Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Alvin Greene

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I know, I know.

I keep saying I want to talk about Lorenzo de Medici.

And I do.  I still think of him as one of the most fascinating people who have ever lived, if only because he embodies–in his person–the fundamental contradictions of culture and education with human nature.

But something else has come up at the moment, and it fascinates me, too.

About a week ago, a number of American states held primaries.  For those of you outside the US, a primary is an election held to determine which person will stand as candidate for a party for a seat in the coming November elections.

Sometimes candidates are selected by a simply party process.  Sometimes, however, there is no consensus in the party, or lots of people want to run for that seat.  In that case, and election is held, one person gets to be the candidate, and on we go to November.

Most states where primaries are held hold restricted primaries–that is, if you want to vote in the Democratic Party primary for the Connecticut Senate seat up for election in November, you have to be a registered member of the Democratic Party. 

Some states, however, run open primaries.  An open primary are not ones where anybody can run, but ones where anybody can vote for any candidate in spite of  party affiliation.

Therefore, if you’re a Republican and the Democrats are running a primary, you can vote in that primary. 

In case you’re ahead of me here–yes, people have noticed that there is a potential problem with this.  If you’re a Whig, and you have an incumbent Senator (or Representative, or whatever) whom you want to see re elected, and he’s a little weak, and the Tories are having a primary to pick their candidate to run against yours–well, what’s to stop you and a bunch of other Whigs banding together to vote for the weakest guy over there to be the opposition candidate to yours?

It’s confusing.  I know.  It took me awhile.

But here’s the thing–there is the above scenario, and then there is the South Carolina Senate seat now held by Republican Jim Demint.

Now, the South Carolina Republian Party seems to be in some version of free fall.  It’s the Republican governor of that state who suddenly disappeared in the middle of a work week, was announced by his aides to be hiking the Appalachian trail, and was then found in South America with his mistress.

It’s also the case where a deputy assistant state attorney general was found in a cemetary with an eighteen-year-old prostitute–in the middle of the day, mind you–and a bag of sex toys in his car.  When asked about the sex toys, he said, “Oh, I always carry those around.  For emergencies.”

(Disclaimer–I am in no way implying that Republicans are more likely than Democrats to be involved in sex scandals.  I’m just pointing out that the South Carolina Repubican Party seems to be on some kind of roll.)

Jim Demint has not been involved in any sex scandals, as far as I know, and he is running in November for the seat he now holds.

What’s interesting is what happened in the Democratic Party primary to choose a candidate to run against him.

There was a fair field of the usual sort of people running to be the candidate, including one state heavyweight who’d been a judge.  And there was this guy, Alvin Greene, whom nobody had ever heard of. 

And  Alvin Greene won. 


So far, so good–right?  It’s not unheard of for candidates to come from behind to win things like this, and Greene was the only African American in the field, in a state with a large African American population. 

At that point, however, the press actually began to look into this guy’s candidacy, and a few things emerged.

The first was that the man had held exactly zero–none–fundraising events of any kind.  There was no record that he had sent out mailings, solicited money house by house, nothing.  He needed $10, 500 just to get himself on the ballot, and he had it, but nobody could figure out where it came from.

The second was that he had done no campaigning.  None at all.  At least, he’d done none that anybody could find any evidence of.

And that was when the trouble started.  But it got a lot worse.

Because the first thing that happened was that Keith Olbermann invited Alvin Greene onto his nightly news commentary show on MSNBC.  The show is called Countdown, and I was actually watching when the interview happened.

You might want to try the MSNBC site and/or YouTube to see if they’ve got a clip of this thing, because it was startling. 

This MIGHT be the URL to the Olbermann interview on YouTube


but since I can’t run YouTube on this computer, I can’t check.  (New computer coming soon–yay!)

If I hadn’t had the students I’ve had over the last ten years, I wouldn’t have known what I was looking at.  For what it’s worth, I think a number of the people who have commented on this situation since have misinterpreted it.

But here’s what happened:  Greene got on television and produced a blank-eyed, unblinking stare.  When he was asked a question, he made no indication at all that he’d even heard it.  The silences would sometimes go on so long that Olbermann would jump in just to end the dead air.

When Greene did answer a question, his words were mumbled and minimal.  What campaigning did you do?  Long, long silence, followed by, “I did campaigning.  I campaigned.”  Back to silence.

Since that interview, at least one South Carolina Democrat has expressed the opinion that Alivin Greene is not intellectually qualified to be a legislator–a nice, if roundabout, way of saying he thinks the man may be mentally retarded.  A number of other people have said that they think Greene was sincere in his run, but being “taken advantage of” by nefarious people in the background–another roundabout way of saying that they think the man is simple, as we used to say when I was growing up.

I don’t know if the man is or not.  He was indeed behaving the way many such people do behave–not the ones with Down Symdrome or Autism, but the ones with subnormal IQs.  On the other hand, I’ve had my share of bright enough students who behave like that when they feel they’re being put under the spotlight. 

It’s not a great defense mechanism as mechanisms go, but it is possible that the man is much brighter than he appears.

Of course, freezing and playing dumb when you’re in the public eye isn’t exactly a great qualification for a US Senator, either, but that’s another thing.

To be going on eith, however, there are other problems here.  The most important is where that $10,500 came from.  When asked, Greene fumbled around and did the stare thing and then said he’d used his own money, that he’d saved up from his time in the service.

If this is true–fine.  If it’s not, and somebody else, or a number of somebody elses, gave it to him, what we’re looking at is a federal felony.  For all the yelling and screaming about machinations behind elections in the US, there’s some fairly tough election law covering things like where you get your money from and how it has to be reported and that kind of thing.  Since Greene did not report any fundraising, and did not release any donor lists, if he did take money from other people, he might very well end up going to jail.

The other thing, of course, is how he won without campaigning–and now we get to asking if that old conspiracy story actually came to pass this time, and a bunch of Republicans voted in the Democratic Party in order to insure that the Democrats had the weakest possible candidate to run against Jim Demint.

And it doesn’t help that South Carolina is still using those old Diebold digital voting machines that don’t leave a paper trail, and there are yet again dozens of complaints from voters about malfunctions of the touch screens and that kind of thing.

It is,  I think, a mess.

And I’m willing to bet it’s going to get messier.

Written by janeh

June 15th, 2010 at 8:17 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'Alvin Greene'

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  1. I suppose it was only by the grace of having a closed primary that this didn’t happen here in Florida.


    15 Jun 10 at 2:23 pm

  2. Jane, thanks for the information. It explains a mysterious thread in RAM. The Australian system is so different, that I can’t think of anything equivalent.


    15 Jun 10 at 5:26 pm

  3. There were allegations of something similar in Indiana, a few years back, that time with a strange win in the Republican primary–but not quite so strange as this seems to be.

    I would be very reluctant to vote for a less qualified candidate in a primary hoping to improve my favorite’s chances in the general election. Apart from any ethical concerns, suppose my chosen idiot wins in November?

    As for the notion of not being “intellectually qualified” for the national legislature, I don’t think that’s a thing any of our senior politicians want to bring up. We’ve had some fairly spectacular displays of stupidity and ignorance out of Congress in the past 20 or 30 years, and those who have not themselves made the displays have endorsed and campaigned for those who have.

    Besides, if every Congressman not “intellectually qualified” went home, we might not have a quorum.


    15 Jun 10 at 5:47 pm

  4. It gets weirder when you read about the felony obscenity charges against him.


    Of course, maybe he’ll fit right in with the other folks in the Legislature. Except for that never picking up the lunch check thing.

    Hey, at least he won’t be able to offer people bribes! At least until he gets a few of his own.


    15 Jun 10 at 7:36 pm

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