SPARTANBURG, SC (WSPA) — Greenville native Lt. Col. Tally Parham Casey is the first female fighter pilot in South Carolina. In operations supporting the first Persian Gulf War, her job was to allow herself to be targeted by anti-aircraft installations. Once her plane was detected, she then tried to destroy the radars before taking evasive action to avoid incoming anti-aircraft fire, clearing the path for the bombers that would follow.
Now, she’s moving on to a softer focus in the political arena. As a running mate, Casey is supporting Joe Cunningham, the Democratic candidate for governor, as he tries to make headway before the general election on Nov. 8 in a largely Republican state.
The following interview has been edited for brevity.
Can you tell us about your background?
I grew up in the Upstate. I was born and raised in Greenville. Went to high school there. When I was a teenager, I really wanted to fly airplanes so I applied to Air Force Academy and learn kind of the hard way in 1987 that women were not allowed to fly fighters and I wanted to fly F-16s.
So I went to my plan B. I went to college at Princeton, University of Virginia Law School. And then when the Combat Exclusion Policy was repealed in 1993, I turned my eyes again towards flying and I interviewed at our South Carolina National Guard unit at McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Eastover, South Carolina.
I got a pilot slot. So I started training there. I enlisted there in 1996 and flew F-16s until 2012. I am a lawyer in Columbia now I have my firm Wyche. It’s a statewide firm. We have our biggest office here in the Upstate. We’ve got a Spartanburg office, as well. I’ve got three children ages 13, 14 and 21.
My first job out of college was at a wonderful place called the Legal Action Center for the Homeless. I was working in New York City. I went to college in New Jersey and there I was able to represent homeless and indigent people who needed assistance with all sorts of problems. And we were able as non-lawyers to actually represent them in administrative courts in New York. And so I learned in a wonderful way the power of, um, giving aid to someone who doesn’t have a voice and helping someone who can’t help themselves.
I learned the power of the law and its power for good. And so the next year, I went to the University of Virginia School of Law, and I ended up coming back to South Carolina for a lot of reasons, but one of which was to fly with the South Carolina National Guard in 2000.
How did you get involved in the campaign?
Well, you know, I’ve actually been asked over the past ten years or so to run for public office, by people I know and respect, and each time I’ve said no, but this time was different. Of course, as a lawyer, I pay attention to what happens to Supreme Court and the Dobbs decision was a defining moment for me.
And I felt then that I could no longer sit on the sidelines, that I could see the writing on the wall. What I didn’t expect was what happened next and that was a call from Joe Cunningham.
I really felt like I couldn’t say no. He had great vision, a great platform, and I truly was filled with hope and being given the opportunity after having fought for our freedoms overseas, to be able to come back here at home and fight for them again, really I felt it was truly my calling.
Let’s talk a little bit about the campaign. As Democrats, you guys are going to be the underdogs in the state. What are some of the strategies that you guys are using to address those difficulties?
What this campaign brings is new leadership, new voice, new ideas, and what we are hoping to change is a lack of leadership and a lack of ideas.
And I think that resonates with a lot of people. Joe’s freedom agenda is focused on bringing more freedoms to South Carolina, not less. And like I said, I think that resonates with many, many people. Over the course of the past two weeks, as we traveled the state and talked to voters. I’ve had so many people come up to me and say, whether they’re a woman or a man or a veteran and say, you know, I’ve been a Republican my whole life, but I am going to vote for you two.
Let’s talk about the Freedom Agenda. One of the platforms is eliminating the state income tax. Can you talk a little bit about why you guys are promoting that and what you would hope to accomplish?
One of the things that Joe and I are frustrated about in South Carolina is that we are losing jobs and losing our young people to other states. Limiting the state income tax is just one way to bring those things back to the state. And he has ideas for how to do that. And in working towards eliminating the state income tax, I think is something that resonates with a lot of voters. And it’s time for us to bring South Carolina into a competitive future.
Let’s talk about your proposal to legalize marijuana and sports betting. In what way would you guys want to see that implemented and how would the funds be used?
Well, there are other states who have done this. There are lots of ways we can use that revenue, in addition to eliminating state income tax, improving our roads, and improving teacher pay, South Carolinians want that.
You know, this weekend there are going to be a bunch of college games that people are going to place bets on. It’s happening and if we can draw revenue from that and do good with it, that’s what we need to do. As far as medical marijuana, the polls show that the majority of South Carolinians believe that medical marijuana should be legalized.
And, you know, particularly for someone like me who understands how medical marijuana is important for veterans suffering from PTSD, as an option. They should have the freedom to do that.
Do you see those funds being used for infrastructure?
Infrastructure is very important. Using the revenue that we could get from legalizing sports betting and medical marijuana, we can use that revenue to help improve our roads. Our roads are terrible in South Carolina. I mean, it’s the first thing that people encounter when they come to our state. It really is something that we have got to work on. Here’s what people in South Carolina are looking at: they’ve got a governor who’s been governor for six years No new ideas. We’ve got a governor who’s been in politics for over 40 years. That’s longer than Joe has been alive. And he wants four more years to do what?
Because a majority of voters in the state are registered as Republicans, what are some of the strategies or tactics you are using to reach across the aisle?
You know, it’s talking to people and it’s listening to people. The issues that are facing South Carolina cannot be clearly delineated by party lines. They’re issues that affect everybody.
And the issues that people are screaming about right now are issues about their freedom, about their individual rights. The voice of South Carolinians needs to be listened to. And Joe and I are listening to those voices. The people of South Carolina want choice. The women of South Carolina want to have a choice over what happens to their bodies. The people of South Carolina want the option to have medical marijuana.
We are listening to those voices. It’s not about parties. And I think that that’s the difference here is sincerity and respect for the voice of the people.
Earlier you brought up the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade with the Dobbs decision. Why does the abortion issue resonate so strongly with you?
It wasn’t something that I thought I was going to be faced in my life. I mean, for 50 years women have had the right to make decisions about their own bodies. Women have had the ability to control their own bodies.
We haven’t had to worry about our daughters and our granddaughters having less rights than we did. When the Dobbs decision came down, of course, now state leadership has the ability to make laws that can strip women of their rights. And that’s a terrifying thing.
It wasn’t enough that we already had a six-week ban that was signed into law by the legislature last year. But the legislatures came back from their vacation. They passed and signed a gun. You came back from their vacation to do one thing to take away women’s rights.
And, you know, these are mainly old men who are in legislative districts and they’ve gone themselves and they are unfortunately governed by extreme positions. They aren’t listening to the people of South Carolina. They aren’t representing their voice and I think it’s time for someone to stand up.
You know, the draconian law that was passed last week in the state senate is not only going to criminalize women for seeking an abortion, but it’s also going to imprison doctors. It’s going to strip away their medical licenses. It makes it a felony for someone to aid a woman in getting an abortion.
I mean, they’re literally making it easier to prosecute doctors and nurses than rapists.
What would you like to see in terms of abortion legislation in South Carolina?
Joe and I believe that Roe v. Wade was right. There are the interests of the state, and there are the interests of the individual, and we believe that Roe v. Wade struck that balance just right.
What are some of the lessons that you’ve learned in your campaigning?
Well, I’ve had the advantage of getting to meet so many people in the past several weeks. And many of the folks that I’ve met are young people. And I’ve seen young people energized by this campaign — energized politically in a way that I’ve never seen. And I think it’s because they finally see themselves in the candidates.
One thing that I’ve certainly learned is that if you ask people what’s important to them and what they’re worried about, you can learn so much.
What do you want to say to the voters who may still be on the fence?
I’d like to meet you. We’re going to be crisscrossing the state and meeting people all over the place. And also, let me just tell you, we have a path to success. I know that. I don’t know if you maybe you’ve heard about the recent poll that we got back with Joe down seven points and it was closer than he was in 2018 when he won a congressional seat. Joe is ahead by eight points with women and for independents, he was ahead by double digits.
So there is definitely a path to success for this ticket, and I would encourage people to get to know us. Online go to Joe for South Carolina, if you want to learn more about our platform about me reach out to us. My email address is Tally [at] JoeforSouthCarolina dot com. If you’ve got questions or concerns, I would love to hear them.
Are there any significant moments in your life that led you down the path you’re on now?
I’ll tell you a story. When I was a kid, my parents told me that I could always do anything I wanted. I was fortunate and had very good friends. And so I never saw my gender as a very limiting factor.
You know, when I was in high school, I wanted to play soccer and we did have a girls’ team so I played on the boys’ team. I did karate and fought against the boys. And so then when I wanted to fly fighter planes, I was really shocked by the response, which was “that’s cute, honey, but girls can’t do that.”
I didn’t realize that there was actually a statute that prohibited women from flying in combat. And so for the first time in my life, I was watching my dream evaporate in front of my eyes simply because of the fact that I was born a woman.
And so I don’t ever want anyone else to have that experience. I don’t ever want my daughter or any other little girl in South Carolina to have the fact that she’s a woman hold her back.