MARCH 30, 2012 -- Libertarians and tea party faithful around the state are working hard to tip the balance of power away from the mainstream “country club” Republicans in the Senate.
RINOHunt.net, a hub for statewide dissatisfaction with mainstream Republicans, has identified five GOP state senators it wants to see removed from office. [Senators marked with an asterisk (*) started out in state politics as Democrats]:
- Mike Fair of Greenville
- Larry Martin of Pickens
- David Thomas of Greenville
- Luke Rankin of Conway (*)
- Jake Knotts of West Columbia
Tea partiers have held “retirement” parties for both Thomas and Fair. Fair made a surprise visit at his fete, confronting his “Christian” brothers for not having approached him first with their complaints, and answering other criticisms. Here’s a link to the first in a series of videos.
Talbert Black, a Lexington software engineer and self-proclaimed libertarian who has sent a number of FOIA requests to Knotts, said Friday he’d lengthen the list of RINOs – a slur for Republicans In Name Only – that need to be sent packing to include Sen. Hugh Leatherman (R-Florence), chair of the Finance Committee.
The mainstream Republican faction, derided by some as the “mushy middle,” consists, arguably, of the five targeted above, as well as:
- Leatherman (*)
- Harvey Peeler of Gaffney
- John Courson of Columbia
- Greg Gregory of Lancaster
- Wes Hayes of Rock Hill (*)
- Thomas Alexander of Walhalla (*)
- William “Billy” O’Dell of Ware Shoals (*)
According to observers and several senators, the tea party/libertarian faction of the state Senate is a redressed version of what some have called “William Wallace” caucus that came to the Senate during the Sanford administration. (If you recall, Mel Gibson portrayed Wallace in the movie, “Braveheart.”) This group now, arguably, includes:
- Tom Davis of Beaufort
- Kevin Bryant of Anderson
- Lee Bright of Roebuck
- Phillip Shoopman of Greer
- Shane Martin of Spartanburg
- Shane Massey of Edgefield
- Mike Rose of Summerville.
Several senators are more like “free agents” in that they sometimes vote with the Wallace crowd, but generally vote along mainstream party lines, observers say:
- Chip Campsen of Isle of Palms
- Paul Campbell of Goose Creek
- Ray Cleary of Murrells Inlet
- Ronnie Cromer of Prosperity
- Danny Verdin of Laurens
- Larry Grooms of Bonneau.
What does it all mean?
A switch of five “moderate” or mainstream Republican senators for more conservative or libertarian senators would be enough to upset the current power paradigm. What’s interesting to many, though, is that that some of those who are targeted, such as Fair and Thomas, are recognized as pretty conservative senators.
Triangulating the three wings of the GOP Senate -- mainstream, Wallace and the free agents -- creates an opportunity for the libertarians to seize more power, potentially pushing the remaining mainstream Republicans into the arms of the Democrats serving in the Senate, according to some.
But would it be welcome and willing arms? Not so, according to Sen. Vincent Sheheen, (D-Camden). “If the right-wing of the Republican Party came to power in the Senate, I fear that we would have less cooperation than we do now.”
What two targets say
Knotts paints a picture of a paradise lost for Republicans in the state -- not surprising since his given names are John Milton Knotts. Knotts, the former lawman, remembers a time when Republican rallies in the Columbia area would draw thousands. Now, he says, that has dropped to hundreds.
Knotts says the impact of the libertarians, whom he refers to as members of the political “fringe,” has left his county “real” party in “shambles.”
Knotts says that while he likes and respects all his colleagues in the Senate, he finds more and more of them becoming entrenched too easily over “unrealistic” demands and positions.
Black said he welcomed Knotts calling him names because he wore that as a badge of honor. “I’m sure King George considered the original American patriots on the ‘fringe.’”
Fair complained that mastery of social media, like YouTube, could help a few disgruntled souls come off as bigger group of voters. He likened it to a 100-pounder punching like a heavyweight.
Both Fair and Knotts lamented the differences they’ve had with tea party faithful as they both say the groups have some solid ideas, such as fiscal conservatism, that they wholeheartedly agree with. But Knotts said people like Black were using limited resources to bottle up his office and intimidate his voting choices.
One Senate odds maker, speaking on anonymity, said of the six Republicans that have been targeted, Thomas appeared to be the only one in real trouble in the coming election -- not for any vote he’s ever taken, but for having been in office so long. It doesn’t help Thomas either that he is facing a challenger this year who outpointed him in a 2010 GOP congressional primary.
Grooms said none of the targeted five should be too concerned. “Shoot, they were after me, Alexander and Hayes last month.”
Crystal ball: Mainstream House Republicans ran scared from tea party/libertarian candidates two years ago when governmental dissatisfaction among conservative voters helped bring Gov. Nikki Haley into higher office. Senate GOP senators probably hoped that their power among the populace had waned. Maybe it has, but it won’t be as powerful as it was two years ago. The economy is improving in South Carolina and around the country, which will likely steal some of the tea party fervor. And Haley has proven to be a disappointment to some of her “fringe” support. But if the William Wallace Caucus (“They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our … transparency!") should grow, the power shift in the Senate will make for an uncertain and potentially volatile mix for the future.
Bill Davis is editor of Statehouse Report. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.