Last week we lost a colorful character in the history of South Carolina politics in former Congressman John Jenrette. During my final days as a city councilman in Myrtle Beach, I thought it had finally been long enough since the ABSCAM scandal to forgive his fall from grace. It was, I thought, time to remember Jenrette's extraordinary contributions to our region of the state. Unfortunately, many of the powers that be at the time disagreed, and the effort fell short. I disagreed then and still do with that decision.
As I knocked on doors early in my time in public life I heard over and over again, you are the first person to come to my door since John Jenrette did it years ago. Or if the conversation was longer, I listened as they told me that the best congressman we ever had was John Jenrette. My grandparents, on both sides of my family, were farmers, and they too revered John Jenrette as the champion of the little guy. That he had stood up for the small farmers against the big interests that had dominated farming in the 1970s.
Just by his primary victory in 1972 he changed the course of history so that Washington D.C. could have its own city council. His opponent, incumbent Congressman John McMillan, had overseen the district as chair of the District Oversight Committee in Congress. McMillan had refused to even allow home rule legislation out of his committee.
Indeed, it is in the area of civil rights for African-Americans in which John Jenrette stood the tallest against the tide even here in his own home state.
He often voted more in favor of protecting the rights of his African-American constituents than most of the members of the then fledgling Congressional Black Caucus. John Jenrette was there fighting those battles when it was not a popular stance here in the very district he represented except with what was then a small but solid minority of voters who had often been ignored by everyone else in power. I could go on and on, from his securing the money to build the Georgetown Bridge, to the congressional Travel and Tourism Caucus that still exists today to fight the battles for the now $1.3 trillion dollar tourism industry in America.
John Jenrette was often a visionary, was certainly way ahead of his time, and while he was flawed, his genuineness as a public servant was not one of them. It is now time for the region of our state known as the Pee Dee to finally recognize this man for all he did for us as a public servant. I hope he will be appreciated at last.
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