Democrat Linda Ketner decided to run for Congress when her patience ran out. Iraq, schools, the economy, and a host of other issues mounted, and she wondered if she was the only one sick and tired of being sick and tired. So she went out in the district to find out, shaking hands at diners and grocery stores.
“What I discovered is that everybody is feeling it,” she says. “They’re frightened, desperate, angry. They want help. They want someone who’s going to work for them.”
If there was an “it” brand this year, it’d be change. After a third straight special election loss of a tightly held Republican congressional district, GOP leaders sounded the alarm last week that members needed to shore up funding for fierce battles this November.
“I think (voters) are tired of the same old same old they’ve been getting with who has been in office and results that just aren’t good enough,” Ketner says, before turning to her campaign staff. “What’s a nice, tactful word for pathetic?”
The daughter of a Food Lion founder, Ketner has been a leadership consultant for businesses and nonprofits. She’s led organizations dealing with affordable housing, homelessness, and gay rights.
Ketner’s often weighed political office, but thought she could get more accomplished outside of the system.
“Then I read that 10 years of activism can be accomplished in one year of government,” she says. So she decided to jump in.
Voters are scared to death about the economy, Ketner says, noting friends are telling her about spending more than $150 a week on gas, with food prices also going up.
“People are really worried about their pocket books and they should be,” she says.
Solutions aren’t going to come from the call for a proposed gas-tax holiday, seen by some as political pandering.
“It’s not this short-term silly stuff,” she says.
Instead, Ketner has a number of long-term solutions that start with getting out of Iraq, which she says has played a large role in this recession.
“That is a big stone around our neck,” she says. “Regardless of how you feel about that war — whether you want to stay or go — there’s not an option. We can’t (stay) even if we wanted to.”
She calls for sharing the responsibility in the Middle East with the rest of the world, noting many have a stake in our success, including India and Saudi Arabia.
“We also need to go back to the first two tools of diplomacy,” she says. “Negotiation and coalition building.”
Ketner also sees energy independence as a strong priority in the next few years and considers the issue a strong point of distinction between her and Congressman Henry Brown, the Republican who has held the seat for nearly eight years.
“My opponent has not voted for one renewable energy bill,” she says. “And he’s voted for all the tax breaks for the oil companies. That’s reverse of where we should be right now.”
Instead, Ketner says we should be giving tax breaks to innovative, renewable energy solutions and bringing new industries to South Carolina that develop wind and solar power to replace those jobs lost to foreign markets.
“We don’t need to talk about drilling again,” she says, referring to Brown’s past support of off-shore oil drilling. “Instead, we look at wind turbines out in the water. If a storm knocks them down, we don’t have to worry about them destroying the ocean.”
People are frustrated and angry at the education system, Ketner says.
“They’re tired of being 50th in graduation rates and they’re tired of these schools falling apart right under them and they want to see real reform in education,” she says.
No Child Left Behind should be reformed, preserving the concept of providing resources to low-performing schools, but requiring less testing and establishing universal standards that don’t put South Carolina at a disadvantage because of more challenging tests.
The best teachers should be recruited by the most troubled schools, with federal bonuses for producing results, Ketner says. She’d also press for universal pre-kindergarten and require that students are literate by the end of the third grade.
“That’s a no-excuses type of goal,” she says. “On the first day of the fourth grade, if you can’t read, that’s the first day you’re behind.”
On immigration, Ketner sees a need for a virtual fence on both borders, requiring employer verification through e-verify, and establishing clear, enforceable immigration laws.
“For the last 12 years, Clinton and Bush didn’t deal with it, and they’re leaving it to us in the next Congress to clean up,” she says. “We’re going to have to change these laws to something the government is willing to enforce.”
Brown’s record as chair of the Veteran Affairs subcommittee on health in the early years of the Iraq war is another concern for Ketner.
“The subcommittee should have begun preparing for a flood of injured troops coming through the system on day one,” she says. “Nobody planned for what was inevitable.”
She says injured veterans coming home should be given financial assistance immediately, instead of struggling through up to a year or longer of processing.
Considering the rampant spending under the former Republican majority in Congress, Ketner says it should come as no surprise that she’s a fiscal conservative.
“If Republicans are still able to convince people that they’re about fiscal responsibility, someone has been drinking the Kool-Aid,” she says.
Unlike Brown, Ketner supports earmark reform and establishing standards for competitive grants.
“It’s taxpayers’ money,” she argues. “And the middle class is paying the most money into that waste.”
Ketner’s primary opponent Ben Frasier did not return calls from the City Paper for an interview. While he hasn’t been campaigning as much as she has, Ketner says she hasn’t altered the campaign.
“I don’t take anything for granted,” she says. “We’re staying on course.”