Perhaps I’ve been remiss by not commenting on hearings the Senate Medical Affairs Committee has been having regarding the recent DHEC decision to allow the state of Georgia to dredge.
It’s just that I haven’t been sure what to say about it.
The panel itself has absolved the governor and her staff of having exerted undue influence in the decision:
A panel of state senators cleared Gov. Nikki Haley’s staff Thursday of charges that they exerted undue influence in a controversial decision to allow the expansion of a Georgia port.
By a 7-3 vote, the senators, who are investigating the port decision, agreed no evidence exists the that governor’s office unfairly influenced the process….
But frankly, I was never convinced that the panel was asking the right question.
The governor’s political opponents have seemed very concerned with trying to find a smoking gun — some specific instance in which the governor, or someone on her staff, said to the DHEC board, “Do this.”
And as far as most of the Democrats on the panel are concerned, they found it. “Boom! That was it,” says Joel Lourie of an Oct. 4 meeting at which the governor promised her Georgia counterpart a rehearing. “That lit the fire.”
Haley staffer Ted Pitts confirmed that the conversation with Gov. Nathan Deal took place. The governor subsequently “called Allen Amsler, the DHEC chairman, into her office and asked him to grant the hearing.”
But Pitts says there was no promise of an approval the second time around.
So put whatever spin on that you like. Vincent Sheheen is so convinced that this inculpates the governor that he’s including the Post and Courier story in its entirety in fund-raising emails, saying “I urge you to read the article below so that you can tell your friends what a travesty is occurring in Columbia. We need your help to keep fighting to expose the dishonesty and self interest that has infected our state at the highest levels. Our state’s future is at stake!”
But here’s the thing for me: I don’t need to know who said what to whom on what date. The governor appointed this board. This board made this decision. The governor says she supports the decision. None of this is in dispute.
No voter needs to know more than that in order to hold Nikki Haley responsible for the decision. The rest — hearings and such — is political theater.
There’s no question that it is fair and right to identify Nikki Haley with this decision. That’s not in dispute. The reason why I’m not as up in arms about it as Sheheen and Lourie and others, including such Republicans as Larry Grooms, are is that I don’t know enough to know whether it was a bad decision.
Maybe I’ve missed it in the coverage I’ve seen, but I’ve not encountered a clear answer to this question: Was the board — which is entirely Nikki Haley’s creation — overruling the considered judgment of DHEC staff? At first, I assumed that was the case, and was duly outraged. But I haven’t seen that stated overtly anywhere. If staff concurred in this reassessment, that puts everything in a different light.
So what I’d like to see a Senate panel dig into — if it is indeed inclined to dig — is the extent to which staff and board diverged. That would help me know what to think.
Staff people aren’t going to come forward and dispute their political masters on this. Are you kidding? But perhaps the Legislature could compel testimony not otherwise available…