Politics is the craziest thing. You truly never know what (or who(m?)) to believe. South Carolina is a great example of the politics of the surreal. But that’s OK. The thing is, the voters – citizens – are the ones getting punked.
Election years are the most delightful part of the carnival of the farcical. Accusations both subtle and .. not so, whip around the state at hypersonic speed. Rumors are de rigueur in Palmetto State politics and shenanigans the etiquette of choice. For example, we may be seeing classic South Carolina high jinks in the race for State Superintendent of Education.
We’ve already seen the attempt to smear candidate and teacher Kelly Payne by forces unknown. In fact, speculation – and not without reason – points convincingly to Jay Ragley, campaign manager for Dr. Mick Zais.
In the last week, I had conversations with a number of prominent South Carolina political players – some elected, some not. When Ragley’s name came up, much like phlegm during cold season, there was mutual derision and not so occasional disgust. With a reputation for the dirtiest of tricks, Ragley is the focus of political attention in what is becoming an unfortunately vicious campaign for Superintendent:
Multiple sources tell FITS that Zais’ campaign advisor (former SCGOP operative J.W. Ragley) was bragging loudly Wednesday about having hired a private investigator to obtain incriminating evidence that could be used against Payne.
The fact that Dr. Zais has hired Jay Ragley to run his campaign and implement his election strategy should be of considerable concern to voters. Are these the tactics that can be expected should Dr. Zais become Superintendent? Is a “Goon Squad” mentality the sort of “administrative experience” that will emanate from Senate Street in a Zais/Ragley administration?
But, the besmirching of Kelly Payne is just one volley in what is beginning to appear to be an alliance between Dr. Zais’ campaign and that of Furman professor Dr. Brent Nelsen. Jay Ragley has been curiously amicable with Nelsen at recent public events. Sources noticed Zais passing notes to Nelsen after Payne spoke during a recent forum in Lancaster and both having been taking excerpts from Payne’s talking points and using them as their own.
Sources are also telling me that both the Zais and Nelsen campaign organizations are continuing to perpetuate rumors about Payne behind the scenes.
There is more than a bit of speculation that Zais and Nelsen are a one-two attempt to marginalize the Payne candidacy. There are even bets that Nelsen, whose chances for Superintendent are just barely better than were his abandoned bid for governor, will drop out of the race near the primary and endorse Zais. The strategy would be to “show unity” and, of course, avoid splitting votes between the two private college administrators.
Reggie Jackson famously said, “Fans don’t boo nobodies.” Well, political campaigns don’t go to these extremes against opponents that are nobodies or pose no threat. Kelly Payne’s campaign is gaining momentum and threatening the status quo – a status quo that has held down South Carolina’s student population for decades.