Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Blonde Ambition

Metro Beat Publisher James Shannon published this blonde bombshell prior to the state race for Superintendent in which Jim Rex beat her by only a few hundred votes.

The REAL Karen Kanes Rogers Armor Floyd

karen By James Shannon

If you want to blame somebody for the current mess in the race for Superintendent of Education, I guess you could lay this at Inez Tenebaum’s door. Why not? For years, Republicans have been blaming Inez for all kinds of things. The dust had barely settled from the 2004 election when state GOP officials started to worry about the incumbent Superintendent of Education. Jim De- Mint rode the coattails of President Bush to handily defeat Tenenbaum for the US Senate, despite a faltering campaign plagued by DeMint’s frequent outbreaks of hoof-in-mouth disease. But there was every indication that Inez would again be a formidable candidate for reelection in

  1. She had scored victories in 1998 and again in 2002, becoming the top vote getter statewide despite the fading fortunes of other Democrats that year. The idea was to find an attractive Republican candidate early around whom the state party could unite, much in the same way Lindsey Graham parlayed his stint as one of the House managers in the Clinton impeachment to become the heir apparent when Strom Thurmond finally retired. Graham coasted to the nomination then beat an attractive Democrat candidate Alex Sanders, who refused to change his view on the death penalty to pander to the electorate. But to follow the Graham model, they needed a candidate with some credentials, not a complete unknown but enough of a blank slate to be effectively marketed to various party constituent groups. In the Spring of 2005, they found their man – uh, woman. Karen Floyd of Spartanburg had an impressive resume on paper and had not stayed in any job long enough to make a lot of serious enemies. An attorney who had served as both a prosecutor and judge, she had been elected chair of the Spartanburg County Council. The word went out among the party elders, and the elected officials quickly fell into line. Before you could say “voucher,” Floyd had been endorsed by Gov. Mark Sanford, Senators Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint, Congressmen Joe Wilson and Gresham Barrett; House Speaker Bobby Harrell, Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler and most of the Republicans in the General Assembly. This is not to say that many of these individuals knew anything about Floyd beyond the “R” that would appear after her name on the ballot. Everything was going swell until Inez Tenenbaum threw a monkey wrench in the works by announcing she would not seek reelection in 2006. Suddenly the strategy of a united GOP front against a hated ideological foe was rendered toothless, since it’s hard to rail against an enemy who has left the field of battle. The Republicans now had another problem. With the candidacy of Karen Floyd, they had papered over some very real philosophical differences within the state GOP on education, particularly the thorny issue of vouchers to divert funds from public schools to religious academies and private schools. Voucher proponents including Gov. Sanford insisted the idea was to improve public education by introducing competition while giving parents a choice of schools, private or otherwise. But mounting evidence suggests the voucher movement has been embraced by a nationwide network of ultraconservatives whose goal is to shrink all government – including public education – to fulfill the ideological mandate of antitax movement guru Grover Norquist. A long-time associate of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Norquist is the author of a chilling quote not easily dismissed as a joke: “I don’t want to abolish government,” he famously stated. “I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” For people who understand that public education is an essential ingredient for a better life, particularly to those not born with great wealth, the idea of dismantling this important institution to serve some vision of minimalist government is horrific. To ideologues like Mark Sanford, it is painful medicine to be swallowed by others. Fortunately, enough Republicans in the South Carolina General Assembly don’t share this apocalyptic vision of education and the tuition tax credit initiative disingenously called “Put Parents In Charge” went down in flames in the 2005 session after critics charged it was nothing more than a back-door voucher scheme. Should Sanford be reelected, people on both sides of the issue fully expect some form of PPIC to emerge in 2007, with Sanford likely to proclaim a victory (by whatever margin) a mandate to enact PPIC. Pro-voucher Norquistians from around the country have invested heavily in both the Sanford and Floyd campaigns, confident of their loyalties despite mixed messages that Floyd is signaling to the local electorate. But the withdrawal of Inez Tenenbaum from the race spurred some elements in the GOP to take another look at the race, figuring a campaign of ideas couldn’t hurt. The problem for these latecomers was the heavy-duty endorsements Floyd had garnered a year before the endorsers realized the other options that would enter the primary race. What followed was something more akin to a coronation than a contest, with Floyd essentially sitting on her lead in the polls while party hatchetmen branded her chief opponent Bob Staton as a RINO – Republican In Name Only. They cited his contributions to both Republican and Democratic candidates as proof of his duplicity and dismissed the fact he had been appointed to the PASS Commission by Gov. David Beasley, a Republican. The gentlemanly Staton declined to take on Floyd in any meaningful way, perhaps keeping his powder dry for an expected runoff. This proved to be a flawed strategy as Floyd won the primary with just over 50percent of the vote. In the end, the fact she slipped by in the primary round may work against Karen Floyd in the general election, assuming voters actually pay attention to this important down-ballot race. Just as Sanford hopes voters won’t focus on his position on vouchers, Floyd hopes they’ll overlook her extensive resume that underscores her ambition in moving from position to position rather than any real accomplishments along the way. Floyd is now forced to campaign by insisting her total lack of educational experience is somehow a qualification for the top education job in the state. Further problems may arise if conservative Christian voters discover that their candidate, an opportunistic advocate of the so-called defense of marriage amendment, has been married three times herself. But the real story here would seem to be the blind ambition of this blonde politico who has gone to some length to hide the real Karen Kanes Rogers Armor Floyd.

Karen Lynn Kanes was born in Houston, Texas in 1962. Her father is William Henry Kanes, a petroleum geologist whose work for large oil companies took the family around the world during her youth, including stays in Libya, Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia. This is according to a Personal Data Questionnaire Summary from testimony before the Judicial Selection Committee when she sought an administrative law judge position in 1994 – but we’re getting ahead of the story. Despite repeated requests, Floyd declined to be interviewed for this article. There are questions about her early educational history, with one law school classmate expressing surprise after hearing about her time at a French convent school – only to discover she had been a cheerleader at Irmo High School in South Carolina. In fact, a listing in Marquis Who’s Who says she studied at the Institute de Notre Dame in Paris from 1979 to 1980.

She went to Goucher College near Baltimore, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1983. From 1983 to 1986, she attended the University of South Carolina School of Law, receiving a J.D. degree in 1986. While in law school, she worked as a clerk at the Columbia firm of Swerling & Harpootlian. Her boss at the time, Dick Harpootlian, was a principal in the firm and a well-known attorney who previously served as Solicitor in Richland County. He would later be elected chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party and become the bete noire of Republicans here, known for both his sharp tongue and the role he played in engineering Jim Hodges’ ouster of Gov. Beasley in 1998.

Harpootlian didn’t have any particularly vivid memories of Floyd’s time as his law clerk, but clearly recalled an incident from later years. “She attended a fundraiser in Washington for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee with me back in 1998,” he told The Beat. “I’m surprised she is running as a conservative Christian Republican. She stood at the rope line with Bill Clinton and was just effervescent, very enthusiastic.” We were unable to locate any records to determine if she wrote a check that night, though typically attendence at such events would be limited to contributors.

In light of her campaign’s attack on Bob Staton for being a RINO, it would be interesting to hear Floyd’s response to the Harpootlian story – but she declined our request for an interview.

Between the time she graduated law school in 1986 and began to lobby for a state position as an administrative law judge in early 1994, she worked as a staff attorney for the state Senate, then as an assistant Solicitor for the 7th Judicial Circuit in Spartanburg. She left that job to become an associate with the law firm of King & Hray in 1988, becoming partner in 1990. The firm was then called King, Hray and Kanes. In 1992, she received an appointment as a Magistrate Judge in Spartanburg and remained in that position until 1994, becoming Chief Magistrate after a struggle between her predecessor Edward Overcash and a state senator.

During a public hearing on January 13, 1994 for the Administrative Law Judge position she sought, Floyd was asked whether she had a real commitment to the position because she had changed jobs so frequently, having had five jobs since graduating from law school in 1986. Her response, according to the Spartanburg Herald Journal: “I intend to stay there if I am so fortunate to be chosen.” As it turned out, she got the appointment and was confirmed by the Senate only to resign the position before she was sworn in.

The job that caused her to dump jurisprudence was with Flagstar Corporation (later Advantica), the Spartanburgbased parent company of the Denny’s restaurant chain. She was hired as Director of Employee Relations in 1994 and had risen to Vice-President by the time she left the company in 1998. Her volatile employment history paralleled her personal relationships. She was divorced from husband James Lafon Rogers in June, 1989. She then married Michael Murphy Armor in 1992; they were divorced in 1996. She married current husband Andrew Gordon Floyd on December 31, 1997. Gordon Floyd is a mortician who owned Floyd Mortuary. As noted by a January, 2000 article in the Spartanburg Herald Journal, “Marrying Gordon Floyd also meant marrying money and community connections.” In 1999, Karen Floyd was elected to the Spartanburg County Council and became chair. She left that office after one term. While in office, she founded The Palladian Group, a marketing and public affairs company.

The twin boys seen in her campaign commercial came into the home of Karen and Gordon Floyd in 2000. Many people who have known Karen over the years were surprised because they had never known her to have children. In July 2004, the Floyd’s took steps to adopt the twins. Respect for the privacy of the boys precludes any discussion of the circumstances of their adoption, but it should be noted it was Floyd herself who put them in the public eye. Whether the motivation for that was the pride of an adoptive parent or cold political calculation is left to the judgment of the reader.

Public service at the municipal or county level is just that, service. Concerns about potholes and water mains and millage rates are not the stuff that political dreams are made of, but represent the nuts and bolts of making government work. It’s not a lot of fun and rarely a stepping stone to higher office. Karen Floyd left after one term.

She encountered some antagonism while serving as chair of County Council, not least from anti-tax advocates like Walter McSherry, who has been a GOP activist in New York and South Carolina. How conservative is McSherry? When I wrote a few years ago that he was to the right of Attila the Hun, he thanked me for accurate reporting. Mc- Sherry admits he opposed Floyd when she was on council, though he is volunteering with her current campaign. Less than a year after leaving county government, Floyd was back in the news again. A long-simmering feud between Sen. John Hawkins and GOP County Chairman Rick Beltram boiled over at the party’s county convention at Dorman High School in November,

  1. As party communications officer Jimmy Moore would later report in his column, “Floyd surprised the delegates there that day when she graced us all with her presence and summarily decided to run against the incumbent Spartanburg GOP Chairman Rick Beltram although she wasn’t even a delegate to the convention and had not been active at any of the local party events in the previous year.” Beltram retained his leadership position by a close vote among the party activists attending the convention. 138 to 126 was the final tally, Floyd’s first electoral defeat thwarting her attempt to seize control of the county party. She was not amused by the reporting of Moore, however, and dispatched attorney Kenneth C. Anthony Jr., president of the South Carolina Bar to threaten Moore with a lawsuit and insist he re- Reports have surfaced that Karen Floyd is already looking past the superintendent of education job with an eye on running for governor in 2010.

move the story from the Internet. Moore refused, and retold the story in even greater detail after encountering Floyd during the current campaign. “Utterly Annoyed By Karen Floyd” was the title of Moore’s piece. We’ll post a link to it at www.upstatebeat.com. For his part, Beltram is inclined to forgive and forget. He retained his chairmanship, after all, and now Floyd is the anointed candidate of the GOP elite. In an interview last week, he told The Beat, “I always caution people to be careful not to pay too much attention to family squabbles. I think anybody within our Republican ranks will look at it and potentially have a fuss with another Republican, but boy, that Republican is a heckuva lot better than what the other side is going to throw out.” Rick Beltram is a loyal party soldier, and he is quick to respond to questions about Floyd’s failure to back PPIC in 2005. “From the very beginning she was in favor of school choice, I think that is clear,” he says, adding “When we were just starting the campaign in April of ’05 and again this year when the legislature was in session, our official stand was how can we have Karen make a stand on education when that job really is one that effects policy and doesn’t make policy.” This reasoning is puzzling until Beltram elaborates: “This is one of the things that we blunt the fact that Jim Rex claims to be an educator,” he says. “Well, this is really an administrator of a policy that the state legislature passes. Who is better at effecting that policy than a good, qualified administrator? In fact, Floyd’s Democratic opponent really is an educator – a teacher, football coach, college dean and college president. Is Beltram saying the fact Karen Floyd has no educational background is actually a plus? “Yes, yes. Well, I think it’s a neutral position. What does make it a plus is the fact she’s been an administrator for a good part of her adult career. That’s what is being brought to the table – and also a team builder, a consensus builder to work with other Republicans, to work with the governor, work with the legislature to quickly implement whatever policy they pass.” Which brings us back to ambition. Reports have surfaced that Karen Floyd is already looking past the Superintendent of Education job with an eye on running for governor in 2010. “I have heard those reports,” says Beltram. “I think it’s ambition… Karen is an aggressive person. It wouldn’t surprise me if restructuring goes through and education becomes an appointed position that she may want to look at something else.” In the end, the question of Karen Floyd’s ambition or commitment to public service is less important in this election than what it might mean if she becomes Superintendent of Public Education. Her campaign has been funded in large part by out of state contributors pressing the voucher issue. They see South Carolina as a small enough state that they can influence our elections with less money than it would take in a larger state with more expensive media markets. Brad Warthen of The State newspaper reports, “Superintendent of Education candidate Karen Floyd raised an alarming 47 percent of her money from out of state. Of her $114,074.04 in contributions, $53,500 came from outside South Carolina. Even more disturbing is the fact that nearly a quarter of Floyd’s contributions came from the same address. Floyd received $21,000 from various companies that share the address 73 Spring St., Rm. 507, New York, NY, 10012. All of the companies are associated with Howard Rich, a wealthy New York developer who funnels money into private school voucher schemes across the country.” Even if you assume that Howard Rich really has the best interests of South Carolina school children at heart – an assumption I am unwilling to make – you have to wonder what commitments Floyd has made on the subject of vouchers. Just this week, she told Robert Dalton of the Spartanburg Herald Journal that she opposes giving public money to private schools. The catch is that Floyd – like Sanford – insists that the tuition tax credit doesn’t involve the transfer of public money because the taxes are never collected. That seems like a distinction without a difference likely to confuse voters. As a result, it is possible to believe that whatever you think about vouchers, Karen Floyd has a nuance that covers it. The fact that Howard Rich thinks he knows what she will do is not reassuring. Jim Rex is not confused by Floyd’s position, and says flatly she is trying to mislead voters. “A half truth is still a whole lie,” Rex told the Spartanburg Herald Journal. “You shouldn’t have to read between the lines when you have a political candidate. I think that’s almost the first level of responsibility for a political candidate, to make it as clear as you can where you stand on an issue.” When candidates offer themselves for public service, a fair examination of their credentials is required. Jim Rex is certainly being subjected to the same scrutiny as Karen Floyd during this election cycle. Charges by Floyd partisans that Rex “claims to be an educator” utterly fail to address concerns that have been raised about Karen Floyd. Still you have to wonder how this story might have been different if she had decided to answer a few questions. But it’s a long way to election day. James Shannon is the Publisher of Greenville’s Metro Beat.

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