FEATURE ‌ Red is the New Blue 

How a Democratic Congress is good news for South Carolina

Considering people were still voting when this issue went to press, it's only an assumption (and you know what they say about assumptions) that the House went to the Democrats due to voter dissatisfaction with the struggle in Iraq and the lack of results on most anything that has made it to Capitol Hill. But what would happen to South Carolina if that seismic shift happened Tuesday and the politicians were run out?

As one of the reddest of red states, South Carolina's Republican voters might have woken up Nov. 8 in a mixed state of euphoria (big statewide wins) and despair (lost the U.S. House and possibly the Senate). Well, everybody can ditch the despair, cause a Democratic Congress may just be the best thing to happen to South Carolina.

South Carolina's House Republicans have too often left office over term limit promises or sought out higher office, watering down the state's clout in a GOP Congress. But South Carolina's two long-serving Democrats are expected to take high-profile leadership positions with Democrats in power.

"If the Democrats gain control of the House, the two Democrats in Congress (from South Carolina) will be in pretty powerful positions," says Bill Moore, a political science professor at the College of Charleston.

With strong wins for the party in other states, Congressman Jim Clyburn, expected to easily win reelection in his majority Democratic 6th Congressional District, would likely become the House Majority Whip, the third-most powerful position in the House. Meanwhile, a win for Rep. John Spratt, who faced a much tighter race for his Congressional seat, would likely make him chair of the House Budget Committee.

Since it's a position elected by the caucus, it remains to be seen whether Clyburn will become majority whip, responsible for rallying party members around legislation. A lot hinges on the election of the House Democratic leader. With Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., all but assured the House speaker's chair, Clyburn says it will be a fight between sitting Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha for the party leadership. Depending on that race, Clyburn may be competing with the loser for the whip's chair. If he can avoid that battle, he may also see opposition from Illinois Democrat Rahm Emanuel.

"It's not going to be given to me," Clyburn says, noting an election among 230 or 240 people can be a lot harder to win than a Congressional race. "It can be a tough battle."

Even if the position tips to another Dem, Clyburn is likely to hold tremendous clout on Capitol Hill, Moore says.

"The very fact that he is being mentioned for that position shows the type of influence he has built up," Moore says. "Certainly he'd be in an influential position simply because of his seniority."

Spratt's presumptive spot leading the Budget Committee, with oversight of budget hearings and reports, is also a unique opportunity for South Carolina.

"It puts him in a much more powerful position to influence legislation that has an impact on South Carolina," Moore says. "No doubt, he'll be one of the most respected and powerful figures in the House of Representatives."

In a Republican House, advancement for South Carolina's congressmen has been difficult, hinging largely on a lack of seniority, Moore says.

"Our Republican members are not in a powerful position because the longest any Republican has served in the House is six years and that's (coastal Congressman) Henry Brown," Moore says. "He's not getting major positions, in part, because of his age."

Brown's responsibility as chairman of the Veteran Affairs Subcommittee on Health has provided limited dividends for the area; an omnibus Veteran Affairs bill includes an allocation for a $70 million medical facility in Charleston, though there is some question about whether that money will stay in the bill.

Meanwhile, other Republicans have been hamstrung by campaign promises to limit their tenure to six years. That list includes Mark Sanford and Bob Inglis. The latter eventually returned to Congress without any similar promise. Others have sought out higher office, including Sens. Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham. But the state's Republican Congressmen will likely be hanging around the Capitol building for a while.

"These really become career positions," Moore says. "And the districts in South Carolina are gerrymandered so badly that it would be next to impossible to defeat these individuals."

With their victory all but assured, the Democrats have rolled out a plan for change once they're in power (think the '94 Republican "Contract with America"). Topping the list are minimum wage hikes and Medicare and Social Security reforms. Moore's money is on a wage hike getting the most traction, even though minimum wage is seldom paid to anyone these days.

"The raise in some ways might be symbolic, but I think it would be the easiest thing for them to get passed in the House," Moore says. "A couple of moderate Republicans could cross over and vote for it (in the Senate) and it's something that George Bush might be reluctant to veto."

Entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security are a whole other animal, but reforms may be easier with a little opposition to muddy the waters, Moore says.

"What it begs for is a compromise and Bush's legacy, in many ways, is going to ride on the last two years," he says. "He proposed Social Security reform a few years ago and it went absolutely nowhere under a Republican Congress."

Considering only a handful of hours have passed since Election '06, it's high time to start looking at Election '08. While presidential aspirants have already started flocking to South Carolina (Mitt Romney, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Bill Frist, Joe Biden, and John Kerry), expect candidates' affection for the Palmetto State to rise.

Though most incumbents will likely be able to sit on their hands through another primary season, Moore says Graham is particularly vulnerable to challengers from the left and the right, regardless of his conservative voting record, because of high profile breaks from the Bush administration's agenda.

"But those issues may work to his advantage in a couple of years," Moore says. "Hindsight's 20-20."

Indeed.


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