1955: State Senate
Service to South Carolina
|John West entered public service in 1948 when he was
elected to the State Highway Commission. He ran and won election to the South Carolina Senate in 1954 on a single issue - the need for improved health care. In an unpublished memoir, West wrote, "health care delivery was one of the most important aspects of public life and public responsibility....It was the only election I ever went into feeling confident I was going to win." His margin of victory turned out to be a mere three votes.|
At that time, unlike today, state senators had tremendous power over local operations in their home counties due to their responsibility for the county budget. A great benefit of this was their ability to act quickly and decisively. In addition, the people knew to whom they could turn for help and whom to blame if they were dissatisfied with affairs in their county.
|A Powerful Quartet||
|James F. Byrnes, Strom Thurmond, John West, and Edgar Brown, photographed ca. 1960s in Camden, S.C., probably at the Carolina Cup. West noted on the back of the photo, "It is the first time Strom Thurmond and Edgar Brown had a picture together since Thurmond defeated Brown in the 1954 Senatorial election as a write-in candidate."
1967: Lieutenant Governor's Office
|West's successful 1966 bid for the office of Lieutenant Governor was a key step in achieving his ambition to become
governor. He began steady behind-the-scenes politicking for the office almost immediately after the 1962 election of Donald Russell as Governor and Robert McNair as Lieutenant Governor. The tremendous support he received within the party and across the state was the product of his years in the General Assembly during which he exhibited great ability, energy, and a progressive vision for South Carolina. |
|"West is Best"|
Ribbon used during West's 1966 campaign for Lieutenant Governor. Incumbent Robert McNair stood as the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in the 1966 race.
|His service as Lieutenant Governor was, in many ways, superb preparation for his race and service as governor. In reflecting on the strong and visible role John West played as his Lieutenant Governor, Robert McNair stated, "I found his experience and connections with the Senate of invaluable help to me as Governor and leaned heavily on his support. John was always willing to accept additional duties, and I increased his responsibilites well beyond those of any previous Lieutenant Governor. While sharing those responsibilities certainly made me more productive, I also believe it helped John assume the Governor's position with greater ease and confidence."|
1971: Governor John Carl West
|West's humane and progressive administration as governor assured a peaceful improvement in the lives of most South Carolinians. Among his major accomplishments were the passage of mandatory automobile insurance for all drivers; the creation of the Coastal Zone Planning and Management Council, Housing Authority, Health Policy and Planning Council, Social Development Council, and Commission on Human Relations; and the reorganization of the Governor's Office and departments of Labor and Wildlife and Marine Resources.|
|Newly-elected to the Governor's Office, West made the cover of the magazine South Carolina City, Winter 1971.|
|In a legislative state such as South Carolina in the 1970s, an effective governor had to rely chiefly on intellectual argument, moral persuasion, and the bully pulpit to push forward his agenda. West has described the key to his success as "Getting people to work with you. I deliberately never use the term 'working for you', because people don't work for you, they work with you. That was the key, if there was one. I tried to recognize that most of the legislative leaders had carved out a niche or an expertise in a particular area, some more than one. To get something accomplished you would first have to go to that legislative leader or leaders, and bat the ideas back and forth. Of course, the ideal way was to make them think it was their idea, and give them credit for it... I learned that from Bob McNair." Rembert Dennis, a key leader in the state Senate, said of West, "West didn't need much help. West was very smart... Only thing West needed was help with the work, he had the ideas." |
| John West speaking from the porch of Barratt House, the Greenwood County home of former congressman and state Democratic Party chairman William Jennings Bryan Dorn, and the scene of innumerable political gatherings. |
The inscription reads: "To my great & good friend Governor John West with high esteem. Wm. Jennings Bryan Dorn, M.C."
|As governor, John West provided strong and compassionate leadership during a time of turmoil. Asked what gave him the greatest satisfaction as governor West cited improved race relations and noted, "in a fairly critical period we made a transition and changed a lot of attitudes." |