Democrat Randy Maatta, the challenger for the Congressional seat held by Republican Henry Brown, has a pretty simplistic campaign message: Had enough? As scandals plague the administration and continue to seep throughout the Congress (including a few Democrats in questionable waters), Maatta's question gets to the heart of the decision in front of voters this year. Should America stay the course? Brown says yes. Maatta says no. Democrat Jim Clyburn would likely say it depends on who's in charge and Republican Gary McCleod seems to think we should throw 'em all out. Charleston County has two Congressional races where both a Democrat and Republican face tough odds in turning the tide.
It's always odd when you see these races where an incumbent ignores the fact that he's even running against someone. Gov. Mark Sanford did it in the primaries to obvious success, but it could work against Republican Congressman Henry Brown. During a recent rally supporting Democrat Randy Maatta, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) joked that he'd seen Brown's story on the latest episode of Without a Trace. The candidates will get a clear look at each other Nov. 1 when they debate in Murrells Inlet.
Brown vs. Maatta
1st congressional district
Brown says that his decades of service, including six years in Congress, give him the experience that voters want in a Congressman.
"My experience in Washington should be enough for the people to reelect me," he says.
His main message is that Democrats are trying to rewrite the book on a number of issues to make candidates more electable, including his opponent. He says Democrats are sending the wrong message on the economy and that the deficit is extremely low compared with the past 100 years.
The economy is doing well, he says, with home ownership up and the stock market breaking records nearly every day. What will be important in the next few years, Brown says, is cementing temporary Republican tax cuts, including the estate tax.
"Having these tax cuts is good for the economy," he says.
On security, Brown says Congress has shown it is protecting America, including a recently improved port security bill that includes monitoring shipments from their origin overseas before they get to America.
Related to homeland security, Brown says securing our borders is a high priority.
"First, we've got to stop the easy access across the border," he says. "Second, we've got to identify who's here."
As Democrats call for an exit strategy and a new direction in Iraq, Brown says he's been to Iraq and praised the work of the military there, noting democracy takes time.
"We all want an exit strategy," he says. "We don't want to cut and run before the country is stabilized."
Brown says health care, beach nourishment, and highways are also priorities.
On the minimum wage, Brown says he supported raising the minimum wage in the past. But the bill failed because Republicans had tacked on reforms to the estate tax that Democrats couldn't stomach.
"Why can't we do both?" he asks. "The inheritance tax is one of the most unfair taxes we have."
Quiet and almost sheepish just a few months ago at a similar event, Maatta was loud and lively as he rallied faithful Democrats last week during Kerry's visit, indignant of what's been a recent political reality in South Carolina.
"This is not a red state," he says. "There are people here that understand and know what's going on. Come Nov. 7, there's going to be a real big surprise coming from South Carolina."
Republican promises for controlled spending have long-since vanished, Maatta says.
"We've got a Congress that said we're just going to borrow and spend and borrow and spend," he says. "This is unacceptable to Americans, Democrat or Republicans it doesn't matter, and we're going to change this next year."
Maatta calls our troops the "finest fighting force in world history," but military resources have been misused in Iraq.
"We went into Afghanistan to go after the people that attacked us and George Bush cut and run and went into Iraq," he says.
U.S. troops can no longer stay the course in what's become a quagmire, Maatta says, suggesting a reasoned exit strategy.
"We're going to work out a plan to force Iraqis to take responsibility for their own country and we'll bring our people back home," he says.
Assisting the 46 million Americans without health care, including 850,000 South Carolinians, will be a priority. As North Carolina raises its minimum wage, many of South Carolina's officials remain concerned that hiking the minimum wage will send jobs to other states. Maatta says he's confident Congress will address the concerns of America's least-paid workers.
"In the first two weeks of the next Congress, we will put a bill on the president's desk to increase the minimum wage," he says. "That's one of our top priorities."
As America's population climbs over 300 million, in no small part due to immigrants, Maatta is critical of plans for a fence on the border.
"Building a fence is not going to solve the problem," he says, calling for a comprehensive immigration bill that includes workforce regulations. "We need to hold employers accountable for hiring illegal and undocumented workers."
James Dunn of Garden City is running as a third party candidate because he's tired of the delayed response by either leading party on innovation, from mass transit and alternative energy to health care.
"We're the only modern country where over 20 percent of people don't have health care and can't afford to get sick," he says.
As North Korea develops nuclear weapons, Dunn says we're wasting our energy in Iraq.
"Get out," he says. "Give it to the Arab League or the United Nations. Give it to Al Qaeda and let them try to settle the dispute."
Understanding that any third-party candidate has the longest of chances in winning the race, Dunn says he's in the race mostly to call attention to his issues and provide an alternative to the disenfranchised.
"I want to offer something to the third party people who are turned off," he says.
Henry Brown (R - Incum.)
Age: 71 Residence: Hanahan Family: Married, three children Education: Attended The Citadel, IBM Management and Technical School, and Baptist College Job: Retired Piggly Wiggly executive Political Experience: U.S. House of Representatives 2000-present; State House of Representatives 1985-2000; Hanahan City Council 81-85 Website: www.henrybrownforcongress.com
Randy Maatta (D, Working families)
Age: 49 Residence: Charleston Family: Married, a child Education: BA from the College of Charleston, MS from University of Baltimore Job: Former U.S. State Department project manager Political Experience: None Website: www.maattaforcongress.com
James Dunn (Green)
Age: 61 Residence: Garden City Family: None Education: Ed.D from Oklahoma State University, M.Ed from Saint Lawerence University, BA from State University of New York at Potsdam Job: Counselor Political Experience: Horry County Board of Education, 1988-1992 Website: www.votedunn.com
McCleod vs. Clyburn
6th congressional district
Gary McCleod says he isn't supported by the Republican Party, but he's trucking on through his latest attempt to unseat long-serving Congressman Jim Clyburn.
"I'm the worst politician in the country, but I believe I would be the best statesman ever," he says.
With his district 57 percent black, McCleod realizes that his chances at success on Nov. 7 are slim.
"It wouldn't impact it at all if black Americans would look at the Republican Party," he says.
McCleod has undertaken a one-man mission to bring blacks back to the Republican fold. His website is full of links on the history and political culture of both parties.
As for the future, McCleod says his goal is to return Congress to the principal of less government. He wants to abolish Senate elections and return it to state appointments.
"We need at least one branch calling for less government," he says.
McCleod wants to starve federal agencies of funding and return those responsibilities, including tax collection, to the states.
"The recent spending in Congress is worse than it ever was," he says, noting he would replace income taxes with consumption taxes. "The federal government has no authority to deal with people."
In Iraq, McCleod says the U.S. should have demanded religious freedom in setting up the new government.
"We were willing to take out Saddam Hussein, but then enslave them to a cult religion they would never be free from," he says, noting we should stay in Iraq, but go in "full force" and get the job done. "We need to whoop up somebody and come home."
McCleod would eliminate the minimum wage to reshape expectations by businesses and employees.
"What we want is workers producing more for better wages and employers competing for workers by offering more benefits," he says.
As violence in schools continues to pop up throughout the country, McCleod says the problem can be attributed in part to teaching evolution.
"We teach our children that they come from apes and are surprised when they act like it," he says.
Congressman Clyburn could not be reached for comment. He notes on his website that he's worked to rebuild the district by creating jobs, eliminating disparities, and protecting the environment. Noting his close work with the faith community, Clyburn says that he has worked to combat poverty, improve schools, and provide affordable housing.
Clyburn says he supports nationwide Democratic efforts for permanent tax deductions for college tuition, Medicare prescription drug reforms, stem cell research, raising the minimum wage, alternative energy, and America's renewed leadership abroad. He'd fight Republican efforts to privatize Social Security and end tax cuts to oil companies and industries that are relocating overseas.
Antonio Williams is running as a Green Party candidate to call attention to needed funding for community projects that provide infrastructure and housing development for rural and urban communities in need.
"That way the people would be able to have affordable homes and build up their community," he says.
Every American should have a living wage and health care, Williams says. He strongly opposes "President Bush's invasion of Iraq" and says it's time for change.
"If you're leading down a path and you know there's death in the end, you get off that path," he says.
He also opposes any government attempt to take private property under the guise of economic development.
"That's gentrification," he says.
James "Jim" Clyburn (D - Incum.)
Age: 66 Residence: Columbia Family: Married, three children, two grandchildren Education: Bachelor's in history from South Carolina State University Job: Retired S.C. Human Affairs commissioner Political Experience: U.S. House of Representatives, 1993-present Website: www.jclyburn.com
Gary McCleod (R)
Age: 63 Residence: Manning Family: A child Education: Attended Spartanburg Junior College Job: Former dairy farmer Political Experience: None Website: www.garymccloed.com
Antonio Williams (Green)
Age: 53 Residence: Columbia Family: A child Education: None past high school JOB: Baptist associate pastor Political Experience: None Website: www.greenparty.com