Lee Bright represents Greenville and Spartanburg in the South Carolina Senate and was one of six conservative candidates to unsuccessfully challenge U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in the June GOP primary. Bright, who describes himself as South Carolina's most conservative state senator, supports federal legislation that would deny American citizenship to the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants. In 2011, he sponsored South Carolina's controversial SB-20, which required police to detain motorists suspected of being in the country illegally. National Journal asked Bright about the changing demographics in his district and how they affects his conservative ideology.
South Carolina's Hispanic population has grown faster than any other state in the last 10 years. How has this demographic change impacted your district?
From what I've gather, we've got a lot of good folks here in our community and a lot who are here legally. It's just that there are folks who are here illegally and we have a rule of law. I have seen circumstances in the media where people say we need the workers. The fact is that we have a welfare system that is out of control. We need the folks who are citizens and who are not working to be doing those jobs so we can have a labor force that is here legally.
You unsuccessfully challenged Senator Graham in the Republican primary. Because of his more moderate views on immigration, some people have interpreted his win as a sign that South Carolinians do not share your views on immigration. What do you think about that?
He did not run on immigration. He ran against Obamacare. He had $10 million in special-interest money, and he was able to craft the message that he was a conservative. Not one ad mentioned immigration.
State Sen. Lee Bright Challenges Lindsey Graham for U.S. Senate
Many evangelical pastors in South Carolina have recently started speaking out in favor of legalizing the status of undocumented immigrants, saying biblical scripture urges Christians to welcome immigrants of all backgrounds. As a Baptist yourself, what are your views on this?
Well, South Carolina lags Texas, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and some other states when it comes to abortion regulation. I wish our pastors would be more involved with protecting the unborn, which is clearly a biblical mandate, than to be used as pawns by folks on the left who want to grow a demographic that has been voting Democrat for years.
But what about their argument that biblical scripture is more important than politics?
The Scriptures also talk about the rule of law. I believe that pastors, like any other demographic, can be used by politicians as pawns. And I believe that if that's the case, they could be well-intentioned, but the end result for this country is going to be very, very negative.
How will it be negative?
Because you're going to turn Texas blue. You're going to have folks like Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama, who will have the votes to continue this country on a collision course, basically losing our sovereignty and losing the power we have as a nation.
You sponsored the law that gave police the authority to detain motorists suspected of being in the country illegally. The state has since agreed to block the "show me your papers" part of the law. Does this mean South Carolina is slowly changing its views on immigration?
No, I think South Carolina is pretty solid on immigration. If South Carolina was for amnesty, then Lindsey Graham wouldn't have said in that one interview the lie that he was going to tell the bigots to shut up. That statement there was very telling. But the fact is that Washington controls more elections than the actual states themselves when it comes to the money that it takes to win the elections. You can see that with Cochran in Mississippi. Washington has gotten so powerful that it has overwhelmed the states. It's not something that happened over decades, it's something that's happened over more than a century.
But it was the state that agreed to block that provision as part of the legal settlement. Do you not see that as a state effort?
No, I think they saw what the federal government has done in other states. I'm very concerned about people's individual liberties. There was more good than bad in the deal. We want to make sure folks aren't profiled, but if you are breaking the law, then I don't think that's a problem. I think it's a fine line, but I think the state was looking at what the federal courts had done.
Some people would say that the Hispanic immigrant community in the state and your district has very conservative values. Do you not see an opportunity to reach out to them as future voters or potential Republicans?
No, I think folks are really susceptible to the call for government to provide anything from your housing to your food to your education. It's a very seductive force, and folks who are here illegally are on the lower end of the socioeconomic platform when they become citizens. It's like the black community and the black church and homosexuality. There's no one more outspoken against homosexuality than the black church and yet they overwhelmingly voted for Obama. I think you'll see the same thing with the Hispanic community. They're with us on a lot of social issues, but they vote Democrat. It's just a statistical fact.
Do you think South Carolina is becoming less conservative, or not?
South Carolina is a state that's trending in the same direction as before; it's just a matter of the money. I mean, it's just like anything else, the attention spans are very limited and you have to have a tremendous amount of money to get people's attention. People will pay attention to 30-second sound bites, and you have a liberal media that has an agenda and it's very clear. Anybody who follows the mainstream media can tell there is an objective, and if all they're giving you is that objective, and if somebody doesn't have the money to put out the message of what's really going on, then that liberal beat marches on.