He didn’t sound completely convinced.
After Scott and Rep. Allen West of Florida won election to the House in 2010, a lot of hoopla accompanied the arrival of the first two black Republicans from the South since Reconstruction. Whether the South Carolinian likes to admit it or not, his race has boosted his political career from the beginning. Being a conservative African-American in the GOP has expanded his platform and his profile.
“We are naive if we don’t believe that certain topics are best broached and best discussed by people who come from certain community groups,” said fellow freshman GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. “He’s in a prominent position in our party, and he should be.”
Republicans have had Great Black Hopes before. J.C. Watts was one. Colin Powell was another, until his ambivalence about running for president took him out of the conversation and the party moved right while he stayed in the center. West sometimes gets mentioned in the same breath as Scott, but he has proven to be far more combustible. West has been quoted as saying that Nazi Joseph Goebbels would be proud of the Democratic Party’s “propaganda machine,” and he once called Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schulz of Florida “the most vile, unprofessional, and despicable member of the U.S. House of Representatives.”
Scott often takes controversial stances, but he rarely if ever strays from the path of decorum, even if he has had to forge that path pretty much on his own. Upon arriving in the House, he rejected an invitation to join the Congressional Black Caucus because he said he didn’t feel the need to represent one group over any others. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., the chairman of the caucus, said he couldn’t comment on Scott’s performance in Congress because the Republican has made himself so scarce to the group that Cleaver hasn’t gotten to know him. Scott’s distance from the CBC is intentional. When he speaks, he says, he wants to do so as a conservative American.
“We are naive if we don’t believe that certain topics are best broached and best discussed by people who come from certain community groups.”—Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.
Of course, like it or not, people see and hear him as an African-American, and minority audiences aren’t necessarily receptive to his gospel. “I don’t care who the messenger is; they have to have a message,” said Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., who represents a district that is 54 percent African-American, compared to Scott’s 20 percent. “Tim’s an outstanding young man, and I enjoy working with him. I could not get elected in his district, and I assure you he could not get elected in mine.”
If Scott finds his role as a black Republican strange, he doesn’t let on. “There’s a fine line between touting your success and showcasing your success in a negative way,” he said. “We all want to tout our success, but you don’t want to put anyone on a pedestal or showcase them like you’re at a circus.”
A CHICKEN SANDWICH
Whatever attention now accrues to Scott for being a black Republican, growing up poor and black in Charleston, S.C., presented obstacles to overcome. He was raised by a single mother who worked 16 hours a day as a nurse’s assistant to make ends meet. Scott says he still speaks with her three times a day.
In high school, he took an after-school job at a movie theater. He would take breaks at the nearby Chick-fil-A because the girls were cute and the fries were cheap. One day, the restaurant owner, John Moniz, came by the cinema with a chicken sandwich for Scott, and the two got to talking. The friendship that developed was life-changing for Scott. Moniz was a devout conservative Christian who encouraged a strong work ethic. He told Scott, who was struggling in school, that football could be a gateway to college. Scott finished high school and earned a partial football scholarship to Presbyterian College. He eventually transferred to Charleston Southern University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science.
If not for his relationship with Moniz, Scott would probably not have become a Republican. The businessman instilled in the young man a belief in tough love, hard work, and low taxes. When Scott says today that the best way to unlock people’s potential is to give them space to be entrepreneurial, he is thinking about Moniz.
After graduation, Scott ran an insurance company and owned part of a real-estate agency. In 1994, he made a key political decision, one that would turn his race from an impediment into a force that propelled him forward. Scott wanted to run for the Charleston County Council, but he hadn’t yet decided his political affiliation. On one hand, his family members and many of his friends were Democrats. On the other, he had the teachings of the now-deceased Moniz rattling around his head, and he had worked for Republican Mark Sanford’s congressional campaign.
Scott met with some of his friends in the Democratic Party who had been wooing him. At that point, he said, he was “open to whatever in order to run for office.” But when his friends told him he would have to work his way up to the council by sitting on various committees around town, he told them, “I’m not waiting on anything.”