In another corner of South Carolina, GOP lawmaker booed

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 27, 2009 

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Bob Inglis is paying the price for independent thinking.

Inglis, a Travelers Rest Republican, may have been the only GOP lawmaker in the country who was booed lustily by his own constituents at town hall meetings last month.

Inglis was shouted down when he asked listeners why they're afraid of President Barack Obama -- and then suggested that they stop watching conservative TV commentator Glenn Beck.

"He's trading on fear," Inglis advised one group, setting off loud catcalls.

Despite a broadly conservative voting record, Inglis has angered many Republican activists with his contrarian stands on a handful of high-profile issues.

Inglis was one of 17 GOP House members who in February 2007 voted against President George W. Bush's troop surge in Iraq -- a stance, he now says, that subsequent progress there has proven wrong.

Inglis opposed warrantless criminal searches and cast a decisive committee vote against a measure protecting the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

More recently, Inglis has been one of the few Republican lawmakers to view global warming as a crisis, introducing a bill that would tax carbon emissions.

Now, Inglis has further incited Upstate activists with his vote to punish fellow South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson for yelling "you lie!" at Obama during an address to Congress.

Inglis joined just six other Republican House members in supporting the Sept. 15 "resolution of disapproval" against Wilson, which nearly all Democrats backed. Inglis said he'd supported the measure because Wilson had violated House personal conduct rules and then rebuffed requests to apologize to his colleagues.

"That was deplorable," S.C. Sen. David Thomas told McClatchy. "It looked like piling on. It is symptomatic of Bob being out of touch."

In one of the nation's most conservative congressional districts, home to Bob Jones University, Inglis already faces four Republican primary opponents in his re-election bid next year.

Two of his foes -- Thomas and 7th Judicial District Solicitor Trey Gowdy -- are established politicians who've won elections and represent serious threats.

Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor in Greenville, describes Inglis as "a very good and decent man" who's become estranged from his constituents.

"There really can't be any serious debate on whether or not Congressman Inglis has moderated," Gowdy said. "His voting record now is more moderate and more incongruent with his constituency."

The two men dined together in February at a lunch initiated by Inglis.

The congressman thought they were meeting to strategize on Gowdy seeking to replace S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster, who's running for governor.

Gowdy had other ideas. His announcement in early June that he would seek Inglis' seat shocked the congressman.

"I guess you find out in politics that ambition trumps loyalty," Inglis said. "When you're dealing with politics, there aren't many real friends."

Also challenging Inglis in the Republican primary next June are Christina Jeffrey, a government instructor at Wofford College, and Mauldin businessman Jim Lee.

Among the congressional delegation's five other GOP members, Sen. Lindsey Graham is the only one willing to endorse Inglis at this point. Graham's leadership PACs have already given Inglis $2,500 in campaign contributions.

Inglis, a self-avowed technology geek who's long fought an often lonely battle for hydrogen-powered cars, says his re-election campaign will help determine the future of his party.

"The exciting part of this race is we get to help define what the Republican Party will look and sound like," Inglis said.

Inglis casts himself as promoting a hopeful, forward-looking brand of political engagement in the winning tradition of President Ronald Reagan.

His opponents, by contrast, "want to capitalize on all the anxiety that's out there right now" by stoking populist anger in the manner of Pat Buchanan, the conservative commentator and two-time White House aspirant.

"My view is we should look and feel like Ronald Reagan rather than Pat Buchanan," Inglis said. "Anger only tears down. It takes hope to build up."

Inglis said some of his most disillusioned constituents want to "pull away from all the institutions of a constitutional republic and the incredible system of checks and balances our Founding Fathers set up."

Inglis, who prides himself on walking door to door in his district long before the campaign season begins, recounted a recent conversation.

"One guy told me that America is a place where you need to be able to hunt and fish on your own land," he recalled. "Well, I'm all for hunting and fishing. Those are great things to do. There are some places where you can hunt and fish on your own land completely unaffected by the institutions of government. I told him that Afghanistan is one of them."

Inglis, a conservative firebrand during his first stint in Congress in the 1990s, was one of the few Republicans who followed through on his term-limit pledge to leave after three House terms.

Inglis' loss to incumbent Fritz Hollings in his 1998 Senate bid set off a bout of depression that he says led him to re-examine himself and reconnect with his Christian faith.

Re-elected to the House in 2004, Inglis says he returned to Congress as a more tolerant, less ideologically rigid man.

The congressman refers to his more recent political incarnation as "Inglis 2.0" -- an improved version of "Inglis 1."

These days, Inglis gives PowerPoint presentations on alternative energy and blogs on why he opposes Obama's health care plan.

Inglis also distributes a list of congressional ratings from political advocacy groups.

The list shows him with high scores from conservative and business groups such as National Right to Life, the Christian Coalition and the Chamber of Commerce, and with low scores from liberal groups like Americans for Democratic Action and the AFL-CIO.

Danielle Vinson, a political science professor at Furman University in Inglis' district, said the congressman isn't rattled by the recent criticism among some of his constituents.

"He likes to hear from folks who disagree with him, but he wants them to have a civil disagreement," she said.

While Vinson thinks the opposition to Inglis might be exaggerated by a shrill minority of constituents, she says he'll have to work hard to gain re-election.

"We're worried about him," Vinson said. "He's going to have to put up a good campaign."

Inglis 2.0

Rep. Bob Inglis uses a software label to describe his transformation from 1990s conservative firebrand to a less partisan pol willing to challenge the party line.

Age: 49

Birthplace: Bluffton

Home: Travelers Rest

Family: Wife Mary Anne; five children, ages 11-22

Religion: Presbyterian

Education: J.D., University of Virginia Law School; B.A., Duke University

Elected Office: U.S. House 1992-98; 2004-present

McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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