Whistling Dixie

Myrtle Beach Sun News Editorial- July 2, 2010

The S.C. Republican Party's quarterly meeting passed last weekend with barely a mention of repercussions against state Sen. Jake Knotts for his noxious ethnic slur, and committee member Jill Kelso of Georgetown makes no effort to hide her frustration.

"To me, we missed an opportunity," said Kelso, who represents the Georgetown County Republican Party in the state organization. "At this point, we as a party basically said it's OK to call a gubernatorial candidate a 'raghead,' and to me that's disheartening."

To be fair, the party hasn't completely left Knotts' shameful treatment of state Rep. Nikki Haley and President Obama unaddressed. After Knotts referred to both of them with the offensive term on an Internet political show, S.C. GOP Chairwoman Karen Floyd swiftly issued a statement that the state party "condemns any use of racial or religious slurs" and demanded an apology of Knotts.

Further, it could be argued that South Carolina Republicans rebuked both Knotts and his public bigotry in the June 22 primary runoff, when they chose Haley as their nominee and Tim Scott to be the 1st District Congressional candidate by roughly two-thirds majorities over well-qualfiied opponents.

With regard to Knotts, however, many Republicans accross the state felt a more direct repudiation was needed. His home party in Lexington County asked for his resignation, and Greenville County GOP Chair Patrick Haddon said Knotts should be expelled from the party.

Locally, the Georgetown County Republican Party courageously echoed Lexington County's censure and call for Knotts' resignation. Georgetown GOP Chairman Tom Swatzel explained that Knotts' slurs were obviously wrong and also counterproductive for the party.

"We're at a point in time when the party is really trying to make inroads with diversity," Swatzel said. "It really stymies our efforts when we have a state senator making these comments."

The lack of any action at the state level this weekend thus came as some surprise. Joel Sawyer, the party's executive director, said the issue was raised within the meetings' Resolutions committee, but party members there decided that Floyd's condemnation of Knotts sufficed, and that moving forward was more important. Even so, party leaders still expected a motion regarding Knotts from the floor during the broader meeting, but none came, Sawyer said.

In the end, it remains unclear why a rebuke of Knotts failed to materialize, but it appears the party's desire to "move on" past the scandal trumped the desire to do the right thing. Last year, the party's censure of Gov. Mark Sanford noted that his conduct was not in accordance with the party's core beliefs, fell beneath its standards and undermined his ability to serve - all of which could easily be said about Knotts.

"A formal admonishment by the South Carolina Republican Party is appropriate and necessary and, barring further revelations, will be the Party's last word on the matter," the Sanford resolution concluded. Knotts' bigotry is arguably more damaging to the reputation of South Carolinians and to Republicans than Mark Sanford's affair, so it is disappointing that S.C. Republicans chose to leave the official party view of the matter an open question.