• David M. Rubin

REPRESENTATIVE LIN BENNETT: THE FULL TRUMP

Thanks to recent Republican gerrymandering, Democrats who have been moved into the re-drawn 114th Assembly District will come face to face with incumbent Linda "Lin" Bennett. It is a grim prospect.

Bennett is Full Trump. She propagates the Big Lie about election fraud in 2020. She is staunchly anti-abortion and pro-NRA. She would cut taxes to zero if she could. In 2019, according to Will Sommer in The Daily Beast, Bennett was using Facebook to explain to her friends how to de-code cryptic QAnon clues, although her own allegiance to this nonsense is unclear. Still, we may have our own Marjorie Taylor Greene right here in the 114th.

Bennett has represented the District since 2017, when she replaced Bobby Harrell. A true "good ole boy," Harrell held the seat for 22 years, ten of them as Speaker of the Assembly. He was forced to resign when he plead guilty to six counts of misusing campaign funds for personal benefit. Bennett, the former Charleston County Republican Party Chair, replaced him.

To shore up Bennett's chances for re-election, Republican map-drawers moved some White voters into her district and some Black voters out. Many readers of this blog, including those in the Flowertown One and Two precincts, are among those who will be represented by Bennett should she win re-election in 2022. We have a thousand good reasons not to let that happen.

Bennett was in the news recently when she and a group called the American Heritage Association (AHA) opposed sending Charleston's toppled John C. Calhoun statue to Los Angeles for an exhibition of White Supremacist art. They must have feared Calhoun would be kidnapped and never returned.

The AHA surfaced in 2018 as a not-for-profit whose mission was to protect Confederate monuments from destruction. It has now taken on a much more ambitious agenda: to reform K-12 education. Its president, Brett Barry, said on a recent Republican Party podcast that he wants to "take back history education." Lin Bennett has become his legislative partner in this effort.

Barry, fairly new to the Low Country, is a young man in a hurry. He failed in 2019 to win the District 9 seat on the Charleston City Council. Denied that platform on the City Council, he is now attempting to carve out a place for himself in right-wing South Carolina politics by entering the culture war surrounding education.

Barry signed a letter that appeared in SCNow (Florence) in which he argued that a "Marxist-inspired historical viewpoint" is the dominant framework in our schools for presenting American history. The "heroic deeds of patriots" are being "deemphasized in favor of a narrative that largely reduces the American story to a battle between classes of people: oppressors and the oppressed."

The co-signer of this letter to SCNow was retired Marine Corps Major General James E. Livingston. Livingston, who launches letters like missiles, also was one of 124 "Flag Officers 4 America" who signed a highly controversial open letter to the nation claiming the 2020 election was a fraud. "Under a Democrat Congress and the Current Administration," Livingston and his disgruntled military colleagues wrote, "our Country has taken a hard left turn toward Socialism and a Marxist form of tyrannical government."

Retired military officers are not supposed to insert themselves in this manner into domestic politics, particularly to claim falsely that a Presidential election was stolen.

Livingston and Barry are part of the crowd in which Lin Bennett travels. She is a ring leader in Columbia to take over history education and return it to a White supremacist view.

To that end she introduced H.4605, one of a number of "reform" bills now making their way through Bennett's Education and Public Works Committee. Similar legislation has popped up all over the country in a coordinated Republican effort to intimidate teachers, stoke the culture wars over parental control of education, and push history curriculum back to 1950.

The first part of H.4605 requires that schools present "instruction that is intellectually honest, placed in historical context, and grounded in verifiable facts." Who can disagree with that?

But this is utterly misleading boilerplate. The red meat in this bill comes in the second half. Teachers are told not to present material that "repeatedly distorts or misrepresents verifiable facts" or "that omits relevant and important context." What "verifiable facts" or "important context?" It is impossible to know. Such broad, vague, malleable language is typical of similar legislation around the country. Bennett may know what it means---like obscenity, she will know it when she sees it---but teachers recognize intimidation when they see it.

The bill gets worse. The State Attorney General, Alan Wilson, is instructed to set up a hotline and e-mail address so that students and parents can report violations of the law. A school could lose state funding or tax exempt status if found guilty. Wilson and his gumshoes will be drawn into investigating the many complaints sure to arise.

To make spying easier, teachers are instructed, in the name of transparency, to post online or make available in printed form all the books, resources and materials they use for instruction. What teacher would have the courage to assign to an Advanced Placement American History class Eric Foner's classic Reconstruction, America's Unfinished Revolution, or Henry Louis Gates's Stony The Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow?

The bill closes with a final, disingenuous flourish: "The provisions of this section may not be construed to prohibit or abridge a person's First Amendment rights to the freedom of speech or to the teaching and free exercise of religion." Tell that to the teachers.

Propagating such legislation is how Lin Bennett spends her time in the statehouse. She protects the monuments of Confederate war heroes and white supremacists, and she works to drag the teaching of history back to an era when all assumed Robert E. Lee was a patriot and a hero.

Bennett will face a new group of voters in November in her gerrymandered district. By then H.4605, or some pieces of it, will have damaged education across the state. Based on her meager legislative record, she is unlikely to have any other accomplishments to offer voters. She won the seat in 2020 by only 2200 votes, and in 2018 by only 1500 votes. Despite the gerrymandering, Lin Bennett is vulnerable.

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