Former United States Congressman Joe Cunningham was born and raised in a small, rural town in western Kentucky before moving to South Carolina to attend the College of Charleston over twenty years ago. 

His father, Bill, is a Vietnam Veteran and former Kentucky Supreme Court Justice. His mother, Paula, helped raise five rowdy boys while starting and operating her own publishing company from their kitchen table. 

A product of public school, Joe attended the College of Charleston before graduating from Florida Atlantic University with a Bachelors of Science in Ocean Engineering. After graduation, he worked for a marine and environmental consulting firm in Naples, Florida for five years before being laid off during the 2008 recession. He later graduated from Northern Kentucky University's Salmon P. Chase College of Law, where he also served as the national Vice-Chair of the Student Bar Association. 

After passing the bar exam, Joe moved back to Charleston where he began practicing construction law at a downtown firm. 

In 2018, he became the first Democrat to be elected to South Carolina's First Congressional District in over 40 years. The Charleston Post and Courier called his victory the "biggest upset in modern South Carolina history."

During his two-year term in office, Congressman Cunningham was widely recognized for his accomplishments. While serving on the House Veterans Affairs and Natural Resources Committees, he passed two bills into law in his first term, including the Veterans Tele-hearing Modernization Act and the Great American Outdoors Act. In 2019, Joe delivered on another signature campaign promise when the House passed his bipartisan bill banning offshore drilling. 

Delivering on his promise to put "Lowcountry Over Party," Cunningham was considered one of the most independent and bipartisan members of Congress. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranked him the 4th most bipartisan member of Congress and The Lugar Center ranked him as the most bipartisan freshman in the House in 2019. 

Among his proudest legislative achievements in Congress are the passage of his bill to close the Charleston gun loophole, the "For The People Act," which gets dark money out of politics and ends gerrymandering, and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

Despite significant crossover support, Cunningham was narrowly defeated in 2020 by just one point in a district that President Trump carried by six. In his farewell address to Congress, he decried the hyperpartisanship and extremism in modern politics in a speech that has been viewed over 1 million times online. 

Since leaving Congress, Cunningham has returned to practicing law in Charleston and spending time with his son, Boone.


Joe's plan to end the prohibition and criminalization of marijuana: Legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use.

  • Allow law enforcement to spend more resources on violent crime: South Carolina is currently faced with the highest murder rate in our state's history. Legalizing marijuana will make South Carolina communities safer by freeing up law enforcement resources and time to combat violent crime and help curb our state's murder rate.
  • Save taxpayer money: South Carolina has the second-highest arrest rate for marijuana offenses in the country. In 2016, SC spent an estimated $47.4 million dollars on legal costs related to cannabis alone. Legalizing cannabis will save taxpayers’ money by lowering administrative costs and legal costs of prosecuting marijuana cases.
  • Provide critical medical care and curb opioid abuse: Legalizing marijuana for medical use can help South Carolinians suffering from chronic and debilitating illnesses, including seizures, chemotherapy-induced side effects, chronic pain, and PTSD. It can also help reduce dependence on opioids. In states that have legalized cannabis, opioid use dropped by as much as one million doses per day.​ Veterans consume cannabis at a higher rate than the general population, yet they are viewed as criminals in the eyes of the government for whom they put their lives on the line to defend. According to the American Legion, nearly 1 in 4 veterans reported using cannabis specifically “to treat a mental or physical condition.”
  • End the racial disparities in marijuana enforcement: Marijuana laws have disproportionately targeted people of color. Black South Carolinians are almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white South Carolinians, even though they use marijuana at similar rates.
Raise revenue through legalization and responsible regulation.
  • Tax legal marijuana to generate new state revenue: States that have legalized marijuana have seen significant growth in tax revenue. For example, Oregon, a state with a slightly smaller population than South Carolina, brought in over $133 million in revenue from marijuana just in 2020.​ Legalizing marijuana would generate tens of millions in new tax revenue. And there are several ways we could consider deploying it, including providing critical funding to fix our roads, expand Medicaid, give our hardworking teachers the pay they deserve, or even substantially cut taxes on South Carolina families - all without raising taxes.
  • Regulate marijuana like we regulate alcohol: Put in place robust guidelines for how marijuana is grown, sold, and consumed using similar guidelines that already exist for alcohol consumption. These can include limits on grower or dispensary locations and limits on public consumption.
Offer South Carolinians a second chance.
  • Expunge the criminal records of people with low-level marijuana convictions and provide them with a second chance at life: A marijuana conviction can prevent someone from getting a job, going to college, getting approved for housing, or taking out a loan. This leads to less opportunity, more poverty, more crime, and more reliance on the government.​ Legalizing marijuana will provide thousands of South Carolinians with a second chance at having a productive life.
Create jobs and give local farmers a boost.
  • Legalizing marijuana would boost our state's economy and create new jobs for in-state farmers and entrepreneurs: South Carolina farmers should be at the front of the line to be able to grow and harvest marijuana.​ We will work to maximize opportunities for Black farmers who have lost their land and allow them to build generational wealth through the cannabis industry.


Joe's plan to protect and expand voting rights in South Carolina include:

  1. Automatic voter registration
  2. Same-day registration
  3. End straight ticket voting
  4. No-excuse early voting
  5. Make Election Day a state holiday
  6. Enact independent redistricting commission to end gerrymandering
  7. Expand types of allowable IDs for voting to include utility bills and college IDs
  8. Prevent long lines by investing in sufficient voting machines and poll workers
  9. Eliminate requirement that mail-in ballots be certified by witnesses
  10. Make drop boxes available in every county for absentee ballots
"Right now South Carolina has some of the most restrictive and archaic voting laws in the country, and when I’m governor that’s going to change,” Cunningham said. “In our state, you can vote with your concealed weapons permit but not your college ID. You have to sign an affidavit swearing that you are unable to vote on election day before you can vote early. And South Carolina is one of only six states that still allows straight-ticket voting which is nothing more than state-sponsored partisanship. It’s time for our state to lead on voting rights and this plan will help us do just that.” While a member of Congress, Cunningham was a sponsor of HR1, the For the People Act, a comprehensive voting rights bill that has passed the House in each of the last two sessions of Congress.


Joe's plan to prevent gun violence: Close the Charleston Loophole Give officials more time to conduct background checks by extending the maximum background check review period from three days to ten days. Oftentimes, it can take longer than 72 hours to process the background check of someone with a complicated criminal history. The last thing we should do is arbitrarily allow gun sales to the people whose criminal backgrounds need the most review. Closing the Charleston loophole simply gives officials more time to determine if the applicant is legally qualified to purchase a gun. If a background check is initiated, it should be completed before the sale is made. It’s as simple as that. Expand background checks Require background checks for all gun sales, including private sales, online sales, and sales at gun shows. This is the most comprehensive and effective way to ensure only law-abiding citizens get access to firearms. This is a wildly popular position: 84% of Americans support universal background checks, including 77% of Republicans. Fully fund Hospital-Based Violence Prevention Programs (HVIP) and Community Violence Interruption Programs Gun violence is a public health crisis and it’s time we approach it as one. We need to fully fund hospital-based and community-based violence intervention programs to identify individuals who are more likely to engage in violence before they commit an offense. Violence intervention programs, currently practiced by hospitals, provide trauma-informed services for people undergoing treatment for violent injuries. They address underlying risk factors for violence and link individuals to hospital- and community-based resources that can reduce future violent encounters. Community Violence Interruption Programs reduce community violence by involving trained individuals from the community to identify people who are most at risk for committing or experiencing violence and provide those individuals with services. These services include mentoring, mediation, and identifying the root causes of violence to address them.


”We are on the verge of another major wave of COVID cases in South Carolina and Governor McMaster seems content with doing very little to stop it,” said Cunningham. “The solution is getting more people vaccinated and we should be exploring every option at our disposal to accomplish that goal. Our state remains near dead last in the country in vaccines and that is in large part because of the lack of leadership by our state leaders - namely Governor McMaster. I hope the governor will put the lives of his constituents ahead of his own political life and start showing the leadership our people desperately need.” Joe's plan to increase vaccinations in South Carolina:

  1. Create a Vaccine Ambassador Program through DHEC that brings together the biggest non-political names in South Carolina to help promote the vaccine through participation in PSAs (TV and digital ads), hosting vaccine centers, and a statewide media blitz. Possible participants would include Coaches Shane Beamer, Dabo Swinney, Frank Martin and Dawn Staley, Entertainers Darius Rucker, Bill Murray, and Stephen Colbert, and athletes Khris Middleton, Dustin Johnson, and Stephon Gilmore. The ads would be funded through existing American Rescue Plan funds that have already been allocated to the state.
  2. Deliver a primetime Oval Office-style address to the state about the importance of getting vaccinated. The address would be covered live by all networks and SCETV.
  3. Develop a Vaccine Incentive Program through the Department of Commerce to partner with South Carolina businesses to donate goods and services to a statewide raffle for fully vaccinated people to enter to win prizes. Examples of these prizes could include: a 1-year lease of a BMW or Volvo automobile, vacation packages at coastal resorts, golf packages, tickets to USC and Clemson football games and minor league baseball games, and gift cards to restaurants across South Carolina.
“There’s not a doubt in my mind that South Carolina businesses would jump at the chance to participate in a program like this to get our people vaccinated,” said Cunningham. “Between the positive publicity they would receive from this program and the good they would be doing for our state, this is a slam dunk for any business in South Carolina.”


“Two decades of one-party rule has created a culture of corruption at the state house that empowers special interests, lobbyists, and career politicians, while the working people of this state get ignored,” said Cunningham. “It’s time to bring about significant reform and accountability to our ethics laws so the elected officials of this state can start working for the people they represent - not themselves. As governor, I’ll make ethics reform and tackling corruption at the state house a top priority because the people of this state deserve leadership that cares more about the next generation than the next election.” Joe's plan to fight corruption:

  • Impose term limits on all legislators (three terms for House members, two terms for senators).
  • Ban legislators and the governor from raising campaign money during legislative session so they can focus more on doing their job than on keeping their job.
  • Report all PAC expenditures and contributions within 24 hours.
  • Increase transparency by disclosing all meetings and communications with paid lobbyists.
  • End the legislature's role and influence in electing college boards of trustees by moving to a more independent Board of Regents system to oversee all public colleges and universities.
  • Ban legislators from voting on bills being lobbied for or against by a member of their immediate family.
  • Strengthen the State Ethics Commission and abolish the House and Senate Ethics Committees so legislators are no longer policing other legislators.
  • End dark money groups in South Carolina.


"Confederate Memorial Day is only an official state holiday in five states and for good reason. South Carolina was the last state in the country to recognize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a state holiday but only because Republicans in the legislature isisted on pairing it with Confederate Memorial Day. It's time to end our state's official observance of Confederate Memorial Day and replace it with a truly patriotic day - Election Day."