The Poet Statesman
Published in Charleston City Paper
by Paul Bowers
The special election for South Carolina's District 1 Congressional seat is next week, and Green Party candidate Eugene Platt has raised less than $5,000 for his campaign. To put it another way, Platt has raised less than 0.7 percent of the combined totals of his opponents, Republican Mark Sanford and Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch.
"I have received some contributions but have no inclination to emulate the corporate party campaigns with their highly polished fundraising and their obscene levels of spending," Platt says by way of explanation. A 74-year-old Episcopalian James Islander with a passion for social justice, Platt is not known for his gladhanding or sugarcoating skills. He opposes the war in Afghanistsan and called the war in Iraq "a recruiting campaign for terrorists." He thinks Obamacare doesn't go far enough and favors Canadian-style universal healthcare. And, as you might have guessed, he thinks the courts should overturn the Citizens United ruling, which lifted limits on political contributions by corporations.
He knows why the Democrats resent him. "After the May 7 election, if Sanford wins and the margin by which he wins is less than the number of votes I received, I'm going to receive some hate mail," Platt says. But in Platt's eyes, the First District progressive votes aren't Colbert Busch's to be stolen. "We feel that in this country, no one owns the vote of anyone else."
Let's state the obvious: Platt is a long shot. In poll results released by Public Policy Polling last week, he took just 3 percent of the vote, compared to 50 percent for Colbert Busch and 41 percent for Sanford. "My strategy is to let them tear each other apart, as they've begun to do," Platt says.
Platt has been retired since 1989, having worked as an Army paratrooper, a writer-editor for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and a civil servant in the U.S. Department of Labor, but he has kept busy since then as a politician and a poet. Yes, a poet. Platt is the only candidate in recent memory to include a tab on his campaign website titled "Poetry," and the poems are at times intensely personal and overtly political. Take for instance this passage from "Folly Beach Hotdogs," which starts out as a reminiscence of days gone by with his parents:
I keep walking, seeking a site
not yet found by anyone concerned
more with profit than pristine beauty.
Platt grew up in West Ashley on Orleans Road, and he recalls a bucolic way of life that's been hard to imagine since the arrival of Sam Rittenberg Boulevard and Citadel Mall. Today, he sees the planned extension of I-526 as a threat to the way of life on Johns and James islands, and he has made his opinion known in no uncertain terms during the public comment sessions at Charleston City Council meetings. And as the senior member on the James Island Public Service District Commission, where he has served for nearly 20 years, Platt has convinced the commission to go on the record opposing the I-526 project multiple times.
Aside from his position on the PSD, which manages services like fire rescue and trash pickup on James Island, Platt has made a few unsuccessful runs for the District 115 seat in the state House of Representatives. Back in 1990, he ran for the District 1 seat on the Democratic ticket. This year, he has the endorsement of 2012 Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. In his platform, he hews pretty closely to the Green Party line. He espouses the party's 10 Key Values, which include social justice, non-violence, and gender equity.
But when he explains his views on healthcare, Platt sounds as flinty as an Occupier. "There are only a finite number of dollars available for healthcare," Platt says, "and when too many of them are siphoned off to support the insurance industry — the skyscrapers and the executives with six- or seven-figure salaries and the corporate jet planes and on and on — that's billions of dollars that could be better used for hands-on care for people with cancer or stroke victims." Platt, whose wife Mary died of breast cancer in 2003, knows the common criticism that countries with nationalized healthcare sometimes have long waits for treatment, but he calls it "a reasonable trade-off" for making sure that everyone has adequate medical services.
Platt has only been invited to two debates against his opponents, and one of them was cancelled. If and when he does take to the microphone against Colbert Busch and Sanford, expect his commentary to be roundabout and folksy, peppered with personal anecdotes and the occasional flash of rhetorical fireworks. A vote for Platt is a vote of idealism. "It's a way of saying no to the other two," Platt says. "It's a way of saying no to the usual." A vote for Platt is also a vote for an optimist, the kind of man who wrote the following in his poem "To A New Son":
While the coming of children
and passing of years
have not made me pacifist,
I have become much more choosy
about accepting alternatives
Mothers and fathers of the world
may never learn
to live without war,
but the coming of each new child
gives us another chance.