South Carolina GOP Governor Henry McMaster—He Talks of “Hunting Democrats with Dogs” May 28, 2023
Unfortunately, the U.S. is living in an age where threats and violent comments are repeatedly made against American politicians. According to Capitol Police chief J. Thomas Manger, in 2022, there were more than 7,500 threats against members of Congress. This is a major increase from the fewer than 4,000 such threats made in 2017 (nytimes.com Broadwater, Tumin, and Lai, 5/15/23). Such violent political speech, IMHO, has recently led to physical and sometimes nearly fatal attacks. In October, 2022, Paul Pelosi, the husband of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was brutally attacked by an intruder inside his San Francisco home. His assailant shouted, “Where is Nancy?,” and bludgeoned him with a hammer. Paul Pelosi had to undergo brain surgery and faces a long recovery time (See cnn.com, nytimes.com). On May 15, 2023, two staff members of 7th-term Congressmember Gerry Connolly (D-VA) were attacked by a person armed with a baseball bat. One of the victims was an intern who was serving his first day in Connolly’s office. Fortunately, the two staffers were quickly released from the hospital (nytimes.com Broadwater et al). This deranged attacker had a long history of mental illness and was known for his bizarre behavior and actions (nytimes.com).
One does not have to have mental problems to engage in such threatening comments and actions. On May 20, 2023, at the South Carolina Republican Party Convention, that state’s Governor GOP Henry McMaster was a key speaker. According to “The State” reporter Joseph Bustos, Gov. McMaster stated at the convention, “I look forward to the day that Democrats are so rare we have to hunt them with dogs (usatodayc.om, The Greenville News Staff, 5/22/23).” And this is not the first time that McMaster had compared Democrats to “dogs.” He made this same comment in 2018 at an Anderson, SC event (usatoday.com). In an emailed response to the Greenville, SC News, McMaster’s communications director Brandon Charochak stated the governor meant the comment as a “joke.” Wow! What many right wingers say to avoid responsibility when they attack racial, ethnic, and minority groups with threatening comments. Charochak said, “Governor McMaster has been making this joke at GOP conventions for years and everyday South Carolinians understand that it’s a joke. If South Carolina Democrat partisans can no longer bear lighthearted jokes made at their expense, then maybe they should focus their energy on winning and not whining (usatoday.com).” In a statement, Anderson County Democratic Party chair Chris Salley stated, “Yesterday, Governor Henry McMaster threatened me, my family, and thousands of other Anderson County residents who are Democrats when he said he looks forward to the day he can ‘hunt us with dogs.’” Anderson added, “If the Governor is not willing to apologize and retract this racially-tinged dog whistle, Anderson County Democrats join the Charleston County Democratic Party in asking the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) to open an investigation into this threat and incitement of political violence. The Democratic Party stands for a SC where no one is above the law and expects the same of SLED and our Governor (usatoday.com).” The Charleston County Democratic Party released a statement about McMaster’s comments. In its words, “We cannot continue to normalize threats of political violence from the leadership of the Republican Party. If the Governor does not retract and apologize, SC State Law Enforcement Division should investigate this threat (usatoday.com).” Democratic National Committee Chair, Jaime Harrison, also a South Carolinian, additionally criticized Gov. McMaster. In a tweet, he said, “This is today’s GOP folks. This ain’t shocking. It simply illustrates who we are dealing with as we fight to protect our Democracy (usatoday.com, 5/22/23).” Who is this Gov. McMaster?
Columbia, SC native, Henry Dargan McMaster (76), is currently serving his second term as the Palmetto State’s governor. He is a longtime GOP officeholder. A 1969 graduate of the University of South Carolina, McMaster also received his law degree from this same institution in 1973. He then served a year as a legislative assistant to Sen. Strom Thurmond before going into private practice. Thurmond, remember, was the segregationist Dixiecrat 1948 presidential candidate who unsuccessfully ran against Harry Truman. He proudly opposed Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1963 civil rights march on Washington. In 1964, because of the Democratic Party’s pro-civil rights stance, Thurmond left the Democratic Party and became a Republican. Thurmond set an example followed by millions of Southern whites who became GOPers because of their opposition to LBJ’s civil rights laws. SC is racially polarized. Only 26.50% of its citizens are black, which makes it very difficult for “Team Blue” to win statewide. SC has voted for every GOP presidential candidate since 1960, except in 1976, when Southerner Jimmy Carter first ran (See Cohen & Cook 2022 Political Almanac). Currently, SC has a GOP trifecta, Gov. McMaster, all other state executive officers, and a “Red” majority state Senate and state House. Its two U.S. Senators are GOPers and it has a 6-1 GOP House majority (Cohen & Cook 2022).
In 1981, GOP President Reagan appointed McMaster to serve as U.S. Attorney. During his four years in that post, McMaster helped convict more than 100 people for importing nearly $1 billion in illegal drugs, especially marijuana and hashish. While in this office, McMaster gained publicity through constant interviews and comments about his work. Journalist Lee Bandy criticized Mc Master for his overly political comments while in this office. Bandy stated, “No one can recall any other U.S. attorney being so public-relations conscious” and noted that McMaster had held more press conferences and news releases than all his previous predecessors combined (Ryan, J., 2012 “Jackpot,” Rowman & Littlefield). After leaving the U.S. Attorney’s office, McMaster unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate and for Lt. Governor. However, in 1991, GOP Gov. Carroll Campbell appointed McMaster to head SC’s Commission on Higher Education (Cohen & Cook 2022).
From 1993-2000, McMaster was repeatedly elected chair of the SC Republican Party and from 1993-2002, he also served as a member of the RNC (Republican National Committee). While McMaster served as SC GOP chair, the Palmetto State GOP captured the governorship, several statewide offices, the State House, and State Senate (newspapers.com/search/). In 2002, McMaster won election as SC Attorney General and was re-elected four years later. As State Attorney General, McMaster took a leading role in opposing Obamacare. In 2010, McMaster ran for governor of SC but lost the primary to Nikki Haley who went on to win that post in the general election. In 2014, McMaster successfully ran for Lt. Governor. He handily defeated his Democratic rival by 18 points, 59%-41%. When Trump appointed Gov. Haley to be his United Nations’ ambassador in 2017, McMaster was elevated to SC’s governorship (Cohen & Cook 2022).
As governor, McMaster put himself in the usual GOP ideological lane—that of being anti-tax and pro-small government. However, even in ultra-“Red” SC, with a GOP-dominated state legislature, McMaster did not face smooth sailing. He vetoed a bill that would have raised support for the state’s gas tax for the first time since 1987. The raising of the gas tax received wide support from the party’s business wing and the state legislature overrode his veto by a wide margin (Cohen & Cook 2022). McMaster’s “Red” legislature also overwhelmingly voted to override his veto of a spending bill that would have allotted $20.5 million to replace aging and fire-prone school buses (Cohen & Cook 2022). However, McMaster pleased most SC GOPers on other issues. He asked the federal government to stop the resettlement in SC of refugees targeted by Trump’s Muslim travel ban. Gov. McMaster also signed an executive order protecting a foster care agency that limited its services to Christian families. He additionally vetoed about $16 million in women’s health services to end state funding for Planned Parenthood (Cohen & Cook 2022).
McMaster strongly opposes abortion. On 2/18/21, he signed a bill into law that would ban most abortions. The next day, a federal judge suspended the law until 6/2022 (AP News). By a 3-2 margin, the SC Supreme Ct. called the 2021 anti-abortion bill a violation of the right to privacy (huffpost.com, AP Collins, 526/23). After the Supreme Ct. overturned “Roe v. Wade” in 2022, McMaster stated that “he looks forward to the day we don’t have abortions.” He added that he would sign any anti-abortion bill that came across his desk (Adcox, postandcourier.com). Mc Master got his chance. On May 23, 2023, the SC legislature passed a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, at a time that many women do not know they are pregnant (nytimes.com Zernike & Sasani, 5/23/23). On May 25, 2023, McMaster signed this new draconian law. Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, the Greenville Women’s clinic, and two doctors immediately filed a lawsuit to stop this legislation from going into effect. On May 26, 2023, a SC judge put this law on hold until the state Supreme Court can review the case to determine if this new law violates the Palmetto State’s constitution. The constitutionality of this abortion ban law, therefore, presently remains undecided, and no woman currently sits on the SC Supreme Ct. bench. One of the authors of the decision striking down the first 2021 anti-abortion law has since retired (cnn.com, Gallagher & Kashiwagi, 5/26/23).
McMaster also stated he would sign legislation that “would allow anyone who is legally allowed to buy a gun to do so without a state permit and carry it open or concealed (“The Post and Courier,” Prabhu).” McMaster called a student walkout to protest gun violence in FL “shameful” and orchestrated by “left wing groups (Feit, “The State,”3/15/18).” McMaster offered to send SC National Guard troops to TX to combat illegal immigration (4/10/18, wach.com, Goss). McMaster is a strong opponent of LGBTQ rights as well. He led a fight to ban same-sex marriage in SC and stated that SC should “secede” over the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” standard (nbcnews.com, Lavietes). I guess, Gov. McMaster forgot that secession didn’t work well for SC when that state originally tried it in 1861. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, McMaster, was the last of 42 governors to issue a stay-at-home order, and within weeks he loosened restrictions on businesses. Despite a summer spike in cases, McMaster declined to issue a statewide mask order (Cohen & Cook 2022). Gov. McMaster and his wife later tested positive for COVID-19 (WYFF, 12/22/20). When McMaster, a private school advocate, tried to use COVID-19 relief money for private school vouchers, the SC Supreme CT found this action a violation of that state’s constitution (sccourts.org, 10/07/20).
In 2018, Gov. McMaster won election by 8 percentage points, 54%-46%. In 11/2022, despite his controversial statements and actions, Gov. McMaster won re-election by an even larger margin, 17.4%, 58.1%-40.7% (wiki). In this heavily “Red” state, where Democrats lack legislative clout, Gov. McMaster can ridicule Democrats repeatedly and often get away with it. And even if he apologizes for his “hunting Democrats” comments, don’t put too much credibility into these words. Under SC law, McMaster is term-limited after serving the remainder of Gov. Haley’s term and his own two consecutive terms. However, there is no lifetime limit on the total number of terms McMaster can serve as governor if he later returns to that office after a four-year break. Of course, McMaster can run for another state office or a federal office which has no term limits, if a vacancy occurs. In any event, remember well what Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison said. McMaster’s words are not GOP outliers. His crude violent talk says everything we need to know about the Demagogue Donald/Dictator DeSantis Republicans we are facing. Democrats must come out in droves in every election to vote for “Team Blue” to stop the coarsening of our national discourse and actions. Our democracy depends upon it.