S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Dec. 18, 2005
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/05.1218.starbucks.htm



Political turbulence is churning among voters
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

DEC. 18, 2005 - - Something's simmering just under the surface of politics that should give South Carolina politicians running in 2006 a little pause.

"There's churning in the political structure," said University of South Carolina political scientist Blease Graham.

Florida pollster Dave Beattie says there's a feeling among voters across the country and in the South that neither of the two major political parties is offering what they want - - simpler, more effective government and an end to divisive, partisan rhetoric.

"Political attitudes aren't more extreme than 15 years ago, but the choices (in candidates) are more extreme," he said.

Beattie said a new swing group that he calls "Starbucks Republicans" may be the 2006 equivalent of "soccer moms" from 1996 or "NASCAR dads" of 2004. This group is comprised of fiscally conservative, socially moderate voters with weaker partisan ties. They're business-oriented, environmentally sensitive and younger. They live in urban and suburban areas. They tend to be non-natives. And while they go to church, they don't vote on religion first.

In short, they're kind of a modern breed "country-club Republicans" who aren't motivated by the social activism marked by Republicans aligned with the Christian right.

"Starbucks Republicans question the Republican Party, but are going to default there unless there's a reasonable alternative," Beattie said.

In part, they're questioning because they're tired of partisan sniping at the national level among both parties and the ethics scandals creeping through Congress and the White House. On the state level, they're a little frustrated with the increased focus on a social agenda (creationism, gay marriage, abortion) by a few elected GOP activists who seem to be steering the party to the right.

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Beattie said Democrats who focus on fiscal conservatism and solid ethics could win some Starbucks Republicans to build a coalition to capture some seats in the Statehouse. But there are three big challenges Democrats face in wooing the swing group.

First, state Democrats, like national Democrats, have a big image problem. Thanks to more than a decade of tirades by right-wing radio shock jocks, conservative columnists and think tank fellows, most people view Democrats as welfare-loving, tax-raising liberals with a direct connection to the Kennedys or Clintons. In truth, most South Carolina Democrats are among the most conservative in the country - - people who believe in fiscal responsibility and moderate social policies. But in politics, truth is often less perceived than fiction.

Second, Democrats in South Carolina seem to have little that connect them. There doesn't seem to be a clear platform of what they stand for. Instead, they're viewed mostly as being against Republican-led issues. For Palmetto State Democrats to be seen as reasonable alternatives, they need to dispel the liberal image by uniting behind some core ideals and communicate them in thought, word and deed.

Finally, the likelihood there will be enough Starbucks Republicans to affect the composition of the S.C. House or governor's mansion dramatically is akin to the chance that France will become the 51st state of the union.

While Starbucks Republicans offer a small window of opportunity for some Democrats, the group's frustration should send a clear message to Republican leaders. People want reasonable action on schools, health care, the budget and the environment. They don't want bickering between lawmakers and the governor. They want to believe in their state government, not be massaged and wooed by insider politics fraught by overactive political caucuses. They want a system that moves the state forward for everyone, not one that rewards party loyalty.

"There's a mean-spiritedness you see in political campaigning," Graham observed. "It's kind of a 'them' and 'us' mentality and we don't know who the 'us' is."

lighter side
12/16: Sofa scrooge

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:


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feedback
12/15: Keep up the good work

To the editor:

Thank you for the insightful articles in your SC Statehouse Report. I read them in the Beaufort Gazette and am impressed with your thoroughness and courage in showing what our leadership is and what it is not doing.

You article on how "poorly South Carolina fares" [Commentary, 11/13] should be a call to arms. I think the Governor should declare a state of emergency to address these and other issues that spell a dismal future for many people in this state. Your other articles point out how it is just business as usual in "this is the way my daddy did it" good old South Carolina. Well daddy wasn't faced with today's economy and growing disillusionment in our citizenry. Nothing will be done unless people like yourself show what is actually going on in our great state.

My purpose in writing is to encourage you to keep it up and hopefully people will have enough and make some changes. I know that today the government's strategy is to blame the messenger for their own mistakes and dishonestly and not accept any responsibility. Take heart some of us want the truth so we can demand change.

-- Jim Ross, Beaufort, SC

12/15: On personal property taxes

To the editor:

There should be some provision other than that which is already on the books, for a person who is 72 years old and owns a home. The amount of taxes you want is going to make me move into a mobile home. HELP!!!!!

-- Janet R. Wade, Charleston, SC

12/14: Where she stands

To the editor:

  • Restructuring - Against appointed positions.
  • Charter Schools - Against Charter Schools
  • Cigarette Tax Increase: In favor of this
  • Worker Compensation: System is good as is
  • Isolated Wetlands: Protections is critical
  • Refinery & Drilling: Nip this is the bud

I thank Gov. Mark Sanford for supporting tightening SC law to protect property rights. The eminent domain bill would limit "public uses" for which the state and local government can condemn property. He wants legislators to restrict the circumstances under which a local council can deem a desirable property "blighted". This will allow developers that want property for large projects to acquire it the old-fashioned way instead of asking government to condemn it.

-- Carol Maghakian, Myrtle Beach, SC

12/9: Small businesses are victims of times

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from a letter sent to Statehouse Report by a Beaufort business owner who disagreed with a letter to the editor written by Beaufort lawyer Tom Davis about a Dec. 4 Statehouse Report column on small business. Davis will become Gov. Mark Sanford's chief legislative aide in January.

Dear Mr. Davis:

I am writing to you in regard to the community forum letter you wrote, published in the Beaufort Gazette. I am a small business owner in Beaufort who is struggling to understand exactly how all the programs you mentioned are going to help us all pay our ridiculously high rents and stay in business. I guess people in and supportive of government are so far removed from the day to day economy that they cannot understand that small business owners all over the state (and country) have suffered from drastic reductions in sales over the last 4-5 years while rents have continued to increase. This translates to a trickle down economy - sans Reagan. There is no money left to advertise, purchase larger inventories, hire more counter help, etc. Most small business owners I know have had to take a more hands on approach due to insufficient finances. Most I know are having to borrow more money just to stay afloat during these awful times while one landowner just gets richer.

We don't necessarily need programs that "require state agencies to keep us in consideration of the impact state agencies may have on us before they issue final regulations," or a tax cut that lowers our marginal rates, or tort reform. We don't need mentoring programs because we do not find ourselves in this position due to stupidity or negligence. We are simply victims of the times: 9/11, the long-term worldwide recession, drastic reductions in tourism, exorbitant gas prices and greedy, wealthy landowners who do everything they can to squeeze every last penny out of their tenants.

-- Name withheld upon request, Beaufort, SC

Recent feedback:


scorecard

Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political news items from the past week:

Thumbs up

Clyburn. Hats off to US Rep. Jim Clyburn who was elected today to head the House Democratic Caucus, another big position in the House Democratic leadership.

Mack, Leventis. Kudos to Rep. David Mack and Sen. Phil Leventis for sponsoring legislation to make it easier for people to vote. Now it's up to the legislature to actually make it easier.

Thumbs down

Phil Bailey. Thumbs down to the Senate Democratic Caucus official for posting inappropriate comments on a state political blog.

Fair. You've got to give it to Sen. Mike Fair, the Upstate conservative. He doesn't give up pushing his restrictive kind of Christianity on people across the state. Most recently: creationism and so-called "intelligent design."

Floyd. GOP superintendent of education candidate Karen Floyd must have read Orwell's 1984 recently. Her call this week for video surveillance in classrooms reminded us more of Big Brother than Good Government.


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