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Candidates are gone? Think again.

Posted by: Jason Zacher on Friday, April 1, 2016

“No one has ever doubted that truth and politics are on rather bad terms with each other.”
– Hannah Arendt

“The truth is out there.”
– The X Files

With the Presidential primary circus behind us, it’s time for South Carolinians to turn our attention to our state election. This fall, all 124 House members, all 46 Senators, all seven Congressmen, and numerous county councils, school boards, and other local government officials will be on the ballot.

South Carolina is legendary for our rough-and-tumble politics, where dirty tricks and nasty campaigning is as ubiquitous as our sweet tea, barbeque, and mosquitoes. It only stands to get worse this year, leaving us with a nasty campaign ahead – in the Upstate that will mostly be between now and the June 14 Republican primaries.

Every four years, these presidential races spit out dozens of campaign workers who cut their teeth working with consultants who desperately try to mimic the legendary Lee Atwater. Sadly, Atwater passed away 25 years ago this March 29th, and most have only clumsily followed in his footsteps.

The mud-slinging, half-truths, and outright lies will be back in the coming weeks. Only this time, it’s coming to a local race near you.

The good news is that the truth is out there, and as I wrote a year ago, business leaders like you need to take this opportunity to get involved, get engaged, and exercise your influence. In the Upstate, we had nearly a year where everyone had a chance to ask a presidential candidate a question. You had a chance to get up close and personal with the folks trying to become the Leader of the Free World.

As this magazine hits the racks, filing for our state and local races has wrapped (non-partisan filing opens in August). The candidates are set and the elections are underway.

Judging by the lower turnouts in city elections – and even a tremendous drop-off in the number of ballots cast from President to local elections held on the same day – we don’t pay nearly as much attention to the local issues as we all should.

Perhaps your local county council, state House, state Senate, or school board aren’t as sexy as the presidential race. The local tax increase, the zoning decisions, and the design and review board approvals don’t get CNN or FoxNews coverage, but these decisions can have a much bigger impact on your business and your life than what goes on in Washington.

The mud will be coming. And we’re generally not as interested in local issues, so we can be ignorant about the truth behind the attacks.

The Chambers in our Upstate Chamber Coalition will be one of many community groups holding forums and education sessions this year. Find them and go to them. Learn about a county council candidate’s plans for managing growth. Learn what our state candidates have planned to help boost our region’s economy. Learn what everyone from county council to state Senate plan to do with taxes and social services.

Don’t fall victim to vicious attacks and untruths spread via anonymous blog posts, scandalous direct mail, and patently false robocalls (which we all hate anyway). The truth is out there.

This spring, we invite you to join your Chamber in our efforts to get our friends, neighbors, and employees out to vote. The Greenville Chamber, and our 12 Chamber partners in the Upstate Chamber Coalition, will be working on a turnout campaign called #VoteGreenville2016 (or insert your town: Spartanburg, Anderson, Greer, Simpsonville, Easley, Clemson, etc.).

Our Chambers will be hosting candidate forums, voter registration drives, and even debate watching parties this fall – all in an effort to better educate the people of the Upstate.

In addition to learning about the issues, these local campaigns need you. The presidential campaigns had millions to spend. Local campaigns rely on small donations and many volunteer hours from dedicated supporters. If you get active for a presidential candidate because you agree with, say, tax policy, why wouldn’t you be active on behalf of a local candidate who has a plan to alleviate traffic on Woodruff or Augusta roads? I guarantee you complain about traffic more than taxes.

These candidates will be all over town trying to secure your vote. Get out and meet them. Get to know them. There’s a far greater chance that you can actually meet a state House of Representatives candidate for a 30 minute coffee than you’d ever have to shake a presidential candidate’s hand.

So even though the presidential circus has left town, stay engaged. These local issues and candidates need your support.

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