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Hutto’s campaign high jinks

Lee Walton

From all indications, the local political campaign “silly season” in off to a rambunctious start, particularly for S.C. House District 115, which covers most of James Island and Folly Beach. During dinner out with friends Friday night, an old school mate of mine, who has resided on James Island since BC (Before Connector), told us an interesting story about two strange political robo-calls they got late last week. Around dinnertime last Thursday, they received a prerecorded message asking them to respond to a one-question poll for Democratic S.C. House Representative Anne Peterson Hutto. The “press 1 for Yes” or “2 for No” question apparently asked if Anne Peterson Hutto, the State House District 115 Democratic Party incumbent, should seek an endorsement from Democratic U.S House of Representatives Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi while Pelosi was in town as the honored guest for the NAACP’s Freedom Fund banquet.

Blowing the typical dinner-busting annoyance off as the precursor to many such prerecorded campaign messages sure to come before November, our friends thought nothing more of it until a follow-up message was received the next afternoon from Representative Hutto. It seemed that Anne Peterson Hutto was highly indignant about the first poll message and claimed to be the victim of an underhanded, political dirty trick orchestrated by special interest groups who were attempting to paint her with the same partisan Democratic Party brush as Speaker Pelosi. We all laughed about just how ignorant and uninformed most local politicians think all Lowcountry voters must be. After all, Hutto is the Democratic Party incumbent for the District 115 House seat.

But then the tale got even stranger. One of our friends works with a loose-lipped volunteer who helps from time to time on Hutto’s campaign staff. This volunteer insinuated that both calls originated from within Hutto’s campaign as a preemptive ploy. Both calls were intended to divert growing constituent criticism that Hutto was, in fact, just another loyal “Riley Democrat”, stuffed in the State House to look out for Riley and his ethnic band of special interest groups. During dinner we continued to discuss the upcoming local elections and agreed that Hutto, outwardly partisan or not, was probably just one of several potted-plants serving in the State House, Charleston City Council, County Council, and other local boards and commissions that owed their positions to the long, scrawny Democratic Party fingers of Mayor J. Pericles Riley.

Over the weekend, after browsing Hutto’s campaign web site and those of several others, it quickly became apparent that the last thing incumbent Democrats want to openly label are Democrats – it must be synonymous with Leper. Nonetheless, this too is a Riley strategy. If you can’t win wearing an honestly vetted party label, try to sell yourself as nonpartisan. Over a decade ago, Riley knew the only way to continue his stranglehold over Charleston City Council was to snooker the voters into supporting a referendum to make City Council nonpartisan. Ever since, Pericles has stuffed it with his bought-by-the-pound, emasculated cronies. Apparently, he’s trying to pull the same covert, nonpartisan trick in the State House.

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