Kamala Harris in Charleston, SC. (Photo courtesy of Kamala Harris Facebook)
Meg Kinnard | Contributor
Columbia, SC (AP) – Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris announced Thursday the rollout of a slate of endorsements in South Carolina, including one of its longest-serving Black lawmakers.
The senator from California hopes the support will show her ability to reach broad sectors of the critical early-voting state.
Harris’ campaign told The Associated Press that she is being endorsed by a trio of Black legislators: state Reps. Pat Henegan and J.A. Moore and state Sen. Darrell Jackson. Also backing her campaign are former gubernatorial candidate Marguerite Willis and Berkeley County Democratic Chairwoman Melissa Watson.
Harris, who announced her candidacy in January, is among a sprawling field of Democratic presidential contenders building a base of support in South Carolina, which is home to the first primary in the South and is the first test of candidates’ appeal with a primarily Black Democratic primary electorate.
Last week, state Rep. John King became the first sitting lawmaker to make an official 2020 endorsement, announcing his support for Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey. On Thursday, state Rep. Terry Alexander told the AP he’s backing Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, as he did in 2016.
All five Harris backers will serve as co-chairs of her campaign in the state, something that the campaign said shows her ability to appeal to a base that’s diverse in geography, age and ethnicity. Willis, who is White, and Watson, who is Black, hail from the eastern and coastal regions of the state. The lawmakers represent central and eastern regions and range in age from 34 to 71.
In prepared remarks provided by the campaign, all five supporters said they were drawn to Harris’ plans to increase teacher pay.
Jackson, in office for 27 years, is one of the state’s longest-serving Black senators and is pastor of Bible Way Church of Atlas Road, one of South Carolina’s largest and most influential African-American congregations. He said Harris’ teacher pay plan “would finally treat teachers with the respect they deserve” and praised her proposal to address “the needs of teachers working in economically disenfranchised schools where kids need increased support and attention.”
In discussing her education plans, Harris has singled out the area along Interstate 95 in South Carolina known as the Corridor of Shame because of its underperforming schools. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently toured the region, which gained that name from a 2005 documentary that depicted decrepit conditions and deteriorating buildings.
“You know, right here in South Carolina, we need to pay our teachers what they are worth,” Harris told attendees at a North Charleston town hall last month, adding later: “For most of us who ever have a microphone like this in our hands, we have never achieved this kind of success without the teachers and the public education system that made us who we are.”
In remarks provided by the Harris campaign, Watson, a public school teacher, said she backed Harris’ proposals to “treat teachers like the professionals they are.” Willis also mentioned Harris’ plans for teachers and called her “the candidate willing to speak truth to power.”
Henegan, a former educator who, like Harris, is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the nation’s oldest Black sorority, will reach out to that wide network as well as organize in rural communities, according to the campaign.
Moore, a small-business owner whose sister was among the nine churchgoers slain in the 2015 Charleston shooting massacre, is a progressive who, while aggressively courted by several other campaigns, told the AP he was backing Harris in part because he sees her as the best force to take on President Donald Trump.
“She has a record of standing up to bullies,” he said.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP
This story has been corrected to show the name is J.A., not A.J, and Watson is Black, not White.