Dear Representative Haley and Senator Sheheen:
I am writing you from the bank of a clear, cool lake, 350 miles northwest of our beloved state, deep in the woods of the Cumberland Plateau. Absence, you know, makes the heart grow fonder. Like the two of you, I deeply love my adopted state of South Carolina, and want nothing more than to see it prosper in every way imaginable.
To do that, I believe that we have to have a state government that serves the people who pay for it, one that’s functional, frugal and focused on the common good of all South Carolinians. I believe that each of you want that as well. But I’m not really writing to you about your race for Governor. I am writing to invite you to my home for dinner. Now I’m not a big political donor, and that’s an honor usually reserved for them. And I know that you don’t exactly have a lot of time these days. Still, I would like to have all the Haley’s (Michael, Rena and Nalin) and the Sheheen’s (Amy, Austin, Joseph, and Anthony) join Suzanne and me for a good old-fashioned Italian dinner (with Grandma’s meatballs) and get to know each other’s stories.
You see, I don’t think the next 90 days are going to give us much of a chance to do that in a setting that’s free of scripting, handlers, and the demonic rhetoric that’s poisoning our society. And I think we need to know each other’s stories.
Representative Haley, I want to hear what it was like growing up in rural South Carolina in the 70’s and 80’s as the child of immigrants. I want to know how it felt to be different, to be ridiculed for your heritage, for your parents, for their strange accents and stranger religion. I want to know how you began the spiritual journey that led you to become a follower of Jesus, of how you have been formed by your Methodist understanding of the Christian faith, about how John Wesley’s teachings influence your life. I want to know how you and Michael met, why you fell in love, how you chose Clemson, why you became an accountant and entered the family business.
Senator Sheheen, I’d love to hear how it was, in Camden of the 70’s and 80’s, to be the son of a prominent family, descendants of an immigrant from someplace where people eat pita and hummus instead of shrimp and grits. I’d like to know what moved you to follow your uncle’s path into politics instead of staying safely in profitable small town legal work. I want to hear about your spiritual journey, what your dreams are for your children, how it is to be the parent of twins. I’d like to know if you and Representative Haley knew each other at Clemson and if the way your lives have now intertwined seems funny or odd or full of destiny. I’d like to hear how you and Amy met, why you fell in love, how you chose your children’s names.
I want to share my story with each of you, about how it felt to be the child of Jehovah’s Witness ministers in a small southern (Baptist) town. About how it felt to be forbidden by your religion to salute the American flag during a time when anti-war protesters were burning it. About my spiritual journey to Anglicanism, my service in the public square and how I got to Columbia. I want to tell you how I met my beautiful and grace-filled wife, about our five children and why our house is decorated with flamingoes. I want to talk about music and movies, books and food.
In other words, I want us to know each other as fellow human beings, as fellow South Carolinians, as fellow Americans. I want us to laugh, to cry a little bit, to share an evening that might just change all of us forever. You see, I’m just nutty enough to believe that if we really understand each other, we can learn to work together on the things that matter most. I don’t think we have to agree, but I think we have to know each other. I think if we do, we will find that we really do want to get to the same place, even if it’s by a divergent path. I think we need to see where our paths cross and choose to stand together at those places.
I have high hopes for each of you. I am praying that you really do represent something different for our state, that the victor in November will reach out to the loser and incorporate him or her into the closest circle of advisors. I know it’s a crazy idea. I know your management team will tell you no, under no circumstances, would we do that. He’s the enemy. She’s dangerous. Still, I’m telling you that the single most important thing you can do to prepare to be Governor will be to listen to each other’s stories. You could start this summer with dinner at our house.
Grandma’s meatballs are scrumptious.