When he is sworn in early next year, state Rep. Tim Scott will be one of two African-American Republicans in Congress. There has not been a black Republican elected to the House since the retirement of Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma in 2003. Scott also made history as the first black Republican elected to the South Carolina Legislature since Reconstruction.
Scott and his siblings were raised by a single mother who worked 16-hour days as a nurse’s assistant. Scott himself got his first job at the age of 13. He was on the verge of flunking out of high school when he met the man that he says changed his life — John Moniz, the owner of the fast-food restaurant next to the movie theater where Scott worked, and where he would regularly buy french fries, the only food he could afford. Moniz, who considered himself a born-again Christian, became a father figure for Scott, teaching him the value of personal discipline and hard work, according to newspaper accounts of Scott’s life. Scott finished high school, and went on to earn a partial football scholarship to Presbyterian College. He eventually transferred to Charleston Southern University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science.
Scott’s first elected office was a seat on the Charleston County Council in 1995. Just after his election, he received a handwritten note of congratulations from then Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., who had run for president on a pro-segregation platform in 1948. Thurmond’s past didn’t stop Scott from accepting the job as statewide co-chairman of the now-deceased Thurmond’s final senatorial campaign in 1996. Asked how an African-American could help Thurmond, Scott told The New York Times, “The Strom Thurmond I knew had nothing to do with that,” and noted that Thurmond’s views on race had evolved over time. Scott also said that Thurmond taught him the value of constituent service.
A small-business owner, Scott runs an insurance company and owns part of a real-estate agency. He says that in his 15 years in elected office, he has never voted for a tax increase. His conservative credentials, which include support for the principles espoused by the tea party movement, won him praise from prominent Republicans such as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia. He opposes many of President Obama’s major initiatives that are backed by the liberal Congressional Black Caucus. Scott favors repeal of Obama’s health-care overhaul, opposes a proposed Democratic bill to limit carbon emissions, and says he will abstain from earmarking funds for his district. He also has said he will serve no more than four terms. He has a brother in the Air Force and one in the Army, and takes a strong interest in issues affecting the military.
Scott originally had contemplated running for lieutenant governor, but decided to run for Congress when five-term GOP Rep. Henry Brown opted to retire in 2010. In the GOP primary, Scott faced opposition from candidates with better name recognition, including Carroll Campbell III, son of former South Carolina Gov. Carroll Campbell Jr.; and Paul Thurmond, the former senator’s son. But Scott got help from national-Republican organizations. He came in first in the primary and Thurmond second, but neither got the necessary 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff. There were few differences between the two; Thurmond did not share Scott’s willingness to abide by term limits and to swear off earmarks. In the runoff election, Scott defeated Thurmond, 68-32 percent, and easily surpassed Democrat Ben Frasier, a retired federal worker, in the general election.