The dramatic nomination of Tim Scott in the Republican primary for Congress from South Carolina’s 1st District last year illustrated yet again that, more often than not, there’s something more substantial to a political story than the conclusions reached by the national punditocracy.
One-term state Rep. Scott made national news by becoming the first black candidate to win a Republican nomination for Congress from the former Confederacy since Reconstruction. To read about it in the Washington Post or similar media, Scott’s win was “symbolic” because he had emerged triumphant in the run-off over Paul Thurmond, son of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R.-S.C.) who had been a strong segregationist for much of his political career.
“Well, I don’t know about that,” said Rep. Scott in a recent interview, recalling that the elder Thurmond had changed his views on segregation in the early 1970s and, in fact, had taken positions that sometimes put him into the civil rights camp and at odds with fellow conservatives.
“Look, Paul Thurmond and I served on the Charleston County Council together for a number of years and I have nothing but good to say about him. The only ‘symbolism’ about our run-off was that we disagreed on earmarks, period. He supported earmarks. I am against earmarks for anything, period.”
The Club for Growth as well as several local anti-tax groups weighed in for Scott in the run-off. So did Sarah Palin, who endorsed Scott (“although I have never actually met her”) three days before the voting.
And it all worked. Scott won the run-off with more than 70% of the vote and, in November, handily maintained the Republican hold on the 1st District that began back in 1980.
But Tim Scott has been an “ overcomer” of odds for a long time. As a high school student in Charleston, he flunked out in his freshman year because, as Scott recalls, “I wasn’t interested in studying.” While attending summer school and working at a local theater, however, the young man had a life-changing experience.
“I would go over to the local Chick Filet and get something to eat,” said Scott, adding that he loved their French fries “and they’re cheap.” The manager of the Chick Filet, John Moniz, often talked to Scott and “he made me understand the importance of hard work and education. He had great faith and he helped lay the foundation for my future.”
Scott returned to the 10th grade and, upon graduating from high school, earned a degree from Charleston Southern University. After leaving there, he sold insurance, started an agency of his own and then went into real estate.
When Republican Rep. Henry Brown announced his retirement, Scott switched from a race for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor to a run for Congress. At first, Scott was usually just listed among the seven Republican hopefuls, with the national press preferring to focus on such better-known contenders as young Thurmond or Carroll Campbell Jr., namesake son of the revered former governor.
As Scott put it, “They didn’t know the lay of the land here or know me. I had been on the county council for 13 years and had a reputation for opposing higher taxes and excessive spending. So I was able to define the territory. We had a great campaign team and lots of enthusiastic supporters. And, well, here I am.”
‘I Wish We Could Find Things The President and I Could Work On Together’
As when I interviewed GOP Rep. Allen West of Florida, I could not wait to ask the other black Republican in Congress what President Obama said when they met at the White House reception for freshman lawmakers.
“He said, ‘Congratulations.’” Scott told me, “And he said that he ‘looked forward to working with me.’ You know, I wish we could find things the President and I could work on together. But so far, I just haven’t found much we agree on.”
Indeed. The South Carolinian calls for repeal of ObamaCare and, while the Obama agenda points to a major tax increase if fully enacted, Scott calls foursquare for cutting taxes. Taking up the mantle of the late Jack Kemp, he has introduced the “Rising Tide Tax Reform Act,” which would slash the corporate income tax rate down to 23%, eventually phase out the capital gains tax and repeal the “Death Tax” outright.
“And I also believe we need to start looking at every government agency and see what can be consolidated and what can be abolished.” Scott added, “There are about 48 programs related to commerce and housing that, if merged, could save taxpayers about $200 million.
“There is an obligation to look closely at the federal role in education and put as much authority as possible back in local school districts. That would lead, hopefully, to making the U.S. Department of Education infinitely smaller.”
On the fiscal issues of the day, the freshman lawmaker supports the budget crafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and is not prepared at this time to vote to raise the debt ceiling.
“You can put me in the ‘no’ corner for now,” Scott told me, “There will have to be some major concessions in spending to move me and so far I haven’t heard any substantive conversations about doing this. Any proposed spending concessions would have to be revolutionary to get my attention.”
Scott and I noted that on May 26 it would be 50 years since then-Atty. Gen. Robert Kennedy made a prediction on a worldwide broadcast that raised some eyebrows at the time: that there would probably be a black elected President within 40 years . Kennedy was only seven years off.
Does Scott believe there will be a conservative Republican who is black elected as President in the next 50 years?
“Good question,” he replied. “I am always happy to see the conservative movement grow and new groups added to it. So it’s heartening to find there are diverse groups supporting the conservative cause and voting for conservative Republicans. It would be great to have a Republican President who is black. But at this point, I feel it is less important to elect a President who happens to be black or of a particular heritage than it is to elect a President who is a strong conservative. We sure need one now.”