When the lights turn low, a star-studded lineup of speakers inspires passion and over 50,000 Democrats join forces to unite their party, there’s no place Melissa Watson would rather be.
“It’s intimate,” the South Carolina delegate said about the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week. “When you’re in a red state, you need this.”
Watson, an Army Reserve veteran and 2nd vice chair of the S.C. Democratic Party, said she and her fellow South Carolinians are heading home from the convention to face a familiar challenge — being blue in a red state.
Watson said she has always stood on the minority side — as a woman, an African-American and a Democrat in the state of South Carolina, which has been under Republican-majority control since 2003.
“It’s always hard to stand out and say that I have a different set of values,” Watson said. “But you have to do what you have to do because it feels right, and at the end of the day, it comes out in the wash.”
Among South Carolina’s seven congressional districts and two Senate seats in the federal government, the sole Democrat is Rep. Jim Clyburn. On the state level, Republicans also have majority control at the Statehouse.
With a minority rule, State Party Chair Jamie Harrison said it is difficult to pass legislation he says is crucial to the well-being of the state.
“Enough is enough,” Harrison said, as rallied the state’s delegates at Wednesday’s breakfast toward his goal of turning the state blue.
“You have to start from somewhere; that’s the way I look at it,” Harrison said. “We’re just tired of being tired. Our roads are falling apart. Our schools are crumbling. There’s thousands of people who don’t have health care. Hospitals are being closed in areas that have had hospitals for generations.”
The party has had a little success negotiating budget impasses, like the roads bill from the past legislative session that is awaiting Republican Gov. Nikki Haley’s signature.
The $4 million bill allocates funds to replace 400 bridges, repair the Midland’s “Malfunction Junction” and give Haley more control of the Transportation Department. The budget accounts for 10 percent of the funds needed to repair the state’s public roads.
“We’re tired of this,” Harrison said. “These are basic necessities that the people of South Carolina are not enjoying at this time. All of those things could be solved if we had visionary leadership to do it.”
For delegate Brady Quirk-Gavin, being blue in a red state presents an opportunity. Even if the Democrats in South Carolina do not hold the majority, Quirk-Gavin said they have a large responsibility in the political sphere.
“When you have a state like South Carolina that’s so dominated by Republicans, the rhetoric gets blown out of proportion,” Quirk-Gavin said. “At the end of the day, if all people hear are right-wing talking points, they believe that’s fact. One of the things that we as Democrats must do is push back on that and say what’s over the line or incorrect.”
Watson said the solution to the partisan battle that dominates the Palmetto State lies in its youth. As a secondary school teacher, she sees the potential of the state’s young people to energize the Democratic Party into an effective force.
“Bringing in young people fosters energy, and they can get things done that maybe an experienced politician can’t,” Watson said. “Young people need to understand that they’re going to inherit this mess or, on the flip side, they can inherit a good thing. They have to have a seat at the table now."
- Text and photo by Brianna Spause for The Island Packet