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Thursday September 02, 2010

Vincent Sheheen: Moving South Carolina Forward

Posted by AAI at 11:38 am

Vincent Sheheen is your friendly neighborhood state legislator, a conservationist, an avid outdoorsman, and a family man – and he just might be South Carolina’s next governor.  On June 8th of this year, State Senator Vincent Sheheen became the official Democratic candidate for Governor of South Carolina.  He intends for November 2nd to be the day he officially takes on that role.  

The Sheheen family has a long history in South Carolina.  Vincent’s great grandfather came to the U.S. from Lebanon, arriving in Virginia and walking down to Camden, where he ended up settling down and opening up a grocery store.  Vincent’s great-grandmother, who was also Lebanese, moved from Savannah to Camden at the suggestion of her parish priest, who thought the two would make a good match.  She traveled to Camden, and four generations later, that’s where Vincent Sheheen still resides.  Senator Sheheen describes his home state as “a great place, very friendly and with small town feel—there’s a good sense of community.”  He has three sons: Austin and Joseph are twins entering high school this year, and Anthony is his 9-year-old, set to start 4th grade.  His children are the fourth generation of Sheheens to attend those same public schools.  

Vincent Sheheen comes from a long tradition of public service and small town life.  His grandfather, Austin Sheheen, was elected Mayor of Camden back in 1964.  His uncle, Robert Sheheen, became the first Lebanese speaker of the house in 1986.  Despite the political family ties, Sheheen has made a concerted effort to keep the campaign about himself and what he brings to the table.  

Legislatively, Senator Sheheen tends to tackle the big issues like tax and government reform, and economic growth, but many people don’t realize that he’s also a strong conservationist—it’s a family tradition.  He’s enacted a conservation land bank, saving thousands of acres around the state as state-protected wild life.  Sheheen is also a strong advocate for civil protections and responsible state spending.

Sheheen’s impressive legislative work is a product of both his serious work ethic and the belief that working together produces solid results. “I roll up my sleeves and do my own yard work, I change my own oil, and I cook,” says Sheheen.  His family pitches in to help care for the five chickens they keep out back, and they’ve been right alongside him, supporting him, in this campaign. Sheheen wants people to know that he’s “a very hard worker, and that work ethic carries over into my job.”  He makes it clear that his approach to politics is a much more team-oriented and cooperative strategy than the state has seen over the past four years.

When asked why he chose this year to run for governor, Sheheen says that while he’s been in the state legislature for 6 years, South Carolina has missed some real opportunities in recent years.  “We have such great potential, but politics have been very divisive and there’s been such a narrow agenda, and the result has been that South Carolina has missed out on opportunities in public education and other areas. We’ve been embarrassed by our leaders, and South Carolina deserves better.  I have a more stable and rational approach than South Carolina has seen lately.”
 
Sheheen’s opponent, Nikki Haley, has received a lot of attention for her ethnic background and upbringing, including a profile in the NY Times.  Senator Sheheen hasn’t gotten the same level of national attention, and when asked about it, Sheheen notes “Of course there is a high level of interest, because she’d be the first female governor in state.”  Haley’s original bout of media attention resulted from an alleged scandal, and the attention has continued and even been boosted with Sarah Palin’s endorsement. “My campaign has purposefully been focused on and about South Carolina,” explains Sheheen, noting that Haley has not been locally focused, instead cultivating national press.

When asked about whether he’s encountered any issues with being Lebanese American, Senator Sheheen says he hasn’t, but he remembers his uncle Robert having issues with being Arab American back in the 1970’s and 80’s.  He goes on to say that “Occasionally you run across some individuals who try to make some false connections based on your background.  Camden is a very rural district, a very old district, and it’s a small community.  That trash talking has never worked, and I’m very proud of my constituents for not falling into that trap.”  In fact, many people think he’s Irish, confusing Sheheen with the Irish name Sheehan or Shahan.  “My mother is Italian, and she’s the one who chose Vincent as my name.  I’m Italian-Lebanese, which means that we’ve got some really excellent food in this family!” he says laughingly.
 
Sheheen’s campaign is reaching out to everyone, but there is a particular focus on young people this year.  “We need to move past the Mark Sanford years, and young people are very frustrated with the divisive political approach.  We had a much higher turnout in Democratic primary, and part of that was young people showing up.”  His campaign is also focused on women and minorities of course, and there is special attention paid to rural voters who don’t get to the polls.  Sheheen notes that “It’s been great to communicate and connect with the Lebanese community around SC, and it’s an old community.”

Like many politicians, Senator Sheheen’s favorite part of campaigning is meeting new people and seeing new communities, especially when his whole family travels. His least favorite part?  Raising the necessary funds.  But for his least favorite aspect, fundraising has been going pretty well for him—Sheheen has raised more money than any Democratic candidate in a primary before, finishing the third quarter with 1.7million dollars.  “We can always use more though,” Sheheen says knowingly.

As a final message to all voters, and especially his constituents, Sheheen says: “It’s important for everyone to get involved and vote, the status quo is unacceptable and you can change that by getting involved with public service and government.  A lot of times people don’t feel connected to their government, but we’re either going backwards or forwards and now is the time to be involved.  South Carolina’s election results have repercussions all around the nation.”


For more information about Vincent Sheheen’s campaign, please visit www.vincentsheheen.com.

Tagged as Arab Americans, Arab Americans in Political Life

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