South Carolina Democrats haven’t had it so good here, at least since Jimmy Carter, the last time a Southern governor was elected to the White House.
Greenville’s Dick Riley is in Bill Clinton’s Cabinet overseeing education policy. Hilton Head’s Phil Lader will soon go to deputy White House chief of staff. And Abbeville’s Mike McCurry is providing the Clinton world view from the State Department
Frank Holleman III of Greenville is a Department of Justice point man on illegal immigrantion. Rita Hayes of Edgefield is an assistant secretary of commerce and chairman of a key committee that oversees textile agreements. Jody Greenstone of Greenville is a special assistant to presidential counselor David Gergen.
After 12 years in the wilderness of three Republican administrations, Palmetto State Democrats are indeed in high cotton, but moreso than they ever were with Carter’s administration.
“We didn’t have anbody comparable to Riley, Hale, (White House aide Jody) Greenstone or Lader at that level” in the Carter administration, said Don Fowler of Columbia, one of the state’s Democratic National Committee members and state party chairman during the Carter years.
With Clinton, a former Arkansas governor, in the White House, “it’s far greater,” he said. “It’s really an impressive array of people.”
“We’ve got a direct voice in there, I can tell you that,” said Sen. Ernest Hollings, D&C.
Superficially, South Carolina wouldn’t appear to be a likely source for a substantial presence in a Democratic administration.
Aside from being small and far from a treasure chest of campaign money, the state has voted Republican, often overwhelmingly, in six of the last seven presidential elections.
That includes 1992, when President Bush carried South Carolina.
But Riley, an old friend, and key members of South Carolina’s congressional delegation were early Clinton supporters – when it counted – and remained steadfast through dark days when character questions threatened to scuttle his drive toward the nomination.
“Riley, Billy Webster and some other people backed (Clinton) very early in the nominating process, and the South Carolina primary occurred at a particularly important juncture … and South Carolina delivered for Clinton,” Fowler said.
“That had an effect, plus simply more people from South Carolina had an interest and were pursuing those kinds of positions than was the case with Carter.”
Riley had a big impact, said Mrs. Hayes, the Commerce official.
“There were a lot of people from South Carolina that (Riley) pulled from,” she said.
Webster, who is now Riley’s chief of staff, agreed South Carolinians have taken a prominent place in the administration. That would include his wife, the White House’s Ms. Greenstone.
He attributes it to “the kinship of Southern governors.” There was less kinship during the Carter years when South Carolina’s top appointment was former Gov. John West’s ambassadorship to Saudi Arabia.
“There weren’t too many appointed in the White House circle,” West said. “They had the Georgia mafia and weren’t interested in the South Carolina mafia.”
South Carolina’s role in the Clinton administration is unusual, West said, “particularly since the state didn’t go for him.”
Some of the South Carolinians in the administration, like Holleman and Doug Hyle, now an official in the Farmers Home Administration, came out of Clinton’s state campaign.
Others, particularly Hale and McCurry, have become more associated with Washington after years of working in the capital.
“It’s a challenging change of pace and very different from what I’ve done before,” said Holleman, a former state Democratic Party chairman, who has resettled his family in suburban Arlington.
U.S. Rep. Buter Derrick of Edgefield attributed the participation of South Carolinians in the Clinton administration to the network Clinton built up over 10 years as governor of Arkansas, whereas Carter tended to surround himself largely with Georgians and their contacts.
“Clinton was a Southern governor, and obviously, Carter was too. But (Clinton) had been working on this thing for at least a decade, and he cultivated people in public office in the South, like Dick Riley and people like that,” Derrick said.
“The first time I met him was at a Southern Governors’ (Association) convention, and I think he just vuilt that sort of base in the South. He turned them into social and political friends.
“It just spread. It multiplied,” Derrick said.