Lee Bright doesn’t care if you call him a loon.
By the now the ultra-conservative state senator from Spartanburg, who is running against Lindsey Graham in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate, is used to being labeled as a nut in the press.
That’s partly what Bright told a friendly crowd of about 40 Republicans in Mount Pleasant Wednesday. In a lengthy speech anchored in a deep distrust of the government, Bright said the media has made him sound crazy, especially after he sponsored a measure to study whether the state should make gold and silver legal tender. “I don’t think it was crazy at all,” Bright said, adding that South Carolinians must be protected if the Federal Reserve were to implode or if the dollar collapsed. He was addressing the issue because said his opponents have an attack list and the gold legislation is where he expects a hard blow to land. The bill, a version of which passed in Virginia, he said, would have also passed in South Carolina had the media not turned it into a joke and made him out to look like a lunatic.
“Lee Bright’s a loon, we all told ya, and here’s your example,” Bright said about the coverage. “They [the media] seized the moment: ‘Lee Bright’s a nut, wants us to print our own currency,’ which that wasn’t the deal, it was alternative currency.” Once that happened, he said, other lawmakers who had been supportive of the measure ducked back in their holes. It was like Whack-a-Mole, he said.
For his part, Bright used the anecdote to pitch himself as a solid conservative with a consistent voting record who says and does what he thinks is right, even if it sometimes gets him trouble. And clearly, he’s not worried about crossing any lines when it comes to political correctness.
At one point in his speech he mentioned how he’d a read a post on Upstate S.C. Congressman Jeff Duncan’s Facebook page about IRS agents training with AR-15 rifles.
“If that’s true -- which I take him at his word -- if that’s true and they’re doing assault weapons training, the Brownshirts are next,” Bright said. “Because that’s the enforcement group for Obamacare, is the IRS. If you don’t have an IRS, you don’t have Obamacare. That’s the mechanism that’s controlled our lives for far too long.”
Casual, folksy, and dressed in a blue polo, Bright spoke during a meeting of the Lowcountry Republican Liberty Caucus. The Brownshirts remark had echoes of a July fundraising e-mail from the South Carolina Republican Party that compared the IRS to “Obama’s Gestapo,” a reference to the secret Nazi police force.
Perhaps Graham’s most hardcore conservative opponent, Bright made an effort to stake out a claim as far right to him as he could in what is so far a four-way race. Nancy Mace, a Lowcountry political consultant and web designer who was the first woman to graduate from the Citadel, is also campaigning to topple the entrenched and well-funded Graham. Upstate social conservative activist Richard Cash also threw his hat in the ring.
Another central plank in Bright’s plea to the libertarian-leaning crowd was the subject of trust. As in, don’t trust those in power like himself.
“Don’t trust anybody elected,” he said. And, according to Bright, that even includes himself.
“I would say don’t trust me now and don’t trust me if I’m a U.S. senator,” he said. He went on to argue that power is seductive and those who obtain it tend to do whatever they can to stay there. He urged voters to keep a short leash on him should he end up toppling Graham and make it to Washington.
“Don’t trust government; make government small,” he said.
Bright, 43, who ran a troubled trucking company in Spartanburg that had to settle business foreclosure actions he blamed on overregulation, is a member of the state Senate’s William Wallace Caucus. To earn membership in the group, that includes a sword lapel pin, you first must take a stand in the Senate and argue for a cause you believe in only to be disemboweled by the Senate’s leadership. An active member of the caucus, Bright noted in his speech how he’d shut down the state’s budget process twice in five years.
It took careful thought and prayer for him to decide to take on the sitting senior U.S. senator who has more than $6 million in his campaign account. Once a supporter of Graham’s, Bright has soured on the man he called in a recent fundraising e-mail an “Obama-loving liberal.”
It’s no secret conservative resentment has been bubbling up around Graham in recent years. He’s currently the target of a political action committee formerly run by his ex-U.S. Senate colleague Jim DeMint. Graham’s recent remark calling a strategy to defund Obamacare a “bridge too far,” attracted conservative attacks from his right flank. The PAC is airing radio ads here criticizing him for the comment. But It could be less about Obamacare, specifically, and more about a broader effort to shut down the government.
Graham has responded, noting that he's co-sponsored a bill by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to defund the Affordable Care Act, but "As much as I want to get rid of Obamacare, I’m not going to deny Social Security payments to our senior citizens and funding to our military."
Such skirmishes are indicative of a widening rift in the U.S. senate among Republicans in campaign season, and in Bright’s speech in Mt. Pleasant he made an effort to align himself with a particular side. He named-dropped conservative U.S. senators Cruz, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Mike Lee of Utah. He slammed John McCain, perhaps Graham’s closest friend and colleague and who won the 2008 GOP presidential primary in South Carolina. Bright said he believed McCain has more in common with Hillary Clinton than with conservatives like Paul.
Bright began his speech, however, with a shot at Chris Christie, a Republican not in the Senate, but whose name is consistently talked about as a potential 2016 presidential contender.
Reacting to a recent bill Christie signed prohibiting licensed professionals from “conversion therapy” on minors, a process in which councilors try to turn gay people straight, Bright said it was an assault on the First Amendment. “Folks that feel like homosexuality is not a proven lifestyle ... ought to be able tell other people whatever they think,” Bright said. “I mean, that’s America. That’s the First Amendment. And to think that it’s gonna be illegal is just absolutely wrong.”
Bright repeatedly told those assembled to check his voting record where they could find consistent conservative positions. He’s sponsored legislation that would make guns manufactured in South Carolina exempt from federal regulation, allow South Carolina to carry firearms without a permit, supported pro-life measures and, of course, introduced the gold and silver legislation.
Despite a recent fundraising e-mail in which he said “I don’t need millions of dollars to beat Lindsey Graham,” Bright said on the stump it would take $5 million to do it. “If we get into a runoff with Lindsey Graham, we’ll beat him,” he said, adding he believed the election would be decided on the coast right here in the Lowcountry.