While we think the rise of the GOP in state politics helped usher in much-needed changes in how state government was run, not everything that has changed has been for the best. Long-time Senators like Drummond and Patterson had the ability to raise their voices when and where others were afraid to rock the boat, or voices of reason were needed to urge caution.
While Democrats, their state and their communities were more important than their parties. On more than one occasion, Drummond supported Republicans. Patterson even spoke at Thurmond's funeral.
South Carolinians like these don't grow on trees, and in losing them, we feel like we're losing something special and important in state government that we may never see again.
Last fall, we talked about Drummond's pending retirement:
While partisanship and sticking to one's principles is important, that kind of perspective should give us something to think about. But even more importantly, Drummond's dedicated service to his Palmetto State should set a standard that, regardless of partisan identity, we should all aspire to.
On many occasions, Drummond crossed party lines to work with Republicans and even supported Senator Strom Thurmond. His party was important to him in his legislative service, but so was the best interests of his native state. It's a refreshing outlook on politics that we could use more of these days.
- John Drummond, a great South Carolinian, 9/24/07
Patterson’s departure will leave an elocutionary void in the sausage-making drill that is S.C. politics, friends and colleagues say.
Over the years, Patterson’s use of black dialect, often laced with well-placed invectives, has helped him to make his point and needle his opponents.
“They would call that ebonics in this day and age,” Patterson said. “But we didn’t have that terminology back in those days.”
Those who know Patterson and agree with his politics — such as his seatmate of 34 years, state Sen. John Matthews, D-Orangeburg — say Patterson’s departure will leave “the little man” voiceless in what they say are the increasingly hostile halls of the General Assembly.
- "Telling it like it is: elected as a firebrand, Patterson retires as a statesman", The State, 4/27/08During the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, he dismissed Anita Hill's allegations, pointing out that in spite of the conduct she alleged, she continued to seek transfers to work with him, suggesting that if the charges were true, it "must have been some pretty good sexual harassment".
The first Senator to take on the Confederate flag flying over the State House became one of the ones who brokered the compromise to bring it down, and then joined those who criticized the NAACP first for not helping his effort, and then complaining the agreement was not enough.
In politics, it is one thing to disagree and another to be disagreeable. While Patterson's style may have come across as disagreeable, that wasn't his goal. When he believed it was important, he sought to disagree in a manner that made sure you knew it, and considered his point of view before attempting to move forward.
Our Senate is intended to reflect upon the tough decisions of governing this state and make sure that the courses of action we take are the best choices possible. People like Drummond and Patterson, in their own ways, helped make that institution work.
In doing so, both Senators have become unlikely legends of that instituation, and they deserve the appreciation of the people of South Carolina, Democrats and Republicans alike. They certainly have ours.