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Joe W.
Republican SC 2

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  • Tributes for Gov. James B. Edwards

    by Representative Joe Wilson

    Posted on 2015-01-06

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    WILSON of south carolina in the house of representatives Tuesday, January 6, 2015 Mr. WILSON of South Carolina. Mr. Speaker, the hometown, Charleston Lowcountry daily newspaper of the Post and Courier recognized Doctor Edwards with a thoughtful editorial and heartfelt columns were provided by former staffers Robert G. Liming and Ron Brinson.

    [From The Post and Courier, Dec. 27, 2014] James B. Edwards James B. Edwards exhibited, among many other positive attributes, a keen sense of the politically possible. So when the oral surgeon from Mount Pleasant launched his 1974 gubernatorial bid, he knew it was a very long shot.

    Yet he also knew something few politicians or pundits of that time realized: A powerful public demand for limited government and fiscal responsibility--and for a more conservative Republican party to lead that charge--was on the rise.

    It was made to order for Dr. Edwards' political philosophy. And his engaging personal style helped him advance those goals on behalf of the public he served so well for so long as, among other jobs, governor of South Carolina and president of the Medical University of South Carolina.

    His death Friday at age 87 warrants a fresh recognition of his remarkable, admirable legacy--in and out of elective office.

    How stacked did the deck look against Dr. Edwards' 1974 run for governor? It had been less than two years since he had won his first elective office as a state senator. It had been three years since he had lost his run for the 1st District congressional seat, though he did win the GOP nonmination in that race.

    And it had been 100 years since South Carolinians had elected a Republican governor. Dr. Edwards' GOP primary opponent, retired Gen. William Westmoreland, had a huge name- recognition edge. And even after Dr. Edwards won that primary, he again was the underdog in the general election.

    But Democratic primary winner Charles ``Pug'' Ravenel was removed as his party's nominee on a residency challenge, elevating runner-up William Jennings Bryan Dorn to the ballot. Dr. Edwards made 20th century history by defeating the 13-term congressman from the 3rd District.

    During his 1975-79 gubernatoral tenure, Dr. Edwards further established himself as a major player in the GOP's shift to the right. After initially supporting former Texas Gov. John Connally, Gov. Edwards became a prominent supporter of Ronald Reagan's 1976 bid for the party's presidential nomination against incumbent Gerald Ford. Though that effort fell short, it set the stage for Mr. Reagan's successful 1980 run.

    Despite his solid conservative credentials, Gov. Edwards established himself as a master of crossing party lines. As governor, he worked with the Democratic-controlled Senate and House to expand South Carolina's industrial base with assorted incentives, uplift poor school districts with the Education Finance Act and protect the state's long-term financial stability with a ``rainy day'' fund.

    Gov. Edwards also advanced the reorganization of state government. One of his allies in Columbia, Carroll Campbell, later became an effective champion of that cause during his two terms as governor (1987-95).

    S.C. governors were limited to a single term when Dr. Edwards served in that position. So after Mr. Reagan won the presidency in 1980, Dr. Edwards became U.S. energy secretary.

    He and President Reagan advocated eliminating the department. As then-Secretary Edwards warned: ``There is only one thing that produces energy, and that's the private sector, which government has hamstrung.'' Secretary Edwards and his boss pushed to fold the agency into the Department of Commerce. Though Congress wouldn't go along with that, Energy Secretary Edwards did manage to deeply cut the agency's budget and reduce its staff by 2,000.

    He stepped up to another challenge in 1996, joining fellow former Govs. Campbell, John West, Robert McNair and Dick Riley in bi-partisan backing of Gov. David Beasley's courageous call to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse dome.

    And under his 1982-99 leadership as MUSC president, the size of the campus more than tripled from 1.5 million square feet to 5 million square feet. Along the expanding way, MUSC's reputation for providing both high-quality medical education and health care grew, too. In that ongoing process, the school has attracted top medical, research and teaching talent.

    MUSC paid fitting tribute to its former leader in 2010 when it dedicated the James B. Edwards College of Dental Medicine. At the time of the dental college dedication, Dr. Jack Sanders, dean of that school, offered this accurate assessment of Dr. Edwards' lasting contributions: ``His entire life stands as a testament to the values of integrity and service, which we hope to instill in each of our students.'' James B. Edwards' legacy in South Carolina, at MUSC and beyond will long live on.

    [From The Post and Courier, Dec. 27, 2014] Jim Edwards Had Transformative Role in S.C. Shift to GOP (By Robert G. Liming) He wasn't a four-star general, legendary Old South congressman or media-savvy Wall Street investment broker, yet he forever transformed Palmetto State politics.

    James Burrows Edwards was the exception to every rule in predictable partisan politics. The affable oral surgeon was given no chance of being elected as he paid his filing fee at GOP Headquarters on Columbia's Harden Street in spring of 1974.

    He defied backroom dealmakers in the then fledgling Republican Party by thrashing their hand-picked contender, West Pointer Gen. William C. Westmoreland, in the Republican primary.

    Democratic Party bosses were so fearful of a Westmoreland candidacy they failed to notice the meteoric rise of Wall Street whiz Charles D. ``Pug'' Ravenel who used slick television ads and media manipulation to stunningly defeat their anointed, veteran Greenwood congressman, William Jennings Bryan Dorn, in a bitterly contested primary.

    Dorn surprisingly became the eventual Democratic nominee after a tumultuous legal battle resulting in a Supreme Court ruling disqualifying Ravenel because he failed to meet the state's legal residency requirement. The court's decision paved the [[Page E10]] way for Edwards' implausible November election win. His cash- starved campaign's upset signaled the end of the Democratic death-grip dominance over the state's 46 county courthouses.

    Jim Edwards took the oath on a frigid January morning in 1975 and rocked the very political foundation of the Statehouse. Defying political pundits and power brokers, he became the first Republican chief executive since the Union troops fled Columbia, leaving then-Gov. Daniel Chamberlain holding his empty carpetbag.

    Most current ``life-long'' Republican officeholders never met Jim, and those who did can hardly grasp the fact they owe their very opportunity to serve to his courage, character and dedication to public service. There were less than two dozen Republicans in the legislature in 1974, and Nikki Haley was only three years old the evening Jim gave his first state of the State address.

    I was a brash and flippant political reporter when I accepted the role as his official spokesman, a hard choice for him since he really didn't know me well. But like so many decisions he made, Jim took his time, weighed all the facts, sought the advice of others and made the final decision on his own. We grew closer and soon our inner office humor abounded, I recall how I coined his nickname as ``veto king'' and he labeled me as ``Dr. No'' because of the effort I put into composing the veto messages he signed on numerous pieces of legislation. As a Republican it was his strongest weapon against a Democratic-dominated General Assembly when compromise became impossible.

    In today's atmosphere of instant assessment, weblogs of every ilk, and babbling talking heads few if any will recall his countless accomplishments. Jim's strongest skill was his personal ability to sit down one on one and resolve issues, a talent so sadly missing today in Columbia and Washington. Jim was the leader in establishing the state's ``rainy day'' reserve fund to cover budget shortfalls and unforeseen emergencies; he championed the Education Finance Act to ensure equal funding options for all public schools; led the fight for the state's first tidelands protection laws; and pioneered the reform of the state's festeringly inefficient and ineffective cash-devouring welfare system.

    He had no political hit list and he held no grudges. Jim was guided by the wisdom and character he learned from his school teacher parents; the patriotism he shared as a Merchant Marine and later Navy officer; the caring he learned as a surgeon; and his abiding faith and trust in God.

    His first love was for his forever first lady, Ann, their precious daughter and son, Catherine and James Jr., and the beloved grandchildren. Yet there was always a special place in his heart for the people of South Carolina, including the Allendale dyed-in-the-wool Democrat farmer who Jim always trusted because he voted for the other guy! As I recall Jim, this verse will always come to mind: Mark 1:11. We will miss you and your wonderful smile; you were an extraordinary governor, wonderful boss and a dear friend.

    [From The Post and Courier] Fundamental Goodness Was the Essence of Jim Edwards (By Ron Brinson) Jim Edwards has died, and there is a void in the heart and soul and political spirit of his beloved South Carolina.

    This good man was an American patriot, a principled leader.

    His gracious humility framed his soaring intellect.

    His life was anchored by those simple old-fashioned American values of education and enterprise, of caring for your family and your neighbors and your country--and always translating that ``care'' with meaningful commitments and achievement.

    He was my friend. He was everyone's friend.

    History's bare facts will describe Dr. Edwards as one of those upstart Goldwater Republicans who back in the '60s forged a special brand of post-war American conservatism. He stood side by side with the likes of Ronald Reagan as the Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln was reborn, or in today's parlance, ``rebooted.'' But in the mid-'60s, Jim Edwards was a young oral surgeon, married to Ann Darlington, the love of his life, and they had a very young family. Personal and professional sacrifice defined his entry into what he once called ``patriot politics.'' He was determined, he said, to square America's political compass with ``the values and principles that make America America.'' In 1974, he was a Charleston-area state senator encouraged to run in the Republican primary for governor--against William Westmoreland, the retired four-star commanding general of U.S. forces in Vietnam. At the time it seemed to many--and perhaps to Dr. Edwards himself--that he was merely the sacrificial political lamb for Gen. Westmoreland's homecoming reach for the governor's office.

    Four decades later, we might reckon it was a package of mysterious and fortuitous political providence at work, confecting a dramatic turning point for South Carolina's politics and for Jim Edwards' leadership career. Dr. Edwards was a natural born campaigner, so genuine and sincere. Truth is, Gen. Westmoreland really never had much of a chance to win that primary.

    But then Jim Edwards didn't have much chance, either, to prevail in his general election campaign against Democrat Charles ``Pug'' Ravenel, the Charleston-born Wall Street whiz-kid investment banker. Ah, but providence often is a persistent force in the chancy processes of politics. Mr. Ravenel ran afoul of a five-year residential requirement. He might still have had Lowcountry pluff-mud in his toes, but the S.C. Supreme Court nullified his candidacy. Jim Edwards had performed well on the primary campaign trail, and some big-name folks with big bank accounts were lining up to respond to his call for a march back toward ``conservatism.'' U.S. Rep. William Jennings Bryan Dorn, D-Greenwood, with his late start and his party well off balance, had only a puncher's chance as Ravenel's replacement. On Nov. 5, 1974, James Burrows Edwards became the first Republican governor of South Carolina since Reconstruction. In his affable and witty manner, he declared. ``A lot of Democrats will say I'm the first mistake South Carolina has made in a hundred years.'' Dr. Edwards, in his inaugural speech, emphasized an often- neglected value of elected governance--results over partisanship. ``I begin not with any partisan goals or debts to any special interests, but rather as the recipient of a public trust from 2.8 million great people; people who are hungry for leadership that is not concerned with politics, but dedicated to building responsive and effective government. Let us all reach across political barriers and work together to improve our state . . .'' The politics of election and then governance are different, and for Gov. Edwards, ``non-partisanship'' equaled political smartness. With only a handful of Republicans in the Legislature, he worked proactively to calibrate agendas with Speaker of the House Sol Blatt, and Senate leaders Marion Gressette and Rembert Dennis.

    ``The agenda is important,'' he once told Sens. Gressette and Dennis. ``But we have to work, too, on how best to work together.'' A few years ago, he lamented with that warming smile, ``Sometimes, it feels like the biggest problem with Republicans is that we've forgotten how to get along with each other.'' Everyone, it seemed, got along with Jim Edwards. His gubernatorial record showed steady improvements fiscally and in public education, a nice package of organizational and management reforms and a new emphasis on marketing South Carolina for industrial and commercial growth. Against the very strong opposition of his Mount Pleasant neighbors, Gov. Edwards approved the S.C. State Ports Authority,s Wando container terminal project.

    And folks always appreciated Jim Edwards' ``style'' of friendship and loyalty.

    As President Reagan's energy secretary, he fronted Reagan's agenda to terminate the Department of Energy. Editorialists were merciless. ``It was a joyless ride of misinformed `establishment' ridicule,'' Dr. Edwards once said, laughing. ``But President Reagan felt very strongly about this and my job was to try to get it done.'' The U.S. Department of Energy still stands, of course, but respect and admiration for Jim Edwards were ascending even as he left Washington in 1982 to assume the presidency of the Medical University of South Carolina. His tenure there was exceptional, especially in growing the school's foundation endowments, something very related to his standing in industry and politics.

    Every elected leader should consider Jim Edwards' point about working first to get along with each other. Every American might consider the grid of patriotic and good governance principles that guided his personal, professional and political lives. But for those who knew this good man for a moment--or for 50 years--we will rejoice that we crossed paths with him.

    A year ago, after Dr. Edwards had suffered a stroke, I asked him about his ``legacy.'' He answered softly, ``That can be so subjective; it's in the eyes of the beholder.'' I told him I wanted an answer, that I might be writing commentary one day about his ``legacy.'' He paused for a moment and then added, ``I hope someone will say I loved my family and my country, and that they noticed I always tried to do my best.'' Let us not be confused by such natural humility; Jim Edwards truly was a great man.


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