The man who would change District Six
By Patra Taylor
If you want to change the world, the place to start is in your own backyard. That’s exactly where Duke Buckner intends to start. A resident of Walterboro for most of his life, the affable, well-spoken lawyer lives in the heart of a serene South Carolina landscape that abounds with wildlife and an abundance of natural resources. Yet just below the surface, a wide swath of abject poverty sweeps through this region. It’s the poverty and perpetual sense of hopelessness of the people who reside in his own backyard that keep Buckner awake at night.
What he refers to as “30 years of neglect and abuse” of the poor in South Carolina’s Sixth District drove him to run for Congress in the Republican primary in March … and win. He will go head-to-head with incumbent James Clyburn in the upcoming November election.
A candidate with nothing to hide, Buckner’s life is an open book. He freely tells people about his successes, and more importantly his failures. For Buckner, his failures never dissuaded him from his goals … they drove him to lean in, work harder and achieve the victories that lie just beyond.
“The Sixth District is the poorest one in the state of South Carolina,” states the 50-year-old Buckner, who graduated from S.C. State University and Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad Law Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “The Sixth District is ranked the seventh poorest in the country. Under Mr. Clyburn’s leadership, the district has not progressed … it has only gotten worse.”
Buckner lists the poorest counties in the district from memory: Allendale, Bamberg, Clarendon, Colleton, Hampton, Jasper and Williamsburg, which he refers to as “the forgotten counties.”
“The corridor of shame.”
The Sixth District also includes portions of Beaufort, Berkeley, Calhoun, Charleston, Dorchester, Orangeburg, Richland and Sumter counties. Think about it … the peninsular city of Charleston marks the southern-most portion of the seventh poorest district in all of America. Overall, the comparison of the quality of life for citizens living in peninsular Charleston with those living in Allendale is a study in disparities.
Remnants of a former, more prosperous way of life dot the highways and byways in the forgotten counties of the Sixth District, reminding Buckner of life there before the industry left, and the economy stagnated. “When you ride around the district, it’s heart-wrenching to see building after building in decrepit shape, house after house deteriorating. It’s not that people don’t want to fix them, it’s that they don’t have the money to fix them. What makes me so upset is that surrounding the Sixth District, counties like Horry, Greenville, Berkeley, Charleston and Spartanburg are bursting at the seams with development and prosperity. Yet most of the Sixth District is struggling and has been for decades.”
His journeys through the forgotten counties remind him of what was once there, and give him a vision of what could be there again. “Good-paying jobs, a quality education, safe streets and neighborhood should be available to citizens of the Sixth District right now,” he insists. “The people have suffered long enough.”
Duke grew up in Walterboro as a Democrat. As a senior at South Carolina State, he remembers sitting alone in the student center watching the inauguration of former President Bill Clinton. “He talked about the future of American, calling for young people to serve, to build the bridge to the 21st century,” recalls Buckner. “He inspired me.”
A few weeks later, Buckner boarded an airplane for Washington, D.C., having been accepted into White House Internship Program. Working in the Office of Administration, he got his first glimpse into the inner working of government. He also met his future wife, Melissa, who served as an intern in Hillary Clinton’s press office.
Buckner credits S.C. Governor David Beasley for turning his head to the right. “Governor Beasley came to Walterboro for the unveiling of a monument erected in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen, who trained at the Walterboro Army Airbase,” notes Buckner. “I covered the event for the Community Times-Dispatch, a weekly newspaper that my wife and I started and ran for six and a half years in Walterboro. I met the governor and liked him, so I started following his career. I liked what he stood for. Eventually, I switched parties.”
Buckner has a plan to bring progress and prosperity back to the Sixth District, a plan built upon the core principles of the Republican Party ¾ freedom, prosperity and opportunity. His platform focuses on smart economic growth and development, good paying jobs, safe streets and neighborhoods and high-quality educational opportunities that include the arts and vocational education.
Prior to his career as the managing editor of the Community Times-Dispatch, where he learned how to run a small business, Buckner taught seventh grade English at Colleton Middle School, and later 11 grade American literature at Walterboro High School. He understands the import role of the arts in the overall success of students.
“Education has suffered tremendously in the Sixth District,” he says. “High school drop- out rates continue to climb and many students are graduating still lacking the basic skills to read at grade level.”
Knowing his victory in November depends on crossover votes from District Six Democrats, he’s taking his message directly to the people. Holding events in every county, imparting his vision for the district, he’s shaking hands and asking for votes. “I’m on a listening tour,” he insists. “I want to know what’s important to the people I will serve as congressman of the S.C. Sixth District. My reception has been positive. The people are ready for change.”
For Buckner, failure is not an option. Now is the time to lean in, to work harder, to turn the failures of government into victories for the people of the Sixth District.
To learn more about Duke Buckner and his campaign, please visit www.voteforduke.com.