Brought Together By Tragedy
Thursday, July 2, 2015on
The tragic and senseless shooting deaths of nine people in Charleston on June 17th hit very close to home for those us who work in and around the Statehouse. The death of Reverend and state Senator Clementa Pinckney weighs on our hearts. Senator Pinckney was one of the General Assembly's most respected and loved members. Most of us are now familiar with his story: He was first elected to the South Carolina House at age 23 and was elected to the Senate in 2000. He was a pastor at one of our nation’s oldest African-American churches. And, like so many other shooting stars, he was cut down at the far-too-young age of 41. [caption id="attachment_1978" align="alignleft" width="220" caption="Reverend and Senator Clementa Pinckney"][/caption] In a short period of time, Senator Pinckney built a strong record of service. He worked tirelessly on behalf of his constituents and everyone in South Carolina. He never got angry. He never showed frustration. He never held a grudge. He was a shining example of the temperament that should pervade our public servants today, but is rarely on display. I had the privilege of interviewing him many times when I was a reporter and I enjoyed the few times I had the opportunity to work with him at the State House. Senator Pinckney radiated peace from his giant frame and booming voice. He had a gentle confidence, not a political ego. We just completed a legislative session fraught with fighting and conflict. There were bad feelings, nasty words, rhetorical bombs, and lots of senseless anger. Many political observers believe it was one of the worst sessions in more than a decade. Sadly, like too many things in life these days, it takes a tragedy to remember what is truly important. We can all learn from Senator Pinckney. We must all learn from Senator Pinckney. No matter your political persuasion, anger and hyper-partisanship is no way to fight violence, protect our air and water, create jobs, or move our state forward. One of South Carolina’s Episcopal Bishops wrote: “In terms of self-examination, may we not neglect our own complicity in an environment of polarization and suspicion….” This doesn’t mean that we don’t stand up for what we believe. It doesn’t mean you don’t do everything in your power to push your agenda. It does mean that respect must be re-instilled in our political discourse, and we need to re-focus on the issues that will move our state forward. The time we all have to work on these issues is short. Sadly, Sen. Pinckney’s time was far too short. As our nation embarks on what will surely be a nasty and partisan Presidential campaign, we must remember that simply because we disagree with someone, it doesn’t mean they’re evil. The people who politically oppose us are not trying to destroy our country. I might not have agreed with Senator Pinckney on many issues, but I know he was trying to build a better South Carolina. We must come back to a place where we can respect conflicting opinions and disagree without being disagreeable. Everyone is guilty of it. Myself included. On June 17th, our state lost a Godly man and a public servant who was a true leader. I hope that your memory and your spirit live on in the hearts of those who work in and around the Statehouse. Our state needs it. Rest in peace, Clementa Pinckney. Jason Zacher is Vice President of Business Advocacy at the Greenville Chamber and Executive Director of the Upstate Chamber Coalition.