University of South Carolina

Alumni work for change as elected officials

With single-minded dedication to their state and community, Carolina graduates Anton Gunn and Elise Partin unseated long-serving political opponents in the last general election. Now the two energize the state as they work for change -- Gunn as a state legislator, and Partin as a Midlands city mayor.   

Athlete and history buff

A high school athletic standout, Gunn came to Carolina on a full football scholarship. The offensive lineman was powerful on the gridiron and on campus: he started a committee to help student athletes take advantage of opportunities and have a balanced life, and took part in many service projects with the football team. He also was a member of Kappa Alpha Phi, and president of the fraternity in his junior year.

“When I was a student at Carolina in the early 1990s, hip hop music was very political,” says Gunn, who got a BA degree in history in 1995. “Carolina Productions brought a rapper to campus—Krs1—and he came to talk about education and opportunity and music. It was a great addition to my understanding of the world.

"My years as a Gamecock football player taught me that hard work, commitment, and determination could create success.”

“I majored in history because I loved the history of how government develops and how people have ownership and responsibility for their government,” says Gunn, who is from Hampton Roads, Va.

"My years as a Gamecock football player taught me that hard work, commitment, and determination could create success,” he says. “Most importantly, it showed me that when people work together for the common good, as a team, we can accomplish anything.”

Launching a political bid

After he graduated from Carolina, Gunn started his career as a community organizer.

“I worked in a nonprofit organization, and my job was to engage community people around political issues as it relates to health care,” says Gunn, who is the oldest son of a public school teacher and a Navy veteran.

Anton Gunn
Anton Gunn


“I became a candidate for state legislator because of my frustration with lawmakers not doing what they promised to do: be authentic and do the will of the people. My younger brother was killed in a terrorist attack on the USS Cole in October 2000. It was in that tragedy that I began to understand what a sacrifice true service is."

In 2006, Gunn ran for office himself, challenging a 12-year incumbent. Gunn lost by 298 votes.

Gunn is clear about wanting “to make South Carolina the greatest state on the planet.” To forward his goal, he ran for office again two years later.

“This time I was victorious and won by 2,033 votes,” he says. “I’m the first African American to represent House District 79 and the first African-American House member to represent a white-majority house district.”

TIME Magazine appearance

Intrigued by the political campaign of then-Senator Barack Obama, Gunn says he read The Audacity of Hope and was blown away.

“Not only was his book powerful, but he was saying the exact same things I was thinking about our government, except that he was much more articulate,” Gunn says. “I called Senator Obama and he invited me to meet with him. We found that we had a lot of things in common. He asked me to help run his campaign as political director in South Carolina.”

Gunn accepted the post. His energetic style created a mini media storm, and stories about him appeared in several publications, including TIME Magazine, The LA Times, and The Nation.

With his candidate now in the White House, Gunn is continuing his quest to improve South Carolina. In the state legislature, he is a member of the Freshman Caucus, the House Democratic Caucus, and the Black Caucus. He sits on the Medical, Military, and Municipal and Public Affairs subcommittee of Children’s Affairs, Medical Affairs, and Social Services.

From student to mayor

As the first woman mayor of the City of Cayce, and the city’s first new mayor in 18 years, Elise Partin has created her own mini media storm.

When Partin was a graduate student at Carolina, she moved to Cayce, located just across the Blossom Street Bridge from campus.

Elise Partin, the first woman mayor of the City of Cayce, has two Carolina degrees: a BS degree in psychology and a master’s degree in public health.

“Its proximity to downtown and the University was fabulous,” said Partin, who has finished two Carolina degrees: a BS in psychology in 1992, and a master’s degree in public health in 1995. Originally from Charleston, Partin has now lived in Cayce for more than 15 years.

“I continued to rent the house after I graduated, and then I bought it, and then my husband and I built on to it,” she said. “We love this community and love coming home from the river every night. Now our children have grown up walking the Riverwalk almost every day of their young lives.”

Moving the city forward

“I was elected in November, and since Cayce hasn’t had a new mayor in some time, my first months in office have been spent getting to know various leaders in our community -- political leaders, business leaders, and neighborhood leaders,” she said. “I’ve been meeting them so they can know who I am and so I can listen to them to learn what I need to know and to confirm that we are heading in the right direction.”

Elise Partin
Elise Partin

One of her first projects was creating a vision for the city from the resident and business leader input.

Carolina connections

Partin also is an adjunct instructor in the University’s Arnold School of Public Health.

“I teach Exercise Science 454, a mandatory course that helps juniors and seniors understand what fitness businesses are like, such as in a corporate setting, a clinical setting, or in a community,” she said. “Then we make site visits to these settings, and the students get to see how these businesses are run.”

A psychology major as an undergraduate at Carolina, Partin minored in public health; her master’s degree focused on nutrition and exercise.

“My degrees at Carolina are a good fit for what I do now as mayor in the sense that we learned about finding who the informal community leaders were and what the issues were, so everything I learned applies,” she said. “It’s been a fabulous background for listening to people and finding what we need to be doing.”



Posted: 06/22/09 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 11/09/09 @ 1:56 PM | Permalink