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2002-2004, South Carolina Statehouse Report. Published weekly during the S.C. legislative session. South Carolina Statehouse Report is a media project of The Brack Group, Charleston, S.C.

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Revitalize your patriotism by participating
By Andy Brack
S.C. Statehouse Report

SEPT. 2, 2002 - - As Labor Day represents the traditional final big push for politicking in a campaign year, thoughts turn to ways you can show your patriotism by learning more about candidates.

Years ago before television, candidates turned out huge crowds at local courthouses and stump meetings to talk or shout about issues. The 1858 debates of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas still are considered the national model for thoughtful, insightful debates.

But since the advent of television, things have changed. People are bombarded with advertising. Americans work longer and harder. They guard "down time" with family and friends. And with numerous scandals that drained the national psyche, people increasingly distrust politics, politicians and government. They're more cynical, more skeptical.

This atmosphere, called a "culture of complaint" by Time magazine critic Robert Hughes, permeates modern-day politics. Candidates are obsessed with raising money to get out their scripted, controlled message. A lot of campaigns try to limit public exposure in favor of TV ads so a candidate won't have the chance to make a gaffe. Fewer people run for public office. This year in South Carolina, for example, only 38 of the state's 124 House seats are contested.

In fact, these days, the debate about whether candidates will debate often is fierier than any resulting debates. Incumbents and front-runners generally seek to limit debates because they don't want to muck up their leads with a televised mistake and want to keep opponents from having free publicity. Challengers urge, cajole and yell for a lot of debates, but often are forced to deal with little real opportunity to engage.

"Anything we can do to open the free flow of information between candidates and the public is what we need to push for," said Laurel Suggs, president of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina.

The LWV, in affiliation with South Carolina Educational Television, will sponsor a series of debates with statewide candidates starting Sept.26 to give people a chance to see candidates for statewide office. Only candidates for State Treasurer and Comptroller General won't debate because of "scheduling conflicts" - - which really means one of the candidates (you pick which) didn't want to be on television.

Suggs said post-debate surveys show debates make a big difference, particularly among undecided voters. The only problem is few people actually watch. But media coverage about debates expands their influence beyond the actual broadcast.

"Our leaders need to have leadership skills and engender confidence," Suggs said. "This is the only opportunity statewide when they're unscripted and that voters aren't being shown something that just the campaign wants them to see."

You'll still see some scripted sound bites during the LWV-ETV debates, but there's more of an opportunity to get a flavor of the candidate's leadership abilities. You'll also get more information and "more than a pat answer," Suggs added.

While debates start 7 p.m. Sept. 26 on ETV with candidates for agriculture commissioner and secretary of state, you can get the first look at how Gov. Jim Hodges and GOP gubernatorial challenger interact at 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5, when ETV broadcasts an hour-long teen forum.

In October, you can turn to ETV to see debates for attorney general (Oct. 17), U.S. Senate (Oct. 20), lieutenant governor (Oct. 24), superintendent of education (Oct. 31) and governor (Nov. 1). Each starts at 8 p.m. (More: www.lwvsc.org)

A healthy democracy requires you to do more than display an American flag. It requires you to participate in the elections process by listening to your candidates, picking the best and voting.

Renew your commitment to democracy this campaign season. Tune in and turn out - - the best ways you can show your patriotism.

-- 30 --

11/3: Use your vote wisely: a lesson
10/27: SC GOP to keep control of House
10/20: Black voters may be secret weapon
10/13: Talk is cheap; action takes courage
10/6: Creating sunshine to dampen negative ads
9/29: SC Set to be world leader in news research
9/22: SC Senate shift could be around corner
9/15: Gov's race about barbs, ads, not people
9/8: Shorfall may cause look at prison alternatives
9/2: Revitalize your patriotism by participating
8/25: S.C.'s fiscal situation could be a lot worse
8/18: State wetlands policy needed
8/11: The bully vs. the whiner
8/4: Noah's Ark approach to tax reform
7/28: Two-party system could be political outcome
7/21: State budget woes loom for 2 more years
7/14: Agencies can do better job on Internet
7/5: Thank a guardsman today for service
6/28: Hodges-Sanford race will be wild ride
6/21: Sanford-Peeler race's impact on GOP
6/14: Ethics reform needed now

More done than you'd think(1.23)
More education $ also means cuts (1.22)
PSC reform to come, but when?(1.21)



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