By Brian Sherman, The Island Eye News Managing Editor
In 2018, a 36-year-old political unknown somehow managed to turn South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District blue. Two years later, Democrat Joe Cunningham is confident that his theme of “promises kept” will convince voters to return him to Washington for another term.
With a victory in his initial foray into politics, Cunningham pulled off an upset win over Katie Arrington, an unwavering supporter of President Donald Trump, by vowing to work with Republicans in Congress, providing an independent voice for the people of the Lowcountry, refusing to accept campaign donations from political action committees and working to keep oil companies from drilling along the Carolina coast. He said his record speaks for itself and that the message it sends to voters is that he kept his word.
“I’ve done exactly what I said I was going to do,” Cunningham commented. “I stand up to my own party when I disagree. I’m proud of my strong record of bipartisanship. I promised to put Lowcountry over party, and my record is an indication of that. Now, more than ever, we need people who are willing to work together.”
Cunningham said his accomplishments in Congress are proof that he has kept his promises to the people of District 1. He sponsored the Coastal Marine and Economies Protection Act, which would permanently ban offshore oil and gas drilling on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. The legislation passed the House, but no action has been taken in the Republican-led Senate.
Two of Cunningham’s bills became law with support from the other side of the aisle. The Great American Outdoors Act provides a permanent source of revenue for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, while the Tele-hearing Act authorizes veterans to appeal cases to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals by Skype or similar methods of transmission. The two pieces of legislation became law with Trump’s signature in August and April of this year, respectively.
Cunningham pointed out that he also has pushed back against members of his own party by opposing reckless federal spending and pay raises for members of Congress. He added that ads disseminated by his opponent – Nancy Mace, another Trump supporter – are misleading and that claims that he takes orders from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and carries water for oil and gas industry PACs simply aren’t true.
“The Pelosi thing is nothing more than a joke. And I haven’t taken a dime from any PACS at all. We send tens of thousands of dollars back to PACS every month,” Cunningham said. “It’s discouraging but not surprising to see our opponent engage in these misleading tactics. She says no one is a bigger support of Trump than she is, while I continue to work for the Lowcountry.”
“She’s been in politics her entire life. I got into this to help our government function better and to look out for future generations,” he added.
Cunningham is concerned about the future, but the present is important to him as well.
He thinks the most important issue currently facing people in the Lowcountry is COVID-19. He would appreciate a clear, consistent and honest message, based on facts and science, from the Trump administration concerning the pandemic and hopes that Democrats and Republicans will soon return to the negotiating table to work out a plan that will help his district’s business community.
“We still have a ways to go,” he commented.
“Our local tourism and food and beverage industries are suffering, and they want to see things get done. We’re hoping and pushing for something tailored to smaller businesses to help them keep their doors open and paychecks flowing to employees.”
He added that local governments, which have been suffering from budget shortfalls for most of this year, also need financial help from Washington.
The subject of jobs is intertwined with the pandemic, and Cunningham said the first step toward solving the unemployment problem in the Lowcountry and the United States is to make sure businesses are able to open back up safely while protecting their employees and customers.
“A strong infrastructure bill would help out. That’s why I supported millions of dollars to help dredge Charleston Harbor and a grant to build a bridge across the Ashley River,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has received the bulk of the publicity this year, but Cunningham said issues such as the cost of health care also are important. He pointed out that the House has passed several pieces of legislation that would allow the Medicare program to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies and drive down the cost of prescription drugs, but the Senate has failed to act on any of those bills.
“South Carolinians pay triple the amount for the exact same drugs. Nearly 3 in 10 have stopped taking their medication because they can’t afford it. In the greatest country on Earth, those things shouldn’t be happening,” he commented.
On the subject of gun control, Cunningham said he believes in the Second Amendment and is a gun owner himself but thinks “we can have reasonable, pragmatic safety measures put in place that keep guns out of the hands of criminals.” He pointed out that the House has passed a bill that would eliminate the “Charleston loophole” – which lets people buy weapons from licensed dealers before a background check is completed – but that the Senate has taken no action on the legislation.
“That’s something that’s common sense,” Cunningham stated.
He said climate change, a man-made problem, has been a major contributor to flooding, which is an especially important issue in the low-lying Charleston area.
“I’m running against a climate change denier,” he said. “This district, state and country can’t afford to have a climate change denier in office.”
Cunningham highlighted the strong contrast between himself and Mace, who currently represents District 99 in the South Carolina House.
“I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. My opponent has made a living through political elections. I am a strong, independent voice, someone who is willing to work for the people of the Lowcountry and not for a party. I think that difference is very clear.”
He concluded: “There’s so much rabid partisanship. People are tired of the negativity. I offered people over politics back in 2018. The Lowcountry deserves an independent voice.”