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Thomas Ravenel: Politics to Prison to Television - and Back to Politics?

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Message Rob Groce

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We've all heard of politician's children who become politicians themselves; just take the two generations of presidencies in the Adams and Bush families as examples. We know of entertainers becoming politicians, too (like Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger), and even of politicians becoming entertainers (such as Fred Thompson and "Morning Joe" Scarborough). We're also much too familiar with politicians who later become convicts (including, but far from limited to, Spiro Agnew and "airport men's room" Larry Craig).

And to top it off, there might be one new candidate for U.S. Senate who actually combines all of these transitional phases: meet Thomas Ravenel, the one and only politician's son-to-politician-to-convicted felon-to-entertainer-and now back to politician. Known locally in South Carolina as "T-Rav," he recently confirmed rumors that he wants to challenge Sen. Lindsey Graham as an independent candidate.

Each of his five phases is a tad bit filthy, though, and not just the "convicted felon" part of it. Apparently, the well-off 51-year-old who made a fortune in real estate hopes that South Carolina voters will overlook his history of hazards. But T-Rav is still standing too deep in dirt to make any progress in the race (if he actually enters it), no matter how much money he or his historical family has. And with his spoiled-brat attitude, he'll probably piss off too many voters to get very far.

The Politician's Son

The Ravenels are deeply rooted in the history of South Carolina, where a small town in the coastal Lowcountry region bears the family name. Present in the Palmetto State since the late 17th Century, the Ravenels have played an active part in local politics, too, especially the father of T-Rav, Arthur Ravenel Jr.

This elder Ravenel held four different offices, ranging from local school board to state legislature to U.S. House of Representatives, over a six-decade period. He was first elected to state legislature in the "Dixiecrat" days of 1953, but switched to the Republican Party nine years later. He officially retired from politics in 2010, but the elder Ravenel's name still remains constant in the community: the newest bridge crossing the Cooper River in downtown Charleston bears his name.

Another factor keeping Arthur Ravenel's name alive in the community is his questionable history, though. He was a staunch defender of the Confederate Flag's presence atop the State Legislature, for example, and fought against its move to another location on the state grounds. After being publicly scolded for twice referring to the NAACP as the "National Association for the Advancement of Retarded People," the elder Ravenel offered a formal apology -- to retarded people.

The Politician

Following in his father's footsteps, T-Rav tossed his hat in the ring in 2004 for the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by a retiring Fritz Hollings. In a self-funded race, he finished a close third out of six candidates in the Republican primary and went on to endorse Jim DeMint, who later won the general election that year.

In the next election cycle of 2006, Ravenel entered the race for state treasurer, defeating a long-standing incumbent Democrat by a sizable nine-percent margin.

T-Rav would only hold the seat for less than six months, though, and because of...

The Felony Conviction

Six months after taking the state treasurer's office in Jan. 2007, Ravenel was charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. Then-governor Mark Sanford called on T-Rav to resign on the same June 19 day of the indictment.

State law enforcement officials said they knew of the circumstances before the 2006 election, but needed more information before they could pursue. In April 2007, the case was turned over to the FBI.

The trial revealed then 44-year-old Ravenel to have regularly used cocaine since age 18, and in amounts of about one gram per week. A year later in March 2008, he received a mere wrist-slap sentence of 10 months in federal prison.

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A progressive political insider (and meddler) in the red state of South Carolina, Rob Groce operates his own blog, ROBservations (
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