A few thoughts on the State of the State

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EDITOR’S NOTE: THERE IS A SERIOUS ERROR BELOW, WHICH I HAVE NOW CORRECTED. PLEASE SEE THE CORRECTION POST.

Been trying all day to get to Nikki Haley’s speech last night. Here are a few quick observations:

  • First, the style: Nikki is a WAY better speaker than Mark Sanford. She, at least, can read a speech that’s right in front of her (and do it in a fairly engaging way). Her predecessor could not, or would not. Every year, I’d get my copy of the speech over lunch on the day of. I’d read it, mark it up, and ask questions about it. I would have completely digested it by the time of the speech itself. Then came speech time, which I generally watched from the comfort of my office on the tube. And then I had to suffer through his hems and haws, and “I would says” and “at the end of the days,” and flat-out off-script digressions, all of them awkward, pausing to search for words, ignoring the speech in front of him. Nikki, with her teleprompter, was MUCH better. But I expected no less.
  • This is not to say that her style is without its irritating characteristics. There’s her prim, smug, I’m-the-girl-with-the-most-gold-stars-in-the-class tone that she too often affects. Watch, for instance, when she extols the blessings of having “a chief executive willing to lead the charge and make the tough decisions” — speaking, of course, of herself. I guess someone who came from the back bench to governor in a year is bound to be a bit self-congratulatory. Human nature. But she could tone it down a bit. And often, she does.
  • Do you know why she can only suggest $120 million worth of cuts toward the $719 million shortfall? Because she hasn’t suggested anything that her political base might object to. And it’s hard to come up with cuts that deep and still do that. She hit programs for those worthless, lazy poor people, of course. And when she got to the middle class, she only went after the stuff that those wicked, decadent liberals like — such as ETV. But the truth is, everybody will have reason to gripe when all the cuts are in. Because believe me, this state’s leaders will never pull an Illinois. Not that they should; I’m just assuring you that they won’t. It’s going to be cuts all the way. And that has nothing to do with Nikki Haley; that’s just the way our State House does things.
  • The ETV thing, of course, is nothing new. Back during the GOP runoff last year, I went over to tape an interview at ETV. They had already talked with Gresham Barrett for the same show. But Nikki wasn’t even calling them back. Scuttlebutt in the ETV corridors was that she didn’t want to talk to them because she was going to back Mark Sanford’s veto of their entire budget. Don’t know whether they were right, but I could see how they’d get that impression.
  • Don’t you love the way she blithely suggests that if you kill ETV (excuse me, “When you release government from the things it should not be responsible for…”), it has this miraculous effect: “you allow the private sector to be more creative and cost efficient.” Remarkable, the things these ideologues will say as though they believed them. Love or hate ETV — and I see it as what it is, one of those few things that South Carolina can point to as something it has done as well as, or better than, other parts of the country (at least in past years) — the notion that the private sector will fill the gap is laughable. You know, this private sector… (Remember when Bravo was known for high-quality arts programming. Not anymore, baby.)
  • I’m definitely with her on asking for quick confirmation of her appointees. She’s made some good picks, and they deserve the opportunity to get to work. Advise, consent, but let’s do it quickly.
  • That little nonsensical (to all but Tea Party ideologues) lecture about how federal funding is inherently a BAD thing was painful to listen to. See, the trouble with the feds sending us money to fund services is that “federal money comes strings, and with those strings come limitations.” The alternative, of course, in South Carolina is that those needs don’t get funded at all. But they’re not really needs, are they? Say that often enough, and you start to believe it. Apparently. In my book, it’s offensive nonsense to say “my cabinet will stop the practice of working the system to get increases in federal funding simply for the sake of expanding our budgets” — as if agencies have sought such funding for any other reason that to fund important services — services they are charged with providing — that the state won’t fund. But yeah, I get it: Her base believes government shouldn’t do such things anyway.
  • I love, love, love that she’s starting out asking for ending the separate election of constitutional officers. Of course, I’m disappointed that she’s only pushing to do two of them — Gov Lite and superintendent of education. But it’s a start, and maybe that’s the smart way: Isolate a couple, so lawmakers can’t hide their votes to kill them. Then do the others later. Remember what they did last time there were votes on the whole shebang? The senators swapped votes, with just enough voting against putting each constitutional change on the ballot to kill it, but each senator being able to say he voted for some (or most) of them. So in this case, maybe piecemeal is smart. And, we hope, a substantive move toward the greater accountability Nikki says she wants to foster.
  • NOTE: THIS BULLET POINT IS COMPLETELY WRONG. I MISREAD WHAT THE GOVERNOR SAID. IN FACT, I THINK WHAT SHE SAID WAS PRAISEWORTHY. I’VE WRITTEN A SEPARATE POST TO SAY SO, IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS. How’d you like this part? “The state of South Carolina pays more than $16,000 annually to incarcerate a single prisoner. We spend more each year on a prisoner than we do on a student. Think of the savings we’ll realize if we aren’t constantly welcoming back behind bars those prisoners who finish out their initial terms.” Usually, when a politician says that, he or she is suggesting that we need to do more to make sure kids get a good education so they don’t end up in prison, which IS more expensive. Nikki says it to justify spending less than our current lowest-in-the-nation amount per prisoner. One way she’d do this? Well, we’re already spending rock-bottom per meal, so we’ll just serve fewer meals. If you think this is a great idea, there’s nothing I can say to you. Except that there is a danger to all of us in running undermanned, underguarded prisons full of starved prisoners. But let’s move on.
  • I very much like that she’s started off her tenure on the Budget and Control Board by helping it work well together. She’s right to be smug about that. I like even better that she sound MORE determined last night than she has to insisting that the board be replaced with something more answerable to the governor. For years, lawmakers were able to shrug off this reform (and cling illegitimately to executive power) by saying you just couldn’t work with that Mark Sanford (which was true, but it was still just an excuse). Now, with the cooperative tone she’s set, they can’t say that. Let’s see some action. Stay on them on this, and keep pouring on the honey — since vinegar didn’t work.
  • This morning, I saw tweets from SCRG touting her speech. But there was no getting around the fact that she did not mention their signature issue — diverting funding from public education to private schools. Good for her. That was a welcome relief from the distracting nonsense of recent years.

Finally, a bit of a digression of my own: On the day that the U.S. House engaged in one of the most offensive partisan gestures I’ve seen in many a year — their farcical “repeal” of health care reform, demonstrating yet again that these yahoos who have taken over the GOP don’t give a damn about health care in America, they just want to cock a snook at Barack Obama at every opportunity — it was just as offensive to see the governor of our state take ANY time in a 34-minute speech to say that HER Cabinet will do all it can to opt out of that same reform. Because, you know, we don’t want South Carolina reaping any benefits that might accrue. If she hadn’t done that, I might have been able to take the fact that she wants to make the lion’s share of her cuts to Medicaid. But paired with that ideological statement, there was no way to put a positive spin on the cuts to care for the poor. Together, those gestures said, “We’re not going to help these people get health care, and we won’t let anyone else do it, either.”

There was good and bad in this brief, brisk, well-delivered speech. But that one thing kind of cast a pall over it all for me. Maybe it wouldn’t have bothered me so much if not for what the House had done that day. After all, while she couched it in ideological language (which is the only way to say the things she was saying, since pragmatism doesn’t enter into such an equation), and while her 1860-flavored digression about the rights of states to resist federal initiatives was kinda creepy amid the celebrations (as opposed to mere observances) we’re seeing related to that period, was downright creepy… still, I was pleased with the respectful, nonpartisan way she described her interaction with the president. But in the end creepy is creepy. And playing ideological games with the lives of sick people is inexcusable. No, we can’t pay for everything we’d like. And no, that federal legislation is far, FAR from perfect. But it’s the only live preserver that’s been thrown, and our governor has no business trying to yank it away.

It just seems to me that we have enough challenges here in South Carolina, more than enough for the governor to say grace over. I can see NO good reason to use any of our limited time, energy or resources mixing into these national partisan fights — especially if we don’t have a better plan for accomplishing what the feds are trying to accomplish.

30 thoughts on “A few thoughts on the State of the State

  1. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    and the irony of dinging ETV when that appears to be the only source of video of the entire speech…..

    Reply
  2. Brad

    Exactly. THERE’S an irony for ya — when Nikki kills ETV, who’s going to show her State of the State speeches to the people?

    Maybe some of y’all have found the Web video somewhere else — and if you have, please let me know. I’d be relieved. But when I looked for it at WIS, all I found was this less-than-three-minute report on the speech by Jack Kuenzie, and the video clips they showed were credited to ETV.

    Was this a pool arrangement? It didn’t occur to me to wonder about it until just now, and I haven’t done a survey of the other for-profit sites … Maybe I can find out tomorrow. Right now, I’m ready to call it a day…

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  3. jfx

    Nikki’s website has a link to the video on the main page, bottom right sidebar. It goes to WLTX, but the video is branded with the ETV logo.

    The direct ETV link is here:

    http://video.scetv.org/video/1754370437/

    BUT I can’t get it to play, and there’s some hogwash on the ETV main page about it being available tomorrow morning. WLTX bought one-day exclusivity?

    Reply
  4. Brad

    Huh… well, that’s where I got the video above, and it worked for me… Did you try the embed? Let me know if you continue to have trouble.

    If WLTX and WIS are both running the ETV, that argues that maybe it WAS a pool thing. I don’t know. If I were still at the paper, I’d probably know, but now I don’t hear about such internal media arrangements as readily.

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  5. Scout

    I didn’t find it anywhere except ETV and I did look, because the DVR recording failed.

    I agree with all your points, but I would additionally ask this question?(and I hate that this seems petty but it really bothers me – it completely disrupted my mental engagement when listening to the speech, like I had been tripped.)

    Was anybody else bothered by the grammar of this sentence: “The majority of prescription drugs issued by Medicaid are generic, with three large exceptions: AIDS, cancer, and mental health. ”

    They aren’t drugs!! This is like saying my three favorite countries are English, Welsh, and French. I was sure it must have been something she misread in the moment, but I assume this text was published before hand. How does something like that get missed? Surely it was proofed….by people who would know?

    She acts so sure of herself but makes these kind of errors. I know it’s just grammar but I can’t help fearing that it may be suggestive of how she does other things, as well. I fear for the poor of the SC. I just don’t think things work the way she thinks they do.

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  6. Brad

    Yes, that’s a bad slip, but forgivable. These folks are not wordsmiths.

    What is less forgivable is the blithe assumption that it’s always OK to substitute a generic for a name-brand drug — particularly in a field such as oncology. I know, since I’m married to a walking miracle who was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer 10 years ago. Yeah, sometimes the generics are great, and you bet we jump at them when we have the chance. But oncology is a fast-developing field, and people who are diagnosed this year frequently have a far better chance of surviving than people with the same diagnosis last year. And as I understand it, that’s frequently because of recent developments in drugs and the doctrines for using them. Sometimes the difference between taking the new, name-brand drug and taking the hottest thing from five years ago, which is now generic, can be a matter of life and death. And I want oncologists making that judgment call, not Nikki Haley (and of course, the fact that she doesn’t express this thought grammatically does little to increase my confidence, but again, that’s not my main beef).

    Ironic, isn’t it — that the ideologues who resist with all their might any effort by government to call shots in health care are so eager themselves to make such decisions once they gain power. Of course, that’s OK because the patients are only poor people — why should they get state-of-the-art care?

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  7. Phillip

    I won’t regurgitate all the stuff I wrote on my own blog this morning about the disheartening speech, other than these two principal observations:

    1) Making the Arts Commission and ETV cuts virtually the first ones with a dollar value she mentioned in her speech belied her self-characterization as a “chief executive who makes the tough decisions.” Way to take on those powerful constituencies eating up hundreds of millions of dollars, Nikki. Obviously this was weighing on you as our principal budgetary problem, since you felt compelled to address them first.

    2) About those cuts: substantial percentage cuts to huge programs is one thing, but reducing funding for core elements of this state’s cultural/educational identity to zero means that one should be thinking REAL hard about what the disappearance of those things would mean for the state. Is the net negative impact on SC really worth it, to save a grand total of 1.5% of this projected budget shortfall?

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  8. bud

    As a long-time member of Toastmasters I have come to appreciate the importance of a good presentation. Brad has done a good job in his first two points of making a Toastmasters-like evaluation.

    As for the substance of the speech, as long as we have so many people in the General Assembly who really don’t get what the impact of the great recession is I’m affraid all the gubernatorial proposals in the world won’t matter. Sadly, I think we are heading in exactly the wrong direction with all the cuts. I would prefer that we simply borrow the money and make the tough cuts later once unemployment gets down to around 6%.

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  9. William Tucker

    “Do you know why she can only suggest $120 million worth of cuts toward the $719 million shortfall?”

    Or the fact that she’s been in office a total of 7 days. On top of that, with the years of cuts and more cuts, what’s left to cut but jobs and services? Typically most can’t make those decisions without some thought first.

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  10. Doug Ross

    @brad/scout

    It wasn’t difficult for me to understand what Haley was saying about the generic drugs.

    “The majority of prescription drugs issued by Medicaid are generic, with three large exceptions: (those used to treat) AIDS, cancer, and mental health. ”

    Nitpicking over a couple missing words sure seems to be petty.

    And, Brad, if a doctor prescribes a new cancer drug, how would a pharmacist be able to substitute a generic for a drug from five years ago? The recommendation comes from a pharmacist/legislator, right? Someone who probably has a pretty good understanding of what drugs can safely be substituted? Or do you really think Nikki Haley is going to be involved in deciding which drugs would be substituted? Let’s get serious now, please.

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  11. William Tucker

    “Well, we’re already spending rock-bottom per meal, so we’ll just serve fewer meals. If you think this is a great idea, there’s nothing I can say to you. Except that there is a danger to all of us in running undermanned, underguarded prisons full of starved prisoners.”

    Why is it required to serve three hot meals a day to prisoners? I only eat two meals a day… and I’m not complaining.

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  12. Jim Duffy

    In one way or another it appears that all agencies are too important to be cut. That is foolhardy when the size of the deficit and the failure to balance the budget is considered. It always turns into a blame game. Every member of the Legislature should be required to develop a list of cuts that will eliminate the $800 million plus deficit. In this manner each elected member will be anwserable to the constituents and be unable to shift blame. These lists can then be reviewed and the cuts made. This is likely too simple in requiring an individual thought process rather than to allow “we cannot sfford to cut such and such agency.

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  13. Doug T

    Defund the Arts?
    Defund ETV?

    Her speech made me think of another R.E.M. song.

    “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.”

    (…and I don’t feel fine.)

    She came across same as always. She’ll hold Town Hall meetings and present Legislators’ report cards and let the people know how she’s graded them? I really really don’t like her style.

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  14. Doug Ross

    I’m for cutting arts funding completely but not for cutting ETV.

    Tax dollars should not be used to promote the arts. Let those who want to support the arts do so with their money, not every taxpayers.

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  15. Greg Jones

    Okay, we’re going to under feed the prisoners, oh and by the way, you’re going to lay off/cut the pay of corrections officers. Great decision.
    Sounds a lot like some of those “set-in-the-future social apocalypse movies. Throw in the poor that you won’t care for anymore as you cut Medicaid, and we’ll all be glad about the second amendment (previous post).

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  16. Rose

    Although I think it would great and appropriate for generic drugs to be available for HIV/cancer/mental health patients, generic drugs do NOT always work exactly the same as the name brands. A relative (an organ transplant recipient on numerous meds) has had this issue as the insurance company wants him to use the generic version of a particular medication, but it does not work as well as the name brand med.

    So I believe it is vital that these patients not be FORCED to use the generics, but have them as an option in consultation with their doctors.

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  17. William Tucker

    Shouldn’t prison be an unpleasant place to be and stay? Is reducing meals from 3 to 2, cruel and unusual punishment? What next, we take away cable television and Nautilus equipment?

    For some prisoner’s, prison is a better life than they had on the outside so there’s no incentive for them to get or stay out.

    Take away work out equipment, bring back chain-gangs and road crews. There’s little pent up anger energy when you’ve spent all day swinging a sledge hammer making little rocks out of big rocks.

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  18. Brad

    Again… William, please go see my correction. Nikki is not suggesting starving the prisoners, even if you do think it’s a great idea.

    Like a lot of people with uninformed opinions on the subject, William needs to do what I have done: He needs to visit some prisons, and see what they’re actually like.

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  19. Steve Gordy

    I’ve made this comment before and I’ll make it again. My fifteen years experience as a volunteer in prison ministry has exposed me to a massive amount of hogwash about prison life, but to the think “prison is a better life than they had on the outside” is so ludicrous it’s not worthy of comment. Except, of course, that some people do make such comments.

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  20. Brad

    Those places reek of despair. I fully understand why it’s standard operating procedure in jails, when initially locking up a prisoner, to take away anything he might hang himself with.

    Whenever I’ve had occasion to visit a prison, the overriding impulse I feel is to get out of there as soon as possible. The feeling of being there, even when you know you are free to leave, is very oppressive.

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  21. William Tucker

    When did I say starving prisoners was a good idea? Cutting from three hot meals to two (or one with a sandwich lunch) doesn’t really equal “starvation”.

    Who says I’ve never visited a prison? I just don’t know anyone in prison in the immediate area and don’t really have any reason to go hang out there. If it’s a horrible place, great… it’s not meant to be a 5-star hotel.

    I went to high school with one person who is in prison in another state, as soon as he’s released he steals another car, goes on a high speed chase and gets put back in. Why does he do it? 3 hot meals a day, a warm bed, not required to work, has access to workout equipment, a library, and cable television. Most of which he didn’t have growing up. He was raised in what I consider extreme poverty by parents who could be considered mildly retarded. Also he’s 6’4 and around 280 pounds, he doesn’t worry about anyone messing with him in prison.

    Another person I know who spent 3 years in a midwest state prison worked in the kitchen. He would add whatever he wanted on the “shopping list”. Also at this prison, they ate steak once a week. He and the other kitchen workers would cut themselves a steak that’d impress the chefs at Ruth Chris. Now I don’t know if that’s still the case at that prison, but it was 20 years ago.

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  22. William Tucker

    Also, most “normal” people probably wouldn’t last more than a month locked up, but what about the people who have spent most of their life in jail or prison? You hear story after story of people who get out and can’t make it in the real world because the only world they know is prison. This isn’t just in television or in the movies. The guy I mentioned above hasn’t been out for more than a year before he’s back in. He’s not a career criminal by that definition, he’s not a violent person, but he chooses to live his life in prison. I fully expect him to live out his life there… if it’s not stealing cars he’ll end up robbing a bank or set fire to something.

    Reply
  23. William Tucker

    Please help me, I’m confused. Am I supposed to feel sorry for those people behind bars? For example, should I feel sorry for the woman sentenced yesterday to 12 years for driving drunk (BAC .21) and killing that 12 year old boy? Should I just feel sad or do I need to actually produce tears?

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  24. Scout

    I said something wrong too. I thought we found the speech on the ETV website, but my husband tells me he actually found the streamed speech that we watched on the WIS page, but he said you had to look for it on there. Clearly, they didn’t film it though.

    Reply
  25. Scout

    Doug says,

    “@brad/scout

    It wasn’t difficult for me to understand what Haley was saying about the generic drugs.

    “The majority of prescription drugs issued by Medicaid are generic, with three large exceptions: (those used to treat) AIDS, cancer, and mental health. ”

    Nitpicking over a couple missing words sure seems to be petty.”

    Well Doug, I said I knew it was petty and that bothered me too. I also did not have trouble figuring out what she meant to say. But it bothered me because it struck me as a possible analogous model for how she deals with the details of government, which like language, is organized and hierarchical. This wasn’t extemporaneous speaking. Her usage was close but not quite right. In the context of defunding agencies and holding them accountable – close but not quite right can translate into defunding agencies that she thinks are not essential when they may be, or holding them accountable for things that may not even be their job.

    I have a lot of Sanford baggage in making this projection, I realize.

    I believe it is the N part of my INFP that makes these extrapolations and I realize they may not be valid, but they nevertheless influence my gut reaction, which is what I was saying.

    Thanks for humoring me.

    Reply
  26. Doug Ross

    @scout

    Let’s not forget that Haley has no control over any funding. She can only veto bills passed by the legislature. Your angst is misdirected. Brad suffers from the same malady, though.

    Reply
  27. Scout

    Yea, I do realize that actually. Her inclinations distress me, but knowing her control is limited is my only solace. Still, I don’t know what ways she may come up with to influence the legislature. Sanford’s skills at such were pathetic, but she shows more promise.

    Reply

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