Attorney General Charlie Condon is such a political creature that he can win an election in which he isn't even a candidate. The overwhelming victory of Condon's Victim Rights Amendment was a shot across Gov. David Beasley's increasingly tenuous political bow.
The amendment got 882,645 votes (compared to the 470,756 Beasley got in 1994 for governor), the most ever cast for anything or anyone in this state. While Condon's name wasn't on the ballot, his face and name were plastered all over the state in association with it.
Reports from within his administration portray the governor as "paranoid" that forces are aligning against him for the 1998 gubernatorial race.
It appears that the governor has reason to be worried. Condon isn't just the poster boy for the amendment, he's warming the waters for a run against Beasley.
The Condon-supported South Carolina Crime Victims' Committee raised $40,000 from corporate sponsors by Oct. 25 to fund promotional work for the amendment. Television ads featured Condon; yard signs and billboards featured his name in big letters.
When Condon announced that the state's solicitors would vigorously prosecute hate crimes, the governor made a similar pronouncement the next day. Beasley lost the publicity contest when the media figured out that it was the attorney general who was responsible for directing prosecutors.
Condon is reportedly asking his moneyed backers if they would support him in a run for governor against Beasley. The crime victims campaign showed that Condon could raise money from corporate sponsors (maximum $3,500 contributions from Milliken, Liberty Corp., PMSC, Duke Power, Canal Industries, SCANA, Bell South, Fluor Daniel, Blue Cross...) and pull off a statewide electoral victory.
If Beasley is paranoid about his political future two years from his second term, what might he do when Sen. Strom Thurmond retires sometime after next April (when he sets the record for senatorial service)?
One theory is that Beasley could appoint himself U.S. senator rather than honor the deal to appoint former Gov. Carroll Campbell.
Unless Beasley recreates a political base, he is doomed. Look for him to be pandering to new constituents in the near future.
When Van D. Hipp got the most votes in the primary for the First District race for U.S. Congress this past summer, it seemed that he was destined to live out his dream.
When Hipp was a young Republican activist in Walterboro, he used to tell people he was going to be a congressman.
When he was elected to the head of the state Republican Party in 1987, hewas the youngest state chair in the nation.
In 1991, President Bush appointed Hipp to be a deputy assistant secretary of the Army.
In 1992, he became the Navy's number two lawyer, a job he held until he returned home to Mount Pleasant in late 1993 to run for Congress.
"I've never seen someone who was so groomed by the state and national Republican parties to be a congressman," said Warring Howe, a Democrat in Charleston.
"You can't swing a dead cat in the First District and not hit somebody who is retired military," Howe said.
Hipp lost the runoff to incumbent Mark Sanford, who reportedly sank several hundred-thousand dollars of his own money into television advertising.
During the campaign, Hipp was the attorney for B.C. Services, a Charleston-based phone sex operation.
In a federal indictment Oct. 11, Hipp was accused of creating phony businesses to launder credit card charges for telephone porn.
The indictment cites testimony from two Horry County men who say Hipp recruited them to launder money for B.C. Services. David and John Lambert told the feds that they washed $635,000 in three months for an estimated cut of 20 percent, or about $1,300 a day, for their passive service. It is not clear what Hipp's cut was.
The Lamberts pled guilty and told the grand jury that Hipp asked them for a $5,000 "contribution" to his campaign to be the family values congressman.
Hipp, recently the best hope of the conservative right and the Christian Coalition, is facing 30 years in prison and a $2 million fine.
While awaiting sentencing Hipp is reportedly working as a Washington lobbyist for firms doing business with his old bosses at the Defense Department.
The ever humble Sen. Robert Ford (D-Charleston), handily won a grudge match against Charleston Mayor Joe Riley by trouncing the mayor's black Republican candidate.
There has been bad blood between Little Joe and Big Bob ever since Ford took to the airways in 1994 to urge black voters to support Nick Theodore. Ford slammed Riley's civil rights record, in spite of the fact that it is among the best in the state.
"I'm a great senator and a great human being, and most people in the district know that," Ford said after being re- elected.
While having God on your side seems to be particularly important in Greenville County, not even divine coattails could keep the Christian Coalition from being swept from the county school board.
Instead of being beaten by the "money-lovers, devil worshippers and child-haters" that school board chair Joe Dill had warned voters about, they were beaten by a well-financed bipartisan campaign of parents who were tired of the fundamentalists dictating school policy.
In spite of the unprecedented endorsement of "nonpartisan" shool board candidates by the county GOP, Dill was beaten by Tommie Reece, a human resources manager at Greenville Tech.
Reece was criticized as not being a "true" Christian for attending the Unitarian Church.
Board member Julie Hershey was trounced by Valerie Hollinger, a homemaker who, unlike Hershey, sends her children to the district's public schools (Hershey's kids go to a Christian school).
Bill Brooks, the other voice of God on the board, got whomped 70 percent to 30 percent by former Greenville High principal Marilyn Hendrix.
Christian Coalition candidates and incumbents fared much better in races for Greenville County Council. Incumbents Scott Case and Paul Wickensimer, strong supporters of the anti-gay resolution, won with almost 70 percent of the vote.
Newcomer Dana Sullivan, a former Bible salesman and chair of Greenville County GOP also won.
The Christian Coalition now has a stronger grasp on the council, which promises that the anti-gay resolution will not be repealed anytime soon.
In fact, at its Nov. 19 meeting, the council delayed consideration of a de-homo-fied resolution that supports the "traditional lifestyle of male and female joined together in holy wedlock" without specifically mentioning homosexuality.
The new resolution is a belated attempt to keep Greenville from slipping further into the Dark Ages.
The anti-gay resolution has cost the county the Olympic Torch run and the Tour DuPont bicycle race. The Tour, the largest outside of Europe, recently announced it wouldn't be coming to Greenville as scheduled.
"It's not necessary to go to (cities) that aren't in keeping with our nondiscrimination policy," said a DuPont spokesperson.
The only Christian Coalition candidate to lose the county council race was Terry Ann Odom. After The Greenville News failed to endorse her, she wrote that she was endorsed by a higher authority God.
Unfortunately for Odom, God's name did not appear on the ballot, and voters failed to draw the connection.
The strong straight-Party GOP vote saw Democrats Johnnie Fulton and Brad Wyche loose to conservatives Dwight Loftis and Bob Leach.
In school board races, where voters do not have the option to vote a straight party ticket, the GOP candidates in these districts lost. Sen. Mike Fair (R-Greenville) has proposed that school board races become partisan to take advantage of the straight party vote.
"It doesn't matter about the individual candidate," said Greenville County GOP Chairman Stephen Brown after the election. "It really becomes critical as to party."
Since Attorney General Charlie Condon seems to be willing to stick his finger in every pie, he's bound to come up with an occasional plum.
In the September issue of POINT, a story chastised DHEC for downgrading what used to be the Coastal Council to a bureau within another division.
Sen. Glen McConnell (R-Charleston) questioned DHEC's authority to dissolve the Coastal Division without legislative approval, and sought an opinion from Condon.
In an 11-page opinion issued on Oct. 25, Condon agreed with POINT and McConnell that DHEC cannot downgrade the Coastal Division without the prior approval of the General Assembly.
A call to DHEC's media relations office wasreferred to the commissioner (it's normally the other way around). It seems that Commissioner Doug Bryant is trying to tread water until the legislature reconvenes in January and debates the issue.
If Bryant picks a fight with both McConnell and Condon, DHEC's whole structure may be brought up for reconsideration, and Commissioner Bryant may find himself sending out résumés.
For a free trial subscription to POINT, be the first caller to identify the sleazebag that recently lost a run for U.S. Congress while posturing as a born-again, family values sort of guy. This faux fundamentalist made his living on video gambling, not telephone sex.