Sheheen camp taking wrong approach on ethics, Haley

I have a limited patience with discussions of public ethics. It would take more words than I feel like writing today to explain all the reasons why, but here’s the simple explanation: I find that too often, in the political sphere, when we speak of “ethics,” we are not talking about right and wrong; we’re merely talking about appearances.

Cindi Scoppe has always had more patience with ethics discussions than I. That’s fortunate, because her patience and diligence has made her highly knowledgeable about the ways that the topic intersects with SC public life.

But even Cindi has lost patience with the way Vincent Sheheen’s campaign is talking about ethics this week. This excerpt from her column today begins with a quote from a Sheheen release:

“Today, Nikki Haley held a press conference to talk about ethics reform in South Carolina,” a news release from his gubernatorial campaign began. “From covering up the Social Security number hacking scandal to flying with campaign staffers in a state owned plane, Nikki is the last person who should be talking about ethics reform.”


I suppose that sort of non sequitur makes some sense from a campaign perspective, as it reminds people of our governor’s ethical imperfections. But from a governing perspective — and one of the things that I’ve always admired about Vincent Sheheen is that he cares about governing, much more than the governor has tended to — it is completely wrong.

It suggests that reform should be pursued only by the pure of heart. In fact, our government, as a creation of human beings, must rely on imperfect vessels….

Cindi’s completely right. And she’s right that, while the ethics bill the governor is pushing has serious flaws, it’s better than no bill at all.

All week, the Sheheen campaign and state Democratic Party (mostly the party, now that I go back and look) have been bombarding my inbox with attacks on Nikki Haley’s suitability as an advocate for ethics reform.

Yep, it’s ironic that she wants to prevent abuses she has committed herself, but hey — at least she knows what she’s talking about.

And yes, the attacks on Sheheen for being a small-town lawyer representing clients before magistrates whom he had recommended for appointment are rather absurd and over-the-top. As the Sheheen campaign notes, he is the sponsor of a bill to place the power for appointing magistrates in the hands of the Supreme Court. There is nothing “scandalous,” to cite one word used by the governor’s staff, about him representing clients openly in magistrate’s court, under the laws currently in place.

I am more disturbed that so much rhetoric out of the Sheheen campaign and its allies is about tearing down the governor.

In other words, Doug, I’m moving to your way of thinking. I have defended Sheheen to Doug, saying that when you’re running against an incumbent, you have an obligation to explain to voters why the incumbent should no longer hold the office. This necessity is less obvious to Doug because his more or less default position is to be anti-incumbent, while I expect a challenger to justify the challenge.

One justifies a challenge in two ways: By explaining what’s wrong with the incumbent, and by telling voters why you, the challenger, would do a better job.

Lately, though, it seems the Sheheen campaign is all about the former, and very light on the latter.

To get back to Cindi’s column:

The email went on: “Our state deserves real ethics reform. And we deserve a governor who doesn’t constantly blur the lines to serve political agendas.”

Those are both very good points. But they address two completely different issues.

The first is about what sort of law the Legislature passes — or doesn’t pass — in the coming session. The second is about whom we elect as governor a year from now.

Personally, I’d like to have both. At this point, I think Mr. Sheheen would make a better choice on the “governor who doesn’t constantly blur the lines” thing. And the ethics plan that Ms. Haley is pushing might be our best shot at real ethics reform. In fact, while Mr. Sheheen wants to focus more on correcting other shortcomings in our ethics law, the main provisions that Ms. Haley is pushing are changes he supports.

One of the things I detest about our two dominant political parties is the way they encourage people to attack good ideas just because they come from the other side. The Sheheen campaign seems to be falling into that habit, and should heed what Cindi said at the end:

Yes, we deserve a lot better than the Senate Judiciary Committee’s reform package. But the way to get better is to join with other reformers to strengthen the bill — not to attack the efforts of the person who’s best able to focus public attention on the need for reform.

Don’t make perfection the enemy of the good (this is cracking Cindi up, because she had to say that so often to me, as I was seldom satisfied with half a loaf). Take a mediocre bill, and work to make it better.

And cut it out with the drip, drip, drip of negativity.

6 thoughts on “Sheheen camp taking wrong approach on ethics, Haley

  1. Doug Ross

    Thank you. I would gladly vote for Sheheen over Haley if he would just tell me what HE plans to do as governor. I know what Haley has done and can judge for myself without all the hyperbole.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Well, he HAS told us. He put out that book, for instance.

      But he’s not going around and talking about that stuff. In fact, HE isn’t saying all that much, right now (of course, we DO have a year to go). But I don’t like the tone of what people are saying in his behalf.

      1. Doug Ross

        I read the “book” (110 pages of large font, wide margins). FYI, there isn’t even a link to it on his campaign website!

        There are few ideas in there… too much emphasis on 4K kindergarten, lots of new programs but fuzziness on how to pay for them… the old reliable “reform government”… plus a completely wasted effort on calling for a new state constitution. That ain’t happening.

        I’ve said this before – I’d like to see him take the next budget that comes out of the legislature and tell us what HE would veto. That would be a good test.

        1. Brad Warthen

          Well, you know me — whisper “reform government” in my ear and I’ll follow you anywhere.

          I actually like that about both Nikki and Vincent.

          It’s also what I liked about Mark Sanford in 2002. In fact, to this day, Mark and I agree on certain things, and those things tend to fit within the “reform government” category.

        2. Juan Caruso

          “There are few ideas in there… too much emphasis on 4K kindergarten, lots of new programs but fuzziness on how to pay for them… ” Doug R.

          As I recently advised, tomorrow’s SC lawyers have teachers for mothers and/or are being home-schooled.

          The facts, though seemingly hid from the public are going to emerge in the very near future. — What Sheheen says about 4K kindergarten is relevant only to people (admittedly a very large grouping) whose main concern continues to be publicly financed day care.

          There, you now have the awful truth.

  2. JasonG

    Sheheen’s problem is that he has been running for Governor for four years now, and with a year to go, and he has yet to articulate why in a way that voters will be convinced.

    The best I’ve ever gotten from him is that he has problems with Nikki Haley. That’s really weak tea. No one will go to the wall for you, especially in a state that leans to the party you are not part of, and is friendly, at least, to that party’s representative if you cannot show to people why you want the job.


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