By MINDY LUCAS
On his recent visit to tour Reconstruction-era sites in Beaufort, U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham gave a one-on-one interview to The Island News.
The Congressman, who comes to Beaufort “at least once a month” where he has an office, discussed his visit along with the issues that are of importance to Beaufort residents.
Now that you have toured these sites, what do you take away from what you saw and heard?
Cunningham: I think the key is preserving history and making sure we tell the history and not to politicize history, but tell it in an honest fashion even when it’s sometimes uncomfortable.
I was proud to work with the majority whip Clyburn in making sure the Reconstruction Era National Monument was incorporated into the National Park System. It’s been afforded all the protections that that gives it, and I think it’s a long time coming. I’ve been fortunate to be able to sponsor and co-sponsor so much legislation that’s already passed the house, and some of which has already been signed into law, and we’re just six months in to it.
Have you had any critics or naysayers that have asked, “Why devote so much time or resources to this initiative?” or “Why is it important to learn about Reconstruction?”
Cunningham: No, and I think it’s an important chapter of our country’s history and what we went through, both the Reconstruction period and also the Redemption era, the period right after that.
The roles (those periods) played in the transformation of our country and the scars our country has from the Civil War and from Reconstruction and identifying those and learning more about them are important.
Just like today, the children here coming to learn about it, every public school system around should learn about the Reconstruction period, and the role this era specifically played in American history. It will enrich us so and it’s important to pass that on to our children.
In terms of Reconstruction but more broadly race relations in the country, what are your constituents here in Beaufort and the Lowcountry telling you is important to them and what are some of the other issues they want addressed?
Cunningham: Obviously that’s an important issue that we continue to address but the “kitchen table” issues that we hear the most about are reducing the price of prescription drugs. We are proud to have passed nine pieces of bipartisan legislation that take down the cost of prescription drugs.
Taking care of our veterans (is another). (My district) has a huge veteran community especially down here in Beaufort, so we are proud to get the funds needed to take care of our veterans, but also taking care of the military as well.
We got over $30 million for the redevelopment of the (live-fire training) range for Parris Island. That wasn’t in President Trump’s budget, but it’s something we fought for and we got, and we’ve been delivering those results back to people here in the Lowcountry.
What is the latest on the bill you filed to ban offshore oil drilling and seismic testing off the coast of South Carolina?
Cunningham: So that’s just fulfilling promises we made. We didn’t go out and just make a whole bunch of promises. I was very narrow in talking about the things I wanted to accomplish. I think that’s why people are tired of politicians, because they just promise them everything.
I said, “I want to go up there and ban offshore drilling.” We had the bill and it passed out of committee. We’re going to bring it to the house floor later this summer, and we’re going to pass it. And so we’re doing exactly what we told people we were going to do.
Above: Scott Teodorski, center, Superintendent of Reconstruction Era National Historic Park, guides, Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling, left, and U.S. Congressman Joe Cunningham, D-SC, through the Reconstruction museum in Beaufort recently. Photo by Bob Sofaly