R.T. Rybak Keynote Speech to the South Carolina Democrats Convention
Let’s start with some good news: I didn’t bring any of the snow that fell on Minneapolis a couple days ago.
I’ve got better news: I’m not going to give you a bunch of bright political ideas from up North and pretend they will work below the Mason Dixon line.
Instead I stand here as a Northern Mayor who has succeeded in part because I’ve taken some key political lessons from South Carolina. And those of us in both the North and the South will be a lot better off if we listen to the political messages that have worked here.
I’m not talking about the part of South Carolina politics that attacks and divides. Not the micro politics of Jim Demint, Mark Sanford and Nikki Haley. Not the people who get nothing done except play assault politics while ignoring our schools, and roads and the common good.
No, instead I’ve followed the model of two South Carolina leaders who are political heroes of mine. They’re both named Riley.
Start with Gov. Dick Riley. Against great odds he went to every part of this state and asked people to pay one more penny to invest in schools; to make this a brainpower state. It was tough politics. Some of his supporters took tough votes. Some even lost the next election. But that kind of leadership meant an entire generation of South Carolinians went to better schools, got better jobs, bought homes, helped their own kids get started, saved for retirement, invested in their communities and made this a better state.
Gov. Riley showed what we are as Democrats. We invest in educating EVERY person. We lift people higher. We bring people together. We get things done.
Then there is the other Riley. The easiest question I ever get is: Which Mayor do you admire most? I always answer quickly—“Joe Riley of Charleston. ” During Joe’s amazing run as Mayor he has transformed Charleston into one of the most beautiful cities in the world. He won’t let a light post or manhole cover get built without making sure it made the city more beautiful. But Mayor Riley’s goal isn’t just to make his city LOOK good. It’s about the COMMON good.
The Mayor explains that by telling a wonderful story about a man he knew of very limited means named Clarence. Every night Mayor Riley saw Clarence sitting out on the end of a new dock Mayor Riley helped build overlooking that beautiful Charleston Harbor. Finally Joe asked Clarence: “Why are you always sitting out there at sunset?”
”Well Mayor,” Clarence said. “It’s just so beautiful.”
Think about Clarence’s life, Mayor Riley says. He won’t travel anywhere. He doesn’t have a vacation place. But here in his hometown we have given him something of beauty, and everyone can enjoy it.
Common good is a beautiful place where EVERYONE is welcome to watch the sunset. But it’s also about a lot more. It’s those good schools that Gov Riley worked so hard to build. It’s good roads and bridges. It’s knowing if your kid has a serious illness she won’t be denied health care.
Gov Riley, Mayor Riley are great parts of the history of this great state but the lessons they have taught aren’t just about nostalgia. They a roadmap into how we are going to win more elections in South Carolina, all over the south and all over the country.
We are Democrats. We lift people higher. We bring people together. We. Get. Things. Done.
When people ask Mayor Riley how he decides where to focus his attention he says: “I look for things that 25 years from now people will look at and it will make their heart sing.”
So ask yourself: Republicans have been in control of South Carolina politics for more than a decade. Have they done anything to “make your heart sing?” For all the bluster, what’s their record?
Today South Carolina:
*Has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.
* Is ranked as one of the 5 hardest places to earn a living.
* Is ranked one of the worst mobility rates in the country, which means it’s harder here to live the American Dream than almost anywhere else in America.
They’ve put rigid ideology ahead of the good of the people they are supposed to serve. Gov. Haley didn’t take money that could have helped make South Carolina’s schools better because she didn’t want to help President Obama. Shouldn’t she be more concerned with helping the kids in the schools, than with trying to hard NOT to help the duly elected President of the United States?
She could have helped the quality of health care in this state, and created jobs by accepting Medicaid resources, but again, she was more concerned about not “helping” the President than she was with helping the people she is supposed to serve. So more people get sick, more people get treated in emergency rooms, costs go up—all because of her rigid ideology.
South Carolina has done better, and it needs to again. If the Governor wants to get nothing done, then take a chair in the retirement home so Democrats can get in there and get South Carolina moving again.
You’ve got a great candidate to do that. I like the sound of “Gov. Vincent Sheheen”
For too long, South Carolina has struggled to meet its potential under the guidance of leaders who get detoured by putting their self-interest before the interests of the people. We need to change the way we do business in South Carolina and leave the politics of ideology and personal ambition behind to get the state back on track.
Look, I’m not against all Republican’s. I was born a Republican. But I don’t recognize a once-proud party that has been driven off the flat earth they think we’re living on.
They can’t lead. They can’t govern. They can’t get anything done. And they sure can’t bring us together.
I know it isn’t always easy being a Democrat in South Carolina. But our message is as basic as the core premise of what makes this country great. The Democratic message is that South Carolina, and America, can do anything when we are led by people who put aside their differences, lean on each other and get things done. Not 47% of America. Not 99% of America. All of America.
You find the Democratic message in every one of stories of how every one of our families got where they are today.
I come from pioneers and immigrants.
The pioneers crossed the plains. It was rough. It was dangerous. They lost a young child along the way. But they made it all the way to the West because they didn’t set out in a wagon on their own. They were in a wagon trail, helping each other every step of the way.
The immigrants came from what’s now the Czech Republic. They helped settle a little town called New Prague in south Minnesota and they survived the tough Minnesota winters because they all needed each other. Their store on Main Street depended on the farmers and when a new farmer came to town they didn’t build their barns alone. Everyone in town went to the barn raising.
Think about your own family story, about how you got here because people worked together, because we got through tough times because we didn’t just help 47 % of your neighbors but everyone Take that message out into every part of South Carolina.
We are the Democrats. We invest in people. We lift people up. We build. We get things done.
No, it’s not easy sometimes being a Democrat in South Carolina. But that’s why finally winning is going to be so sweet.
So invite me back to dance at Gov. Sheheen’s inaugural.
And believe me: That won’t be a Tea Party.