Mace boldly takes her place
By Emily Havener
On Sunday, January 3, Nancy Mace was sworn in as South Carolina’s first Republican woman in Congress. On Wednesday, she was forced to take shelter from an angry mob that stormed the Capitol building.
According to a January 7 NPR report, a rioter was recorded calling for the people who had “stolen” the election from Donald Trump to be “hanging from a gallow [sic] … for the whole world to see … so it never happens again.” Another rioter, Elizabeth from Knoxville, made famous on social media for wiping her face with what looked like an onion in a towel while claiming she had been maced by police, said, “It’s a revolution!”
Whatever Mace’s thoughts were as she waited for Congress to resume, surely there was a level of disbelief that before her first week as a representative was even out, the nation had seen unorganized insurrection in the very building where our country’s laws are made. But her thoughts in the aftermath have been crystal clear.
She told the Mercury: “Make no mistake, these were not peaceful protesters exercising their First Amendment right to free speech. These were rioters who stormed their way into the Capitol Building by assaulting and injuring dozens of brave police officers — one of whom has died of his injuries — and destroying federal property. Five people total were killed. These rioters must be held accountable for their crimes, and so must the politicians who fueled this fire by knowingly spreading misleading rhetoric.”
Mace, strongly conservative, has been unafraid to speak up in opposition to her own party in the past, and she’s unafraid now. Despite her previous vocal support of Donald Trump and the fact that she worked on his campaign, Mace has denounced the president’s incitement of the violence in the strongest terms possible, saying that the accomplishments of his administration have been “wiped out” by it.
Perhaps it is the myriad struggles Mace has faced and overcome, both in her personal and public life, that have made her so willing to speak out. She comes into Congress as one of 17 newly elected Republican women, having narrowly defeated Joe Cunningham by not quite 6,000 votes.
“I remember when we found out at 3:00 a.m. that I’d won this election,” Mace told the Mercury. “We knew going into it that it was razor thin.” She described tearing up at her acceptance speech, which was held in the parking lot of a Waffle House in Ladson where she had her first job, and again on the plane to Washington:
“At that moment I realized everything I had accomplished, all the challenges I had overcome, all the walls I had broken, all the times everyone had told me no … and we did it anyway with the help of hundreds of thousands of people voting in this election, raising money, knocking on doors, doing all the work needed to win and it was very, very humbling.”
It’s a story we are hungry for at the end of 2020 — a story of success, of hard work, of the American dream. It’s the story of a woman who has broken barriers her entire life. The first woman to graduate from The Citadel. Our state’s first Republican woman in Congress.
But like all success stories, Mace’s comes with plenty of struggle. “As a woman,” she says, “sometimes we have to work twice as hard to be seen as an equal because there’s additional judgment.”
Nor does being the first to break the barriers of tradition make you a hero in everyone’s eyes. “Being first is very challenging — one of the most challenging things you ever do in your life. And it does come with a mixed bag because you hear from people who are very supportive, and then you hear from the exact opposite, people who threaten your life in some cases, as happened in my life, both when I was running for Congress and when I was a kid at the Citadel.”
But Mace likes to tell what she calls her “horror stories” because she believes lawmakers shouldn’t be put up on a pedestal. “I really want people to understand that I am just like them,” she says. “God created all of us equally, and we should be treated that way.”
However, she also recognizes that as a member of Congress, she and other lawmakers should be subject to more scrutiny than the average American. “I’m making decisions that I believe will benefit the Lowcountry, and not everyone will agree with those decisions,” she acknowledges. “But I’m just like everyone else: hardworking, raising my family and trying to do some good.”
And Mace is doing what she’s good at — and what she loves. She loves the Lowcountry and intends to continue to raise her children here while commuting to Washington. She loves to write and communicate; her master’s in mass communication from the University of Georgia afforded her the opportunity to develop her own voice as a campaigner.
“When I ran for State House, I wrote everything — every position, every piece of mail, every social media post I personally drafted.” Although she didn’t have the opportunity to do so in the most recent election, she’s glad that there is a body of work that her staff can pull from to really understand where she stands by the issues.
And she loves the Constitution and doesn’t shy away from explaining her belief in it. “I’m not going to be vague. I think that’s very, very important, that honesty, that transparency in government. Too often times people are too worried about their reelection to take the position that they really feel true to. You’re always going to know where I stand.”
Her love of the Lowcountry, and her position as a strong conservation lawmaker, is intimately tied to her childhood. Her father served 28 years in the Army, and Mace says she went hunting and fishing with him at every military installation where they lived. Her most memorable experience was also her first: as a five-year-old accompanying her father bird hunting in Pennsylvania, her job was to retrieve the birds her father shot. “And not all of them were dead,” Mace said with a laugh.
She considers conservation to be one of the areas where she looks forward to working with the Biden administration. “I’ve been a conservationist my entire life, and I’m against things like drilling off S.C.’s coast,” she says, a position she was clear on in her congressional campaign. I’m for protecting our environment, our wildlife, our lands.”
Mace also thinks the transportation and infrastructure package is an essential initiative of Biden’s first term in office. “South Carolina but particularly the Lowcountry has enormous infrastructure needs,” she said, referencing Boeing, Mercedes, Volvo and the $64 billion Port of S.C. industry. Because of this, she’s working hard to get on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
“We just learned a few months ago that the Boeing Dreamliner 787 will be exclusively made here in Charleston starting midway through 2021, and so when you look at all the manufacturing that happens now and will increase exponentially in the future, 50 people a day are moving to Charleston, we have enormous needs, and we are very important and critical to our nation’s economy with our port.”
She’s also a defender of Parris Island, an issue she went head-to-head on with Joe Cunningham prior to the election. The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act contained language that might have posed a threat to the continued existence of the Marine base if it was unable to meet a gender-integrated training mandate. Despite criticism about her claims from both the military and the mayor of Beaufort, Mace believes that her stance was one of the key reasons she won the election.
“If you haven’t served in the military and had that experience being in a combat zone, single gender or integrated gender, then you really can’t understand the pressures of the combat environment,” she says, citing the fact that going to The Citadel is different from training to be in the military. “I really do believe that our military commanders should be involved and not just be dictated to down from Congress.” She plans to file legislation to protect Parris Island during her tenure in the House.
This is far from the only example of how Mace is willing to risk criticism for her political views. “If we’re going to change, we have to have real people that are going to fight to make a difference, and sometimes that means standing against members of your own organization, company, political party, for example.” She has done this with regard to casting her vote to certify the 2020 election Electoral College results, citing the Constitution. She has also stood up firmly against the Jan. 6 riots around and in the Capitol.
“There are going to be positions that I take that are not going to be the norm with the Republican party because I’ve always operated as an independent voice,” she says. “I’m a fiscal conservative first before anything else, and I believe that’s reflective of South Carolina’s First Congressional District.” Neither Republicans nor Democrats of her district, she says, want to see their tax dollars wasted by the federal government.
“And then we’re also conservationists. And so with those two items I’m always going to put the Lowcountry first before any party. I’ve already started doing it.”
She contrasts her recent impression of Washington, D.C., where she went through orientation, with the Lowcountry way of life. Mace couldn’t help but feel that we’d done a better job of balancing freedom and the economy and being safe. She had coronavirus during the summer with accompanying “long hauler” symptoms that lasted for months. She’s strongly in favor of wearing masks.
And yet, she feels we are able to enjoy a quality of life that few places around the country are experiencing because Lowcountry residents have acted in the interests of neighbors and not just themselves. “We’ve done a really good job here in the Lowcountry protecting each other.”
This is one of the main reasons she wants her children to stay in the Lowcountry. “Your family makes huge sacrifices, especially your children,” she says, referring to the campaign and election process. “I’m raising my family here; it’s the best place in the country to live. My life has been a series of second chances and opportunity. I have failed as much as I have succeeded, and for me to be able to give that kind of energy and drive back to the Lowcountry, a place that’s given me so much, is the honor of a lifetime.”
She also feels certain that the 70–75 percent voter turnout for both parties has sent a strong message to Congress.
“Republicans and Democrats, I believe, mandated to the government that we’ve got to find ways to work together.”