Feb. 13, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Locals Split on DeMint’s Earmark War

Sen. Jim DeMint may be attracting a lot of national attention as a tea party favorite, but the strict conservative philosophy the South Carolina Republican espouses for his party is not sitting so well in his home state these days.

DeMint has taken pains recently to defend his 4-year-old pledge to oppose earmarks, after the Senate Appropriations Committee snubbed fellow South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham’s attempt to secure a relatively modest $400,000 earmark for the Port of Charleston.

“What you’re hearing [in the state] is: the ideology of the tea party and catering to that movement will come at the expense of jobs in South Carolina,” said Chris Drummond, a South Carolina GOP strategist who formerly worked for Gov. Mark Sanford.

DeMint has made national headlines by using his Senate Conservatives Fund to back many upstart tea party candidates who have won GOP primaries over National Republican Senatorial Committee picks who are seen as less pure on conservative principles.

But some critics have said DeMint’s positions are getting in the way of keeping state businesses competitive. “The port is the hub of economic activity for the whole state of South Carolina,” Drummond said. “It is the job of a U.S. Senator to make these difficult decisions on behalf of the entire state, and this is something you want to have a united front on.”

Indeed, the lack of a unified position from the two South Carolina Senators appears to be at least partly to blame for the decision by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development to deny Graham the earmark in this year’s bill.

The flap appears to have opened a rift between DeMint and Graham, who has been criticized by DeMint’s tea party friends as not conservative enough.

Both have been careful not to disparage each other publicly, but Graham recently warned in the Charleston Regional Business Journal that “this port could die, and this state’s economy could be in the ditch forever” without the $400,000 study on dredging the port to accommodate larger ships coming through an expanded Panama Canal in 2014.

He also told the Greenville News that the lack of unity in the delegation is the reason he hasn’t been able to secure the money, even though he was able to win other earmarks for the state on his own.

Graham told Roll Call he supports DeMint’s push for earmark reform, but “I just want to make sure that, until that day comes, South Carolina is not left out.”

Subcommittee Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said the support of two Senators gives a project more weight with a committee. “In cases where you have a state where one asks for an earmark, the other opposes all earmarks, that makes it a more difficult project to fund,” he said.

The office of subcommittee ranking member Bob Bennett (R-Utah) also told the Greenville News that the port was denied funding in part because “there was no request at all from Sen. DeMint.” DeMint allies point out that Bennett recently lost his primary to a DeMint-backed tea party candidate.

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