four-candidate race for Place 3 on the court, retired Covington County Circuit Judge and Moore backer Jerry Stokes secured enough votes to make it into a run-off next month with top vote-getter and Jefferson County Probate Judge Mike Bolin. So what does Moore himself think of these results? I asked him just that last week in the office of Sen. Richard Shelby (R.-Ala.), where America’s most controversial judge was preparing to testify before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee. “Let’s get something straight–there was no ‘Moore slate,’ I endorsed no candidates, and was not out campaigning,” he told me, “I was asked to give references of character to the [three] candidates I knew and wrote letters to that effect about [Parker, Bashab, and Stokes]. That’s it. Now in the case of Tom Parker, when the incumbent began saying she ‘returned the Ten Commandments to the rotunda,’ I did speak out to the press because that’s deceit.” He noted that Justice Brown made her claim on the basis of permitting the Ten Commandments to be exhibited with other documents in the foyer of the building while his own two-and-a-half ton monument “is now locked in a closet.” In Moore’s words, “So, the Word of God now part of an historical display with other words of man, while the monument to the Word of God–which is surrounded by quotes from Washington, Jefferson, and others acknowledging God–is in a closet.” That Brown would claim those circumstances meant “returning” the Ten Commandments to the rotunda, Moore added, is “disgusting.” Moore also pointed out that Brown’s defeat at the hands of Parker was all the more impressive when one considers that the Business and Industrial Council of Alabama “spent more than $1 million to elect her.” As to reports that Alabama trial lawyers led by former Democratic Lt. Gov. (1970-78) Jere Beasley spent a similar amount on Parker’s behalf, the former chief justice replied: “Other groups have the right to become involved in a race, and Tom Parker has never said that he is the candidate of the Business Council or the trial lawyers–only that he would be neutral.” (Almost unreported in the press is that former Supreme Court Justice and longtime Moore defender Terry Butts won a primary for national convention delegate). Inevitably, any conversation with the “Ten Commandments Judge” concludes with the question of whether he will seek another office–possibly in ’06, when fellow Republican Gov. Bob Riley will face voter anger for breaking his no-taxes pledge. “A lot of folks wonder what I’ll do next–so does my wife,” deadpanned Moore, with a wink at wife Kayla. On a serious note, he added that the overturning of his removal from the bench is now being appealed in federal court. “I’m not a political climber. I look at politics as service. I’ll do whatever God leads me to do.”