Colbert Busch touts business background in 1st Congressional District race

gsmith@islandpacket.comApril 27, 2013 

Colbert Busch

Elizabeth Colbert Busch celebrates as she was declared the winner in the Democratic primary Tuesday March 19, 2013. (Grace Beahm/postandcourier.com)

GRACE BEAHM — Grace Beahm

  • Elizabeth Colbert Busch and Mark Sanford will meet for their only debate at 7 p.m. Monday at The Citadel in Charleston. To listen, go to www.southcarolinaradionetwork.com or www.Charleston.Patch.com. For more election news: www.islandpacket.com/election-news.

  • Elizabeth Colbert Busch

    On immigration: Opposes deportation of those here illegally. Favors a path to citizenship that includes criminal background checks and a requirement to pay back-taxes.

    On jobs: Wants federal money to dredge the Charleston port and create new jobs. Also wants to pursue a public-private research and technology park, similar to North Carolina's Research Triangle Park, to support S.C. industries, including defense, aeronautics and transportation.

    On education: Supports programs that provide loan forgiveness for public school teachers after 10 years of service as a way to recruit teachers. Wants to extend voluntary kindergarten to all of the state's 4-year-olds. Supports new programs to improve literacy of young children and giving states the option to use federal dollars to expand school-choice options -- such as single-gender programs, online learning, and math and science schools -- within public schools.

    On health care: Views federal health care law as a "first draft" and sees good and bad provisions in it. Supports coverage for everyone regardless of pre-existing conditions and allowing parents to cover children up to 26 years of age on their policies.

    On taxes/debt: Does not support new taxes in the short-term. Wants cuts to unspecified parts of federal spending to aid small businesses. Does not support raising debt ceiling until cuts are made to current spending.

    Spending priorities: Infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges; public education; and "basic services," including health care and programs to alleviate poverty.

    On guns: Opposes ban on assault weapons and efforts to limit the capacity of gun magazines.


About six months into her job as a data clerk in 1987, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, a divorced mother of three, got a raise.

A 25-cent-an-hour raise. She was now earning $6.25 an hour to support herself and her children ages 3, 5 and 7.

"That was a turning point. I knew I had to try something different," said Colbert Busch, who went back to school at the College of Charleston, financed her degree and launched a career in maritime industry, international trade and shipping. She is now a director at Clemson University's Restoration Institute in North Charleston.

The Charleston County Democrat had a similar epiphany a few years ago, deciding it was time to stop talking about politics and get involved.

For her first foray, she faces Republican nominee Mark Sanford in the May 7 special election to represent the 1st Congressional District, which leans Republican. It was represented by Sanford from 1995 to 2001, although it has since been redrawn and includes part of Beaufort County.

Sanford is still the favorite, according to many of the state's politicos, despite a Democratic poll that indicates Colbert Busch leads and a recent allegation by Sanford's ex-wife that he violated their divorce settlement by trespassing at her home.

But, they add, Colbert Busch has a growing list of advantages. State and national Democrats and their affiliated groups are pouring money into TV ads and mailers to build her up and tear Sanford down. She has a famous comedian brother, Stephen Colbert, fundraising by her side. And the former governor's troubled personal life could mean some Republicans stay home on Election Day.

But Colbert Busch most likes to talk about her tough, no-nonsense businesswoman reputation, much as Sanford relishes his reputation as a fiscal hawk.

Colbert Busch leans in tight and becomes more animated in a recent interview as she tells about an executive for a major ocean-line carrier, who several years ago, when she was first getting her start, didn't show up to interview her for a job, as arranged.

She never forgot the slight. Years later, while working in sales at a rival company, she looked up his client list and systematically set out to steal each one -- an endeavor at which she said she was successful.

"It's just business," she said in a recent interview. "But it's the reason that, to this day, when a young person calls me, by God, I always call them back."

Her business background is a big part of her appeal to supporters.

"She has spent her whole career creating good jobs and balancing budgets," said Leslie Turner, a Charleston attorney and Republican who is heading up a GOP group to get Colbert Busch elected. "Her business experience is at the core of who she is, and I know that, unlike her opponent, we can trust her to represent our values in Washington."

But defining Colbert Busch in political terms isn't as easy.

Casting herself as a moderate, she has rejected President Barack Obama's budget proposal and a ban on assault weapons. On Thursday, she wagged her finger at members of Congress for attempting to exempt themselves from the new federal health care law.

But she favors gay marriage and abortion rights. She is backed by unions but has said she is not beholden to them or any other donor.

She's agreed to only one debate -- leading Sanford to say she is running a stealth campaign and won't reveal to voters what she really stands for.

And some critics say she's attempted to scrub the Internet of her progressive views.

Earlier this month, her campaign deleted more than 500 tweets from her campaign Twitter account. The tweets ranged from replies thanking voters for their support, digs at Republican stances, and responses in which she shares her beliefs, including support for abortion rights and gay marriage.

Her campaign denies the claim it was attempting to hide anything.

"It was a housekeeping measure," said James Smith, Colbert Busch's spokesman, adding that voters were having a difficult time finding information because of the large number of retweets.

"I'm the same person I've always been," Colbert Busch added.

Follow reporter Gina Smith at twitter.com/GinaNSmith.

Related content:

Democrat Colbert Busch says she can win congressional seat, Feb. 9, 2013

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