Mia McLeod, Senate District 22
Meet Mia Butler Garrick, House District 79
Launched a winning campaign in two focused weeks
Eight weeks is not a long time. A quick Google search will tell you eight weeks is the wait before being allowed to donate blood again, or non-expedited QVC shipping, or the time it will take the State Department to get back to you about a new passport. Eight weeks isn’t long enough to receive SAT scores or grow a tomato plant. But once she decided to run, Garrick organized her campaign in two week and just eight weeks later, was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives. Garrick says: When I started, I didn’t know what the heck I was doing so others can learn quickly like I did and win the race!
In eight weeks, Mia Butler Garrick resolved to run for House, launched a political campaign in two weeks, swept a primary with 66% of the vote, dove into a general election against a Republican candidate with a year of campaigning and a $90,000 warchest, and won the South Carolina 79th. In eight weeks she went from a lobbyist to a Representative.
“We hit the ground running.” She says, “I just had to jump in. I didn’t know a whole lot about running, but I engaged everybody that I did know…there was no strategy in place at beginning, but it developed as a real grassroots effort with people I knew in the northeast [Richland] community. It just kind of blossomed. Everyone was surprised but very supportive.”
“I didn’t know what the heck I was doing.” Garrick laughs.
Mia Butler was born and raised in Bennettsville, South Carolina, where she attended school in the infamous ‘Corridor of Shame’. She persevered and went on to major in English at USC, eventually earning her J.D. from the USC Law School. She worked as a bipartisan advocate for a range of issues, including education and safety, and served as Governor Hodges’ Director for the State Office of Victim Assistance. In 2002 she founded a public affairs consulting firm, McLeod Butler Communications. Garrick is also a member of the state board of directors for the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce.
She was still working in the private sector when former Representative Anton Gunn was called on by President Obama to serve as a Regional Director for Health and Human Services. Gunn’s appointment left his seat open with scarcely two months before the general election. Gunn was discussing the open seat with Garrick, “trying to think of people, women in particular, willing and able to run. I definitely hadn’t put myself into that equation. I was already in the lobby, which, for me, was very rewarding…I had some very quick and tough decisions to make.”
Garrick also considered the time commitment and strain that could be put on her family by a political campaign. But when she talked the idea over with her family, her sons BJ and Cameron, just seventeen and thirteen at the time, spoke up. “I’ve always been very involved in their school, and I’d talked to them before about politics and being part of the process…They said, “Mom, you have to run. You can’t just sit on the sidelines when you have an opportunity to make a difference.” I wanted to get a new perspective, so I just jumped in.”
The two weeks before the primary were intensive but successful. Garrick had to make new connections, especially in Kershaw County, though she was already very active in her own community, schools and church. “By the time the special election was over I had a lot more support because we’d worked so hard in that two week period. I had people calling and texting and emailing me, just wanting to get involved. I didn’t really expect that, since I thought we’d been operating from the ground up the whole time. There was a lot of support and momentum after that special election.”
Now, after a year in office, Garrick has been involved in a myriad of issues, from preserving funding for public education and the arts to the recent redistricting plan, where she is current proposing an amendment to preserve the diversity of her own Richland County.
“I got to know and develop a relationship with folks from both sides of the aisle. From a governmental and lobbying perspective, I had to know all the issues and players, I had to deal from the outside, and that’s been helpful going in. It’s been really different for me, because I was a page in the House, and I got to know that environment, that chaos. What I took away from that was that relationships are key. No man is an island. You’re going to have to look beyond your party, and your immediate circle.”
Garrick says despite the frustrations and hyperpartisanship, “It’s rewarding. I generally just try and make sure the public understands what we’re doing and what we’re not doing. Now I’m on the inside trying to impact change.”