Incumbent Paradise

Political wonders never cease in my native state, South Carolina. Long a hotbed of corruption, dirty politics and extremism, the Palmetto State has distinguished itself most recently as a place where the worst of the nineteenth and twentieth century brands of reactionary politics are at war for power. It’s the place where Jim DeMint is considered a sort of noncontroversial, avuncular presence; where sexual excess and right-wing ideology strangely seem to go hand-in-hand; where the last governor, an anti-tax zealot, was locked in a death battle with a lieutenant governor who compared food stamp recipients (half the population) to “stray animals”, and after a sex scandal straight out of Barbara Cartland, was eventually succeeded by his protege, who when not absorbed with fighting allegations of serial infidelity and corruption proudly puts the power and prestige of state government behind the proposition that private-sector labor unions should be destroyed.

And all that’s totally aside from the recent forced resignation of the current lieutenant governor for gross campaign finance irregularities. In sum, South Carolina is a hellish living representation of where the conservative movement is trying to drag the whole damn country.

The latest hysteria in South Cackalacky really takes the cake: today’s primary elections, a strangely denuded affair in which more than 200 challengers for state and local offices were knocked off the ballot for violating an obscure financial disclosure requirement.

Here’s how Stateline‘s Josh Goodman explains the situation:

South Carolina voters head to the polls for primary elections today. What’s missing is most of the candidates.

Two decisions by the South Carolina Supreme Court — one in May and another earlier this month — removed more than 200 challengers for state legislature and local offices from today’s contests. Incumbent officeholders weren’t affected by the rulings.

As a result, the primaries will see vastly less competition than they otherwise would have. For example, in Republican-heavy Oconee County, a jurisdiction with 75,000 people, the GOP primary has been canceled entirely because all 11 non-incumbent Republicans were deemed ineligible. As the Associated Press reports, four seats for the state’s House of Representatives now have no Democrats or Republicans left on the ballot at all.

The court decisions were based on a technicality. Challengers in South Carolina are required to file financial disclosure forms at the same time they file forms declaring their candidacies with political party officials. Incumbent lawmakers are exempt from the requirement. Yet, as The State newspaper explained, many challengers believed a 2010 South Carolina law meant they should file financial disclosure forms online with the State Ethics Commission, instead of with the political parties.

No telling what will happen in November, when some disbarred challengers will probably try to compete as write-in candidates, particularly in open positions where no one–or only some anonymous schmo–was left standing. And I don’t know how South Carolina will manage to top this latest example of craziness. But I’m reasonably sure there is worse to come.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.