Campsen for Congress: Finally?
By Michael S. Smith II, SCHotline Contributing Editor
In the past decade few people have wielded more influence in South Carolina state politics than Chip Campsen, a Lowcountry family man and business owner who tends to prefer to live life below the radar. Although this state senator from the Isle of Palms has usually avoided the limelight where possible, it is in lieu of his thought leadership, his legislative contributions, and ultimately his stewardship of conservative principles in state politics — not to mention the leading roles in Republican politics played by his family members and close friends like Mark and Jenny Sanford — that it could be hard for Chip to keep his name out of the headlines in the months ahead. If, that is, he decides to heed the advice he’s been given by many of the people closest to him and enter the race for a seat in the United States Congress, a seat which just yesterday Henry Brown announced he will not seek reelection to fill in 2010.
George E. “Chip” Campsen III has served as a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives and, more recently, the South Carolina State Senate. As a longstanding trusted friend of both Governor Elect Mark Sanford and his chief political adviser Jenny, Chip was also granted an opportunity to play a key role in the executive branch of state government when, soon after Mark Sanford was first elected governor, Chip was appointed chairman of the Sanford administration’s transition team. Serving in this capacity Chip helped the governor identify the best candidates for appointments to top offices at government agencies across the state.
An attorney by trade, Chip is a partner in the Charleston-based law firm Campsen and Campsen. Along with other members of the Campsen Clan, Chip is also a co-owner of Fort Sumter Tours / Spiritline Cruises, a successful waterfront tour company based in Charleston and Mount Pleasant.
Chip, his charming wife Lalla Lee, and their two sons, George and Boyce, are consummate outdoors sporting enthusiasts. “I have a very strong relationship with my two boys, and my greatest joy in life is spending time in the outdoors with them,” Chip mentioned while discussing his passions for hunting, fishing, and even less “traditional” pursuits like surfing on January 5, 2010. “It’s an opportunity to instill character in them,” he explained while en route to Columbia for a legislative meeting.
While many people, including several members of the U.S. Congress, have encouraged him to seek a Congressional office, according to Chip, his commitment to his family is the reason he has never before pursued such opportunities. “It is an honor and a privilege based on a sacred trust to serve in public office. Yet it is also a tremendous strain on your family. You’ve got to weigh the impact this could have on your family,” Chip said while outlining some of his thoughts about entering the race for Rep. Brown’s seat in Congress. “My children and my commitment to my family represent the most important duty on earth for me.”
Campsen confirmed that like many people from the Lowcountry he too was surprised by Henry Brown’s announcement, news which rekindled ideas Chip confessed have often surfaced when thinking about his future in politics. “I was not going to run against Henry, but running for that kind of office was always something that’s been in the back of my mind.”
Has running for that seat in the House of Representatives always been part of the plan?
“No. I do not think it’s an admirable trait for elected officials to seek one office for the purpose of ascending to the next. And keep in mind: I haven’t made up my mind about this potential opportunity.”
Still, the prospect of representing South Carolina on The Hill is one which noticeably energizes the state senator whose colleagues like S.C. Senator Kevin Bryant and other members of the so-called “William Wallace Caucus” point to as an ideal man for the job.
“I think this country is at a turning point,” Chip mentioned. “At the federal level, we really need folks who are willing to reassert the principles this country was founded on. We have been heading in the wrong direction. A European-styled social democracy is on the rise. The Founders blessed Americans with limited government, individual liberty, economic freedom, limited taxation — a better government vested with specific and limited powers. The federal government has expanded dramatically since the new Deal, and this administration and Congress have only further expanded federal power. This government needs to be restrained. Elected representatives are abusing the power vested in it for personal interests.”
Asked about what many conservatives point to as the rise of socialist economic constructs in 2009, Chip explained: “Capitalism creates a system where no one achieves their own interests until they meet the needs of others, which is how you make a sale. But when the self interests of elected officials override the best interests of consumers, which you’ll see happening with healthcare policies, you’ve corrupted not just the political system, but also America’s capitalist system that has underwritten our nation’s economic success. When you look at Venezuela, you look at Eastern Europe, you look at the Soviet Union, you see where all of this leads. We defeated Communism because Capitalism out-produces Marxism. I don’t know why this lesson in history has been forgotten.
“‘Are we going to resurrect our founding principles or continue to jettison them?’ That’s the question.”
So why are you “thinking about” entering the race for Congressman Brown’s seat?
“I’ve always been motivated by a set of ideas and principles I want to see advanced. There is a great opportunity to influence legislation in ways that address the biggest and best issues. I think anyone who has taken an assertive stance in the S.C. Legislature has influenced the legislative process that’s relevant to South Carolinians more than most serving in the U.S. Congress. But the issues I’ve become really passionate about are addressed at the federal level. The economy, health care, taxation, the rule of law — something Harry Reid has only bolstered disregard for by giving Nebraska an exception regarding Medicare payments that no other state gets. … The rule of law is a chief concern for me. Once we head down the road of abandoning the rule of law our country will become a banana republic. That’s what you see with despots.
“Serving in Congress gives you a bully pulpit to address those issues, and there are battles I want to be more actively fighting.
“There is also the issue of people in Washington traveling the world and apologizing to everyone. To them, I say: This is the greatest country in the world. It has defeated fascism, Communism, corrected the greatest internal wrongs, slavery and voting. It has more than any other country addressed the world’s biggest threats today, threats like violent Islamic jihadism. We need to spend less time apologizing and more time acknowledging this country for what it is — the greatest gift to the world. We have made the biggest investments in terms of any nation’s treasure, both in money and lives, toward resolving the world’s ills.
“If I run for Congress it’s not because I have a political aspiration, it’s because I have a great concern about the direction of our country these days.”
What would make you a stronger candidate than any of the others who have formally announced bids in this race?
“I really don’t want to go there — a lot of those people are my friends. I don’t think I should build myself up by tearing them down. My idea of a race is a political contest where you demonstrate your ability to articulate the principles and values you stand for. I’d rather lose a primary or a general election than to build myself up by tearing others down.
“I will tell the voters things like why we need to reduce the national debt, to stop monetizing the national debt, which destroys the value of our currency and deprives my children of economic opportunities. I will explain why my government needs to not pick winners and losers in industry. If the electorate wants someone who will advocate for the right things, and who is capable of articulating the right things, I think I can be a good candidate.”
If elected, what would be the foci of your efforts during your first year in office?
“I really haven’t thought about this yet.”
Well, let’s say …
“Fine. I would focus on repealing the health care legislation. I don’t believe the government’s involvement in any industry increases efficiency or strengthens any industry in the ways we need the health care market to be strengthened. The big problem is that you have artificial values to entry in that you cannot buy insurance across state lines. You also have federal programs that are part of the problem. If you give away anything for free people will take all they can get, and certainly more than they need. The dynamics of a true market have been removed from the healthcare systems.”
Should there be any reforms, or are you pleased with the system as it is?
“There should be some reforms, but the government should not be taking over. When you have a profit motive you have an incentive to keep your costs low and the quality of your product high. The kind of government involvement called for by some legislators removes these motives, which will make their so-called market yet more inefficient.”
Tell me about your relationships with elected officials in D.C. and how you would utilize those relationships in terms of joining certain committees.
“I have a relationship with most members of South Carolina’s Congressional delegation. There are a few other members of Congress I know from other states, people like Tom Coburn, who I met through Governor Sanford when he was in Congress. I currently have good relationships with Jim DeMint, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Wilson, who served in state legislature as a senator when I was a member of the South Carolina House. But you really don’t know how committee assignments work until you’ve been through that process. I’ve spoken with Arthur Ravenel about this. Arthur described to me how Strom Thurmond helped him get on the Armed Services Committee. Of course Strom was a Senator. But he still had a lot of influence, and that committee is very important to the 1st District of South Carolina. I’m guessing that partisanship, to a large extent, is diminished when it comes to the common interest of the state and Charleston County, which is what I’ve found to be the case in state government. So I’m guessing Congressmen like Jim Clyburn may also be able to help me out when it comes to committee assignments — if I run.
“I do believe we are at a crucial point in this nation’s history. The founders gave us the right gifts in the Bill of Rights and our Constitution. All of our rights were guaranteed individually, against the government. We were given three branches of government, each of which can blunt the powers of the other two branches. Jefferson warned us about the expansion of federal power. He explained that when government powers increase, individual liberties decrease.
“We are heading toward a disaster, and you see the same issues in Eastern Europe, Venezuela, and Cuba. And I don’t think we should just forget about these lessons of history. We need to reassert the importance of personal liberty and personal responsibility, not continue to grow government. So I’d work hard to do just that.”
So what will it take to get you to enter the race?
“Well, as I said, I need to determine if this will be the right thing for me to do in terms of how it will impact my family. I’ve talked to Mark, Arthur, and Tommy Hartnett about their experiences serving in Washington when it came to the personal side of things. I also plan to talk to Jenny Sanford soon, because I’d like to get her take on what this is like from a spouse’s point of view.
“My dad has been encouraging me to do something like this. I’m hoping my sisters will get behind me if I run — because God knows you don’t want to stand in their way when it comes to politics,” Chip advised with a chuckle.
“But before that, I need to know this will be the right thing for my wife and my boys.”
Whether or not Chip Campsen will enter the race remains to be seen, but there’s no doubting the splash his candidacy would make would be a game-changer for anyone currently running for the Congressional seat still occupied by Henry Brown.
Rumor has it Chip will soon be meeting with Chip Limehouse and Jim Merrill to discuss who among the three of them would be the most likely to garner the votes needed to win that race. We’ll continue to keep you posted on what we at SCHotlie know will be one of the most exciting races in 2010.
For more information about Chip Campsen, SCHotline recommends The Campsen Chronicles, accessible online via http://scsenategop.com/images/campsenchronicles.pdf