Category Archives: Government restructuring

Is RCRC chief ‘The most powerful black man in South Carolina’?

Things are continuing to heat up over at the Richland County Recreation Commission, causing Sen. Joel Lourie to send this message this morning to his fellow members of the county legislative delegation:

Dear Fellow Delegation Members –

I wanted to make you aware of the recent developments with the Recreation Commission.

Joel 2

Sen. Joel Lourie

The story on WACH fox is alarming and very, very concerning.  I think we are in crisis mode and like me, I am sure you have heard from constituents who are demanding change.  I cannot imagine what is like for the employees working there, but it sounds like a “living hell”.  We cannot sit quietly and ignore what is happening.  Please join me in insisting the commission take action on the recommendation of the delegation last week to suspend the director until the investigation is concluded and the cloud of uncertainty and fear is removed.  My friends, I have never seen anything like this in all my years of public service and we owe it to the employees and citizens of Richland County to take action.  I hope to be speaking with many of you in the days ahead about this urgent matter.

Wishing you and your family a safe holiday weekend  –

Joel Lourie

Here’s the WACH-Fox story he alluded to, which featured some pretty lurid quotes from an unnamed “whistleblower:”

Sexual harassment, bullying and a long line of nepotism are what a whistleblower says the Executive Director brings to the Richland County Recreation Commission. A person with ties to the commission spoke exclusively with WACH FOX News and The State newspaper, saying they and many others are scared for their lives.

“We’re scared. I mean, we’ve heard that he carries a gun in the office.. so we’re.. we never know when he will flip and turn on us because he has said many times that if he goes down, he’s taking all of us with him.”

The whistleblower says Executive Director James Brown III has been making threats for at least two years, but they have gotten worse since the first of multiple lawsuits were filed.

“He has bragged about having sexual relations in the bathroom at the job, and he’s also bragged saying he only needs to throw fifty dollars to certain people- you know, out of his pocket, to get what he wants.”…

The whistleblower says in the last year, about fifteen people have been fired- most of them in retaliation for speaking out against him.

“He thinks it’s a joke, and he thinks he’s the most powerful black man in South Carolina, and he has said that and said that he knows he can get away with anything.”…

The story in The State was less sensational, but on firmer ground. Rather than quoting the anonymous source, he paper stuck with named sources and documents:

An employee of the highly scrutinized Richland County Recreation Commission who is one of several recently to sue the agency was fired this week.

It’s the most recent plot point in a continuing narrative characterized by inflammatory accusations, numerous lawsuits and investigations by local, state and federal agencies launched in recent months into the commission and its executive director, James Brown III.

Anthony Cooper, the commission’s bond director, was fired by the agency Wednesday, according to Cooper’s attorney, J. Lewis Cromer. Cooper’s termination letter cited him as “placing documents in the Dumpster in violation of a current litigation hold,” Cromer said in a statement Thursday.

But Cooper, Cromer said, had outwardly accused higher-ups in the commission of shredding documents that might have been the subject of investigations….

The plot sickens.

I just called Joel to chat further about this, but missed him. I left a message saying that I bet I know one thing he won’t miss about his job as a senator…

One of the commission's many facilities.

One of the commission’s many facilities.

Congratulations to Micah Caskey — now I’d like to see him adopt his opponent’s issue

A week ago today, I dropped by a gathering of supporters of Micah Caskey at The Whig. It was a small group, but diverse — the person who had invited me to it was Raia Hirsch, a Democrat previously seen working in Vincent Sheheen’s gubernatorial campaign. (She and Micah had been in Law School together.)Micah Caskey cropped

I chatted briefly with Micah at the event, and he seemed quite confident that he was going to win the runoff — even though his opponent, Tem Miles, had the public backing of their chief rival in the original primary on June 14, former Lexington County Councilman Bill Banning.

Well, he was right to be confident — he won walking away, with more than two-thirds of the vote (see below). This was no doubt due to hard work, a positive message, and of course the fact that he took out a campaign ad on bradwarthen.com — that’ll do it every time. :)

He was a strong candidate. I guess I should say is a strong candidate, since he has opposition in the fall. In this district, you’re usually pretty safe to bet on the Republican, although I haven’t met his opposition, which I need to do at some point. He faces Democrat Peggy Butler and Constitutional candidate Robert Lampley in November.

As I think I mentioned earlier, I thought the district would have been well-served by either of these young attorneys. And there’s one thing that would make me feel even better about the prospect of Micah Caskey being my representative…

The best thing that Tem had going for him was that he had notions of reform that seemed to come straight out of the Power Failure project I conceived and directed at The State 25 years ago even though he’s too young to remember it. I had meant to encourage him further in that direction by dropping off a reprint of the series at Mr. Miles’ law office (I still have a few yellowing copies in a closet somewhere). I neglected to do that. I’ll still do so, if he’s interested.

But I’m also going to give one to the winner, next time I see him. It would be great to see him adopt the best part of his erstwhile opponent’s platform…

District 89

Tem Miles, Republican, S.C. House District 89

Tem and the Miles fam.

Tem and the Miles fam.

Tem Miles came in second in the GOP primary for S.C. House District 89 Tuesday. He got 25 percent of the vote to Micah Caskey’s 36 percent. (Those percentages are from a tiny turnout — Caskey got 1,026 actual votes, and Miles got 717.)

But he’s already gotten a boost in the runoff on June 28. Bill Banning, the former Lexington county councilman who came in third with 21 percent, has endorsed Miles, based on his belief that “experience matters.”

That’s a reference to the fact that between the two young attorneys, Miles is the only one to have held elective office previously. In fact, as a West Columbia city councilman, Miles is the veteran of some pretty unpleasant confrontations with former Mayor Joe Owens. He was re-elected last year.

Miles also cites other experience, serving in two of the state’s three branches of government. The Citadel grad formerly clerked for Appeals Court judge Paul. E. Short Jr., and served as attorney for the Office of Senate Research. Today, he’s in private practice with the McKay Firm.

His list of goals if elected, as listed on his website, are pretty similar to those cited by his opponent, and not appreciably more detailed:

Tem Goals

Since it was the item that interested me most (hey, you want something other than that, go to some other blog!), I asked him what he meant by “reforming state government,” noting that the few words he had about it on his website suggested he was mostly talking about ethics reform.Tem Miles

But his notion of “reform,” it turns out, is much broader and to the point than that. In fact, he defines it pretty much the way I do.

Turns out that, although he was probably in middle school when my “Power Failure” project ran in the paper in 1991, he seems to have absorbed its main lessons from somewhere.

So, like Arlo Guthrie and the other fellas on the Group W bench, we just had a high ol’ time talking about the Legislative State, special purpose districts, judicial selection, co-equal branches of government, and all kinds of groovy things that would probably make your eyes glaze over — but which are the very things a lawmaker should care about if he’s running on RE-form.

Some high points from that discussion:

  • He would turn more real power over “to our governor” — although he hastened to add that he didn’t specifically mean this governor, just governors in the future. Bottom line, the executive branch must be more empowered in other to be a co-equal branch with the dominant Legislature.
  • He would empower the judiciary in part by giving it a set percentage of the state budget to run on, rather than judges having to go begging to the Legislature for funding.
  • He would further free the judiciary from the legislative branch by changing the method of judicial selection, which now lies completely in the hands of lawmakers. Rather than say he would move to the federal system, he said he would select them like worker’s comp commissioners — the governor nominates, and the full Senate confirms. In other words, the federal system.
  • “We’d be so much further along as a state,” he said, if we fully implemented Home Rule — by which he meant local governments should be run by the folks elected locally to do that, instead of by county legislative delegations and their creatures, such as SPDs.

There was more, but you get the idea. Either that, or you zoned out. Anyway, the idea is RE-form.

So that’s what I know about Tem (short for “Temus“) Miles, who is facing Micah Caskey in the runoff on June 28.

Other lawmakers think solicitor should probe RCRC

BRP-Prk10

Bluff Road Park, one of the facilities overseen by RCRC.

This is an interesting wrinkle:

Four members of the Richland County legislative delegation now are asking Sheriff Leon Lott to turn over an investigation of the Richland County Recreation Commission to 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson.

In a letter sent Friday to Lott, Sen. John Scott, Sen. Darrell Jackson, Rep. Jimmy Bales and Rep. Christopher Hart ask Lott to engage the Solicitor’s Office in investigating any possible criminal activities of the legislative-controlled Recreation Commission….

Two weeks ago, Sen. Joel Lourie, Rep. Beth Bernstein and Rep. James Smith, asked the sheriff’s department to investigate the commission in light of further recent reports of possible criminal activity.

“We think it is a more appropriate channel” to have the solicitor investigate, Jackson told The State. “Our goal is just to get down to the bottom of this. If something criminal has happened, then we need to take action. … If there are no criminal activities, then we hope we will put this to rest.”…

So… what’s that about? Why the solicitor instead of Lott? I hope it’s not just as simple as a superficial analysis would suggest. This matter is rife with racial tension — until now, you’ve had white officials seeking an investigation of black officials. Is it meaningful that three white lawmakers sought for the white sheriff to investigate, while three black lawmakers and one white one want the black solicitor to be in charge?

Perhaps, in the minds of some, both white and black.

One thing I’m sure of: Anyone who would accuse Lourie, Smith, Bernstein or Lott of racism would be light years off base – and I can’t see Jackson, et al., doing that. So what’s the real reason for the other four lawmakers choosing this other course?

The story doesn’t mention, by the way, where the four stepping up on the issue today would back the call by Lourie, Smith and Bernstein to turn the commission over to county council — which is the most obvious reform measure from a legislative perspective…

Major miracle: John Oliver focuses on Special Districts!

After my post about the Richland County Recreation Commission — which is not a part of Richland County government, but one of 500 or so Special Purpose Districts created by the Legislature — Daniel Coble brought the video above to my attention.

I was stunned! As one of only two journalists in South Carolina who have taken much interest in SPDs during my career here, it seems to me a major miracle that John Oliver, an entertainer with a national audience, would actually devote a 15-minute segment to the problem.

And my eyes were opened by the fact that other states had the problem. I’ve seen it as a South Carolina phenomenon, since until 1975 we had no county governments, meaning that lawmakers created these little governments on an ad hoc basis as the need for services arose here and there.

Oliver cites a source saying that nationally, there are 40,000 such governments, which spend $100 billion annually.

What he says here definitely sounds just like South Carolina:

“Special districts are so ubiquitous, and sometimes have so little accountability, states may not even know how many they have, or how much they spend.”

That’s where we are.

He makes fun of Idaho launching an investigation with the aim of simply determining how many special districts it has, but hey, more power to Idaho — to my knowledge, we haven’t undertaken that task in South Carolina. When I say there are 500, that’s a guess made by reasonably informed people. I’ve been told that no one knows, really.

Last time I checked, not even the South Carolina Association of Special Purpose Districts knew for certain. On their website, they say “over 500” (which at least shows they are not pedants, else they would insist on saying “more than 500.”)

Anyway, it’s great to see the problem getting this attention. I hope the topic will get a lot more focus here in South Carolina with the latest allegations regarding the RCRC.

Oliver2

Lourie, Smith, Bernstein call for probe of recreation commission

RCRC-074

I just got this from Joel Lourie:

For Immediate Release
April 13, 2016
Contact:
Representative James Smith, 803-931-2200
Representative Beth Bernstein, 803-609-1978
Senator Joel Lourie, 803-447-0024

Richland Legislators Call for Investigation of Recreation Commission, and Restructuring of Governance

Three members of the Richland County Legislative Delegation have called on Sheriff Leon Lott to coordinate a special investigation of the Recreation Commission, its director and members of the governing commission. Senator Joel Lourie, along with Representatives James Smith and Beth Bernstein, have asked for this investigation in the wake of media reports by The Nerve today regarding improper activity at the commission. “We have asked Sheriff Lott to coordinate with State and Federal authorities and pursue a thorough investigation of all actions of the director and any commission members that may have violated the law” said Lourie.logo

The legislators will also be filing legislation in their respective bodies to turn oversight of the Recreation Commission over to Richland County Council. “It only makes sense that the body that funds the Richland County Recreation Commission should also be its governing authority. Accountability and transparency are clearly lacking” said Smith.

These actions come after concerns have been raised recently by letters, emails and phone calls to the legislative delegation by various members of the public. “The people of Richland County deserve to know what is going on with their recreation department and it is incumbent among us as public officials to restore the public trust” said Bernstein.

Why would members of the legislative delegation get involved? Because the recreation commission is in no way accountable to country government. It is a Special Purpose District, a creature of the Legislature.

There are at least 500 such mini-governments, created on an ad hoc basis years ago by lawmakers, that are in no way accountable to cities and counties. Most were created before Home Rule was passed in the 1970s — before that, county governments didn’t exist. Local legislative delegations oversaw local government functions.

Well, now we don’t need them. But do they go away? No. Why? Because the public doesn’t know or care that SPDs exist, and the folks who run SPDs don’t want to lose their fiefdoms, so the only people lawmakers hear from are those wanting to keep them.

Another legacy of the Legislative State. Which is why we made a big deal about them in the Power Failure series — 500 redundant, unnecessary, unaccountable little governments. While we’ve seen progress on some things we wrote about in that series, we haven’t on this issue… And it’s been 25 years now.

Something for Doug: Abramoff backs term limits

Doug should enjoy this.

It came along with the following release from U.S. Term Limits:

Jack Abramoff Backs Term Limits in New Video

The man once known as “America’s most notorious lobbyist” is speaking out in a new video for congressional term limits. Jack Abramoff now says “Congress will never be fixed without term limits” in a video produced for U.S. Term Limits’ “Term Limits Convention” campaign.

According to Abramoff, term limits would reduce special interests’ influence in Washington by disrupting their relationships with long-serving incumbents.

“When I was a lobbyist, I hated the idea that a congressman who I had bought with years of contributions would decide to retire,” Abramoff says. “That meant I had to start all over again with a new member, losing all the control I had bought with years of checks.”

Abramoff’s comments debunk the arguments made by anti-term limits politicians, who’ve long claimed that lobbyists like term limits.

“Career politicians often smear term limits by claiming lobbyists are for it,” said U.S. Term Limits President Philip Blumel. “But the opposite is true. Whenever lobbyists get involved in a term limits campaign, all of their money goes to the side trying to prevent, weaken or abolish term limits. That’s why we’re glad Jack Abramoff is speaking out.”

Abramoff’s video closes on this note, as he warns “if you want to see pigs screeching at the trough, tell them they can’t stay there forever. There’s no trough as dangerous as the one in Washington.”

The ex-lobbyist volunteered his opinions and was not compensated by U.S. Term Limits. His remarks will be used to raise awareness for the Term Limits Convention, a new campaign to term limit Congress using an Article V amendment convention.

The campaign, launched in January, requires 34 state legislatures to pass bills calling for term limits on Congress, before a convention can be called to propose a congressional term limits amendment. Florida was the first state to pass the resolution but several others are considering it now.

Watch the Abramoff Video here.

Of course, it doesn’t change my mind. I still have problems with telling the voters who they can and can’t re-elect if they so choose.

There are good arguments in favor of term limits — ones that I find more persuasive than Abramoff’s “everybody’s a crook like me” thesis. For instance, it might increase political courage — representatives daring to do the right thing, rather than the popular thing so they can get re-elected.

Most people who favor term limits think it would be a way to bind elected officials more to the popular will. They have it backwards. It could free them from slavish adherence to the popular idea of the moment. And that could be a could thing. It could also be a bad thing, if it freed pols to do something unpopular that was also a terrible idea.

But in any case, I remain unconvinced, and mostly for the reason that drives Doug the craziest: I believe that experience is valuable in public service, just as it is in every other field of human endeavor. And a mindless mechanism that would throw out the very best representatives along with the very worst is not a good idea.

Speaker Lucas is right to trash the Senate GOP roads plan

SCRoadsBandaidAriailW

I understand from various sources that the Senate today is debating, and plans to vote on, the “roads plan” that I excoriated last week. Here’s hoping it’s not going well.

As Cindi wrote the other day, the GOP proposal has its good parts, including real reform in governance of DOT. But it also contains an absolute dealbreaker, ladies:

If the legislation skipped over Section 4, Gov. Nikki Haley would be correct to say it’s “exactly what we need.” We would have the reform we need, and the Legislature could devote some one-time money to roads again this year and adopt a long-term funding plan next year that befits the reformed Transportation Department.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t skip Section 4, which commits not just this General Assembly but every General Assembly in perpetuity to siphoning $400 million out of our state’s general budget fund and giving it to the Transportation Department.

The result is a bill that promises to break trust with the voters and strangle out other state obligations and, at bottom, isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

For as long as we have been paving roads, we have collected a gas tax and driver fees to build and maintain those roads, on the theory that people inside and outside of South Carolina who use our roads the most should pay the most for them.

We have collected sales and income taxes to pay for our schools and courts and state police and child protection and economic development and environmental protection and most other state services.

The Senate plan changes that, dramatically. It diverts $400 million in sales and income taxes — more than 5 percent of the state budget — to pay for roads. That means we have $400 million less — not just next year but every year going forward — to pay teacher salaries, including extra pay to reward and attract the best teachers for the neediest students, to pay cities and counties for holding elections and performing other duties the state requires them to perform, to hire caseworkers to protect vulnerable children from abusive parents, to employ the judges who lock up the bad guys and the prison guards who keep the bad guys from escaping and the scientists who test our water to make sure it’s safe to drink, and everything else.

The roads diversion breaks trust with voters, in much the same way lawmakers do when they raid trust funds….

Make no mistake: A proper roads bill includes both proper reform and a gas tax increase. And it most assuredly does not include an open-ended raid on the funding for everything else the state of South Carolina does.

If Harvey Peeler manages to ram through this awful mess today, it will be up to the House to kill it. And Speaker Jay Lucas said it best last week:

1126136229“For 323 days, the Senate has had every opportunity to show leadership and propose a real, long-term solution for road repair in South Carolina. The current Senate amendment simply kicks the can further down the road and frankly, into a pothole. The General Assembly has been using general fund dollars to slap a band-aid on roads for years with very little to show for it. I urge the Senate to give this issue the attention that it requires and rally around a proposal with a long-term solution that keeps our families safe and our economy thriving.”

 

 

 

Cindi’s good idea for Greenwood monument could be applied in a lot of areas

Cindi Scoppe had a good column about the absurd problem that the town of Greenwood faces. The town decided some time back that it wanted to revise the lists of dead from the world wars on local monuments so that they were no longer separated into “white” and “colored.”

But the Legislature’s execrable Heritage Act, which was passed years ago for the now-irrelevant purpose of protecting the unlamented Confederate flag on the State House grounds, forbids the town from doing so. Which is absurd and wrong on several levels.

And unfortunately, Speaker Jay Lucas’ Shermanesque statement that while he is speaker, no more exceptions will be made to the Act, period, means there’s no hope for what the town wants to do. (I can appreciate Lucas’ pragmatic desire, once the good work of lowering the flag was done, to get onto other issues without distractions, but this is a particularly unfortunate effect of his declaration.)

Anyway, I like Cindi’s solution:

We should all hope that once cooler heads prevail, the speaker will walk back his Shermanesque statement, and the Legislature will give the American Legion and the city of Greenwood control over their own property — and give all local governments and private entities control over their property as well, for that matter.

If that doesn’t happen, there’s a better solution than a lawsuit: The folks in Greenwood should take up a collection for a new sign, to erect next to the monument, that says: “These lists of Americans who gave their lives for our nation remain segregated in the 21st century because the S.C. General Assembly either opposes integration or refuses to let local governments make their own decisions or both.”

That idea could be applied in a lot of situations where the Legislative State ties the hands of local governments. For instance, signs could be posted at Richland County polling places saying, “You are waiting in such long lines because the Legislature, in its ‘wisdom,’ gives control of the voting process to the local legislative delegation.”

Given the many ways the Legislature reaches down to meddle in local affairs, the possibilities for applying this idea are practically endless…

 

The Senate, as is its wont, resists reforming DOT

While I think it’s great the Senate is trying to come up with even more money to fix our roads, I have to agree with Speaker Lucas on this one:

State senators passed their own version of a plan Tuesday to raise money to repair the state’s crumbling roads, setting up a crash with their counterparts in the S.C. House.

The collision came as the Senate Finance Committee voted 14-8 to replace a House road-repair plan with a Senate proposal. The Senate plan would raise more money for roads — roughly $800 million a year versus $427 million — but also increase the gas tax more — by 12 cents a gallon versus 10 cents….

House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, said he was “extremely disappointed” the Senate committee did not debate the various parts of the House bill, instead substituting its own proposal.

Lucas called the House’s 87-20 passage of its own roads plan two weeks ago a “courageous vote,” adding senators focused only on “dollar signs,” not the other reforms in the House plan.

State Rep. Gary Simrill, the York Republican who sponsored the House bill, said the resounding House vote — enough to withstand a promised Haley veto — was because that proposal also included reforming the State Infrastructure Bank and S.C. Department of Transportation.

“The Senate bill … has nothing for reform. It has nothing for right-sizing DOT,” Simrill said. “It is just a funding (proposal).”…

Funding the roads without fixing DOT is almost as bad as reforming DOT without funding the roads — as Cindi pointed out today.

We need to do both, and we’ve needed to do both for a long, long time. It’s time lawmakers move away from the past two decades of failing to do either.

I had forgotten about Rep. Funderburk voting against Haley on ethics charge

Funderburk,Laurie

Rep. Funderburk

There are good reasons for us to change our way of choosing judges in SC. Stronger ones than the fact that the husband of a legislator was elected to the bench the other day.

I briefly wondered why Nikki Haley seized on that incident to push for reform — after all, such a situation didn’t bother her in 2009 (although she hates to be reminded of the fact) — but then I set it aside. Different people are motivated by different things at different times. I suppose a lot of folks agree with the governor on this reason. So I set it aside.

And frankly, I’m still inclined to think the governor actually wants reform. But I did find this interesting:

Rutherford: Haley attack on Funderburk ‘Political Payback’ for Ethics Committee Vote
 
Calls on Haley to apologize to members of the General Assembly and come clean about her previous vote
Columbia, SC – House Democratic Leader Todd Rutherford released a statement in response to The State article revealing Governor Haley’s previous support for a Republican legislator’s spouse running for the Supreme Court in 2009 after criticizing the legislature this week for electing a highly-qualified Democratic member’s husband to be an Administration Law judge. Rutherford suggested Haley’s criticism of the legislature’s support for Judge Bill Funderburk was simply payback for his wife’s, Rep. Laurie Funderburk, vote to not dismiss ethics charges against Haley in 2012.
“Representative Laurie Funderburk had the courage and integrity to stand up three years ago and call a crook a crook, and now Governor Haley wants payback,” said House Democratic Leader Todd Rutherford of Richland County. “When Governor Haley was in the House, she clearly voted to elect spouses of Republican legislators to judicial posts. Her new-found outrage can only be attributed to Rep. Funderburk’s vote to not dismiss charges against Haley for illegally hiding income she received from a company that did business with the state. We’ve always known Haley was a hypocrite, but she continues to prove it on an astonishingly frequent basis.”
Rutherford also blasted Haley for lying to a reporter on Thursday about her vote to elect Kaye Hearn to the South Carolina Supreme Court while her husband, George Hearn, was a member of the State House of Representatives.
Jamie Self of The State reported in Friday’s newspaper that Haley denied voting for Hearn after the House journal from May 13, 2009 clearly shows Haley casting an ‘aye’ vote in favor of tabling a motion that would reject Hearn from consideration.
“It isn’t often that you see a politician blatantly lie about a previous vote when roll-call votes are public record,” said Rep. Rutherford. “I was flabbergasted when I saw Governor Haley try to rewrite history and then call it ‘offensive’ that the reporter would even bring it up. But people often act erratic when they’ve been caught in a lie. Governor Haley owes the entire General Assembly an apology for this unbelievable display of hypocrisy.”
####

You know I had forgotten about that — Laurie Funderburk being the only one on the ethics committee who voted against the governor that time. But that’s what happened:

The committee voted unanimously to dismiss three charges against Ms. Haley. On the fourth charge, accusing the governor of failing to properly disclose her payment by the engineering firm, one member, Representative Laurie Slade Funderburk, a Democrat, voted against Ms. Haley….

By all means, let’s change the system, as long as it’s to something better. And to me, something better means something like the federal system, through which both political branches get a measure of control over who becomes a judge. There are systems that are worse than what we have in South Carolina, and I wouldn’t want to switch to one of those.

But this incident is an interesting thing to remember at this time…

ONE bit of progress in SC: We’ll no longer elect adjutant general

OK, I’m shaking off the doldrums here…

Let’s talk about something good that happened in yesterday’s election: We changed our constitution so that South Carolina is no longer a banana republic wannabe. We will no longer politicize the state’s highest military post. We will no longer elect our adjutant general. Instead, the AG will be appointed by duly constituted civilian authority, according to specific requirements, according to actual qualifications.

No, it’s not as big a deal as if we stopped electing, say, the superintendent of education. But it’s something. Set it alongside the decision in the last election to stop separately electing the lieutenant governor, and the elimination of the constitutionally perverse Budget and Control Board, and we’re starting to get a state government that is organized at least for the 20th century, if not the 21st.

Of all the executive-branch posts that, against all reason, we have continued to elect separately from the governor (thereby fragmenting the already-weak executive), the adjutant general was the one that most obviously needed to change. We were the only state in the nation that chose its top-ranking officer in a popularity contest — a partisan popularity contest, which produced the obscene situation of having a serving officer declare a party affiliation.

But it also seemed like the office that was most resistant to reform. The incumbent AG was always opposed to it (politicians dance with the one that brung them, and we required our AGs to be politicians), and those serving under him tended to follow his example, and the public at large tended to give the Guard what it wanted.

But things changed in South Carolina, and that is something to celebrate. Leadership in both parties embraced change, and most importantly, the incumbent AG did, too. And the rest of us followed suit.

And so we took a step forward in South Carolina yesterday. And that’s something to celebrate.

OK, sometimes things DO change in SC (maybe)

So yesterday I was being all Cameron Frye and whiny and dissatisfied over my perception (based in long and bitter experience) that try as good people might, things never change for the better in South Carolina. In the public policy arena, I mean.

That was based in the long run by decades of advocating as hard as I can for various reforms and seldom seeing the slightest progress (and in fact, a good bit of movement in the wrong direction on some things, such as tax policy). And in the short term, it was based in the almost-certain knowledge that nothing’s going to happen in the looming election to make things better.

But as I was reading the paper this morning, I got to thinking about reasons I was wrong to have done my Captain Bringdown routine (that’s for those of you who don’t get the Cameron Frye reference).

Let me share three of them:

Adjutant General — One of the things I’ve been pushing for over the course of these decades is cutting down on the absurd number of constitutional officers we elect separately, thereby fragmenting the executive branch of our government into separate governments with their own separate constituencies, and often inconsistent or even conflicting agendas. And the post of adjutant general has long been the most extreme case. It’s outrageous to choose a military leader in a partisan election, and we’re the only state in the union that does it. Finally, we’re going to have a referendum, on Nov. 4, in which we’ll have the opportunity to end this anachronism. There are still some who defend this throwback to the days when amateurism was OK in the military, when officers bought their commissions rather than earning them — Phil Leventis did so in the paper today. But I was very proud to see the chairs of the two political parties, Matt Moore and Jaime Harrison, come together to jointly call for passage of the measure. As they say, it’s not a partisan issue. It’s about whether you want professional, apolitical military leadership — which is what you want if you’re not a banana republic. I can well remember a time when there was no chance of this coming to a vote. Now we have something like consensus — both parties for it, both Nikki Haley and Vincent Sheheen for it, and the current A.G., too. That is broad-based, systemic change for the better, and it shames me for my moaning yesterday. First the lieutenant governor running on a joint ticket with the governor, now this — if it passes.

School funding — Democrats are right to complain that Nikki Haley didn’t show much interest in public education until re-election year, but I was reminded by this debate story today that she DID propose, and get passed, a measure to address the lack of funding equity for poor, rural schools. That doesn’t solve all of our education challenges, not by a long shot, but it’s another move in a direction I’ve been calling for for, well, decades. And I give her props for it.

The advent of the Jay Lucas era — A couple of months ago, it looked like Bobby Harrell was going to remain as speaker, and that there would be no positive movement on ethics reform — in fact, there was a lot of momentum in the wrong direction. Now, he’s out, and replaced by a guy who I’ve only heard good things about, from both Democrats and Republicans — and he appears inclined to push through some long-stymied reforms that were unthinkable earlier this year. That’s change for the better.

So, I just thought I should share those more upbeat thoughts.

Haley, Sheheen SHOULD join together to call for a ‘yes’ vote on adjutant general reform

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On Nov. 4, South Carolina voters have the chance to put an end to an embarrassing anomaly — we have the power to cease to be the only state in the union that elects its adjutant general, the leader of the state’s National Guard.

The reasons why it’s a horrible idea to have a popularly elected general are many; Cindi Scoppe goes over some of them in her column today. It’s something I’ve never had to think about very hard, because when I was a kid, I lived in a place where it was accepted that that military officers got mixed up in politics.

In fact, it was far from an abstraction to me. We lived in the upstairs of a large house that was owned by a captain in the Ecuadorean Navy. One day, the captain asked if he could borrow our part of the duplex. My parents went out, and my brothers and I went downstairs to stay in the captain’s part of the house, while the captain and an Ecuadorean admiral met upstairs in our home. The next day, the president of the country had been put on a plane to Panama, the admiral was the head of the new military junta running the country, and our landlord was the minister of agriculture.

Actually, given what a disaster el presidente had been, Ecuador was no worse off. But in a country such as hours, with it’s deeply treasured culture of constitutional government and subservience of the military to legal authority, such a development would be catastrophic. Fortunately in our national history, such events have remained the stuff of political fiction such as “Seven Days in May.”

Except in South Carolina, where we require our top general to be a politician first (and really don’t even require him to have any military background at all).

Fortunately, our current adjutant general, Bob Livingston, is a well-qualified officer who also understands that we need to do away with this anomaly. That’s a very good thing, since his predecessors resisted reform, and the Guard followed their lead, and the electorate followed the Guard.

But now we have the opportunity to change the situation. We also have two people running for governor — the incumbent, Nikki Haley, and Sen. Vincent Sheheen — who are both known for advocating this reform (as well as doing away with other unnecessarily elected constitutional officers). In her column today, Cindi put forth a great idea:

Most of all, we need to hear from the most visible advocates of empowering governors to act like governors: Gov. Nikki Haley and Sen. Vincent Sheheen. This is a signature issue for both of them. It’s not too much to ask them to set aside their bickering for long enough to make a joint appearance — or to cut a TV ad together — asking voters to vote yes for the military meritocracy.

If they’re not willing to put some skin in the game, they’ll have no one but themselves to blame if we keep electing the adjutant general — and all of those other constitutional officers who ought to be appointed.

That would be wonderful on so many levels — including the first level, which is that it would make this long-awaited reform all that much more likely to occure.

Time for change: Scoppe column on judicial vote-trading

Did you see the exclusive story in The State the other day to this effect:

State and federal law enforcement officials are questioning S.C. legislators about potential illegal vote swapping in February’s race that re-elected the state’s Supreme Court chief justice, multiple sources have told The State….

Did you find yourself confused in reading it? Did you think to yourself, Don’t lawmakers trade votes all the time, on all sorts of issues? Since when is that illegal?

Well, Cindi Scoppe helps walk you through all that in her column today. She explains that yes, lawmakers routinely swap votes on issues — the General Assembly would get even less done if they did not.

But she also explains how a series of horrific events in 1995 that caused lawmakers to elect less-qualified jurists to the bench led to reform, and the practice was banned — with regard to judicial selection. (And ironically, the reform was passed by a vote-swapping deal between House and Senate conferees.)

Here’s her recap of what happened back then to lead to the reform:

it starts on a sunny spring day in 1995, when the Legislature elected E.C. Burnett to the Supreme Court and Kay Hearn to the Court of Appeals and re-elected Danny Martin to the Circuit Court. Mr. Burnett and Ms. Hearn were qualified for the positions, but analyses by the S.C. Bar and the Legislature’s judicial screening committee showed that they were the least qualified candidates in their hotly contested races. The committee found Mr. Martin didn’t understand the law at all, and the Bar had declared him unfit for the bench.

As senators filed out of the House chamber after the election, then-Sen. Robert Ford bragged about how it all happened: The Legislative Black Caucus pledged 20 votes for Hearn in exchange for Horry County votes for Martin and 18 votes for Burnett in return for four Spartanburg County votes for Martin; another five Spartanburg County legislators agreed not to vote in the Martin race.

“All kind of deals was made,” Sen. Ford told reporters. “I had to sell my soul to 10 devils.”

No one denied the deals, because vote trading always had been a part of judicial elections — whether the votes involved other judicial races or legislation. And why not? Trading votes is a natural part of the legislative process….

As so often during his lamentable lawmaking career, there was the brazen Robert Ford, standing as the poster child of bad government. But of course, he was just the most visible manifestation of something much more widespread. Perhaps we even owe him a debt of gratitude for making the unsavory situation so much more obvious.

That’s all history, but the thing that deserves even more attention is this conclusion:

I supported the current system for a long time, because it was such a huge improvement over what came before. But it never was a good system, because it encourages the sort of logrolling that is alleged to have occurred in the chief justice race, and because it allows one branch of government to control the judiciary.

And if one person rules the House with an iron hand — one person who is not the governor, who is not elected by all the voters of this state, and who is not accountable to the public for his power — it allows that one person to control the judiciary. As felt so disturbingly to be the case as we watched Mr. Harrell’s treatment in our courts in the weeks and months leading up to his indictment this summer on public corruption charges.

That’s sort of new, and sort of not.

I have long held the position that we should switch to a different method of choosing judges, preferably one like the federal system — the governor nominates, and the Senate confirms. That spreads out the power across the other two branches of government, and makes sure that the one individual having extensive say in the matter is one elected by all of the people, not just one House district.

But since the reforms of the 1990s, which did much to inject merit into the current system of election by the General Assembly, I (and the editorial board) acknowledged that the system was much better than it had been, and so we let judicial selection slide to a back burner. We still advocated for change when the subject came up, but we didn’t drive it the way we did so many other issues.

The events of the past year or two — with Bobby Harrell trying to bat the judiciary around like cat with a chew toy, so soon after a dramatic example of his power in choosing justices — mean it’s time to move real, substantive reform to the front rank of priorities.

It’s high time to stop letting the Legislature choose judges, all by its lonesome.

Unfortunately, most can’t answer this ‘trivia’ question

Still promoting their legislative scorecard, Conservation Voters of South Carolina have been sending out trivia questions to call attention to the data.

Here’s the most recent:

Final Trivia Question (and maybe the most important)

Who is your Senator and Representative and what is their score?

Don’t forget-there really is a prize.

Good luck,

Yeah… first, that’s not trivia.

Second, if you think people are going to be able to answer it, think again.

Back when we were doing the Power Failure series, I assigned a reporter to go out and ask people who their legislators were. My point was to illustrate what a rotten idea it was to leave in the hands of lawmakers functions that in other states would be handled by a governor. How do you hold someone accountable if you don’t even know who that person is?

Well, the reporter failed in his task even more spectacularly than I had planned. After days of trying, he had not found a single person out on the street who could answer the question.

About that time, I happened to see on a downtown street a car with the bumper sticker, “Do you know who your legislator is?” I took down the license number, we tracked down the driver, and the story became about this one smart woman who knew and cared.

I’m guessing that the ratio between South Carolinians who know which celebrities got their nude photos hacked and South Carolinians who know who their lawmakers are is probably about 10 to one. And yet these are the people passing the laws we live by…

By the way, Project Vote Smart provides a handy way to find out who represents you.

Little-noticed fact: Sheheen has had a stellar legislative year

I don’t disagree with any of the “experts” who say Nikki Haley is the favorite to win the gubernatorial election this year.

But I do take exception to this observation:

The panelists stopped short of criticizing Sheheen, whom Winthrop University political science professor Scott Huffmon called “a great candidate” because he came so close to knocking off Haley last time. But when asked by Bierbauer what Sheheen has done in the past four years to strengthen himself as a candidate, they mostly kept silent….

That silence suggests something that we frequently hear here, particularly from Doug: That Sheheen hasn’t been a leader in his job as state senator.

Sheheen has done little to  tout his successes as a lawmaker.

Sheheen has done little to tout his successes as a lawmaker.

Actually, in terms of being a guy who gets things done in the Legislature, Sheheen has done quite a lot.

In the past year, significant progress was made on two things that Sheheen has been pushing vocally and visibly: The elimination of the Budget and Control Board and 4k expansion.

Argue how much of that was Sheheen if you’d like. For instance, his opponent had identified herself strongly with the restructuring initiative. But the fact is that Sheheen was pushing this bill, and working on his colleagues to promote it, since well before Nikki Haley ever decided to run for governor. (Which is kind of how long it takes for a good idea to seep into the heads of a majority of lawmakers.)

Those aren’t his only accomplishments. He was a significant player in the ban on texting-while-driving. The first two are much more impressive to me, however, as reflecting the kinds of strategic, fundamental changes that we need for South Carolina to progress.

What puzzles me is that we don’t see Sheheen touting these successes as a reason to vote for him. Instead, we see money and effort wasted on repeated attempts to get folks angry at the incumbent about the Department of Revenue hacking.

I don’t know why…

ALL of Richland Election Commission should be replaced

This morning, when I read that there was the potential for every member of the Richland County election commission to be replaced, I wrote on Twitter, “And all five SHOULD be replaced.”

Rep. Nathan Ballentine both favorited and reTweeted my post, so I know I have at least one member of the delegation agreeing with me.

This afternoon, when I got back into town from a business trip to Greenwood, I got a call from a friend, a local businessman who is at the point of retirement, who said he was interested in serving if the delegation was interested in having him. He’s a man who has had a certain success in business, and has been very active in the community. He has no political interests or ambition, and doesn’t want to start playing political games at this stage in life. He’s just concerned about this problem in his community, and is willing to pitch in and help if anyone thinks he can.

In other words, he’s just the kind of person we need serving on the commission.

I called James Smith and asked what the procedure was. I was told he should call the delegation office and get a form to fill out. I passed on the information.

There are at this point about 40 names in the hopper. Here’s hoping that out of the 40, plus the additional ones that will come in now that they’re starting a new filing period, the delegation will find five people willing and able to fix this problem. And that the delegation will actually choose those five…

Too bad. He sounds like the kind of chief the city could have used

Busy day today, but I didn’t want it to pass completely without saying a word about this:

COLUMBIA, SC — A candidate for Columbia police chief on Wednesday leveled tough criticism toward city officials as he withdrew from the search….

In an interview with The State newspaper, Fisher said the city lacked consistency within its leadership and questioned why interim Chief Ruben Santiago remained on the job after being the target of a federal and state investigation.

But Fisher stopped short of calling the city dysfunctional.

“In my close to 40 years in law enforcement, I’ve had the fortune to work in a cohesive, visionary environment where all seem to have the same goals – the politicians and the professionals,” Fisher said. Columbia “could have been a challenge for me.”

The selection process had been “laborious and indeterminate,” Fisher said.

He also indicated that the frequency with which City Council discusses merging the police and sheriff’s departments was a concern. Those conversations affect the entire organization, he said.

“There is no consistency in leadership and expectations,” Fisher said….

This is too bad. A chief who came into office with his eyes this wide open might have had a chance of succeeding. I say “might” because anyone who works — indirectly — for a city manager who in turn works for seven very divided bosses is highly likely to fail.

Columbia is increasingly dysfunctional under this system that the political elite managed to maneuver the voters into keeping. And it’s getting worse day by day. Anybody with clear vision is likely to run the other way rather than take this job…

Scoppe on elections commission: Excellent column on why a horrendous mess is worse than you thought

Cindi Scoppe did a good job this morning of telling us why the Richland County elections mess is even worse than we thought. An excerpt:

JUST WHEN you thought the mess that is the Richland County Board of Elections and Voter Registration couldn’t get any worse — never a safe assumption when we’re dealing with the spawns of the Legislative State — we learn that the temporary stay that had allowed the unconstitutional board to keep operating was lifted. In December.

Which means … well, that’s a good question.

It should mean that former commissioner Sam Selph is not interim director of the agency, because the board that last week appointed Mr. Selph had no legal authority to act.

For that matter, it should mean that Howard Jackson still is the director, because surely a board that has been declared unconstitutional would not take personnel actions of such magnitude.

It should mean that we have returned to thestatus quo ante — with separate boards running separate offices of elections and voter registration, with new commissioners who have the knowledge and capability and integrity to make legal hiring decisions and run legitimate elections.

But clearly the latter has not happened, and there’s a little glitch that makes far from clear when it can happen or what must happen on the other fronts. Which should surprise no one…. 

Ladies and gentlemen, this is very like a complete breakdown of government, one in which functions that are fundamental to our democracy have ceased to work, and no one is clearly in a position to fix the problem. Which is what you get when you let fundamental services be provided by cockeyed legislation unconstitutionally pushed into place by that bizarre hermaphroditic creature, the county legislative delegation.

As an addendum to her column, Cindi referred us to a previous piece she did last year about this mess — explaining the Power Failure, Legislative State roots of the problem — which concluded thusly:

The Legislative State might have served its purpose in the days when slaves picked cotton for the wealthy plantation owners whose interests it was crafted to serve. It might have worked a century ago, when the textile magnates controlled our government and could depend on it to provide those limited services that they needed. Maybe it even served its purpose in the ’50s, when South Carolina still could pretty much ignore the rest of the world, and government didn’t do a lot more than educate white people and pave roads for the industrialists and planters.

It does not serve its purpose, or our purpose, or anybody’s purpose today.

When things go well, it gives us state agencies that waste money and provide inferior services because they have overlapping mandates and don’t work together or even talk to each other. It hamstrings governors’ ability to deliver on the agenda the voters elected them to implement. It diverts state legislators’ attention from fixing our state’s problems, as they busy themselves delivering patronage and fixate on parochial matters that should be handled by local governments.

And when things don’t go well …. Well, then it gives us botched elections and identity theft on a massive scale and officials who lack the legal authority to make things right.

It’s time for a change.

That piece ran in 2012. Nothing has changed.Which is no surprise to those of us who’ve been writing about these problems for more than two decades.