On the one hand, it says a lot about the Democratic Party in South Carolina that Pastor Thomas Dixon is its U.S. Senate candidate. No one else threw their proverbial hat into the proverbial ring, so Dixon took the nomination by default.
On the other hand, Dixon could be the ideal candidate for that multitude of voters who say they are tired of professional politicians. He certainly stands in contrast to his opponent, Tim Scott, the GOP incumbent, who has been climbing the political ladder for two decades.
Dixon has never held public office, nor has he ever even run for office. And unlike so many politicians who end their careers with a prison sentence, Dixon served his time years before his first run for office. But I get ahead of myself.
At first glance, Thomas Dixon and Tim Scott would seem similar enough. Both are middle-aged, African-American men. But the similarities end there.
As we know, Scott grew up in North Charleston, the son of a single mother. He was headed for trouble in his early teens, when he famously found a mentor, who gave him a job, kept him out of trouble, inspired him to finish high school, go to college, then open his own insurance business. Along the way, he learned the Republican platitudes of hard work, perseverance, religious faith, etc. Today he is in the U.S. Senate, providing the perfect cover for the party that has made itself the mouthpiece of white resentment and fear. And to maintain his own cover, Scott has refused to even join the Congressional Black Caucus.
Thomas Dixon was not so lucky. He grew up in the Southside projects of Chicago. By age 14, he was drinking and using drugs and there was no mentor, no one there to turn him around. And so began the long descent into decades of drug and alcohol abuse.
In an effort to escape the death grip these substances had on him, he joined the Navy and trained as a medical corpsman. Yet, to his dismay, he found that the demons he fled in Chicago were everywhere around him. After six years and several run-ins with authorities, Dixon counted himself lucky to take an honorable discharge. He was in Charleston then, 37 years old, with a wife and two children, and an addiction that had to be fed every day.
Perhaps inevitably, he turned to crime to pay the bills and his dealer. Just as inevitably, he got caught, spending eight months in Dorchester County Jail and then two years in state prison. It was there that he had a religious experience. He came out of prison, put his family back together (both of his children have college degrees), and has been spending his life trying to repair the damage he did to society during his 30 years of addiction.
Dixon’s had plenty of time to work on that project, because he says he is unemployable as an ex-convict. Changing the law to help ex-cons find jobs is one of his causes and he has been active with S.C. Crime Reduction Coalition. Dixon has been working with Fight for 15, the campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour; with the International Association of Machinists, trying to organize workers at Boeing; and with Parents Against Gun Violence, trying to bring sensible gun laws to South Carolina.
To combat violence in North Charleston, he co-founded People United to Take Back Our Community and he is a leader at Summerville Christian Fellowship. If that sounds like a modest resume, remember that Barack Obama started as a community organizer.
As admirable as Tim Scott’s climb out of poverty and social dysfunction may be, he does not seem to have learned much from the experience. Compare his cynicism to the compassion and empathy of Thomas Dixon, a man whose life experience much more closely reflects the lives of many South Carolinians.
Dixon is a man who has lived a hard life, learned some hard lessons, and yet has not been broken or made bitter. He is not only a role model, but an agent for change. He knows that government can work for ordinary people, not just corporations and the wealthy.
So it happens that we do have a worthy Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in South Carolina — not a man who has spent decades grooming himself for the position, not a man who spends his days hobnobbing in country clubs and boardrooms, fueling his campaign with corporate and special interest money.
He told me, “I want to make this a better nation, a safer nation, a nation where we are all free to grow up and fulfill the American Dream.”
Thomas Dixon deserves our support on Nov. 8.
Will Moredock is the author of Living in Fear: Race, Politics & The Republican Party in South Carolina.