Kathy Rawls’ jump to the Republican Party came as no surprise. During my years working with her on the Aiken County Council, it was obvious that she was an atypical Democrat. The switch was bound to come sooner or later.
Rawls is among the last of that once-dominant breed of conservative Democrats. Only inertia and her distrust of partisan labels kept her from changing political affiliation years ago.
The impact of her switch on Council is negligible. Though its members are elected by party, in practice it operates in a non-partisan manner. Unlike Congress and the state legislature, party affiliation has no effect on the composition and chairmanship of its committees. Likewise, there are no Democratic or Republican “party lines” in voting.
The real impact will be seen in the District 1 Republican primary. Rawls filed for re-election on Saint Patrick’s Day as a Republican. The question is: will Republican primary voters embrace her candidacy? Is she a plausible Republican? Or will her move be seen as simply opportunistic?
Rawls’ basic compatibility with the GOP, however, is readily apparent through her stance on national issues, her basic political principles, her record on Council, and the wide array of Republicans she supported as a Democrat.
Rawls’ disconnect with her former party is most telling on national issues. Given her experience in balancing budgets on Council, she has little patience with the federal government’s spending habits.
“We can’t keep expanding programs and spending money we don’t have, and at the current rate there must be a day of reckoning,” Rawls declares. “There’s no limit on what the federal government can do.”
Rawls considers herself a Constitutionalist, emphatically defends the Second Amendment and believes that the “separation of church and state” has been carried to ridiculous lengths on issues such as school prayer.
She’s an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration and amnesty proposals. Her support for the illegal immigration ordinance estranged her with local Democrats. “I resented being told how to vote,” said Rawls of this experience.
Rawls’ conservatism is more instinctual and less of the “dogmatic manifesto” or “ten-point plan” variety. On Council, it’s illustrated by her general fiscal conservatism, skepticism toward intrusive regulatory schemes, support for public safety and enthusiasm for infrastructure improvements and industrial tax breaks to spur economic development.
Actions, of course, speak louder than words. So what are some of Rawls’ notable votes over the last several years?
Since the economic downturn of 2008, Rawls resisted the siren call of millage hikes to balance the county budget. She helped reign in spending – her knowledge of the budgeting process is quite good – and voted for the flattest year-to-year budgets in recent memory.
For financing the new administrative complex, Rawls adamantly opposed the use of installment purchase revenue bonds to circumvent the county debt limit. She recognizes that limiting debt is a prerequisite for fiscal stability.
In 2010, she served on the committee that drafted the county portion of the proposed capital project sales tax. The final product was a clean, transparent ballot concentrating on legitimate public needs while rejecting money-draining public-private partnership projects.
Regulatorily, she opposed provisions of the Land Management Ordinance that were too onerous for her rural district. While she’s since become reconciled to parts of the Land Management Ordinance, she remains skeptical of consultants and bureaucrats who think they’re wiser than individual property owners.
In this vein, I worked closely with her on revising the Land Management Ordinanc’s earbitrary approval process for communications towers. Thanks to Rawls, the revised ordinance relies on objective requirements, thus upholding the rule of law.
Lastly, many in the local tea party movement applauded her hard stance against the North Augusta TIF.
Not surprisingly, Rawls more often than not voted in Republican primaries and frequently cast crossover votes for Republicans in general elections. She backed Barry Goldwater in 1964, Ronald Reagan in 1976 (before it was cool to do so), Strom Thurmond, Floyd Spence and Joe Wilson.
She admires a wide array of nationally prominent Republicans, ranging from Ron Paul (who she supported in the 2008 presidential primary), Chris Christie and Marco Rubio. While they’re not necessarily the most compatible bunch, Rawls respects their willingness to address controversial subjects and – I suspect – their political pugnacity.
At Rawls’ press conference on March 3 announcing her switch to the Republican Party, S.C. Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, declared, “It’s about time.”
I agree. Kathy Rawls should have crossed the aisle years ago, but better late than never.
Gary Bunker is a former Aiken County Councilman.