When Sen. Tim Scott attends the annual winter meeting of the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, he doesn't just swoop in to make a speech and then dash away. He brings his mom and stays awhile, chatting with co-op CEOs and directors and calling most of them by name from memory.
“When he talks, it's not really a speech," says Mike Couick, president and CEO of the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina. “It's more of a conversation."
And when Scott is done speaking, two lines of people form to continue the dialogue, “one for his mama and one for him," Couick says.
“Tim Scott is the genuine article," Couick says of the Republican senator. “What you see is what you get."
The 57-year-old senator “has grown up on our issues," Couick says, beginning when Scott served in the South Carolina House of Representatives from 2009 to 2011.
Scott went on to serve in the U.S. House from 2011 to 2013. He was appointed to the U.S. Senate in 2013 to fill a vacancy left by the retirement of former Republican Sen. Jim DeMint. He then won election in 2014 to fill out the remaining two years of DeMint's term and was re-elected in 2016 and again in 2022.
“He is always a willing and educated ear to listen to our issues," Couick says.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Scott worked in a bipartisan way with other members of the South Carolina congressional delegation to press federal officials to ensure that electric co-ops would quality for help under the Paycheck Protection Program. PPP provided small businesses with funds to keep their staffs employed during the health crisis. More than three-quarters of South Carolina co-ops benefited from the aid, Couick says.
“What Tim Scott has been best at is working with us on breaking red tape," he says.
The senator has also been a strong supporter of efforts to bring high-speed internet service to rural communities.
“Connectivity is absolutely essential for South Carolina families and businesses," Scott said in a 2020 statement when he introduced co-op-backed broadband funding legislation with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “Increased broadband access means more opportunity for underserved and rural communities, positively affecting everything from education and healthcare to business and workforce development."
Scott is known for his successful bipartisan legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., to create “Opportunity Zones" in some of the poorest communities in America. Passed in 2017, the program provides tax benefits for people who make long-term investments in eligible communities to stimulate economic development and create jobs. The program is helping communities that get their power from electric co-ops, which serve 92% of persistent-poverty counties in America.
Couick says he got to know Scott in a more personal way in 2015 when they both traveled to Selma, Alabama, for the 50th anniversary of the historic Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march. The event was attended by a host of major political figures, including then-President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush. Scott made sure to include his chief of staff and her 7-year-old daughter in the event, which Couick says made an impression on him.
“That was a powerful statement to me that he's all about the people around him," Couick says. “He wanted a little girl to see this."