COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s two major political parties have recently chosen a pair of veteran political operatives as their new chairmen — Trav Robertson for the Democrats and Drew McKissick for the Republicans.
The Post and Courier asked both new bosses about the future of their parties and what voters can expect under their leadership with the 2018 elections around the corner.
McKissick: ‘Focus on political fundamentals’
Do you have any concern the ongoing corruption probe in Columbia is damaging the Republican Party’s image, or do you believe it to be a “political witch hunt” as others have suggested?
Throughout history, neither party has had a monopoly on allegations of wrongdoing. As far as this goes, we have a system and a process in place to handle matters like this, and we trust that process to work as we would with any investigation.
In some ways, the Republican Party has shown divisions in the South Carolina Legislature where the GOP holds majorities in both chambers and the governor’s office. How do you go about uniting Republicans so that their majority can be more effective?
First off, this isn’t a policy position, it’s a mechanic’s position. The job is to build the party at all levels of government and all across the state. That said, our party has a platform and it’s our job to promote it, not only to identify and motivate grassroots activists but to promote it from the local level to the state and national levels.
What does the Republican Party need to do in order to maintain their dominance of the state’s political offices?
We need to continue to focus on political fundamentals. That means raising money, communicating our conservative message and identifying, educating and training new activists. It means constantly improving our internal mechanics, whether it’s better data or technology. And it means recruiting star quality candidates at all levels and elected Republicans up and down the ballot. Whenever we get distracted or lose sight of the fundamentals, we have problems.
What are the primary issues that the party will be looking to address in the next couple of years?
Again, this job deals with political mechanics. We work to promote our core platform principles, which then apply to the details of public policy at all levels. Our job is to motivate other conservative South Carolinians who agree with that platform to get engaged with us in the civic process.
Robertson: ‘Localize the issues’
Why is the South Carolina Democratic Party in the early stages of the 2018 gubernatorial campaign having difficulty finding nominees? How do you expand the party’s bench of candidates?
We’ve got a situation where there are some potential candidates out there. I think you are going to see a lot of people run for office in 2018, whether they are running for Congress or whether they are running for the state Legislature. But I think it goes back to the point — and I’m not going to sugarcoat it — we have to look at ourselves in the mirror and say this is what we as a party have been doing correctly and this is what we have been doing as a party incorrectly. Once we make those substantive changes, I think you’ll see candidates come out of the woodwork. Make no mistake, the national climate right now is going to have an impact on individuals seeking to run for office.
What does the Democratic Party need to do in order to recapture seats in the state Legislature? What changes need to occur, if any?
First and foremost, we have to create a structure that puts our candidates in a position to win. We have to realize that our messaging does not appear to be working, but most importantly, we have to give people something to invest in.
Does the Democratic Party need to focus less on gun-control issues and abortion-rights issues in order to win in red states like South Carolina?
I think what we need to do is localize the issues, not Washingtonize them. We’ve got a man in Newberry County, his name is Sam Martin. He never ever, ever could afford to have health care until the Affordable Care Act. And when he got it, he discovered he had cancer. And now a South Carolinian in the heart of South Carolina is being told by Republicans that they don’t think his health care coverage should continue. And that’s what I’m talking about. It’s not about the issue itself. It’s about making sure it resonates with people and the citizens of our communities.
What are the primary issues the Democratic Party will be looking to address or focus on in the next couple years?
Everything is cyclical. Issues come and go. But I mean we’re certainly going to talk about the fact that (a percentage) of the citizens of this state are going to be forced off their health care coverage if the Republicans don’t do something about expanding Medicaid in this state and they allow the actual changes in the American Health Care Act to take place. We’re going to talk about the fact that we have a governor who claims to be fiscally responsible but instead of passing a responsible piece of legislation that would fix the roads, he decides he wants to do something fiscally irresponsible and borrow the money.
Reach Andrew Brown at 843-708-1830 or follow him on Twitter @andy_ed_brown.