I took Rod Shealy to task several times in my column over the years, but now I use this space to send condolences and best wishes to his family and friends.

Shealy was a bare-knuckled, no-holds-barred Republican consultant in the Lee Atwater mold and, like Atwater, he died of cancer much too young. His tactics won him praise in some quarters and contempt in others. They also won him conviction for a state ethics law violation for a campaign he ran for his sister in 1990.

I never knew Shealy, but he was a complex fellow. His friends and family describe a fun-loving rascal who wore Hawaiian shirts, played guitar and sang and was a lot of fun to be around. I take them at their word, but I think that Shealy’s tactics and attitude did much to make modern South Carolina politics the mean, thuggish, divisive hell hole we know today.

Rest in peace, Rod.

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – Republican political consultant Rod Shealy died on Wednesday in Charleston after a long battle with cancer, according to South Carolina Republican Party Chair Karen Floyd. He was 56.

Lori Unumb said her brother died on Wednesday at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, two years after undergoing surgery to remove a cancerous brain tumor. “We’re deeply saddened and shocked,” she said. “He’s been struggling with cancer, obviously, for a couple of years, but he was doing well and optimistic and happy and feeling like the treatments had been working.”

Shealy, who helped run campaigns for politicians such as Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer and senators Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint, was notorious for negative campaigning throughout his career. “He liked taking on uphill battles where nobody gave them a chance,” described Bauer, a longtime friend who said the State House was filled with people he helped put in office.

Shealy chronicled his fight against cancer on his blog. The last post was in May. “Whatever my future holds is okay with me. It’s a great life, and I love this life, but I’ve certainly had my fair share of it — probably more than my share — so when my time comes, it comes,” he wrote.

Shealy was known for his colorful Hawaiian shirts, publishing six small newspapers and a bare knuckles style that’s gotten him in trouble. He was first diagnosed with melanoma in 1983.

“He lived life to its fullest more than anybody I know,” Unumb said. “You never saw Rod in anything other than a Hawaiian shirt. He was always carrying around a guitar and would break into song to entertain anybody around. He was a happy-go-lucky, big-hearted, big brother.”

The Lee Atwater protege gained national notoriety after he recruited an unemployed black fisherman to run against Arthur Ravenel for the U.S. House in 1990. The plan: Drive up local white voter turnout and help one of his sisters in a state primary the same day. In 1992, Shealy was fined $500 on a misdemeanor conviction for failing to report a $5,000 campaign contribution. The episode also brought changes in the state’s ethics laws.

Read more at http://www.wistv.com/global/story.asp?s=13005403

And here is something from The Good Fight for Nov. 7, 2007.

Why do South Carolina voters continue to fall for the sleight-of-hand tax tricks and other ruses our legislators hand us — year after year, generation after generation? In the Oct. 16 issue of Harper’s, writer Ken Silverstein offered an insight.

Silverstein interviewed Republican political operator Rod Shealy (“Something Sleazy on the Isle,” Oct. 31) and proposed a theory that the flood of new residents into S.C. was changing the character of the electorate. As a result, running hard right in the state, on issues such as abortion and gay marriage, would become less effective. “The smart strategy is to pay lip service to social issues, but to focus on pocket book issues that appeal to fiscal conservatives,” he suggested.

Shealy was doubtful. “It’s true, our entire coast is filled with people who sound more like you than they do like me,” he told Silverman. “But it will be a long time before it’s a bad strategy to run to the right in South Carolina … Working the social issues is still important.”

South Carolina’s legislators will always be working the social issues, like last November’s constitutional amendment against gay marriage. And the voters in this Baptist-ridden state will always fall for it. And that’s why you won’t be seeing any fair tax relief here in the near future.

Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.