James Smith isn’t afraid to use the P-word.
“I think the word ‘politician’ has been given a connotation that to a degree has been earned by those who have made bad decisions, but a commitment to public service is something we ought to uphold and aspire to,” the Columbia state representative and Democratic candidate for governor said. “I think we need to find that place in our politics where we remember there are things more important than party. That we have a connection by being Americans and South Carolinians.”
Smith, 50, also isn’t afraid of running for the state’s highest office as a life-long champion of liberal causes — even if it costs him votes among South Carolina’s heavy pro-life bloc.
“I wish some of my colleagues would care more about these kids after they were born. Why aren’t we making sure we’re taking care of our women in pre-natal and post-natal care? Why aren’t we making sure our kids are and healthy and ready to learn by first grade? For some people, this is going to be a reason not to support me. All I can say is, I believe in the entire Bill of Rights in our Constitution,” Smith said.
An attorney, Smith has served in the state House of Representatives since 1996. He’s also a major in U.S. Army, deploying to Afghanistan in 2007 as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. During his 12-month tour, he earned the Bronze Star Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge and a Purple Heart.
Smith’s primary opponents — Florence attorney Marguerite Willis and Greenville technology consultant Phil Noble — have attacked him as a Columbia insider, a notion he scoffs at.
“I’ve faced the voters eleven times in 22 years,” he said. “They can say those things, but I just don’t think people will believe them.”
Smith has a laundry list of endorsements from prominent Democratic leaders including former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-6th District. On Friday, he won backing from the South Carolina Education Association.
That’s on top of endorsements by the South Carolina Progressive Network, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic Votes, Sierra Club of SC and Conservation Voters of SC, among other organizations.
Smith and his running mate, state Rep. Mandy Powers-Norrell, of Lancaster, take a broad view of their campaign.
“I have a great deal of confidence in the ability of Mandy and myself to win this race in November,” Smith said. “From the start of our campaign to today, we have more individual donations than all the other campaigns combined, and they come from all 46 counties. There is a real desire among not only Democrats but moderate Republicans that believe we need a change, we need to get back to investing in our people and places again.”
Despite running as an unabashed Democrat in a deep red state, Smith said he doesn’t view his candidacy as a long shot bid – nor is he interested in using the campaign as a platform to talk about ideas.
“No. 1, we want to win this race. It’s not an academic exercise. I’m not interested in yelling at the TV. I want to govern. I never have had just Democrats vote for me. The message doesn’t change for me. It’s always who I am and focusing on things that really matter and government that is serving the people. The people of our state can tell when politicians are making decisions for themselves,” he said.
Smith, however, also has a message reserved for his Republican counterparts who believe the winner of that party’s June 12 primary will go on to be governor.
“I hope they continue to think that. I welcome their continued underestimation of what we can and the people of our state can do,” he said. “When you focus on the nuts and bolts of politics instead of the red meat, you can get things done.”