The Fight for American Values: A Must Win

Last Thursday at, “The Fight for American Values: A Must Win” Town Hall, I shared information about the damage the Trump budget would do to communities, like many in South Carolina. Many of Trump’s budget proposals would make areas, like rural communities in South Carolina, similar to those of a third world country. These are facts you need to know as Americans, and especially South Carolinians. These facts are proof that our fight for American Values is a #MustWin. ‎Click the link to read more: The Fight For American Values: A Must Win

Bamberg 2 schools to receive $38M loan

Bamberg School District Two is eligible for a $38 million federal loan for construction of a new K-8 building and athletics stadium. The loan is also to be used for renovations at Denmark-Olar High School and the district office.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Rural Development has approved the loan to be repaid over 40 years at 2.75 percent interest, Congressman James E. Clyburn announced Wednesday.

“At the request of officials and representatives of Denmark-Olar School District, I was pleased to work with USDA in support of their application,” Clyburn said. “Schools are the anchors of our communities and provide the foundation our children need to secure a productive future.”

Superintendent Dr. Thelma Sojourner said the district is excited about the loan approval.

“For several months we’ve been working on this with Congressman Clyburn’s office and the USDA through negotiations to secure this kind of loan, but we still have to get the bond referendum passed on Nov. 8,” she said.

If the referendum goes through, the interest rate and long-term payment option will make it easier to repay the loan.

Sojourner said she’s optimistic that the bond referendum will pass.

Bamberg Two’s schools are some of the oldest in the area and are in poor repair. The district has been looking for a way to renovate or replace them for a number of years.

The elementary school was built in 1954 and the middle school in 1957, Sojourner said. All three facilities leak — even the high school, which was constructed in 1994.

The elementary school leaks profusely, she said. “About five years back, a portion of the cafeteria fell in. It took about five days to get that repaired.”

The middle school gymnasium is leaking, Sojourner said. Last year, a beam fell in the gym during school time.

The older facilities are still heated by boilers, she said. A new one was put in the elementary school last year. There was a situation where the air conditioners were running and the windows were open at the same time because there was no way to control the heat.

A rebuilt boiler was installed in the district office this summer

“We hope to have heat this winter,” she said. “We didn’t have much last winter.”

“If the bond passes in November, we hope to get started as early as January,” Sojourner said. “Construction will take about three years.”

Sojourner said she isn’t sure how much millage will go up if the bond passes.

At an earlier meeting, architect Tim Williams said the proposed construction calls for connecting the wings of the new K-8 to the high school in a way that will cause it to look like one continuous building.

In addition, a new athletic stadium will be constructed that will seat 1,500. The high school locker room and gym will be expanded.

Existing athletic fields and support buildings will also be renovated.

‘For the common good’: Clyburn touts success of OCAB at 50th anniversary celebration

Sixth District Congressman Jim Clyburn on Wednesday declared the War on Poverty has not failed, citing the success of a local agency celebrating its 50th year.

Clyburn’s remarks came Wednesday during the golden anniversary celebration of the Orangeburg-Calhoun-Allendale-Bamberg Community Action Agency Inc. OCAB, a private, nonprofit entity, began as the Orangeburg Area Committee for Economic Progress in August 1966.

President Lyndon Johnson launched a set of domestic programs in the nation from 1964 to 1965 called The Great Society. In his plan to defeat poverty, Johnson developed the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. As part of that act, more than 1,000 community action agencies were established at the local level to implement Great Society programs.

Government, community, civic and church leaders gathered at Edisto Fork United Methodist Church Family Christian Center to help OCAB celebrate the milestone.

EOA initiatives included, but were not limited to, programs including Head Start, Job Corps, Volunteers in Service to America, Neighborhood Youth Corps and work-study programs for university students.

Clyburn said the continued viability of such programs is proof that the War on Poverty has not failed.

“Just take some time to read the history of the creation of the Office of Economic Opportunity. It was mandated that there be community involvement. Head Start mandated community involvement to make sure we did not have those programs run like businesses,” the congressman said.

“They were not there to make a profit. They were there to give children a chance. They were there to keep communities uplifted. They were there to give people experiences, and that’s why they exist to this day,” Clyburn said.

“In order for this community to work, in order for this state to work, in order for this nation to work, we have to learn to respect everybody’s experiences. … If you go back and you read the principles of which community action agencies were created, you will find those were the principles,” Clyburn said.

Citizens developed and delivered special services for disadvantaged residents in Orangeburg and Calhoun counties through OCAB’s early beginnings as the Orangeburg Area Committee for Economic Progress. The committee received a $66,000 planning grant from the federal Office of Economic Opportunity and the initially sponsored programs included: neighborhood service centers, Operation Mainstream, Neighborhood Youth Corps and Summer Head Start.

“There were a lot of dire predictions as to what the future held for these economic opportunity programs that started with the creation of the Economic Opportunity Act back in 1964. That was 52 years ago,” Clyburn said.

He said Congress passed more than 400 pieces of legislation in 1965 to deal with the issue of poverty.

“There were all kinds of predictions that it wouldn’t last, it would destroy the country. Among those things that wouldn’t last and would destroy the country was Head Start. Last time I checked, Head Start is still with us,” Clyburn said. “What idiot would say Head Start is not good?”

“If you listen to a certain television stations, the War on Poverty failed. You’ve been hearing it all year, but the War on Poverty did not fail. Some communities failed to be a part of the effort to make our communities better places. …”

“Government exists for the common good. … Government is not in existence to make a profit. Government is in existence in order to serve the common good of all … in a collective way. We are the government. We make it up, and we should insist that the governmental agencies be effective,” Clyburn said.

He said he appreciates the way OCAB Executive Director Calvin Wright, who has served in the position since 1983, runs the agency. He also touted the importance of community involvement.

“We want to have a government that everybody can participate, everybody can be a part of and find common good. You can’t find common good with one person making all the decisions, and that’s what community action agencies are all about,” Clyburn said. “They’re about bringing the community into the process.”

The theme of the celebration was “Honoring the Past, Embracing the Future.”

State Rep. Jerry Govan, whose first job out of college was at OCAB as a business recruiter, and state Sen. John Matthews presented Wright with a resolution in recognition of OCAB’s 50 years of service to the community.

Orangeburg County Council Chairman Johnnie Wright and County Councilman Willie B. Owens also presented Wright with a resolution recognizing the agency’s service.

In addition, Orangeburg Mayor Michael Butler and City Councilman Bernard Haire presented the executive director with a proclamation designating Aug. 27 as OCAB Day in the city.

Wright recognized his staff and 16-member board, along with former executive directors and board members.

OCAB Board Vice Chairman Aaron Bryan said, “We could not be more proud of such an outstanding organization such as OCAB. OCAB has been and continues to be committed to doing the important work of helping people help themselves in our communities.”

Wright presented plaques of appreciation to Clyburn; Vernita Dore, deputy under secretary of USDA Rural Development; and Michelle Cardwell, state director of USDA-Rural Development.

Cardwell said her office has invested nearly $7 billion in the state since 2009 for projects related to housing, schools, libraries and water and sewer projects in the Edisto area. She said the agency is looking to invest $800 million in South Carolina.

Cardwell noted that her agency has had a relationship with OCAB since 1996 and has invested nearly $9 million in new facilities and other amenities, including smart boards for Head Start.

Clyburn voices support SCDOT projects

U.S. Rep. Jim Cleburne (D-SC) recently voiced his support of the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) Commission’s decision to repurpose funds for local highway projects.

“I support the South Carolina Department of Transportation Commission’s action today to repurpose certain federal highway funds to make critical investments in communities in the 6th Congressional District,” Clyburn said. “Today’s action will create jobs, improve infrastructure, enhance public safety and contribute to essential community development and revitalization. Many of the communities that will benefit from this action have suffered decades of neglect. I was proud to work with local elected officials and community leaders to repurpose these funds for projects they have championed for decades and are prepared to meet the 20 percent match requirement. Consequently, these projects — which meet the legal requirement of being within a 50-mile radius of the original site — will not cost South Carolina taxpayers any additional funds or take away any state resources from other highway projects.”

Projects include Manning Avenue/N. Main Corridor Revitalization in Sumter for $11.5 million, which was requested by the City of Sumter. Orangeburg County requested $6.5 million for the Russell St/Magnolia Street revitalization; the University of South Carolina requested $3 million for S. Main Street in Columbia; and a partnership between SCDOT, the City of Orangeburg, Orangeburg County and the Lower Savannah Council of Governments asked for $500,000 for Zan Street in Orangeburg.

Road projects pushed by Clyburn approved

The S.C. Department of Transportation Commission on Thursday approved paying for $23.5 million in road projects with previously earmarked federal money.

The majority of the money —$21.5 million — will be spent in the 6th District. U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, the Columbia Democrat who represents that district, had secured the money for other projects in his district. However, the projects never got off the ground or were completed below budget, freeing up money for new uses.

The new projects in the 6th District are:

$11.5 million for improvements along Sumter’s Manning Avenue and North Main Street corridor

$7 million for improvements on Russell, Magnolia and Zan streets in Orangeburg

$3 million for the University of South Carolina’s South Main Street project in Columbia
In a statement, Clyburn said he worked with local elected officials and community leaders to repurpose the money in the earmarks for projects that they have championed for decades. The communities involved are prepared to meet the requirement that they pay 20 percent of the cost of the projects in matching local money, he added.

“Consequently, these projects — which meet the legal requirement of being within a 50-mile radius of the original (earmarked) site — will not cost South Carolina taxpayers any additional funds or take away any state resources from other highway projects.”

The federal money also will pay for other projects, including $1.6 million for an Interstate 77 interchange in York County and about $360,000 for pedestrian facilities in Anderson.

Here’s the SC story behind Clinton’s anti-poverty plan

When she speaks about poverty and inequality on the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton often mentions one plan that stands out in its simplicity: Rep. Jim Clyburn’s “10-20-30” formula.

The concept championed by the South Carolina Democrat is simple: steering 10 percent of federal investments to neighborhoods where 20 percent of the population has been living below the poverty line for 30 years.

10% of federal spending on discretionary programs committed to communities where at least
20% of the population has lived below the poverty line for at least the last 30 years.

Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, told McClatchy that he’d discussed the plan with Clinton when she was in Charleston for a Democratic presidential debate last January. Since then, she has often brought it up on the stump.

“I’m a big fan of Congressman Jim Clyburn’s 10-20-30 plan,” she said last week in a speech at the joint National Association of Black Journalists and National Association of Hispanic Journalists conference in Washington. “We need that kind of focused, targeted investment in urban places wherever Americans have been left out and left behind.”

Hillary Clinton

She also praised Clyburn’s plan, which has been adopted by the Congressional Black Caucus, in her July speech at the NAACP conference, saying that as president she would expand it as part of her push to invest in infrastructure.

“Ultimately, reversing the legacy of racism and underinvestment will require directing more federal resources to those who need them most,” Clinton wrote in an opinion piece in Ebony magazine. “I believe the 10-20-30 model holds promise and this principle should be expanded to other programs.”

Statistics don’t lie

Although Clinton tends to bring it up when speaking to African-American audiences, Clyburn is emphatic that the power of the formula approach is that it is impartial.

Some poverty initiatives direct their funds based on proposals and panels that evaluate a slew of different criteria, he said, and the sophistication of the system can pass over the poorest communities if they are not politically relevant or lack strong advocates.

Not so with the 10-20-30 plan.

Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.

“It is as straightforward as anything I’ve ever been involved in,” Clyburn said. “My whole thing is if you’re looking at fighting poverty, and you have a definition looking you in the face that has been there for generations – and I do mean generations – why not use that? It’s not like anybody can accuse you of playing favorites.”

Since his concept is based on statistics, it also puts it above partisanship, Clyburn said.

“Two-thirds of those counties are represented by Republicans, so it’s not something I am pursuing as a partisan matter,” he said. “And this formula applies as much to Latinos and Native Americans as whites.”

On the wrong side of the threshold

Matt Freedman, a professor of economics at the University of California, Irvine, said that based on his reading of Clyburn’s plan it could affect 20 million to 30 million people nationwide. These persistent-poverty communities are mainly clustered in the Deep South, Appalachia and on Native American reservations.

“The structure of 10-20-30 is very straightforward and easy to understand by both policymakers and the public,” he said in an interview.

While a number of government programs already use similar formulas to determine where to send federal dollars, according to some economists they aren’t the most efficient way to help as many people as possible.

Matt Freedman, economics professor at University of California, Irvine

“It does ensure a degree of objectivity and removes any partisan wrangling about where funds should go,” Freedman said. “But in a sense it also ties the hands of policymakers and precludes them from putting the funds to the best possible use.”

A community that just barely misses the criteria could miss out on funding that would have a quicker, deeper impact, he said.

“Some may be marginal communities on the wrong side of the threshold, where even just a little bit of extra help would have been key to getting them on a good trajectory,” Freedman said. “In some of these isolated areas that are really persistently poor, the amount of dollars we’re talking about (through Clyburn’s plan) are nowhere near what would be needed.”

10-20-30 plan in action

When Clyburn and his colleagues met with then-President-elect Barack Obama in 2009 to work on an economic recovery package, the congressman had one condition.

“I do not want to be a part of putting together a recovery package that leaves these poor communities out, as they were left out before,” Clyburn said he’d told the group. In the discussions, he explained that many communities he represented in South Carolina had been struggling since the Great Depression in the 1930s, and federal recovery programs had passed them over.

“The problem with that so-called New Deal is that for many of these communities it was a raw deal,” he said. “They got left out, and those communities to this day still suffer.”

In meetings with his staff, they decided on the 10-20-30 formula to target resources to those communities, ensuring they would not be left behind again.

Since the plan used already authorized funds and “did not add a dime” to the federal budget deficit it seemed hard to argue with, Clyburn said.

“I just said to them that something that simple and straightforward, with no regard to ethnicity or race or gender, ought to find favor,” he said.

Although it didn’t find as much support as he wanted, Clyburn kept pushing for it in meeting after meeting, until the language was adopted in the legislation. Using that approach, the Recovery Act funded 4,655 projects totaling $1.7 billion in counties that met the “persistent poverty” criteria.

Clyburn said he’d seen the impact firsthand in his district: One of the investments included a $5.8 million grant and a $2 million loan to build 51 miles of water lines in the small rural community of Britton’s Neck in Marion County.

“They had been trying to get a water system for 40 years, and were never able to do so, and now had because of this formula,” he said.

Support from across the aisle

More recently, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who has pushed an anti-poverty plan of his own, helped Clyburn find support for the 10-20-30 plan behind the scenes. Ryan invited Clyburn to testify about it in front of the House Budget Committee, and then approached him with the idea of reaching across the aisle to Kentucky Republican Rep. Hal Rogers.

“He said to me one day that he wanted me to talk to Rogers. He thought it was something that might work,” Clyburn said.

They quickly found common ground. Rogers represents the country’s second-poorest district. Part of Clyburn’s district covers an area that has been dubbed South Carolina’s “Corridor of Shame,” a 200-mile stretch of Interstate 95 flanked by persistently poor counties. In a 2014 essay for Harvard Law Journal about his 10-20-30 plan, Clyburn recalled visiting neighborhoods where people showed him clothes stained from being washed in tainted well water, and schools with collapsing roofs.

The congressmen’s staffs got together and combed through the budget, finally identifying 17 accounts that could be used, and with Rogers’ help the 10-20-30 plan was included in the House version of the 2017 agriculture appropriations bill.

Clyburn said he was optimistic about expanding the plan in the coming years.

“The thing I get all the time is that we talk about this issue, we write speeches, we write op-ed pieces, studies are done and nothing happens,” he said.

“I think something’s going to change. Her (Clinton) bringing it up and Speaker Ryan acting on it as he has thus far, I think, will ensure that this formula or something akin to it will be a tool that is going to be utilized to fight poverty,” he said.

Clyburn Statement on ‘Rural Star’ Energy Savings Program

COLUMBIA, SC – September 16, 2010 – House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-SC) delivered remarks on the House floor on HR 4785, The Rural Energy Savings Program Act, legislation that provides loans to American families, small businesses and farmers in rural communities to renovate their homes, farms or businesses to become more energy-efficient. These programs will offer loans of about $3,000 to $7,500 to eliminate the upfront cost of home energy upgrades, which customers will then repay over 10 years on their electric bill.  The energy savings from the renovations will cover most of the cost of the loan.  The Rural Star and Loan Star programs in this bill will boost demand for energy efficient products, materials, and construction and installation services that are made in America—over 90 percent of these products and materials—caulking, insulation, HVAC systems, hot water heaters, sealant, windows, doors other structural materials—are made in America. Following are Clyburn’s remarks on the House floor:

“Mr. Speaker, the Rural Energy Savings Program, or ‘Rural Star,’ as it is popularly called, is an important piece of the ‘Make it in America’ agenda.  It is a program that will create jobs, and help save families money on their energy bills.
“Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once called our 50 states ‘laboratories of democracy,’ and that is certainly the case with this home-grown, American-owned idea.  The rural electric co-ops in South Carolina brought this idea to my attention late last year.  And I worked with them and Congressman John Spratt to craft legislation that takes the South Carolina model nationwide.  I am very proud that South Carolina is providing significant leadership for our economic recovery with this innovative approach to job creation and energy savings.

“The concept is very simple: low-cost home improvement loans for energy efficiency upgrades—sealing, insulation, HVAC systems, heat pumps and other structural improvements.  Those low cost loans are paid back on customers’ electricity bills, with the energy savings covering the cost of the loan.  And when the term of the loan expires, most people will be saving hundreds of dollars annually on their monthly utility bills.

“This bipartisan, bicameral legislation is first and foremost a jobs bill, and it is based on common-sense ideas that can be done in a fiscally responsible manner that will protect taxpayers and the Treasury.  Let me emphasize that this is a voluntary loan program, not a grant or rebate, and the loans are paid back to the federal treasury.

“We call this the Rural Energy Savings Program, because it will save consumers energy and money.  More importantly, it will put people back to work, particularly in the building and construction trades, and manufacturing industries – sectors that have been hit the hardest by the economic downturn.

“While providing home energy upgrades and significant employment opportunities for building and construction workers, this legislation will boost domestic manufacturing.  Retailers of energy efficient building materials and appliances will also benefit from increased sales.  Virtually all of the energy efficient products and materials used for energy efficiency improvements are made in America.

“Rural Star has the support of a broad coalition of stakeholders, including the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Association of Homebuilders, the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association.

“Rural Star will create high-skill, high-wage manufacturing and construction jobs and deliver meaningful energy savings for consumers that will put money directly into their wallets.  I urge all of my colleagues to support this bill.

“Let’s create jobs that are made in America so that our fellow citizens can, ‘Make it in America.’”

Clyburn touts healthcare reform, Social Security success

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – President Barack Obama has plenty of critics in South Carolina and few issues anger them more than the president’s success on healthcare reform.

But in Columbia, Congressman Jim Clyburn told seniors that bill will save Social Security and provide a range of other benefits.

Social Security is 75 now and of vital importance to folks like retired teacher Adell Adams.

“I get retirement and I think I get pretty good retirement,” said Adams. “But without Social Security, my life would be much more stringent. I would have a hard time with it.”

Clyburn is one of the programs supporters and according to him, this year’s healthcare reform bill pumped new life into a program that benefits nearly 900,000 South Carolinians.

“We fixed Social Security’s longevity in that bill for 10 to 20 years,” said Clyburn. “You ain’t hearing nobody talking about, is it going to be there for you because we fixed it in the healthcare reform bill. And so everybody needs to know that.”

While roughly 60 percent of Palmetto State Social Security recipients are retirees, Clyburn and AARP say many people don’t realize the program provides critical help for surviving family members and the disabled.

“That’s a wonderful thing about Social Security,” said Jane Wiley with AARP. “Even if you don’t have a disability policy of your own, you have one through Social Security.”

Clyburn says healthcare reform also funded community colleges and raised maximums for student loans.

He also has a message to those now pushing to repeal healthcare reform.

“A lot of things we did with that bill, it wasn’t just healthcare,” said Clyburn. “And so when people start criticizing what happened, I ask them, especially if they’ve got children or grandchildren trying to go to college, take another look at what you’re criticizing.”

Social Security this year will spend more on benefits that it takes in from payroll taxes and in 2015, it will likely start running a deficit each year.

That’s one reason for all the talk about raising the retirement age, something AARP does not support.

Clyburn reaps ample earmark bounty

A few years ago a Columbia newspaper editorial criticized Congressman Jim Clyburn for making a large number of small earmarks. It asked, “Why doesn’t he do something big?” Well, he has. The big one — $1.6 billion to clean up 55 square miles of roped-off, contaminated soil bordering the Savannah River — has already hired 3,500 of an expected work force of 5,000 people for a 30-month project.

The money comes from the federal stimulus act, which many “conservatives” have attacked for “not creating jobs.”

As Clyburn likes to point out, the Savannah River Site (the research and development center for atomic and hydrogen bomb research), isn’t located in his district. “They’ve been trying to do something there for more than 20 years,” Clyburn says, “to get the 35,000-acre tract cleaned and available for productive use.”


“It’s timely, temporary, and targeted,” he adds. “It benefits South Carolina and the country.” He pointed out that many people who reside in his district have jobs at the SRS clean-up project.

Clyburn also secured $45 million for Clemson University’s wind turbine research and development facility in North Charleston. Both these funds and those for the SRS clean-up came from technically non-earmark grants.

When speaking with him a week or so ago to flesh out this piece on earmarks, I asked if he had any comments in regard to the then-proposed and now-approved audit of South Carolina State University’s inability to move forward on the decade-old multi-million federal grants for the James Clyburn Transportation Center. He seemed to welcome the audit, saying it “will clear up a lot of things.” He indicated a willingness to fully share what he knows with the auditing team.

Among the 272 of the 435 members of the House, Democratic whip Clyburn secured $55,874,000 in earmarks for fiscal 2010, either alone or in some cases jointly with other members of the House. He ranked 36th in total earmarked funding.

In terms of campaign contributions from earmark recipients, however, he ranked near the bottom. He and Republican First District Rep. Henry Brown, who secured funds for Charleston Harbor development, each received $1,000 in campaign contributions from earmark recipients.

They were among the bottom 79 earmarkers during fiscal year 2010 who received that amount or less. The House leader in campaign contributions received from earmark recipients, Democrat Jim Moran of Virginia, got $89,600.

The information is contained in a June report by two nonpartisan organizations generally critical of earmarks, Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS) and the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). The two groups give major credit to Sen. Jim Demint, for his efforts to end the practice of keeping earmarks hidden from the public. Both DeMint and Sen. Lindsey Graham reported no earmarks for fiscal 2010.

Clyburn basically agrees with DeMint, an ardent foe of earmarks, on opening the records. Clyburn adds that he has always posted his on-line. None of Clyburn’s 2010 earmarks went to for-profit companies.

Earmark funding for projects outside Clyburn’s district include $8 million for the Medical University of South Carolina for an international study of Health Disparities in Troop Readiness for the Department of Defense. He also secured $525,000 for Charleston’s planned African-American Museum.

He received $750 in campaign contributions from three individuals at the Medical University of South Carolina and a $250 individual contribution related to the museum. Clyburn said he was unaware of the contributions until learning about them from staff compiling his official report on campaign contributions.

In addition to funding for MUSC and Clemson, the University of South Carolina, College of Charleston, Columbia College, Trident Tech, Florence-Darlington Tech, and five of the state’s historically black colleges and universities received earmarked grants ranging from $250,000 to $4 million. Clyburn joined other members of the Congressional Black Caucus in securing $10 million for the United Negro College Fund, a consortium of the nation’s historically black colleges and universities.

Other major earmarks funded $7.7 million for two multi-county water and sewer projects that will cover all or part of 10 counties in his congressional district, $7.3 million for three projects or programs for the South Carolina National Guard, $4 million for the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Alliance, and $2.5 million for the South Carolina Research Authority.

A number of smaller grants went to various programs or projects ranging from $110,000 for Healthy Learners Midlands for rural health outreach to $500,000 for drainage and concourse repair at the Florence Regional Airport.

Whether one likes earmarks or dismisses them all as wasteful spending of “pork,” Clyburn sees them as a positive means of helping meet the needs of the state, the country, and the people in the 6th Congressional District, which contains a majority of the state’s poorest counties.

Jack Bass is a Citadel Fellow and co-author of “The Palmetto State, The Making of Modern South Carolina.”

Clyburn hits milestone with no plans to slowdown

He turns 70 this week. And U.S. House Majority Whip James Clyburn fully grasps the biblical significance of July 21, 2010.

Clyburn will get his three score and 10 years Wednesday, man’s life expectancy, according to Psalms 90:10.

He is looking forward to a fourth or fifth score, thanks to good health and modern medicine.

“The fire is still there,” said Clyburn, last week reflecting on his tenure and fielding questions about his future. “Physically I’m well. (Cholesterol drug) Lipitor is my only daily medicine. Of course, I take my baby aspirin every day. Or every day I remember (it).”

Clyburn, fresh off of celebrating the passage of Democratic-authored financial industry reform last week, has no plans to retire. He’s been a member of Congress for 18 years now. He made history in 1992 as the first African-American congressman elected from South Carolina in more than 100 years. For the past four years, he’s been the third-most powerful U.S. House member.

Clyburn holds what has been the safest seat among the S.C. delegation. In June, he dispatched primary opponent Gregory Brown with 91 percent of the vote. He is expected to cruise to victory this fall against Republican Jim Pratt, who has $2,000 on hand, according to his latest campaign filing. Clyburn has $1.5 million.

“(Clyburn) can be in Congress for as long as he wants to be in Congress,” said former Columbia Mayor Bob Coble, a longtime Clyburn friend. “When he leaves is between him, God and Mrs. Clyburn.”

But what about a Republican sweep this fall? Democrats hold a 39-seat advantage in the U.S. House. As many as 70 congressional seats will be competitive this fall, according to some political analysts. If Republicans take control of the House, Clyburn’s clout diminishes.
No matter, said Clyburn.

“My service to the people of South Carolina has nothing to do with me being majority whip,” Clyburn said.

Still work to do

The average age of a U.S. Congressman is 57 – old enough to join AARP but still 13 years younger than Clyburn.
Approaching 70, Clyburn’s days routinely stretch 12 hours or more, typically over six days. They are consumed mostly by the legislative battle of the day and by the fight between the two parties over power.

Clyburn is a chess player, at home with the ways of Washington. The one move that paid off handsomely for him, he recalls, was giving up his seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee in 1998.

“My wife called me and asked me ‘are you crazy,’ ”Clyburn said. “I told her ‘yeah, just like a fox.’ ”

The move left many scratching their heads, but also left key lawmakers indebted to him. That helped get Clyburn elected vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus in 2002. By the time Democrats took by control of the U.S. House, it put Clyburn in line to be the second African-American majority whip.
So, Clyburn is where he expected to be. Many of the issues he ran on in 1992 – most related to job creation in his impoverished district that takes in the Interstate 95 corridor – remain issues today. It’s why he’s not contemplating retirement, as the nation grapples with fixing the economy, health care and a Social Security system that most think will not be able to meet future obligations.

He wants to stick around for those debates, and he appreciates the long service of S.C.politicians in Washington.

Clyburn, though, said he will walk away from politics some day, hopefully he says to a teaching position at a university in South Carolina.

“I plan to go back into the classroom. That’s where I started,” Clyburn said.

And how will he know it’s time to go?

“If I ever felt that my children were embarrassed by my public service, or my wife, or if I ever look in the mirror and feel some bit of shame of regret, I would hang it up right away.”

Reflecting lately

Clyburn is writing his memoirs, an exercise in self-analysis that has the congressman in a storytelling mood.

“I think a lot about my parents. I really do,” Clyburn said. “My mother had great dreams, most of which she never got to fulfill.”

Almeta Clyburn, a beautician, died of cancer at 55, the same week Clyburn became the first African-American adviser to a S.C. governor in 1970. His father, Enos Clyburn, was a minister. He died in 1978 at age 80.

“My daddy used to love to take me around with him because I was his first child,” Clyburn said.

Enos Clyburn’s first wife died during childbirth. Enos and Almeta’s first child was stillborn.

“That’s why my father was so proud of me. He used to take me everywhere.”

Clyburn recalls an incident when he was about 14, when his father introduced him to a fellow minister from Jacksonville, Fla. Clyburn shook the minister’s hand, but dropped his eyes to the floor during the handshake.

“My father was so furious he snapped my head up and slapped the hell out me,” Clyburn said. “ … He told me ‘Now son, any time you shake a man’s hand you look him in the eye, don’t you ever cast your eyes away from anybody.”

Clyburn said even though the nation has elected an African-American president, there are still too many African-American children who lack confidence in their own abilities. Those children are casting their eyes down, he said, not reaching their potential.

“I want to demonstrate every day I walk out of my apartment and come to work that all of the myths that exist about black people are just myths,” Clyburn said.