In South Carolina, Republicans play hard, fall hard. Consider Ken Ard.
The indictment, conviction, and resignation of Lt. Gov. Ken Ard over campaign corruption charges is the latest in a long line of embarrassing moments for the Republican stronghold of South Carolina.
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"South Carolina strikes me as a state that's always had very strong personalities who tend to be quite outspoken," Merle Black, an Emory University political scientist, told McClatchy newspapers in 2009.Skip to next paragraph
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South Carolina, of course, is not demonstrably different than many other states known for corruption, including Illinois and New York. But the characters themselves – consider Rep. Joe Wilson yelling “You lie!” during an Obama speech in 2009 – certainly tend toward the swashbuckling. Ard was the son of a trucking company owner who launched himself from the Florence, S.C., County Council to statewide office on a slogan of “common sense and fiscal discipline.”
To be sure, historians have long sought to explain the particular vicissitudes of Southern political life, and some of those conclusions, they say, may well extend to the modern-day South. Especially the rural South, with its historic suspicion of outsiders (think Mitt Romney), which has long held the extra-legal as a virtue (think sympathy toward moonshiners.)
“The [Southerner] is something of an individualist who shapes his actions according to local customs and his own notions of how he should behave rather than according to the dictates of law books,” wrote Charles Sydnor, a Southern historian, in “The Southerner and the Laws." “[T]he extralegal ... areas of life in the South convinced many onlookers that here was a land where law was frequently broken and commonly held in contempt.”
While Sydnor was writing about the antebellum South, modern-day historians and political science experts still find evidence of such attitudes in parts of the South.
But after the civil ethics convictions of former Gov. Mark Sanford, the decision to criminally prosecute Ard for misappropriating campaign funds and running a “phantom contribution” scheme could be seen as a step toward reform.
When character witnesses for Ard attempted to paint the crimes as “mistakes” made by a man known to be sloppy with paperwork, Attorney General Wilson said, “We would not have pursued prosecution of a mistake.”
Wilson told The State newspaper that he believes the probationary sentence will serve as a deterrent to other elected officials. But, newspaper reported, "He would not say whether he believes state ethics laws should be strengthened."