U.S. Senate candidate Thomas Ravenel laughed off his nerves and leaned on history Monday to argue his case for drastically reducing the size of the federal government.
"I think somebody needs to worry about the country, because where the country goes, so go the states," Ravenel told about a dozen members of the Beaufort Tea Party at Fuji Restaurant on Lady's Island. "Somebody needs to go up there and say, 'Enough is enough' ... to be a strong voice."
The small gathering was the first formal campaign stop for Ravenel since 2007, when his political career was derailed amid drug charges and he resigned the S.C. treasurer's position. He later pleaded guilty to buying cocaine for himself and his friends and spent 10 months in prison.
Now a reality TV star on the show "Southern Charm," Ravenel last week presented almost 17,000 signatures from registered voters to the state Elections Commission to be considered as a petition candidate this fall.
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If the commission verifies the signatures, he will be an independent candidate on the November ballot against Republican incumbent Lindsey Graham of Seneca, Libertarian Victor Kocher of Columbia, and Democratic state Sen. Brad Hutto of Greenville.
On Monday night, Ravenel and Kocher made respective cases for unseating Graham by emphasizing their aim to place more federal government services, such as the IRS and Medicaid, under state control. Graham and Hutto did not attend the meeting.
Ravenel argued that history shows the New Deal and Great Society programs passed by Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson are examples of federal overreach that should be eliminated.
For example, the government could dole out Medicaid funding to the states in the form of block grants and let the states run the programs from there, Ravenel said. That could help eliminate bureaucratic red tape and encourage each state to experiment and innovate.
"It's nothing about cutting anything, it's about being more efficient," he said.
Kocher agreed and also argued the federal government should eliminate the IRS in favor of state departments of revenue that are already processing taxes. He also wants to see income taxes eliminated and supplanted with sales taxes.
Kocher also charged that many politicians in Washington, including Graham, are controlled by special-interest groups that fund their campaigns. To help quash corruption, Kocher said he advocates term limits for all political offices.
Ravenel cautioned the U.S. military is over-involved overseas and called for changes to foreign policy that put the military's focus on national defense, not intervention in other countries' conflicts or humanitarian missions, he said. He did not explain how that kind of policy would affect local installations, such as Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort or Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.
"One of the goals of terrorists is to induce the victim state to overreact," Ravenel said. "Al-Qaida basically induced two conventional wars that cost $4 trillion to $6 trillion."
As part of his effort to limit federal overreach, Ravenel said he wants to see an end to the war on drugs, which he argues has fueled dangerous cartels in Mexico that profit from running drugs across the southern U.S. border.
"I don't want to see South Carolina legalize drugs, but I want the federal government to say, 'We're getting out of this business,'" Ravenel said.
"Our war on drugs is far worse than Prohibition" in the 1920s, he said. "Then it was just manufacturers; now it's mere users that get locked up."
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.