The L Word: Me and Jack Abramoff

Yep, you heard it right: I’m going to Columbia. Going to march right down to Gervais and Main, saunter past the strange square Stars and Bars, past Wade Hampton’s marble horse and take up residence in the grand old State House. Well, not residence exactly. But I’ll be traipsing through those halls a bit more than I have done in the past. Enough to warrant my filling out an SEC L1A.2 (Rev. 12/2004).

It makes me kin (or at least kith) to Jack Abramoff. It tars me with the dreaded L word (not like in that HBO show of the same name, however). I imagine that my kids will no longer brag to their friends about what I do (“Yeah, my dad’s a preacher and he helps poor people. And he cusses at George Bush.”). They probably won’t have any friends. My wife will tell people that I’m dead. Because the SEC L1A.2 (Rev. 12/2004) is the South Carolina State Ethics Commission Lobbyist Registration form. And everybody knows what lobbyists do.

That’s right, I’m leaving beautiful little Greenwood, nestled in the rolling hills of the lower end of the Upstate, for Columbia—a defiant city still flying the flag of a long-defeated army, a den of legislative iniquity, a center of one-party politics that would make Belarus blush, and a bustling, New South Metropolis, dotted with Starbucks—to help poor people in a different way. On April 1, I will start my duties as President and CEO of the United Way Association of South Carolina, and my new role will call for me to be a state-wide advocate for a just public policy towards the children, the poor and the disabled. There’s a lot more to it than just lobbying, of course. I’ll also be working with local communities around South Carolina to help them bring together business, faith, non-profit and neighborhood leaders to focus resources (the polite word for “money”) on creating long-term, positive community-level change. I’ll be helping to train local United Way staff and volunteers to be more effective in a challenging time for non-profits.

But I’ve still got to buttonhole the men and women that you and I send to Columbia (well, you, probably, since my candidates never win—if I vote for you, just concede immediately and save us all a lot of grief.) and ask them to please think about how the decisions they make affect the people who are smaller than us, or poorer than us, or who have no political connections of their own. I hope that I will do the job with integrity.

I’ve actually got an advantage over the big hired guns. United Way has a different way of advocating for public policy change. It doesn’t involve lots of money, casinos or big development deals. It relies on the hammer of moral imperative, the appeal to the greater good, the complete denial of partisanship, and the humility of being dependent on the donations of people who trust me to act justly.

I’m not going to stop being a preacher. I’m not going to stop being a liberal (that other L word). I’m going to work hard for all the people in all the communities all over the Palmetto State that are relying on me to help bring change to their neighborhoods. I’m going to work hard to change some hearts (and minds) down in the State House. That’s why I’m filling out this form.

I’m not so naive as to suppose that there is no chance of failure, of corruption, of a tragic ending to a hopeful start. And I know what you think of lobbyists (much less preachers who are lobbyists). But here goes.

See you on Gervais.

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