Good Versus Bad in House District 75
Editor's Note: We tried to talk Sic Willie out of it, but he was so ticked off after The State (a.k.a. La Socialista)'s endorsement in this race that we had to demur ...
Very rarely in politics does a contest come along that pits good versus bad as clearly as the House District 75 race between Republican Jim Harrison and Democratic challenger Boyd Summers.
On the surface, both candidates come across as good guys, but what lies beneath?
Last fall, I attended a party at Dianne’s restaurant on Devine Street following the Junior League of Columbia’s Annual Holiday Market fundraiser. Hundreds of prominent young Columbia couples were present, decked out in their tuxedos and formal evening gowns, dancing, drinking and partying well into the early morning hours.
It was at this event that I happened to meet Boyd Summers, the Democratic candidate recruited by former House Minority Leader Gilda Cobb-Hunter to run against Jim Harrison.
I remember my encounter with Mr. Summers very clearly for a variety of different reasons.
First of all, he was positively inebriated – in other words, drunk to the point he could hardly stand up. Second, he had a political potty-mouth the likes of which I hadn’t heard since the last time I ran into DeMint/ Ryberg campaign manager Terry Sullivan.
Mr. Summers actually offered me a job less than two minutes into our conversation, although I'm sure the alcohol had something to do with that.
Astounded to learn that I work for Democrats from time to time, he told me he was running for the State House and could use my help.
“What district?” I asked him.
“Seventy-five,” he told me.
“Who’s the incumbent?” I asked him, honestly not knowing.
“F---ing Jim Harrison.”
At this point, I told Mr. Summers I appreciated the drinks he had bought for me and thanked him again for his interest in my abilities, but told him I couldn’t help him out. I told him that Jim Harrison was a friend of mine, and one of the few legislators I not only respected politically, but personally as well.
Mr. Summers proceeded to launch into a visceral, profanity-laced tirade about how badly he was going to “f---ing kick Harrison’s ass” and tried to convince me that Harrison was opposed to all of the governor’s reforms. In the same breath, however, he indicated that he was going to take Harrison’s conditional support of Sanford’s Put Parents in Charge bill “shove it up his f---ing ass,” this despite the fact that at least one of Mr. Summers’ children has attended Hammond School, one of Columbia’s most prestigious, formerly segregated private academies.
(True to his word, Mr. Summers criticized Rep. Harrison’s endorsement of a modified PPIC bill at a recent State newspaper editorial board meeting, calling it just one example of Harrison’s “radical” views. When pressed to provide another example, Mr. Summers was forced to admit he didn’t have one).
By the time I managed to withdraw from the conversation, I felt like I needed delousing.
I’ve met plenty of trash-talking politicos in my life, and truth be told I’ve probably acted like one myself at one time or another, but I can’t recall having ever seen a candidate for public office as drunk, obscene or insulting as Boyd Summers was on this particular evening.
Never mind that he was directing his vitriol at a man who has served five tours of duty in the U.S. Military, traveling to faraway places like Bosnia, Haiti and Iraq to fight for democracy.
I’m sure that if Mr. Summers is asked about any of this, he will deny ever having met me, let alone being as drunk as he was or saying all the foul things he said about Jim Harrison.
Perhaps he’ll even make up something nasty to say about me, which wouldn't be the first time that's happened.
In all fairness, it could be that the outburst I witnessed was not at all reflective of Mr. Summers’ character. I hope it wasn’t.
What I can say definitively is that in my brief time in politics, I’ve never met someone whom I hold in higher regard than Jim Harrison, which is saying a lot coming from someone like me who helped turn bashing the General Assembly into an art form.
Jim is one of the most courageous legislators I’ve ever seen, someone who follows his conscience and isn’t afraid to buck the Governor’s Office or his fellow Republican leaders when he believes strongly that something is the right thing to do. His leadership of the House Judiciary Committee is a testament to what the legislative process in this state should be, and his record of fighting to protect the most vulnerable South Carolinians among us is second-to-none.
Jim’s also stuck his neck out on a number of occasions lately in opposition to the gravy train of pork barrel spending coming out of Columbia these days, a rarity among legislators of either party.
Aside from his multiple legislative accomplishments and his long history of service to our state and nation, who can forget the class Jim showed in bowing out of the Speaker’s race in 2005, a race he was within a handful of votes of winning?
Anyone who missed Harrison’s floor speech endorsing then-Ways and Means Chairman Bobby Harrell as the next Speaker of the House missed one of the most gracious, selfless, statesmanlike acts in South Carolina’s storied political history.
With Jim, what you see is what you get. Whether it’s presiding over a heated committee vote, volunteering as a Guardian ad Litem for neglected and abused children, or tailgating with family and friends in the parking lot at Carolina football games, he’s as honest and decent a person as you’re ever going to come across in a business that seldom rewards those qualities.
No wonder Democrats and Republicans unanimously re-elected him as Judiciary Chairman last session.
I don’t live in House District 75, and so I won’t have the privilege of voting for Jim.
I wish I could, though. In a political environment ruled by back-slapping, glad-handing opportunism, he is one of the few remaining genuine articles.
Not to mention the polar opposite of his opponent, based on what I've seen anyway.