Category Archives: Leadership

Smith promises to be the governor South Carolina needs

smith

Earlier today, I posted a speech from a young Republican — my own representative, and I couldn’t be prouder of him — who condemned our current governor for being so determined to hang onto his office that he has refused to lead. Henry just won’t take the chance.

Coincidentally, tonight Rep. James Smith — like Micah Caskey, a veteran of the War on Terror — stood before a crowd of supporters and promised to be a governor who “cares more about doing the job than keeping the job.” Which is the opposite of what Rep. Caskey accurately characterized our governor as being.

James said a lot of other things — about education, about health care, and about having an energy policy that benefits the people of South Carolina and not just its utilities and their lobbyists.

He spoke out against corruption and for transparency and accountability. Echoing my own Power Failure project, he spoke of a South Carolina that is no longer first where it should be last, and last where it should be first.

He did a good job. I was impressed. And you know what? I think he’s got a chance to win.

I tried to shoot video, but my phone ran out of storage room. I’ll try to clean it up and do better in the future.

Because this is going to be a fascinating, and fateful, election for South Carolina…

Smith with some of his comrades from the war in Afghanistan.

Smith with some of his comrades from the war in Afghanistan.

Rep. Caskey in May on the governor’s lack of leadership

With next year’s race for governor beginning to take shape in recent days, I got to thinking back to the moment when Henry McMaster lost me.

Speaker Jay Lucas and the rest of the GOP leadership in the House, eventually joined by the GOP-led Senate, had shown courage in stepping up to pass a bill that reformed our Highway department and, for the first time in 30 years, raised the tax on gasoline in order to pay for road repairs.

Lawmakers had hoped, after two governors in a row who were more about anti-government posturing than governing, that they would have a pragmatic partner in McMaster, someone who was serious about South Carolina’s needs and how to address them.

They were wrong. And they were bitterly disappointed.

I remembered reading at the time that that disappointment was eloquently expressed in a floor speech by an unlikely spokesman — my own rookie representative, Republican Micah Caskey. I missed his speech at the time. But I went back and watched it this week. Here it is. If you watch it, you can see why one observer responded this way, according to a reporter with The State:

Freshmen just don’t say things like this to their own party’s governor. But Micah did.

The relevant part of the speech — after Micah pays his respects to his new colleagues and notes this is his first time to take the podium — starts at 5:50.

His one prop, and the object of his scorn, was a copy of McMaster’s veto message, delivered the night before. Some excerpts:

“What this is,” he says of the letter, “is not leadership.”

“Its intellectual dishonesty is only outweighed by its intellectual bankruptcy.”

“The governor surely had an opportunity to lead on this issue. He knew there was a problem. He could have done it…. He didn’t do it.”

“He chose to remain silent. He chose not to act. He chose not to lead.”

“Had he put forth an idea, we could have gone from there…”

“I don’t like raising taxes… I didn’t want to have to vote ‘yes’ for this bill… but I did, because that’s what leadership requires: Admitting reality and stepping forward and addressing it.”

“What it is not is cowering below, hiding behind political pablum, waiting on somebody else to fix it because you were worried about your own career.”

Waving the letter aloft, he said “Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a serious message. This is not a serious proposal. This is not a serious alternative to what it is that ails South Carolina today. It is not. It is not.”

“What this is… this… is politics. South Carolina doesn’t need more politics. South Carolina needs serious answers to serious problems.”

Of the alternative the governor suggested, Caskey said: “We’re gonna bond out road paving over 20 years for something that’ll depreciate in 10. That’s his idea.”

“That’s not a serious answer.”

“What I am saying in my vote to override the veto is that this (holds up the letter), this is not good enough. We need more leadership.”

He tells his colleagues that however they vote, “I know you’ve been engaged. You led.” Unlike the governor.

He concluded by saying that a vote to override would say, “We deserve better. We deserve leadership. And you can take this message…”

(He crumples it and tosses it aside.)

… and keep it.”

After Micah’s speech, the House voted 95-18 to override the veto. The Senate followed suit, 32-12.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m proud to have Mr. Caskey as my representative. This video helps illustrate why.

tossRep. Micah Caskey throwing away the governor’s letter at the end of his speech.

 

First video for James Smith’s campaign-to-be (one hopes)

Joel Lourie shared this with me this afternoon, and I’m sharing it with you.

Rep. James Smith is apparently moving closer and closer to launching a campaign for governor, and I think that would be a pretty exciting development. Because, frankly, I’m not terribly inspired by any of the other choices we have before us next year.

I had thought we could look to Henry McMaster for good things, in spite of the inexplicable aberration of his endorsement of Trump. After all those years of Sanford and Haley, both determined not to work constructively with the Legislature, it looked like we might have someone willing to lead.

But nope. What was his first significant act, the one that defned his first legislative session as governor? After Speaker Jay Lucas and other GOP leaders had had the guts to stand up and both fund and reform our roads, Henry stabbed them in the back with a veto, an action that had nothing to do with leadership and everything to do with craven political calculation.

If others now eyeing the office would be better, they haven’t shown it yet.

But James Smith is a guy who has worked with Republicans and his fellow Democrats to try to make South Carolina a better place for its citizens. This is a guy who has served in the trenches for 20 years, not just somebody who has been all about the next big office.

James embodies service, in every sense. This is the man who, with a comfortable billet as a JAG officer, gave it up to enlist as just another dogface so he could go fight after 9/11. He was told that’s what he would have to do to join the infantry, so that’s what he did. He went through basic training as just another another grunt — except he was twice the age of the recruits he was determined to keep up with. He made it, and ended up in combat in Afghanistan, serving with his fellow South Carolinians — Republicans, Democrats and independents.

Y’all know me. Y’all know how much I respect that sort of thing. But the kind of character he showed in that has been borne out in his conduct as a lawmaker.

Have I always been a James Smith supporter? Nope. We didn’t endorse him the first time he ran. We liked him and his Republican opponent, but we went with the Republican. He’s spent all the years since showing me that we might have gotten that one wrong.

Anyway,  this should be good. Ginger, get the popcorn

Capt. Smith takes aim...

Capt. Smith takes aim…

Graham should drop his healthcare proposal, support Alexander’s efforts

Graham pushing his proposal recently in Columbia.

Graham pushing his proposal recently in Columbia.

I’ve already written dismissively of Lindsey Graham’s approach to healthcare “reform.”

Today, with it getting so much more attention, I share with you this view of it, headlined “New Trumpcare Deserves a Quick Death.” An excerpt:

On Wednesday, a group of Republican senators plan to release a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It comes from Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and they will market it as a bill that gives states the flexibility to create the system that they want.

But that’s deeply misleading. While it would theoretically give states more flexibility, the bill would mostly rob states of money to pay for health insurance — and millions of Americans would lose coverage as a result. Think of it this way: Every reader of this newsletter has the theoretical flexibility to buy a private jet.

Cassidy-Graham, as the bill is known, ends up looking remarkably similar to previous repeal attempts. It would likely result in 15 million Americans losing their insurance next year and more than 30 million losing it a decade from now (based on analyses of an early version of the bill, which was similar to previous Republican health bills). “The similarities are more striking than the differences,” Aviva AronDine of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities told me.

The same column hints at a far better way for our senior senator to direct his energies:

There is also good reason to hope that Cassidy-Graham dies quickly. Members of both parties — like Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican — now seem open to a bipartisan bill to fix some of Obamacare’s problems. A Senate committee held a hearing on the subject yesterday. But it was clear at the hearing that Republicans have a hard time talking publicly about bipartisan compromise so long as the fantasy of a beneficial repeal bill remains alive….

Indeed. Y’all know I’m a Lindsey Graham fan (most of the time), but I was a Lamar Alexander fan long before that. And this time, Lamar is clearly in the right of it. And what Graham is doing is actually an impediment to wise policy.

It amazes me that anyone from South Carolina could think that turning it all over to the states could be a good idea, given that our solons utterly refused a Medicaid expansion underwritten by the Feds simply because it was associated with “Obamacare.”

Lindsey should drop his bad idea like a hot potato and get behind Alexander’s effort. Or better yet, support Bernie Sanders’ single-payer approach. But somehow I’m thinking the Alexander option would be less of a strain for him.

It’s time to get past this “Repeal Obamacare” mania that afflicts Republicans, and get on to serious matters of governance…

U.S. goes where only Syria and Nicaragua have gone before

Whole Earth

So what if the United States, guided by the wisdom of our cheerless leader, has pulled out of the Paris Accord signed by more than 190 other nations?

It’s not like we’re going to be alone! We’ll be joining, um, Syria. And Nicaragua! So, yay us, huh? Now we’ll be pace-setters, too!

President Trump declared that the United States would leave the Paris climate agreement, following months of infighting among Trump’s staff that left the world in suspense. He said he hopes to negotiate a similar deal that is more favorable to the U.S.

This move is one of several Obama-era environmental milestones that Trump has dismantled. And all the while, a new study shows global temperatures might be rising faster than expected.

Leaving the agreement displaces the U.S. from a stance of global leadership and places it alongside just two non-participating countries: Syria, which is in the midst of a civil war, and Nicaragua, who refused to join because the Paris Agreement didn’t go far enough. Even countries such as Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which are among the poorest in the world and were struggling with an Ebola epidemic at the time, have signed on….

And yes, in answer to the question that a Trump supporter asked on the blog earlier today, China and India are taking part in the accord. Not only that, they’re stepping up into the leadership role the United States is forfeiting:

Earlier this week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on a visit to Berlin, stood alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel and said that failing to act on climate change was a “morally criminal act.”

And earlier this year, Chinese President Xi Jinping called the 2015 climate accord in Paris “a hard-won achievement” and urged other signers to stick to their pledges instead of walking away — “as this is a responsibility we must assume for future generations.”

In the past, there was skepticism in both countries about Western calls for emissions reductions, which were seen as hypocritical. The strong public comments now underline how far opinion both countries has moved in recent years, and the rhetorical leadership is extremely welcome, experts say….

Oh, and by the way — it’s not just words. China is not only living up to what it’s promised, it’s ahead of schedule in reducing its carbon footprint.

China is, of course, in this and other areas (such as TPP), only too happy to assume the mantle of global leadership that the United States is so eagerly, and so stupidly, laying aside.

Micah Caskey’s thoughtful words on gas tax bill

When I first met Micah Caskey last year, I was still toying with the idea of running for the House seat he was seeking. My interview with him put that out of my head, I was so impressed with him. I agreed with him on so many things, and was so impressed by the thoughtful way he approached every issue even when I didn’t agree, that it occurred to me that if I did run against him, I might be tempted to vote for him anyway.

The statement he posted on Facebook regarding the roads bill just passed over the governor’s veto provides a sample of what I’m talking about. When I posted in passing about him and the bill yesterday, I had not yet seen this.

I’m not sure if this is the same statement he made on the floor of the House yesterday, but whatever he said there also made an impression, judging by multiple Tweets from  and , reporters for The State.

An example:

As I said, an impression was made.

Here’s what he said on Facebook:

The #1 issue in South Carolina is improving our state’s transportation infrastructure. Our roads are in terrible condition and we’ve got to fix them.

Micah Caskey

Micah Caskey

I want to address my position on the roads. This is a rather long post, but I think it’s important that I share where I stand on the issue. I ran for office promising folks that I would call the balls and strikes as I saw them, even if it wasn’t politically popular.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to pay the piper. It’s time to raise our state’s gas tax.

Sadly, the Governor hasn’t had anything helpful to say about fixing the roads. Instead of drawing a roadmap for how things can be improved, he’s chosen to do what we’ve come to expect from career politicians:

1. Put head in the sand
2. Yell “CONSERVATIVE!”
3. Hope nobody pays attention to reality

In the absence of Executive Branch leadership, the task of fixing roads has been taken up by the Legislative Branch. Unfortunately, crafting the law to fix the roads in the General Assembly as been incredibly contentious. There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen and everybody thinks his or her solution is best.

The 124 members of the S.C. House gave it our best shot in House Bill #3516. And, as is their custom, the 46-member S.C. Senate returned the House bill will something that looked very different. (To their credit, the Senate did at least manage to break from their tradition of not passing a roads bill out at all.)

When the House and the Senate don’t agree on versions of a bill, the parliamentary rules require there to be a “Conference Committee”, made up of 3 members from each body, to sit together and negotiate a compromise.

If you think of each body’s initial bill as a compromise from within that respective body (you need a majority vote to get out of the body, after all), the Conference Committee’s version is a Compromise of Compromises.

An ugly baby, to be sure.

I have broken down the Conference Committee version of H.3516 below. Like me, there’s probably a lot you don’t like about it. But, ultimately, the two must-haves (for me to vote for it) are there:

1. Gas tax money goes ONLY to roads (no sidewalks, parks, etc.)

2. There is reform in governance at DOT so that citizens can rightfully hold the Governor accountable for the performance of his agency.

This bill has both. (1) All new revenue must go into the Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund for existing infrastructure improvement only. (2) The Governor directly appoints all of the DOT Commissioners, with approval by the entire General Assembly — not just the Senate — and can remove a Commissioner at-will, on his own.

In truth, I think we need to eliminate the DOT Commission entirely and elevate the Secretary of Transportation to a Cabinet seat, but my view is a minority view in the 170-member General Assembly (we lost an amendment vote to do that in the House 33-84). Nevertheless, I think the Conference Committee version gives citizens the ability to hold the Governor accountable when the Commissioners he appoints stray from his priorities.

South Carolina deserves action. If past Governors or General Assemblies had acted in the past, we wouldn’t be in this position. However, since we can’t go back in time, our choice is simplified.

I don’t think raising taxes is a good answer, but I also see it as the only realistic answer for this problem. There’s no magic roads fairy coming to fix this. Waiting on the ‘perfect’ answer doesn’t work in the military, and it doesn’t work here.

I will vote to adopt the Conference Committee Report, and if the Governor chooses to put his own career ahead of South Carolina’s best interest, I’ll vote to override his veto.

Certainly don’t let me get in the way of your government-hating. I encourage you to be skeptical. I implore you to scrutinize SCDOT more than ever. I certainly will. Whether through the Legislative Audit Council, Inspectors General, or the Legislative Oversight Committee, I will be working to ensure SCDOT delivers a better investment return of tax dollars than they have in the past. I invite you to put your energy toward the same.

From where we are today, a gas tax increase is the only responsible solution.

-Micah

—-

Conference Report on Roads Bill
GOVERNANCE AND REFORM

● Provides real accountability and transparency at the Department of Transportation (public records, mandated meetings, ethical requirements for commissioners)

● Gives Governor complete control of the Commission with a clear line of authority and at-will removal

● Highway Commission organized to reflect regional representation with 7 Congressional districts and 2 statewide at-large members appointed by the Governor (adds 1 member to current structure)

● Requires General Assembly, not just the S.C. Senate, to approve all 9 Highway Commission appointees

● Strengthens DOT’s control over project authorization and financial decisions by the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank
FUNDING

● Creates a long-term and sustainable funding stream by increasing the motor fuel user fee by 2 cents/gallon over the next 6 years, not exceeding 12 cents/gallon

● Safeguards taxpayers from future automatic tax increases by not indexing for inflation

● Protects SC taxpayers from continuing to solely foot the bill for infrastructure repair by not using General Fund dollars and captures 30% of the motor fuel user fee revenue from out-of-state motorists

● Creates an Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund to ensure all new revenue collected from the motor fuel user fee is used only for existing infrastructure needs

● Does not increase or change fees for South Carolina driver’s license applications or renewals

● Increases funding for County Transportation Committees targeted to repair rural and secondary roads

● Captures revenue from alternative energy motorists by creating a biennial registration fee for all hybrid and electric vehicles

● Established a road use fee to capture revenue from out of state truckers

● Raises the cap on motor vehicle sales tax to $500 and creates a $250 out of state maintenance fee

● Incentivizes road construction industry to return to SC with responsible infrastructure investment

● Provides $640 million in new annual revenue for infrastructure maintenance needs when fully implemented

TAX RELIEF

● Includes responsible tax relief to offset the user fee increase for South Carolina residents

● Offers a refundable income tax credit equal to the motor fuel user fee increase that must be reauthorized prior to 2023

● Enhances already existing College Tuition Tax Credit for every South Carolina tuition-payer to enhance workforce development

● Contains a non-refundable Low Income Tax Credit for working families (not federal model)

● Increases the maximum income tax credit from $210 to $350 for dual income household joint filers

● Reduces SC manufacturers property tax burden by $35 million using a phased-in approach over 6 years

I’m proud he’s my representative. We need a lot more like him. Keep up the good work, Micah!

Lucas gives McMaster’s roads letter the answer it deserves

Henry McMaster continues to disappoint those of us who had hoped for some leadership for a change over at the governor’s office.

At least, we kept telling ourselves, he hadn’t threatened to veto the bill increasing the gas tax and reforming DOT, the way Nikki Haley would have done.

Well, today he crossed that line.

Then he exacerbated it by coming up with a cockamamie alternative for paying for road repairs:

Promising to veto an increase to the state’s gas tax to repair the state’s roads, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster wants lawmakers instead to borrow up to $1 billion to fix South Carolina’s crumbling roads.

McMaster, governor since January, urged lawmakers to change a proposed $500 million borrowing plan, proposed by the House, to instead spend that money — and more — on roads. McMaster made his proposal in a letter Tuesday to House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington….

The speaker gave the proposal the contempt it deserved. Translated from genteel Lucasspeak, he not only said “No,” but “Hell, no:”

unnamed (1)

Governor McMaster’s proposal continues the pattern of placing the costs of road repair solely on the South Carolina taxpayer and not on out-of-state motorists who use and deteriorate our crumbling roads. Borrowing more money to fix South Carolina’s roads and bridges will not serve as a permanent solution to our infrastructure crisis. The House passed our roads bill with an overwhelming bipartisan and veto proof majority, which protects the South Carolina taxpayer by providing a sustainable funding stream that requires every motorist to pay their fair share.

Not only is Henry throwing behind the runner — he’s throwing to first when the House has long ago crossed home plate — but the proposal would have been ridiculous even if it were still an open question in that body.

We have a mechanism for the ongoing funding of roads — the gas tax. You want to fix roads and you don’t have enough money, you raise the gas tax. It’s not complicated, and there is no call for trying to reinvent the wheel as a way of avoiding the obvious, commonsense solution….

What’s Henry McMaster afraid of? Mark Sanford?

McMaster for governor

Several weeks back, I was on an elevator with a Republican attorney who asked me what I though about how Henry McMaster was doing as governor.

As I was mentally crafting a reply — something like I have hopes, and I see the gasoline tax issue as one that will help determine whether the hopes are justified — he followed up his own question with speculation about Mark Sanford running against Henry in 2018, and wondering whether any other Republicans will run as well.

I don’t know what I said to that. After Donald Trump handed Henry the job he’d wanted so long, I had sort of stopped pondering 2018, thinking Well, that’s that. I certainly hadn’t given any thought to Mark Sanford having ambitions of running again for the office for which he is so spectacularly unsuited, as he spent eight years demonstrating. I probably just made some noises like homina-homina, as though the speech center of my brain had been struck by lightning.

I had not spent time worrying about that the same way I don’t wake up in the morning worrying about an invasion of Nazi zombies. (Of course, when the Nazi zombies do take over, you realize that you should have worried.)

Anyway, once the brain started running again, I started thinking: Is this why Henry’s running from the chance to lead on the gas tax? Is it all about fearing a challenge from Mr. Club for Growth? (And yeah, Sanford had been on a number of people’s 2018 speculation lists — I just hadn’t been paying attention to that stuff.)

Let’s set aside the absurdity of Sanford leaving his comfort zone to once again occupy the governor’s chair. Being a member of the “no” caucus in Congress suits Sanford’s style perfectly. His political M.O. is: Toss out proposals and watch them get shot down, and then moan about it. That seems to be what he runs to do. That makes him perfectly suited to be a member of the Freedom Caucus. Nobody expect them to accomplish anything. Do that as governor, and you just make the legislative leadership of your own party want to throttle you. They count the days until you’re gone, hoping you’ll be replaced by someone who wants to govern.

Which is what, after 14 years of Sanford and Nikki Haley, lawmakers had every reason to expect. And they did. They were even described as “giddy” about the prospect:

“He’s pragmatic,” said state Rep. Greg Delleney, R-Chester. “He gets people together to reach compromises. He doesn’t dig into one position, and you’re either with him or you’re not.”

Publicly, S.C. lawmakers offer mostly guarded assessments of Haley and their optimism about McMaster, who will ascend to the governor’s office once Haley is confirmed as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in a few weeks.

Privately, however, some are giddy to trade in Haley – a 44-year-old Republican who bashed lawmakers in the GOP-controlled Legislature on Facebook and in their hometowns, offered failing “grades” to those who disagreed with her and told a real estate group to “take a good shower” after visiting the State House – for McMaster, a GOP governor they think will work with them….

Meanwhile, we saw the GOP leadership in the House stepping out and leading on fixing our roads — unabashedly raising the gas tax, and reforming governance of the agency.

And then, rather than joining them in the vanguard, Henry started muttering about what a bad idea raising the tax was (as though there were some rational alternative way of paying for roads, which there isn’t), making ominous “last resort” noises. As though we hadn’t gotten to the “last resort” stage some time ago.

No, he hasn’t promised to veto such an increase — which would have been his predecessor’s opening move — but he just won’t stop sending out bad vibes about it. (“Always with the negative waves, Moriarty!”)

It’s bad enough that the proposal has to run the Senate gauntlet, with Tom Davis shooting at it from one side and the “tax increase yes; reform no” crowd on the other. When a thing needs doing, the Senate is at its best dysfunctional. It would have been really, really nice to have the governor standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Speaker Lucas in trying to solve this problem, instead of standing by and watching it get kicked farther down the pothole-pocked road.

Taxes are a killer?” Really? No, governor — unsafe roads are a killer, if anything is on this front.

Of course, if one is inclined to pessimism, one might think the window for leadership has closed or soon will, now that a dark cloud has parked itself over anyone and everyone associated with Richard Quinn. I certainly hope that’s not the case, because we have issues in South Carolina that need to be addressed.

I also hope the governor won’t hold back out of fear of 2018, because at some point, you really need to stop running for office and govern

One thing should be deader than Trumpcare — the idea that you can (or should try to) run government like a business

By Michael Vadon via Flickr

By Michael Vadon via Flickr

Maybe Trumpcare — or Ryancare or, more accurately, Don’tcare — is dead. But I know of one thing that should be even deader: The absurd notion, which too many people cling to as an article of faith, that government can and should be “run like a business.”

And even deader than that (if, you know, you can be deader than something that’s deader than dead) should be the laughable idea that the best person to run a government is a businessman with zero experience in government — especially if that businessman is Donald J. Trump.

Remember all the silliness about how Trump was going to be so awesome because he’s such a great deal-maker (just ask him; he’ll tell you — over and over)?

Well, so much for that. The one deal he had to close to meet minimum expectations of the base — repeal that “awful” Obamacare — was so far beyond his abilities, it would be hard to find a better case study of how the skills involved in accumulating a bunch of money in real estate have nothing to do with the skills involved in corralling votes in Congress.

And yet… in spite of all the above… we read this this morning:

Trump taps Kushner to lead a SWAT team to fix government with business ideas

President Trump plans to unveil a new White House office on Monday with sweeping authority to overhaul the federal bureaucracy and fulfill key campaign promises — such as reforming care for veterans and fighting opioid addiction — by harvesting ideas from the business world and, potentially, privatizing some government functions.

The White House Office of American Innovation, to be led by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will operate as its own nimble power center within the West Wing and will report directly to Trump. Viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants, the office will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington, float above the daily political grind and create a lasting legacy for a president still searching for signature achievements….

Wow! He’s still spouting that stuff! You’d think that, after it was all proved to be nonsense on Friday, he’d give it a little time before repeating it!

But when you live in a fact-free universe, I guess this is how it goes…

Can we make the presidency great again? Please?

jan14-2-img

An interesting conversation started in response to one of the items on yesterday’s Open Thread, and I’d like to continue it here.

The item was this:

The American presidency is shrinking before the world’s eyes

… Every new administration has a shakeout period. But this assumes an ability to learn from mistakes. And this would require admitting mistakes. The spectacle of an American president blaming a Fox News commentator for a major diplomatic incident was another milestone in the miniaturization of the presidency.

An interested foreigner (friend or foe) must be a student of Trump’s temperament, which is just as bad as advertised. He is inexperienced, uninformed, easily provoked and supremely confident in his own judgment. His advantage is the choice of some serious, experienced advisers, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell. But success in their jobs depends on Trump’s listening skills.

Mere incompetence would be bad enough. But foreigners trying to understand the United States must now study (of all things) the intellectual influences of White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon….

It’s a wonder that the author, Michael Gerson, was able to type “the intellectual influences of… Stephen K. Bannon” without his fingers rebelling and refusing their duty.

In response, Bryan Caskey posed this question:

Yeah. It’s been going downhill for awhile. Raises the interesting question: When was the American Presidency at its apex in the world? Which President cast the longest shadow on the world stage?

Mark Stewart responded with his nominees, but I’d like to see some thoughts from others.

My own views…

Franklin Delano Roosevelt towers over all. I measure all by that. He’s the standard to rise to. (Yes, Lincoln was our greatest president, but not so much “on the world stage.” He was rather tied up here at home. And in his case, I can forgive that.)

Truman, Ike, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Bush père and the others are measured by how well they navigated the world order that FDR left them.

The presidency began to diminish with the end of the Cold War. When people started talking about “peace dividends” and domestic agendas and saying obnoxious things like “It’s the economy, stupid” — that’s where the decline started.

Oh, and before you (especially you Democrats, but some of you populists and culture warriors on the right as well) get on a high horse defending domestic priorities, try doing this: Add up the domestic accomplishments of all of U.S. presidents from 1991 on, and I think you’ll find the result is a tiny fraction of what LBJ — or FDR — did domestically in a single year. (Say, 1964-65.)

Presidents and Congresses no longer do great things, globally or domestically. They just jockey for position in the next election.

OK, so that’s a bit broad and perhaps unfair. But compared to Roosevelt, Truman and Johnson, the pickings are pretty slim, and the ambitions for the country less impressive. I mean, look at THE big agenda item for Republicans now that they finally hold all the cards. What do they most want to do? Undo something that was done under the last administration, which by the way was the most ambitious thing Washington has tried to since the days when LBJ did bigger things than that before breakfast.

That, and build a big ol’ wall to keep them pesky Mexicans out.

In other words, low, petty, mean, small, crabby things that diminish us as a nation, that drag us down into being even less than we are in these uninspiring times.

And what’s the greatest ambition of the Democrats? To stop them from doing those things. Or maybe to try to stop them, and fail, and use it in the next election — which is as far as any of these people’s horizons extend.

What would it take actually to Make America Great Again, or at least have the office of president — and if we really want to aim high, Congress — be something we can respect?

And how on Earth do we get there from this profoundly low, demeaning spot in the road?

jfk010-785

Thank for the leadership, Speaker Lucas

If seems that Grover Norquist no longer runs the South Carolina House of Representatives.

Jay Lucas does. And he’s doing a good job. Along with Rep. Gary Simrill and everybody who voted for his bill yesterday.

It shouldn’t be remarkable that the House just voted to increase the state gasoline tax by (eventually) 10 cents a gallon. After all, everything about the situation would tend to lead any reasonable person to take that action:

  • We need road repairs.
  • We lack money for road repairs.
  • We have a tax that is dedicated to paying for road needs.
  • That tax is among the lowest in the country.
  • It hadn’t been raised for 30 years.

But as we know, our Legislature hasn’t been inclined to make calm, objective decisions with regard to taxes since the GOP took over in 1995. Since then, taxes have been for cutting, no matter the situation — because ideology rather than real-life conditions have ruled. And that approach, as the Speaker says, “simply places politics above responsible public policy.”

Speaker Jay Lucas

Speaker Jay Lucas

Of course, you don’t have to be an anti-government ideologue to have reservations about a tax increase. And in this instance, it would have been wrong to give DOT more money without reforming the governance of the agency. But this bill takes care of that, too.

Is this a done deal? Nope, because it still has to get through the Senate, which unlike the House isn’t run by anybody. As a body, it has been as allergic to DOT reform as the House used to be to tax increases. And that’s not the whole story. There’s also Sen. Tom Davis, whom The State today described as “libertarian-leaning,” which made me smile. Tom leans toward libertarianism the way Donald Trump leans toward self-aggrandizement.

But I want to praise Speaker Lucas and the House for getting us this far.

Did y’all watch Nikki’s State of the State? Thoughts?

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File photo from the governor’s Facebook page.

CAVEAT: When I wrote this post I had missed something important in the governor’s speech, something that had come during the part I missed. It has bearing on the points I make in the post, and here it is.

I had a Community Relations Council meeting last night, so I only heard the very last part of Nikki Haley’s last State of the State on the radio driving home.

It sounded fine, as fond farewells go. I was a little disappointed by one thing. I heard her talking in a roundabout, indirect way about getting the Confederate flag down:

But above all, I will remember how the good people of South Carolina responded to those tragedies, with love and generosity and compassion, and what that has meant for our state.

I spoke earlier of my dear desire to see the image of South Carolina changed for the better. Standing here tonight, I can say with every confidence that it has happened, that that desire has been fulfilled.

But not because of me. The people of South Carolina accomplished the highest aspiration I had for our state all on their own.

They did it by showing the entire world what love and acceptance looks like. They did it by displaying for all to see the power of faith, of kindness, and of forgiveness. They did it by stepping up to every challenge, through every tragedy, every time.

But I wish she’d spoken about it more directly. When I got a copy of her speech later, I found that it only contained the word “flag” once, and that was in reference to the Clemson flag she and her daughter had hoisted over the State House earlier this week. (NOTE: This counts officially as a sports reference, and fulfills the weekly quota! So if y’all want to talk about that football game the other night, here’s a place for you to do it.)

Which disappointed me. Why? Because I think getting that other flag down was her defining moment, the one when she became the leader of South Carolina, and led us to where our lawmakers had refused for too long to go.

Did you see Obama’s farewell speech the other night? He mentioned getting bin Laden, didn’t he? Of course he did. That’s when he made his bones as commander-in-chief. Well, the flag was when Nikki made hers, only as leader of a mature, rational state where people may not forget, but they forgive, and care about each other.

Yeah, I get that she wanted her speech to be sweetness and light, and didn’t want to say anything that stirred ill feeling — and there are those who resent taking down the flag, although they’ve mostly been fairly quiet. And it seems safe to assume there’s a bit of a correlation between those folks and the set that voted for her soon-to-be boss.

But that was her proudest moment. I think it’s easy for people to downplay her role, but I’m telling you, I’ve known too many governors who didn’t want to touch that flag, or even talk about it. And I’ve known others who started to do something, but backed away, or accepted a “compromise” that settled nothing — because they saw that as the best they could get out of our Legislature. And maybe they were right, at the time.

But the thing that Nikki did was recognize the moment when it came, and seize it without hesitation. (That’s a huge part of leadership — recognizing when people are ready to be led. One of the secrets of Lincoln’s extraordinary achievements was his uncanny ability to see exactly when he could lead the country to do things it had always refused to do before.)

It was a moment in which the whole state was in shock and morning. And there were those who protested that this wasn’t the time to act, before the dead had even been buried. But sometimes that exactly when one must act, because later would be much too late.

When she stood up and said, essentially, Let’s not let this summer pass without getting that flag down for good — no fooling around, no compromises, that made all the difference. It made what had been impossible possible, and made it happen.

So if she’d wanted to speak to that directly, I’d have applauded. Because I’m proud of her for that.

She didn’t have to brag or anything. She could have stuck to her theme of “I didn’t do it; y’all did.” And that’s true, in the sense that our state was ready to be led there. But without someone strenuously pushing it through the Legislature, it wouldn’t have happened.

I’ll close with that video my son did after the first anti-flag rally after the shootings, the one I did the voiceover on. It testifies to a mood sweeping through our state. But I still said, it took what Nikki did to translate that into action…

Let’s clarify the Gov Lite succession, but I wouldn’t blame Leatherman for trying to dodge it

Tom Davis

Tom Davis

I’ve been getting Tom Davis‘ highly involved emails about the uncertainty surrounding what will happen with the lieutenant governor position if Henry McMaster becomes governor, but I confess I found them a bit dense and confusing, and didn’t read them all the way through.

So I didn’t fully focus on what he was on about until today, when Cindi Scoppe wrote about the issue, and ran excerpts from Tom’s recent speech on the matter.

Really, really simplifying it, Tom has two issues:

  1. He wants the Supreme Court to clarify a mess created by the General Assembly. Voters wisely decided several years back that we would, starting in 2018, elect the governor and lieutenant governor together. In the past, if there’s a vacancy in the lt. gov. position between elections, the president pro tem of the Senate becomes Gov Lite. After 2018, if there’s a sudden vacancy, the governor will be empowered to appoint a new lt. Unfortunately, the language lawmakers passed to go into the state constitution after the vote failed to specify that the governor wouldn’t have that appointive power until 2018, leaving it open to the interpretation that the governor has that power now.
  2. He wants Hugh Leatherman, who as Senate president pro tem is arguably the most powerful person in state government, to take the gov lite job, which is worth even less than the bucket of warm spit at which vice presidency is valued. Leatherman, quite understandably, isn’t even slightly interested in giving up the Senate post he’s spent his political career rising to.

I’m with Sen. Davis on the first point — the succession needs to be cleared up. Trying to follow what the law exactly is at this moment sort of makes my head hurt.

Leatherman

Leatherman

I’m not with him on the second. If the succession is done the old way, and Leatherman resigns temporarily from the pro tem position so someone else can have it long enough to become lieutenant governor, and he can then summon the votes to become pro tem again, well, more power to him. (Too much power, Sen. Shane Massey would say, but I say it’s up to the senators to decide whether they want their Finance chairman to be pro tem.)

Yeah, if the Court says it still works that way, the pro tem must become gov lite. But that doesn’t specify which pro tem. As we saw just a couple of years back, even if one just became pro tem five minutes ago, you’re the one who becomes lt. gov.

That time around, John Courson didn’t have the votes to quit for a few minutes and be re-elected. From what I hear, Leatherman does.

Yes, technically — if the Court rules that way — being pro tem entails becoming lt. gov. if there’s a vacancy. And Tom Davis seems to believe — as did Glenn McConnell — that this is some sort of sacred covenant that is somehow central to being pro tem. That seems a bit … off to me. I honor McConnell for following his conscience on that, but I’m just not entirely sure that he had the deep, moral obligation that he thought he did.

The voters of Florence County elected Leatherman to be their senator, not to be the lieutenant governor. His Senate colleagues chose him to be their leader, not to be lieutenant governor.

That the job of pro tem contains this condition of suddenly being demoted from the sublime heights to the lower depths of state officialdom, due to circumstances beyond one’s control, seems like a goofy, arbitrary penalty in a particularly capricious game. It’s like landing on Community Chest in Monopoly and getting a card that sends you straight to jail. It’s like an American-Ninja-style reality TV show in which, due to no failing on your part, a trap door suddenly opens under you and you fall into a vat of ice water. It does NOT seem like a provision drafted because it’s a sensible way to run a government. (I think succession laws make eminent sense — when it’s a matter of a promotion, like vice president to president. But this sudden penalty provision seems goofy.)

To respond to something Cindi suggested in her column: It would not be at all OK if the law were found to require the pro tem to become gov lite and Leatherman simply said, “I refuse.” That would be inexcusable, and then we’d have a real crisis on our hands. But if he’s willing to step down and run for the office again after some other poor soul becomes lieutenant governor, I say let him take his chances.

As one of his fellow senators, Tom Davis will then have not only the right, but the duty (since that’s what his conscience dictates) to vote against him, and try to persuade his colleagues to do likewise.

I don’t think this is an open-and-shut thing, and I can think of good reasons to take Tom’s position. But he doesn’t quite persuade me. Maybe some of you can….

Electors, your nation needs you to be ‘unfaithful’

Kathleen Parker has a good column that points to a way out of the madness for America.

And based on the president-elect’s behavior in the last few days (not to mention the preceding 70 years), we desperately need one:

A movement headed by a mostly Democratic group calling itself Hamilton Electors is trying to persuade Republican electors to defect — not to cede the election to Hillary Clinton but to join with Democrats in selecting a compromise candidate, such as Mitt Romney or John Kasich. It wouldn’t be that hard to do.

Mathematically, only 37 of Trump’s 306 electors are needed to bring his number down to 269, one less than the 270 needed to secure the presidency.

On the Hamilton Electors’ Facebook page, elector Bret Chiafalo, a Democrat from Washington, explains the purpose of the electoral college. If you haven’t previously been a fan of the electoral system, you might become one.

Bottom line: The Founding Fathers didn’t fully trust democracy, fearing mob rule, and so created a republic. They correctly worried that a pure democracy could result in the election of a demagogue (ahem), or a charismatic autocrat (ahem), or someone under foreign influence (ditto), hence the rule that a president must have been born in the United States. We know how seriously Trump takes the latter.

Most important among the founders’ criteria for a president was that he (or now she) be qualified. Thus, the electoral college was created as a braking system that would, if necessary, save the country from an individual such as, frankly, Trump…

Amen to that!

As the courageous Mr. Chiafalo says in the above video, “This is the moment that Hamilton and Madison warned us about. This is the emergency they built the Electoral College for. And if it our constitutional duty, and our moral responsibility, to put the emergency measures into action.”

Bret Chiafalo

Bret Chiafalo

There is no question whatsoever that he is right. This may not be what electors bargained for when they signed on, but their duty is clear. Each day provides us with startling new evidence of Donald Trump’s utter unsuitability for this office. The man is unhinged, and the Electoral College is our one remaining defense against him.

Yep, there are state laws binding electors to slavishly follow the choice made by the thing our founders rightly feared — mob rule, a.k.a. direct democracy. But the electors have a higher duty to the Constitution, and must follow it. I will gladly lead a fund-raising campaign to pay any fines levied against them. (And if something more than fines is involved, we need to have an urgent conversation about that.)

Electors who break with the popular vote are called “faithless.” That’s an Orwellian label if ever I’ve heard one. True faith with the nation, as set out in our Constitution, requires that electors be “faithless” in this national crisis.

Yep, Trump’s supporters will go nuts, because they won’t understand this. They’ll say the system is fixed. Well, it is. At least, it’s supposed to be. Hamilton promised us, in selling the Constitution as “Publius,” that “The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”

And that’s true, if the College steps up and does its job.

Do your duty, electors. Don’t throw away your shot. If you live 100 years, it’s unlikely you will ever have such an opportunity to serve your country, and such an obligation to do so, as you have right now.

Is this really where the light of liberal democracy grows dim?

In a comment earlier I wrote about how concerned I am about the course of my country — and of the world. More so than I’ve ever been in my more than six decades on this planet.

It’s not just Trump — he’s just a glaring, ugly sign of it. Take a step back, and reflect: Who came in second in the GOP primaries? The only guy who gave Trump any kind of a run for his money as the worst candidate ever — Ted Cruz. All the better-suited candidates were stuck in single digits. And the Democrats have nothing to brag about — they put forward the second-most (second to Trump) despised candidate in the history of such things being measured. And she had trouble putting away a cranky old socialist to get that far.

How can I blame Trump when the real problem is that millions of people voted for him? I actually almost feel sorry for this bizarre figure, because he truly had zero reason to expect that he’d actually end up in this position.

I mean seriously: If you don’t even go deeper than his hair, you can tell at a glance that the country’s really, really in trouble. This is what will lead us?krauthammer

And the rest of the world, too. As Charles Krauthammer wrote today, “After a mere 25 years, the triumph of the West is over.” The promise of 1991, with the Soviet Union finally collapsing and the U.S. leading a broad coalition against Saddam in Kuwait — the New World Order in which Civilization, led by the City on a Hill, would enforce its values against aggressors — is behind us.

The United States is pulling back, and the bad guys just can’t wait to flow into the vacuum. In fact, they haven’t been waiting — in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine or the South China Sea. Or even in our own backyard.

He sums it up this way, blaming BOTH Obama and Trump:

Donald Trump wants to continue the pullback, though for entirely different reasons. Obama ordered retreat because he’s always felt the U.S. was not good enough for the world, too flawed to have earned the moral right to be the world hegemon. Trump would follow suit, disdaining allies and avoiding conflict, because the world is not good enough for us — undeserving, ungrateful, parasitic foreigners living safely under our protection and off our sacrifices. Time to look after our own American interests.

I think he’s trying a little too hard at false equivalence there, but at the same time, while Obama’s a smart guy who knows how to say the right things (unlike, you know, the other guy), there has been a noticeable tinge of “Oh, this country isn’t all that special” in his stance toward the world. A tinge that some of you agree with, and with which I couldn’t disagree more. But if you’re right, if the United States isn’t all that special — if it can’t be relied upon as the chief champion of liberal democracy — then the world doesn’t stand much of a chance. Because there’s always somebody wanting to be the hegemon, and the leading candidates running to take our place are pretty much a nightmare.

ISIS is a wannabe and never-was on that score. Russia wants to be a contender again, instead of bum, Charlie. But my money has long been on the oppressive authoritarians of the world’s largest country, China.

One of the first editorials I wrote for The State — maybe the first — when I joined the editorial board in 1994 was about the disturbing signs I saw of the Chinese buying friends and influencing people right here in our hemisphere, the long-forgotten Monroe Doctrine notwithstanding. I was worried that nobody else in this country seemed to see it, thanks to the fact that few of my fellow Americans ever took a moment to think about what happens to the south of us. (Side note: We wrote a lot about international affairs when I joined the editorial board; when I became editor, we would focus far more closely on South Carolina, which needed the scrutiny.)

Well, more people have noticed it since then. But not enough people. And not enough of the ones who have noticed care. President Obama, to his credit, started his “pivot” to focus on the Pacific Rim. That was the smart thing to do for this country’s long-term interests, and those of liberal democracy in general. China needs to be countered, with both soft power and, when necessary, hard.

Probably the most chilling paragraph in Krauthammer’s column is this one:

As for China, the other great challenger to the post-Cold War order, the administration’s “pivot” has turned into an abject failure. The Philippines openly defected to the Chinese side. Malaysia then followed. And the rest of our Asian allies are beginning to hedge their bets. When the president of China addressed the Pacific Rim countries in Peru last month, he suggested that China was prepared to pick up the pieces of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, now abandoned by both political parties in the United States….

TPP was smart policy, encouraging our allies in the region to join with us in confidence, tying themselves more closely with U.S. interests in the face of the Chinese challenge. And this year, neither party was willing to stand up for it — even though one of the nominees (the one who lost, of course) knew better. If she’d been elected, at least we’d have had the chance of her breaking that bad campaign promise.

We painstakingly fashioned that strategic instrument, then dropped it like a hot potato when the populists began howling. And China is preparing to pick it up. And maybe you don’t, but I feel the Earth’s center of gravity shifting in the wrong direction.

Oh, but hey, Carrier’s not moving a plant to Mexico — at least, not completely. So everything’s OK, right? We’ve entered the era of short-term, inwardly focused international goals. Or something…

Jaime Harrison and Matt Moore are my heroes

Matt, me and Jaime, on the day the legislation was signed to get the Confederate flag off the State House grounds.

Matt, me and Jaime, on the day the legislation was signed to get the Confederate flag off the State House grounds.

You might say “heroes” is a tad strong, but I wanted to draw you in and get you to read this, and both of these young men really do deserve a rather hearty pat on the back.

This is especially remarkable since y’all know how much I despise both parties, and Matt and Jaime are, respectively, the chairmen of the Republican and Democratic parties in South Carolina.

But they are remarkably free of many of the most objectionable characteristics associated with being party chairmen in the 21st century.

To begin with, rather than being enemies who reflexively spit on the ground whenever each other’s names are mentioned, they are buds. CNN noted this in a piece back in February — the month of the presidential primaries here — headlined, “Odd Couple: How a Republican and a Democrat became friends in South Carolina.

The AP’s Meg Kinnard followed up this month with a piece headlined “South Carolina party chairs beat vitriol with friendship.”

And you’ll recall when I celebrated their unanimity on the day the legislation to bring down the Confederate flag was signed. See the above photo.

But there are additional reasons to applaud these guys.

Back to how much I despise parties… I’m not going to go into all the reasons I do, but let’s look at two biggies — two things that have done more to make the parties into destructive forces in our republic than any other. Particularly the first one:

  1. Party-protecting reapportionment. This is the biggie. If we fixed this, we would repair most of the damage the parties have done to our country. As things stand, almost every congressional or legislative district in the country is drawn — by lawmakers of whichever party controls the body — to make it completely safe for candidates of one party or the other. This makes the November elections a joke, and puts the real contest in each district in the primary of the controlling party. That means the only competition an incumbent has to worry about is a primary challenge from someone who is more extreme, more ideologically pure, in terms of that party’s ideology. That means both parties get pulled to their respective extremes, and the space in the middle — where members of each party can talk to members of the other, the place where solutions are found and commonsense legislation enacted — becomes depopulated. And our government flies apart, and ceases to function. Nobody can even speak the same language, much less find commonalities to build on.
  2. Straight-ticket voting. I hate this for what it encourages voters to do, and even more for what it encourages them not to do. It enables them to avoid thinking. Voters who choose this option don’t have to think about any of the candidates on the ballot. They don’t have to be informed; they don’t have to discern; they don’t have to make comparisons. Which means they don’t have to pay attention before Election Day, or on Election Day. They just choose a party, and go home. This makes an utter travesty of the voters’ role in our representative democracy. And most shockingly, half of the voters in South Carolina choose this option.

Knowing how much I despise those things, imagine how pleased I was to find Jaime and Matt speaking out against both of them.

Particularly the way reapportionment is done.

From a recent story by The State’s Jamie Self:

One way to make S.C. races more competitive, Moore and Harrison say, is to end lawmakers’ control over the process of drawing district lines.

The GOP and Democratic party leaders suggest a nonpartisan or bipartisan panel draw district lines, instead of lawmakers.

Massey, R-Edgefield, said convincing lawmakers to cede their influence over the redistricting process – and their political futures – would be a heavy lift. Even he would be “reluctant to give up that authority to an outside group.”

But Massey said he would support ending straight-party voting.

“I don’t think it’s too much to ask people to take 30 seconds to push all the buttons,” he said. But, he added, there will be “partisans on both sides that are going to go ballistic over that if you try to change it.”

Yes, they would. As they would totally freak out over reapportionment reform. There is probably nothing that incumbents will fight harder to hang onto than their enormously destructive power to draw district lines so as to choose their voters, rather than letting the voters choose their representatives.

But that makes me appreciate all the more Matt’s and Jaime’s willingness to take a stand on this.

Jamie’s story also delved into the evil of straight-party voting. The story wasn’t as clear in term of communicating what the party chairs think of that, so I contacted them both yesterday to find out.

I reached Mr. Harrison via email, asking whether he was willing to take a stand against straight-ticket voting. He responded, “Personally yes… It isn’t the stance of the party, because the issue hasn’t come up for a party position.  Nonetheless, I personally believe that is one of the many reforms we need.”

Amen. Later in the day I reached Matt Moore by phone and posed the same question. I didn’t ask for an official party position, but just asked whether he, Matt Moore, would take a stand.

And he did. There’s no proposal currently before lawmakers, but “in theory, I am for doing away with it.” He sees a need for “more informed voters,” and doing away with the straight-ticket copout would certainly be a way to demand more more knowledge, more attention, from voters.

We also chatted a bit about reapportionment, and it was along the lines of what he said about it in Jamie’s story:

Moore said he is glad his party controls the state Legislature, but the way district lines are drawn is taking its toll on the GOP nationally.

“It’s led to Republicans being in control of Congress, but being unsuccessful in presidential elections,” Moore said, adding the GOP’s difficulty in appealing to minority and younger voters stems from its candidates not having to campaign for their votes at home.

More competitive districts “would force candidates to go out and talk to people who don’t look like them.”…

And wouldn’t that be something wonderful? Lawmakers paying attention to everyone in their communities, rather than the narrow constituencies they’ve carved out for themselves through reapportionment.

I firmly believe it would cure a great deal of what ails our politics today.

And while it’s not a concrete step, I think it’s a great first step to have the chairs of both parties willing to talk about the need for change, rather than defending the intolerable status quo.

Chamber joins demands for rec com members to go

You probably already saw that Richland County Councilman Greg Pearce has joined the majority of the county’s legislative delegation in calling on the problem members of the Recreation Commission to resign — and threatening to freeze their funding if they don’t.

That was good. Now there’s this…

Joel Lourie has sent me a copy of a letter from Carl Blackstone, president and CEO of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, making the same demand. Here’s a PDF of the letter. It’s one of those PDFs that won’t let me grab text for an excerpt, but here’s a screenshot:

blackstone

 

Lest you wonder whether Mr. Blackstone is speaking for the whole Chamber, he tells lawmakers at the end, “The Columbia Chamber and I join you in your call for change.”

blackstone-mug

Carl Blackstone

Joel welcomed the business community’s involvement, to say the least. He told me he met with some folks at the Chamber last week and the Recreation Commission mess was “all they wanted to talk about.”

“Our delegation needs to hear from you,” he said he told Chamber leaders. “I want our delegation to feel the heat.”

Of course, most of the delegation was already there.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say this sort of stance by the Chamber is unprecedented, but I’ll say I don’t remember having seen the group stepping out into local political controversy to this extent since the late Ike McLeese was president.

So, the question rises — how much longer can self-exiled director Brown’s friends on the board continue to hold out in the face of this gathering consensus?

10 of 17 delegation members call for RCRC resignations

Lawmakers McEachern, Finlay, Lourie, Ballentine, Smith and Bernstein this morning.

Lawmakers McEachern, Finlay, Lourie, Ballentine, Smith and Bernstein this morning.

Well over half of the Richland County Legislative delegation today called on five members of the Richland County Recreation Commission to resign because of multiple incidents of malfeasance.

The 10 lawmakers demanding accountability are:

  • Sen. John Courson
  • Sen. Joel Lourie
  • Sen. Thomas McElveen
  • Rep. Nathan Ballentine
  • Rep. Beth Bernstein
  • Rep. Mary Gail Douglas
  • Rep. Kirkman Finlay
  • Rep. Joe McEachern
  • Rep. Mia McLeod
  • Rep. James Smith

Six of the 10 who signed the letter demanding the resignations — Lourie, Ballentine, Bernstein, Finlay, McEachern and Smith — appeared and spoke at a press conference at the State House this morning. Sen. Lourie was the chief spokesman, beginning and ending the prepared presentation.

The group emphasized that what they are doing is independent of investigations into alleged criminal wrongdoing. They said five of the seven commission members should resign immediately because of the following “acts of malfeasance:”

  1. “Disregarded the hostile work environment for employees.”
  2. “Blatant abuses of nepotism.”
  3. “Approval of irresponsible compensation.”
  4. “Multiple allegations of sexual harassment and other inappropriate conduct.”
  5. “Lack of effective oversight.”
  6. “Excessive litigation and costs.”

The five commissioners the lawmakers said should resign are:

  1. J. Marie Green, Chair
  2. Barbara Mickens, Vice Chair
  3. Weston A Furgess Jr., Secretary
  4. George D. Martin Jr.
  5. Joseph B. Weeks

The lawmakers also shared some information they had FOIed from the commission. One of the highlights of that was a spreadsheet showing the salaries of the 11 commission employees who make more than $50,000.acts of malfeasance

Seven of those 11 are named “Brown.”

With a recent raise of more than $30,000, the executive director, James Brown III, is currently making $151,800. He’s still receiving that salary even though he is on “voluntary” leave in response to the ongoing scandals centered around him.

Nice non-work if you can get it, huh? OK, back to the news.

The legislators also released figures showing that Brown is paid far more than other county recreation chiefs across the state. Of the big-county salaries listed, only one other was as high as six figures — that was the Greenville County director, with a mean salary of $131,520.

“Clearly, we have an unaccountable board, with no oversight,” said Sen. Lourie. “I regret that we didn’t step in earlier.”

Other points from the presser:

  • Rep. Smith said of the five commissioners, “This can only end in their resignations,” implying that there were avenues for removing any who don’t quit on their own. He wasn’t specific about how that might be done. But he served notice that today’s presser is not a one-time thing, that the pressure will continue until the problem commissioners are gone. Their offense is that they have been “serving themselves first, serving Mr. Brown and his family first,” at the expense of serving the public.
  • Rep. McEachern — the only African-American member present (which wouldn’t be relevant except for the way some other lawmakers have injected race into the issue) — spoke in particular of the way the commission has failed conscientious employees who have dared to speak up. “Instead of getting a hearing, they get punished.” This, he said, is “a structure that has failed.” Amen to that (I say as one who has called for doing away with such Special Purpose Districts for a quarter of a century now).
  • Nathan Ballentine noted something that I hadn’t realized. He said none of those present are members of the nominations committee that gets to nominate commission members (who are then appointed by the governor, technically). “The group behind me and others have not been allowed in the process.” (Rep. Jimmy Bales chairs the nominating committee; I’ll try to get the names of the others.)
  • Kirkman Finlay said the commission spent $35,000 of taxpayers’ money paying attorneys to do a study of the commission and its problems — then refused to release the study, and voted 5-2 to ignore its findings.
  • Beth Bernstein said she had an additional beef with the commissioners “as a woman and as a mother of two daughters.” She was speaking of the sexual harassment complaints that the commission has ignored.

More as I have it. I’m working on getting PDFs of the documents released today. If nothing else, I’ll scan them at home tonight…

The assembled media. Second from right is Ron Aiken of Quorum, whose reporting has done much to bring things to this point.

The assembled media. Second from right is Ron Aiken of Quorum, whose reporting has done much to bring things to this point.

Below are pictures of the five commissioners the lawmakers want to resign:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Could we finally get comprehensive tax reform?

One of our perennial hobbyhorses on The State‘s editorial board over the years was our demand for comprehensive tax reform.

We wrote about it a lot, whether you remember it or not. Which you probably don’t. It’s not the sort of issue that makes most people’s hearts go pitter-pat — even those interested in tax changes. (Readers would complain, “All you ever write about is the Confederate flag!” Or video poker. Or the lottery. Or whatever they didn’t want us to write about. To which I would say, “No we write about a lot of issues.” “Like what?” “Like comprehensive tax reform.” “Comprehensive what…?”)

Our point was this: Instead of making more and more piecemeal changes to tax policy, further distorting the tax burden in the state, how about if we act like we have some sense and do this: Figure out what it costs to do the things we agree state government should do, figure out how much it costs (that is to say, budget reform), and then come up with the fairest, least burdensome, most reliable ways to raise the money to pay for it.

Instead, year after year, lawmakers came charging into Columbia, determined to give this or that tax break to this or that constituency group — whoever was yelling the loudest at a given moment (say, people who owned homes that were rapidly appreciating) — without any regard to the system overall. Increasingly, that led to such things as relying less and less upon such stable and rational revenue sources as real property, and more and more reliance on such volatile — and oppressive to the economy — sources as sales taxes.

Years ago, I could have given you a list of specific things that needed addressing, but I’m not as up-to-date on the details today. Of course we should do away with the sales tax cap on cars. In fact, we should take all sales tax exemptions and throw them onto the table. Let the constituency for each have its say, but in the end, spread the pain around. You can’t make everybody happy.

(This is Doug’s cue to say, “Why don’t you start by calling for doing away with the sales tax on newspapers?” To which, as usual, I say, “Why? That’s not one of the more egregious ones, like the auto cap. It’s pretty average. Throw it on the table with the rest, and let only the most rational exemptions, if any, survive.” I’d be surprised if the newspaper one was allowed to stay.)

Trouble is, there’s little appetite for the holistic, good-government approach. Until maybe now:

Speaker Lucas Appoints House Tax Policy Review Committee

Member panel tasked with offering suggestions to reform outdated tax code

(Columbia, SC) – House Speaker Jay Lucas (District 65-Darlington) today appointed fourteen members of the SC House to serve on the House Tax Policy Review Committee.  This ad hoc committee will be responsible for reviewing South Carolina’s current tax code and submitting suggestions for reform to the Speaker before the beginning of next legislative session. The group will hold its first meeting next Tuesday, August 30th, 2016, at 2 P.M. in room 516 of the Blatt Building.

Speaker Jay Lucas

Speaker Jay Lucas

“Our outdated tax code needs a dramatic transformation in order to promote economic competitiveness and increase the size of our citizens’ paychecks. Achieving this difficult task is long overdue, but necessary to ensure our tax code is fair for our taxpayers. A broader and flatter tax code will help continue to spur job growth and provide greater opportunities for South Carolina families,” Speaker Jay Lucas stated.

Speaker Lucas selected Speaker Pro-Tempore Tommy Pope (District 47-York) to serve as Chairman of the House Tax Policy Review Committee. Additional members include: Rep. Todd Atwater (District 87-Lexington), Rep. Bill Bowers (District 122-Hampton), Rep. Mike Burns (District 17-Greenville), Rep. Joe Daning (District 92-Berkeley), Rep. Chandra Dillard (District 23-Greenville), Rep. MaryGail Douglas (District 41-Fairfield), Rep. Shannon Erickson (District 124-Beaufort), Rep. Joe Jefferson (District 102-Berkeley), Rep. Jay Jordan (District 63-Florence), Rep. Roger Kirby (District 61-Florence), Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell (District 44-Lancaster), Rep. Bill Taylor (District 86-Aiken), and Rep. Anne Thayer (District 9-Anderson).

“Representative Tommy Pope and the bipartisan members of this ad hoc committee were individually selected because of their leadership abilities and knowledge of the tax system. I am confident that this diverse group will successfully begin laying the groundwork for significant tax reform,” Speaker Lucas concluded.

Will this group come up with something based on reason instead of which wheel squeaks the loudest? The odds have always been against it, but I’m going to allow myself to hope…

CRC honors Jack Van Loan, Nikki Haley

Jack Van Loan in 2006.

Jack Van Loan, flying back-seat in a civilian aircraft in 2006.

Today at our annual luncheon at the convention center, the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council (of which I am a board member) honored my good friend Jack Van Loan and our governor, Nikki Haley.

Jack received the Milton Kimpson Award for a lifetime of service to his country and to this community. As you’ll recall, he was an Air Force pilot who was shot down, captured, tortured and held prisoner for several years at the Hanoi Hilton, where he became fast friends with fellow prisoner John McCain. Since moving to Columbia in retirement (he’s originally from Oregon), Col. Van Loan has been a community leader particularly in the Five Points area, and is the guy who built the annual St. Pat’s Day celebration into the huge event it is today.

We honored the governor with the Hyman Rubin Award for her leadership last year after the killings at Emanuel AME in Charleston — for the way she led us in mourning and honoring the dead, and for (in my mind, especially for) doing the unlikely thing and leading us, finally, to take down that flag. Her leadership during last fall’s floods was also mentioned at some of the meetings I attended.Nikki Haley

Now I’m going to tell a tale out of school, and if it significantly bothers a consensus of my fellow board members, I’ll take it down…

Some very good people who are deeply invested in the cause of the CRC contacted board members in recent days to protest our honoring Gov. Haley. In one case, we received a long and thoughtful letter reciting a litany of reasons why, because of her policy and political actions in office, she did not embody the spirit of Hyman Rubin, or of our group.

I can’t speak for the rest of the board, but I can speak for myself on this. My reaction was that the protests were thoughtful and respectful and stated important truths. Most of the items counted against the governor were things that I, too, disagree with her about.

But I strongly believed that we should give the governor the award. (And while I didn’t poll everyone, I haven’t yet spoken with a board member who disagrees with me.) Our group is about community relations, particularly in the sense of fostering better interracial relations, and what the governor did last year did more on that score than I’ve seen from any elected official in recent years. Despite what some believe, she did not have to do what she did. I did not expect her to do it, right up until the miraculous moment when she did. Based on what I have seen over almost 30 years of closely observing S.C. politics, what she did was a complete departure from the norm.

So I was pleased to see her receive the award. She was unable to attend personally, but she sent along a video clip in which she thanked us quite graciously.

Congratulations, governor. And thank you for your leadership…