Monday, January 16, 2012

Framed Political Memories

[caption id="attachment_4321" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Former SC Republican Chair, C. Kenneth Powell, reflects on a less vicious political era"][/caption]

Interview with C. Kenneth Powell (Former SC Republican Chair)

By Judit Trunkos

Powell served as the Chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party during the Nixon years between December 1971 and February 1974. Prior to that, he was elected Chairman of the Republican Party of Richland County in 1970 and organized the first Republican primary held in the county. Accepting the position, Powell said:

 “We must never lose sight of the fact that the only justification for the existence of any political party is to be a vehicle through which its candidates are elected.”

In recent years, Powell runs his own law firm and created a political memory room in one of his conference rooms.

Powell is pictured with President Nixon and Bush and in meetings with cabinet members in Washington DC in the early 70s. In addition, there are framed certificates such as his honorary citizenship of Oklahoma.

After his last political office ending in 1974, Powell accepted a position at the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABC) of South Carolina, and the position limited him in his political plans.

“After I was named to be in the ABC commission I could not be involved in politics,” said Powell, who sat down with the City Paper to reflect on his years in politics.

City Paper: Could you tell me about your memories of meeting President Nixon? On this picture behind us, you are standing in front of Air Force One with President Nixon.

Powell:  Yes, I got to fly on Air Force One going back to Washington DC. Nixon was on the board and he walked around to meet and talk to everyone. Secret service was there, of course.  Nixon was a good president but not very friendly. Not the kind of person to go fishing with. He had a hard time being liked by the people.

City Paper:  On a different picture in the room, there is a signed image of President Ronald Reagan. What can you tell me about him?

Powell: I met him when he was running for presidency, at conventions and many times in the early 80s.  He was likable, you may not agree with him, but you could not disagree that he was so likable.  He was definitely the person to go fishing with.

City Paper: There is a round-table cabinet meeting in one picture. Was this in the White House?

Powell: No, this was in Washington DC in an office building for cabinet meetings. I was sitting with Henry Dent, all the southern chairmen, John Mitchell, Attorney General and others.

City Paper:  What about the cartoon of Nixon slamming the door on someone while entering a room?

Powell:  The cartoon is from the Washington Post and it happens to be original from May 15, 1971. It portrays Nixon and two others around the time of the federal judge election. The story behind the cartoon is the fact that there was a very qualified Republican nominee (N. Welch Morrisette, Jr.)  for federal judge and yet Nixon slammed the door on the Republicans and chose a Democrat Judge.  There were speculations that this choice was deeply political.

Most of my political actions were about the bottom up and not top down. Getting Governors elected and focusing on local politics and not the national arena.

One thing I noticed about today’s politics versus how it used to be.  Today politics is vicious and personal, which was not the case before.

For instance, Don Fowler who was the Democratic Chairman and we had many public debates, but after it was over, we could be friends. He even asked me to teach his classes at USC when he was out of town.  Or to give you another example, Jim Edwards opposed Reagan in the primary, but after Reagan won, he made Edwards a cabinet member. Politics was not personal back then.

City Paper: Why do you think politics is so personal today?

Powell: They dig up all the bad things about politicians. Politics got so vicious that you cannot find too many people who would put themselves out there.

The media has a big role to play; you do not see many good stories any more. They have a big influence. They are educating people on the wrong things sometimes. I always tried to be honest with the media.

City Paper:  Was there any politician who you did not get to meet?

Powell:  I was very fortunate I have met lots of people in politics but not Kissinger. I would have loved to meet him.

City Paper: Could you tell us the story about being an honorary citizen of Oklahoma?

Powell:  I was given this honor by the Governor of Oklahoma after I initiated a resolution about no beer commercials on TV during football games. The resolution passed and the law was applied nationwide. I was the ABC Chairman at the time. I was concerned that beer companies would influence young people watching the games.  For bringing the issue up, I got the honorary citizen of Oklahoma that year.

Editor's note:  Even though Powell's work in the 70s didn't stop the stupidity of the Bud Bowl ad campaign appearing nearly 15 years later, he is still regarded as an exceptional human being. His law firm is located at 2231 Devine Street and he can be reached at (803) 256-0754.

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