Micah and the freshmen take on Power Failure, big time

micah release

I got this release today from my representative, Micah Caskey. I’ve told you he’s been pretty bold — in good ways — for a freshman. Now, he’s outdone himself — and brought a bunch of other frosh along with him.

They’re calling for no less than a constitutional convention to address the deep structural problems in our form of government in South Carolina. Here’s the main thrust of the release:

A bi-partisan group of twenty-six freshman members of the South Carolina House of Representatives and the South Carolina Senate introduced a bold plan today to reform state government. Lawmakers from across the state called for the adoption of a new state constitution. Bills introduced in both bodies seek to replace the legislatively-dominated and antiquated framework of the South Carolina Constitution of 1895. In the most ambitious reform effort since Gov. Carroll Campbell’s restructuring work in the early 1990s–and the first such endeavor led by the legislature–the plan unveiled today will result in an improved, more transparent, and more efficient state government that is accountable to the people.

Micah Caskey cropped

Caskey in 2016

The 1895 Constitution, the seventh in South Carolina history, was notoriously borne out of “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman’s explicit motivation to elevate the power and influence of white South Carolinians at the expense of black citizens. The resulting state government structure diffused responsibility throughout the General Assembly and subjugated the executive and judicial branches of government to the legislature. The legacy of Tillman’s effort continues to shackle us today.

Today’s initiative seeks to restore balance in state government. South Carolina’s governor must have the authority and control to lead the executive branch through a cabinet form of government that is not dominated or micromanaged by the legislature. Likewise, the judiciary must be an equal branch of government that is appointed with participation from both the executive and legislative branches. Reforming state government will reduce the legislature’s outsized influence and restore three, co-equal branches of government.

The bills introduced today propose a ballot referendum for South Carolina’s citizens to call only for a state constitutional convention; this process cannot in any way, whatsoever, limit the freedoms and liberties guaranteed under our United States Constitution….

The problems are basically the same ones I — and a large portion of The State‘s then-considerable newsroom — addressed in the huge “Power Failure” series in 1991 (tagline: “The Government that Answers to No One”), when Micah and many of these other folks were in grade school, (if that old). But the diagnosis didn’t originate with me or Cindi Scoppe or any of the others on the Power Failure team. Some of the main remedies we wrote about then had been recommended by one blue-ribbon panel after another since about 1945.

Micah, et al., are proposing to go a step further, calling a con-con. I always stopped short of that, because anything could happen in one of those, depending on who the delegates are. A convention could come up with proposals that make things worse, so I’ve always been leery.

In fact, my original idea for Power Failure came from a series of op-eds written by Walter Edgar and Blease Graham in 1990, in which they did advocate a convention. But I still preferred to advocate “do this, specifically” to lawmakers, rather than having them call a convention and see which way they went.

But maybe it’s time. After the partial restructuring of 1993 after our series (and with Gov. Campbell pushing it hard), reform has languished, although every few years we’ll get a small additional piece — for instance, we’ll be enacting another bit of it when we elect the lieutenant governor on the same ticket as the governor (if the General Assembly ever figures out the rules).

Several years back, Vincent Sheheen suggested taking the plunge, and even then I worried about buying a pig in a poke. But South Carolina needs fundamental reform, and it’s been so long, so maybe it’s worth the risk now.

I’ll watch with interest to see how their elders respond to this call for deep and needed change.

28 thoughts on “Micah and the freshmen take on Power Failure, big time

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    One small quibble, having to do with this part of the release:

    The 1895 Constitution, the seventh in South Carolina history, was notoriously borne out of “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman’s explicit motivation to elevate the power and influence of white South Carolinians at the expense of black citizens. The resulting state government structure diffused responsibility throughout the General Assembly and subjugated the executive and judicial branches of government to the legislature. The legacy of Tillman’s effort continues to shackle us today…

    Reformers often blame it on Tillman. It makes for a good selling point, since he was a bad guy and he was trying to consolidate his power.

    But we’d had this unaccountable, legislative-skewed power structure for centuries, since the days of the Lords Proprietors. In terms of the way power flowed, the 1895 constitution just continued the pattern.

    From the start, the big, slaveholding landowners who ran South Carolina wanted to make sure they continued to run it without anyone contesting their power. In the colonial period, they wanted to minimize the authority of royal governors. The big landowners made up the General Assembly, and they wanted to make sure no one else could change things.

    So basically, for centuries we’ve had this system that is extraordinarily resistant to change, since it pretty much took a consensus of the ruling class — even unanimity in the case of the Senate — for anything to happen. This was the way the big plantation owners wanted it, and their successors in power liked it, too.

    The original benefactors of this system are long gone, but we’re still stuck with significant vestiges of the system….

    Reply
  2. bud

    Be afraid, VERY afraid. When you see weasle words like “shackled” flung around so loosely you know there is much to fear. After the last disasterous round of restructuring it is clear that things can go badly wrong.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I need to put this somewhere handy so I can copy and paste it and don’t have to keep typing it for Bud (I almost did so in advance, but I’ve been busy):

      1. We’ve never restructured government the way we need to.

      2. What little we’ve done has most definitely not been “disastrous.”

      3. Bud’s perspective is based on not liking some cosmetic, bogus “reforms” that were instituted in his agency, changes that were a far cry from what we were calling for, since lawmakers have always been particularly jealous of their power over roads.

      4. I learned in 1991 that most state workers — including really good, dedicated people — were leery of having their agencies made more politically accountable. It’s not because they were bad people. It’s because it’s human nature to want to be left alone to do your job, and understandable that when it’s your job every day, you sort of hate the idea of thinking everything might change every four years.

      Reply
      1. bud

        1. Perhaps
        2. It was really terrible. Since State NEVER really followed up how would you know? Sloppy journalism.
        3. Cosmetic??? The whole agency was obliterated. It took 5 years for the dust to settle.
        4. Condescending bunk.

        Reply
  3. Doug Ross

    No worries.. this won’t happen. The big boys will shut down the youngsters right away.

    Would be nice to see James Smith make a stand with this group. Would love to see some fire in his belly.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I sort of think he might. His close ally Vincent Sheheen has been for these reforms, and as I said, he was calling for a convention in 2012.

      I can’t remember specifically discussing Power Failure issues with James, but I probably have, sometime during the year. I’ll look for a chance to talk with him about it…

      Reply
    2. Juan Caruso

      No worries, Doug? More like no hope, if entrenched pols are never pressured agaist blocking meanngful reforms that upset their sacred apple carts.

      And, speaking of carts, when will SC’s complacent voters ever get off their turnip carts and insist on bringing SC government on accoutability par with the rest of the country, much less our neighbor NC?

      An often heard platitude of most SC’s voters remains “I never vote in primaries, I just don’t have the time!”

      Well, these bipartisan freshman must first convince the ‘turnip cart crowd’ of how shamefully unaccoutablly our current state constitution has allowed so-called leaders to work for voters vs. themselves. Surely, the freshman can dredge up some glaring examples of waste, fraud and abuse.

      Otherwise, a fine, self-serving publicity stunt (that cannot even come to a vote until next year, at the earliest). How many of the bipartisan freshman are lawyers? Readers should find out for themselves.

      Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      What do you MEAN, there’s no problem with it? Where do you get that idea? It generates controversy. Here’s what Lindsey Graham said about it:

      Graham Responds to Schumer Rationale for Voting Against South Carolina Federal District Court Nominee

      WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today made this statement on Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s rationale for voting against a nominee, Marvin Quattlebaum, for federal district court judge for South Carolina.

      “I’ve known Chuck Schumer for years. He is not a racist, but this was an absolutely shameful reason to vote against a very qualified nominee like Marvin Quattlebaum.

      “This is political correctness run amok. Voting against a highly qualified nominee because of the color of his skin does nothing to bring our country and nation together. Frankly it is a massive step backward.

      “I judge nominees on the content of their character, not the color of their skin. Chuck Schumer should do the same.”

      #####

      Reply
    2. Richard

      They’re Democrats, it’s okay when they do it… just like it’s okay for black people to use the “N” word. No story here.

      Reply
      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Except, of course, that there IS a story, which is how Claus knew about it. He LINKED to the story. It was a story BECAUSE it was controversial.

        I mean, am I the only person who notices things like this?…

        Reply
  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    I’m puzzling over the state Democratic chair’s reaction to this:

    REPUBLICANS ANNOUNCE EFFORT TO DISCRIMINATE AGAINST WOMEN PERMANENTLY
    “The Constitution of South Carolina has always been a tool for the discrimination of our people. This bill is nothing more than an attempt to oppress every woman in South Carolina.”

    Columbia, SC – On Wednesday, legislators led by Reps. Micah Caskey (R-Lexington), William Cogswell (R-Charleston), and Jason Elliott (R-Greenville) in the House as well as William Timmons (R-Greenville) and Majority Leader Shane Massey (R-Edgefield) in the Senate introduced a bill that would place on the ballot in November a call for a constitutional convention to replace South Carolina’s current state constitution.

    “The Constitution of South Carolina has always been a tool for the discrimination of our people, said South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson. “This bill is nothing more than an attempt to oppress every woman in South Carolina. The time has come for women in the districts of these legislators to step forward and challenge the men leading this assault on their rights.”

    Chairman Robertson continued, “These are the same folks that have gotten us into this nuclear debacle with V.C. Summer forcing rate increases across the state, have forced the closure of rural hospitals, and have created a culture of corruption in Columbia. They cannot even provide a minimally adequate education for our students. Why in the hell would we trust them with our Constitution when they are just as bad as Pitchfork Ben Tillman?”

    ###

    I see that, and I wonder: What does it have to do with women? Does he know there are Democrats with Micah on this? Does he know some of them are women, and at least one a black woman?

    I’m sort of thinking maybe he misread the release…

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Meg Kinnard offers this explanation:

      … to which I respond: Trav knows this is the STATE constitution, right?

      Reply
    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Now there’s this:

      Reply
      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        From that story, I see it’s not just Trav Robertson going off a cliff. Apparently, Todd Rutherford has been trying to sabotage it, too.

        The Dems are eating their young today…

        Reply
  5. Brad Warthen Post author

    Looking back at my headline: “Micah and the Freshmen” sounds kind of like a pre-Beatles singing combo.

    As in, “I saw Micah and the Freshmen” — the original members, on a reunion tour — open for Frankie Valli at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds in 1993…”

    Reply
  6. bud

    Is it really a good idea to give the governor more power? Given the horrible governors we have had I say no.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yes, it is. You put the executive branch in the hands of the elected chief executive. Then you hold that person accountable.

      And from the moment you do that, you start getting serious about electing good governors, because then it actually MATTERS who the governor is.

      Reply
      1. Larry Slaughter

        “And from the moment you do that, you start getting serious about electing good governors, because then it actually MATTERS who the governor is.”

        Come on, Brad. This is a state that voted overwhelmingly for Trump.

        Reply
          1. Larry Slaughter

            No. Not at all. But I think a constitutional convention would be radicalized. As flawed as the SC state house it, the SC Senate has blocked, by inactivity, some of the most screwball notions.

            Reply
            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Yep. Whether it’s a good idea or a bad one, that’s what the Senate does.

              The problem isn’t “screwball notions.” The problem is the danger that convention delegates may not have a clue as to how to make the constitution better…

              Reply
        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I believe in rational, politically accountable government. Which is what these young lawmakers are trying, thoughtfully and constructively, to create for the first time in South Carolina.

          And they should be applauded for it….

          Reply

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