May 2010

REPUBLICAN ROUND-UP

Author: Paul deVere & Frank Dunne, Jr.

In November of this year, Seat 123 is up for grabs in the South Carolina House of Representatives. Meet the three candidates vying for this important position in local government, and what they intend to do SHOULD they make it to Columbia.

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Even though Democrat Tip O’Neill said it, Republican State Representative Richard Chalk couldn’t agree more: “All politics is local.” Chalk is seeking a fourth term for the South Carolina House District 123 seat and he is trying to keep it local.

Of the political climate on both national and local fronts, he described it as “sound bite” politics. “I think what’s happened, with the advent of instant communications, there’s been a real ramp up in what I call the sound bite politics. I think people have less and less appreciation for our form of government. They are more influenced by sound bites and surface comments without understanding the deeper principals behind them,” said Chalk.

“Because people don’t invest a lot of time in understanding the principles, they are very easily swayed by things that sound good. [Sound bite politics] rings a bell that touches their emotions,” Chalk explained.

As an example, Chalk said that one of the most common cries is for cutting taxes. “Well, we’ve been cutting taxes ever since I’ve been in Columbia, and that’s a great thing because I think we’re over-taxed. But at the same time, you’ve got to balanced that with certain expected services we want from our government, and those services have to be paid for,” Chalk stated.

Chalk believes it is the sound bite that has caused what he describes as “super partisanship” that has developed now. “People get on opposite sides of the fence, and it’s more of an attitude [for politicians] to ask, ‘What can we do to keep people happy to stay in office?’ than to truly get down to the meat of solving real issues that need to be addressed,” he said.

Chalk, a native of Lexington County, has been around politics most of his life. He remembered, as a boy of 12, talking over the 1964 presidential conventions of both parties with his father. But it was a chance meeting with his high school science teacher that put him on a political road. He was wondering what he should major in at college. “I was sitting at the dentist office and my high school science teacher was also there. She and I were talking, and I said I’m not good in science and math. She said have you thought about political science or history, something like that. So I investigated, and when I enrolled at the Citadel, I enrolled in political science as my major,” Chalk said.

He also started the student Republican Club at the Citadel, mainly because a friend of his was starting the Democrat Club and suggested to Chalk he start one for the other party.

While at the Citadel, Chalk hung out with one of his best friends, Douglas West, son of South Carolina’s Democratic governor, John West. Douglas was in Boy Scouts with Chalk, an Eagle Scout. While he didn’t get to know Douglas’ father well at that time, he definitely did later.

“I lived in Columbia weekends, so Doug and I would go to a movie and then go back to the governor’s mansion, get snacks and watch TV, that kind of stuff. I got acquainted with the governor then,” Chalk said. It was Governor West who first suggested Chalk should think about entering politics. “He said, ‘Richard, we need you to be politician.’ He was always very supportive,” Chalk said. “Mrs. West still is.”

Chalk said that when he first decided to run for his current House seat, Governor West was there for him, even though Chalk was running as a Republican on Hilton Head. “When he encouraged me to get involved, he said, ‘I’ll come out for you or against you, whatever you think will help you the most,’” Chalk recalled.

When Chalk graduated from the Citadel, because of his work with the college Republican Club, he got a job with the Jim Edwards’ campaign as “gofer.” Edwards, a Republican, was elected South Carolina’s 110th governor, the first Republican to hold that office in the state since Reconstruction.

After graduation, Chalk put his interest in politics on hold and went to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary where he earned a master’s degree in church music. With degree in hand, he landed a job in North Carolina, where politics again entered into his life. He served in both the North Carolina House and Senate.

Timing and a job offer brought the Chalk family to Hilton Head Island. But this time the job was for Chalk’s wife, Maelda (“Mae”), who took a position at Hilton Head Prep where she is now foreign language department chair.

Chalk was first elected to the House in 2005 and has been actively involved in many issues close to home. One of the problems he has been helping to overcome is how the rest of the legislature views Hilton Head Island. “I think being from the Columbia area, I’ve helped change some minds. [The island] is still generally perceived as a bunch of wealthy people who have come here from somewhere else—that it’s sort of different from the rest of South Carolina,” Chalk said.

Chalk gave an example of an attempt to help change that perception. “Last year we did a universal invitation to all legislators to come to Heritage. Saturday is Legislative Day. We’re trying to get legislators to come here to see more about who we are as a community. A lot of them will come here because they’ll be invited to many conferences and conventions here. They’ll get invited to come and speak. They drive in, they go to the hotels, and then they drive back off. They don’t really see a lot of Hilton Head as a community itself,” he said. “Particularly what they don’t see are our Native Islander communities. We’ve got poverty right here on Hilton Head Island. Lot of people don’t understand that,” explained Chalk.

That perception influences state funding for schools—Beaufort County gets none—and how people are taxed. Chalk has been addressing both those issues: to make school funding more equitable across the state and to reduce the school operating taxes paid by commercial property and second home owners.

Of that kind of balancing act, Chalk said, “You have to find the ways to make that happen. I think we’re making real progress in getting that done. I think Hilton Head is still responsible for a little over 50 percent of the entire tax base for the county. Because of the wealth here, we’re supplementing the rest of Beaufort County and the rest of the state. Getting some of that funding back does have a direct impact on Hilton Head,” Chalk said.

He intends to continue to keep it local.

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Original Photography by Bill Littell

When she crewed on a tanker that picked up oil in Valdez, Alaska and dropped it off at Cherry Point, Washington, San Diego and, on occasion, to the Panama Cannel pipeline, the midnight to 4 a.m. watch was Kate Keep’s favorite. “There’s nothing like being out on the very, very bow when you’re on watch. Being out there all alone in the middle of the ocean, it’s pretty wonderful,” Keep said.

A few decades later, she’s been keeping watch on the national political scene and the State House in Columbia. What she has seen isn’t wonderful.

“I started the tea party last year in Beaufort County. I’ve been really concerned about the government on the national level, overstepping its constitutional bounds, in my opinion—getting too involved in private enterprise, the banks, the bailouts, deficit spending,” Keep said. “After I started the tea party, after I had been so involved in the national view of it, just naturally I started reading about what was going on in the state of South Carolina,” she added.

“Much of the same stuff we do on the state level we do on the federal level, the government trying to pick winners and losers and businesses, tax policies that are not friendly or on a level playing field for businesses. I think there’s lack of strong representation for Hilton Head Island in Columbia. It’s obvious that Columbia views Hilton Head as a cash cow. Seems all they have to do is milk the cow and never feed it. There’s that farm thing,” laughed Keep, who is a farm girl from Indiana.

“At the same time, I’m a firm believer in personal responsibility. I get worried about a growing group of people who are dependent on the government for their survival. Human nature tends to go the easiest way. So if you are on unemployment for years and years, instead of being motivated to go out and create something for yourself, it’s sometimes easier to look for a check. I don’t relate to that.”

That evaluation and soul searching, along with the encouragement of like-minded people, helped her decide to throw her hat in the ring and challenge State Rep. Richard Chalk in the Republican primary in June.

Keep’s interest in politics is not new. On Hilton Head, she served on the island’s Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee in the early 1990s. She also was a member of the town council, representing Sea Pines, from 1993 to 1995. In 1995 she ran for mayor but lost to Tom Peeples.

Well before that, however, the San Diego State accounting graduate had been politically active. “I dabbled in politics in California. I did economic research and speech writing for Tom Bradley (longtime mayor of Los Angeles) when he ran for governor. And I did political fund raising there,” Keep explained.

Keep has always been interested in politics. “I had a good education in American history. I’ve read the Federalist Papers. I’ve always been a biography reader. That included a lot of Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. Government and the government’s relationship with people have always been important to me,” she said.

“I’ve actually read the Constitution several times and come to understand it pretty well… When I do my meet and greet, I hand out copies of the Constitution. When you read the Constitution and Bill of Rights you can’t believe it’s describing this country,” she continued.

Quality of life on the island is also an important issue for Keep. She has been involved in the travel industry since her days in California. She came to Hilton Head, via a year in Savannah, to open a travel agency for another company. A year later, she was operating her own company, Berkeley Travel. When the travel business all but dried up after 9/11, she started a bike rental company. Today she is an associate of Valerie Wilson Travel.

“When I came here (late 1980s), Hilton Head Island was truly a world class destination resort. Not that there’s anything wrong with Marriott, but we’ve gone from Hyatt Regency to Marriott. The Westin here is one of the lowest ranked in the whole Westin chain. The amount that tourists spend has decreased. It seems to those of us living here you can’t jam many more visitors on this island. What we need to start doing is figuring out how to draw tourists who spend more per day.

“It’s looking tired here. I’m not surprised that business owners aren’t investing more to upgrade and keep everything tip top, because it’s hard to see where the future of Hilton Head is going. We need a vision. We’ve got everything here to lift ourselves back up. If we, as a community, could agree to be that world class destination and we put the airport discussion in that context, then it only makes sense that we have to keep commercial air service; we have to expand the runway, and we have to do that in a way the causes as little hardship to those affected as possible,” Keep said. “If we have no vision and we just drift, quite frankly, there is no reason to expand the airport and inconvenience people.”

Keep very easily describes herself as a fiscal conservative, which is an important part of the tea party. “You know what the ‘tea’ stands for?” she asks. “‘Taxed Enough Already.’”

On the question of increasing the sales tax from 7 to 8 percent, Keep is very clear. “It’s a crazy time to do it. I find it highly suspect when they [backers of the tax] say we shouldn’t worry about it here because the bulk of it is going to be paid by tourists. Sales tax affects the lower and middle income the most. By going up 1 percent, it’s really a 14 percent increase in our current sales tax. The carrot is that we can have up to a 30 percent returned in the form of property tax relief. Lower income people, the group most affected by sales tax, are not going to get any of that back,” said Keep.

Twelve months ago, Keep did not even consider running for office again. Then she discussed it with her husband, prominent attorney, Russell Keep.

“A year ago, neither of us thought we’d be here. When I started the tea party, it was never in my mind I would ever run for office again. I had promised Russ I would spend all my time on my number one constituent. He’d see me reading things and I’d be carrying on about this or that, about what the government was doing and he’d say, ‘Yes, dear.’

“Then we got involved with the tea party and he began absorbing some of the same stuff that I was absorbing. When I told him that several people had talked to me about running for this office, he said, ‘Before you did all this tea party stuff, I’d never have gone along with it. But what you’re doing is good. I know why you want to do this and I completely support you.’ And he has. I’ve had a couple dozen meet and greets. He’s been to every one of them.”

It’s nice to know your number one constituent has your back.

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Original Photograph by Photography by Anne

Unseating an entrenched incumbent is difficult at any level of government, especially for a challenger seeking public office for the first time. That is exactly the position in which local businessman, Andy Patrick, finds himself. You may recall meeting Patrick on these pages last August when he gave us a glimpse into life with the United States Secret Service, where he served as a Special Agent from 1997 until 2006.

This year, Patrick, who is president and CEO of Hilton Head based security consultants, Advance Point Global, has decided to run for the South Carolina House of Representatives District123, representing Hilton Head Island. To do that, he will have to unseat longtime Hilton Head representative, Richard Chalk, who is running for his fourth term in office. Patrick, and fellow challenger, Kate Keep, will compete in the June Republican primary for a place on November’s ballot.

Without the benefit of an incumbent’s war chest and visibility, a relatively unknown challenger needs to take his message to the streets early and often. Patrick has been hitting the bricks, mainly with informal candidate “meet & greets” at supporters’ homes, since announcing his candidacy late last year. After hearing him speak in a public forum at February’s “First Monday Republican Lunch Group,” Long Cove residents Ray and Bonnie Canova were so impressed that they offered to host a meet & greet at their home.

“We’ve done lots of these,” said Bonnie, “and we do it for people who we are really committed to. Our big thing is fiscal responsibility. Andy is fiscally conservative, which is why Ray and I support people.”

“I think, especially for the short period of time that he’s been here, he’s pretty knowledgeable about local politics and what’s going on here in South Carolina. He’s very impressive and I think he’ll make a good congressman,” added Ray.

In early March, Patrick sat down with CH2 for a one-on-one “meet & greet” over a cup of coffee. Here’s what he had to say:

CH2: What are your top three priorities when you get to Columbia?
Andy Patrick: REFORMING STATE GOVERNMENT, and as part of that, reducing the size of government, cutting spending, capping spending, and consolidating agencies that have overlapping jurisdictions.

COMPREHENSIVE TAX REFORM. Our tax policy is very complex and has created more problems than it has fixed along the way. We have an inefficient corporate income tax, which I’d like to see eliminated altogether, and I’d like to reduce the overall income tax so that we’re more competitive with our neighbors to the north and south.

EDUCATION. Not only the education of our children in primary schools, but also; what are we doing to make sure that we have a qualified workforce?
There are a lot of good things that we’re doing through the Technical College system, but I don’t know that we’re doing a great job of marketing that to be competitive in drawing businesses to South Carolina and Beaufort County.

CH2: As a freshman Representative, how do you plan to give your ideas enough attention to make a difference?
AP: There are like-minded legislators [in the House], and I believe that we can further capitalize on their efforts to reform government. I think that most people recognize that it [South Carolina’s government structure] is outdated, and that it does not provide the equity and fairness that we see on the national level in terms of representation and checks and balances. This has really hamstrung our ability to move forward and be more competitive in a number of different areas.

CH2: Have you reached out to any of these like-minded members of the House?
AP: Yes. I’ve spoken to all of the members of the Beaufort County legislative delegation, and I have reached out to other members of the House from other parts of the state.

CH2: How have they received your message?
AP: Well, they’re like-minded legislators, so of course they’ve responded favorably to what I’m saying! Obviously it’s difficult for them to say it publicly, but according to some colleagues in the House of Representatives, the incumbent is looked at as the least effective member of the Republican caucus. So they think it is time for a change to someone who can work in a team, bringing ideas to the table and helping to develop ideas brought forward by others, and work to move the ball forward.

CH2: Are there any other issues high on your priority list that we have not addressed here?
AP: Public safety. My background in public safety leads me to want to be friendly to law enforcement and prosecutors, giving them the tools that they need to enforce the law and prosecute those who break the law.

There are certain laws on the books that make that a difficult agenda to pursue. In other words, there are felonies and misdemeanors, with which we are all familiar; but in South Carolina there are a couple of other elements that go into sentencing, and some of them just don’t make sense. It could be “serious” or “most serious.” “Violent” or “non-violent.” A good example is that a drive-by shooting is considered non-violent. It’s ridiculous! What’s non-violent about a drive-by shooting?

CH2: Bring it home. If you are able to bring about all of these changes when you get to Columbia, how will it make life better here on Hilton Head Island?
AP: One of the things I believe a legislator should do is protect, defend, and promote the idea of home rule—the idea that government closest to the people governs best. I’m not necessarily certain that the incumbent has done a good job of that.

All of these things are interconnected. When we talk about school funding, for example, we send nearly $170 million per year to Columbia in tax receipts from Beaufort County, and we get zero dollars back for our schools’ operating costs. We’re the only county in the state that receives zero dollars back. So, when I talk about comprehensive tax reform, the only way to fix the problem is to restructure the entire South Carolina tax code to make it more fair.

Patrick schedules several meet & greets each month. You can find out when and where by visiting his campaign Web site at www.andypatrick.org.

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