Democrats aren’t the only ones talking about change. While Democratic wins in 2006 overturned a 12-year GOP majority, Congressman Henry Brown easily won reelection two years ago for a fourth term. But mounting frustrations over a host of issues has not only spurred a Democratic challenger — Brown’s also got two Republicans who say it’s time for a changing of the guards.
Brown worked his way up from municipal council to the Statehouse before replacing Mark Sanford in Congress in 2000. He’ll face local propane proprietor Paul Norris and former congressional aid and National Guard member Katherine Jenerette.
Constituent service has been a hallmark of his career, Brown says, along with keeping government small and cutting taxes. As a senior member of the Committee on Veteran Affairs’ health subcommittee, Brown says he’s committed to improving the quality of care for veterans, including efforts to combine resources at Charleston’s veterans hospital and the Medical University of South Carolina.
Brown says the energy crisis is the most important issue today. While Congress has made cars more fuel-efficient, the country’s reliance on foreign producers is what’s squeezing wallets. All the candidates sing the praises of alternative solutions like wind and nuclear energy, but Brown says these things will take a long time to develop. He continues to look off our shores for a drilling solution.
“We’ve got a tremendous resource right off our coast,” he says, noting vacationers wouldn’t be able to see drilling from the beach.
Considering his background working with South Carolina Electric and Gas and later with his own propane business, it’s not surprising that Norris’ campaign is framed largely around the energy crisis.
“Energy is the core reason our citizens are struggling right now,” he says. “If we don’t change our approach to energy, it’s going to threaten the American dream.”
Ethanol, with its negative impact on food prices, is a political solution that we’ll continue to suffer from, Norris says.
“What we’re lacking in Washington is the ability to understand the problem,” he says. “They’re just throwing out solutions.”
Congress should tackle a wholesale energy policy update, he says. Exploratory drilling in the U.S. is acceptable, though not necessarily on our coasts, but it’s not a solution.
“We can’t drill our way out of this problem,” he says. “We’ve got to technology our way out of this energy problem.”
Jenerette says we should already be drilling in the arctic refuge, but long-term alternatives to oil will have to come with a change in the nation’s car-centered culture, Jenerette says.
“Americans are so independent and we love our cars so much,” she says. “We’re going to have to be willing to change the way we travel.”
Jenerette, who served in the first Persian Gulf war, says that she’ll bring a unique perspective as a female veteran — particularly when arguing to maintain combat troops in Iraq against Democratic opposition.
It’s in America’s best interest that we stay, developing long-term base operations like Germany and elsewhere, Jenerette says.
“I will not support running our wars by congressional committees — we need to let our professional military do what they do best — plan, fight, and win,” she says.
Brown says that the surge is working and that the troops need to stay until the job is done.
Norris says an arbitrary removal of troops doesn’t make sense and that the U.S. should have a presence in Iraq for years, but with a sharper focus on special operations forces.
“We need a slow, analytical withdrawal, or it’ll be the killing fields of Cambodia,” he says.
Both Jenerette and Norris support a flat tax on goods and services that would replace the federal income tax structure.
“Tax reform is a core piece that’s flying under the radar,” Norris says. “That’s a big part of our financial problem.”
The tax reforms will have to come with substantial reductions in government spending, Jenerette says, focusing her attention again on the irresponsible actions of fellow Republicans.
“We have to be responsible fiscally,” she says. “Their number one concern was staying in power. It wasn’t about doing the peoples’ business.”
The party of individual freedom and personal responsibility has lost its way, Norris adds.
“The Republican party has completely dropped the ball,” he says. “We’re seen as the good ol’ boy system.”
On education, Norris says he would scrap No Child Left Behind and the existing testing that’s too cumbersome and takes too long to get the results back to the classroom. He also emphasizes the parents’ responsibility for a good education.
Jenerette says the Department of Education should be almost dissolved, leaving only a clearinghouse of ideas and national standards.
“Teachers these days are checking a box,” she says of continuous testing. “They no longer have control of their classrooms.”
NCLB likely wasn’t a good idea in hindsight, Brown says, “because it interjected the federal government into something that the state should be in control of.” He’d like to see more flexibility and local control.
Brown says he also wants to see portable health care plans and an option for small businesses to pool their resources to broker better health care plans.
After nearly eight years in Washington and 16 years before that in Columbia, Brown says he’s the only candidate with the experience to work for the district.
“I’m ready to reach across party lines and work with Democrats,” he says. “I know how to deal in a minority situation.”
Both opponents seem to paint Henry Brown as a fine statesmen, but they say it’s time for fresh blood.
Jenerette says that the district needs a conservative fighter in Congress.
“The Democrats are going to have the homefield advantage for a while,” she says. “We need someone who’s more aggressive and will take the ball and run.”
Norris goes for a track and field reference.
“We’ve got to embrace working at a faster pace in Washington,” he says. “It’s certainly time for Henry to pass the baton to somebody.”