Category Archives: Legislature

Legislature elects to Supreme Court the guy who indicated how he might have ruled

Shortly after noon today, John Monk reported this:

To which I responded incredulously, “You mean, the guy who signaled how he would RULE?” John answered, “Yes that is who.”

Did you read John’s previous report about this?

Under questioning in a November hearing by Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, John Few, who is now chief judge of the S.C. Court of Appeals, compared the majority’s 3-2 opinion in what’s known as the Abbeville case with a newspaper editorial.

Although Few told Martin he might personally be “appalled” that children in rural schools aren’t getting a proper public school education, according to recently released transcripts, he elaborated, “If I were writing an editorial on the subject, I might say some of the very same things the Supreme Court said in their majority opinion.”

Few continued, “But when I’m writing a judicial opinion, I’m going to center my thinking on my role as a judge within the confines that are laid out for me in the constitution of South Carolina.”

At one point, Few told Martin he wanted to “tread carefully here … because this is a hot conversation here.”

In general, judges are not supposed to say how they would rule on a given case, and Few appeared to tip-toe through Martin’s questions, avoiding giving an obviously specific answer….

And well he might. Tip-toe, I mean.

So now, the guy who indicated — not said, but indicated — to lawmakers that he’s not the kind of guy to force them to do what so many really don’t want to do (give a fair shake to kids in poor, rural districts) will be our newest Supreme Court justice.

To bend way over and be charitable, we should consider that Mr. Few seems to be widely regarded as an able jurist, and perhaps lawmakers were simply more impressed by his credentials than those of his one remaining opponent.

But in a contest that was described as “a nail-biter until the final minutes,” after which “(s)ome lawmakers who voted for Few said they did so because they perceived he was the more conservative of the two,” one can be forgiven for wondering whether their motives were… less than pure…

“Bloggers are we, born to be free…”

Did you see Rep. Mike Pitts’ proposal that journalists be registered?

To his credit, Mr. Pitts apparently did this ironically. The intention, apparently, is to mount a facetious attack on the First Amendment to make a point about the Second, which doesn’t really make sense, but don’t stop him; he’s on a roll.

Anyway, last night Bryan asked, via Twitter, whether this would also apply to bloggers.

No way, I responded defiantly:

In the studio with Todd and Joel on Cynthia Hardy’s show

Studio

Just sharing this shot of Rep. Todd Atwater, Sen. Joel Lourie and me in the studio during Cynthia Hardy’s On Point radio show on the Big DM this evening.

Note that Todd is alert and looking around, Joel is playing the nerd studying the notes he had brought with him about the SOTU and Gov. Haley’s response, and I’m staring at my phone, probably writing this Tweet:

Which prompted Rob Godfrey from the governor’s office to respond:

Yes, this is a very self-referential blog post. But then, blogs tend to be that way as a medium — they are to journalism what selfies are to photography.

We had a good discussion, with everyone on board with agreeing with both the president and the governor in their calls for greater civility and less negativity. In fact, if our Legislature consisted entirely of Joel Louries and Todd Atwaters, we’d get a lot more done at the State House.

Not that there wasn’t sincere disagreement. Todd and Joel had a pretty good back-and-forth about Obamacare and Medicaid expansion. At one point I almost jumped in on Joel’s side, when Todd said it was a shame the president didn’t meet Republicans halfway on the issue.

Hey, I was about to say, the president and the Democrats did meet Republicans halfway and more from the get-go — before the debate on the Act was joined, before the president was even elected.

That happened when Obama didn’t run advocating for single-payer, which is the one really rational approach to healthcare. And he backed away from that in deference to the wall of Republican resistance that already existed against it. So he and the other Dems started out with a compromise position.

But then the subject changed, and we didn’t return to it. Just as well. I was being presented to listeners as the guy in the middle between Joel the Democrat and Todd the Republican, and it would have just confused everybody if I had jumped out on the one issue where I’m to the left of Bernie Sanders. That is, that’s where my position has been cast popularly — mostly by Republican resistance that has made Democrats afraid to embrace it. I don’t consider it to be to the left of anything. To me, it’s the commonsense, nonideological, pragmatic option. And a lot simpler than the ACA.

Speaking of Bernie… He and the author of Hillarycare will be on the tube in awhile, so I think I’ll stop and rest up to get ready to Tweet during that. Join me @BradWarthen if you’re so inclined.

 

Lawmakers hope to see more cooperation, building upon the summer

panel

Reps. Nathan Ballentine and Joe Neal; Sens. Joel Lourie, Katrina Shealy and Ronnie Cromer

This morning, ADCO had a table at the latest Columbia Regional Business Report’s Power Breakfast. This one was about looking ahead to the coming legislative session, and featured a panel of lawmakers — Reps. Nathan Ballentine and Joe Neal, and Sens. Joel Lourie, Katrina Shealy and Ronnie Cromer.

(Bryan Caskey joined me at the ADCO table, along with several other representatives of local law firms whom I invited.)

The nice thing about “covering” these events is that if I just wait a few hours, CRBR will put up its own report that gives you the basics and saves me from a lot of typing. An excerpt:

Next year’s legislative session will be a failure if not remembered for collaboration across party lines, state lawmakers said today.

Legislators from both sides of the aisle urged to see similar cooperation next year from the General Assembly as it did in the aftermath of the Emanuel AME tragedy. The give-and-take between Democrats and Republicans will be vital if the state hopes to finally fix crumbling infrastructure, they said during the Columbia Regional Business Report’s quarterly “Power Breakfast” networking event at the Columbia Marriott.

“I think 2016, more than anything else is going to be known as the year that we either came up with an idea to fund our infrastructure and do it in the right manner,” said Sen. Ronnie Cromer, R-Newberry, “or it’s going to be known as the year we failed the people of South Carolina. Because we couldn’t put some plan together to fund our roads and bridges.”

Rep. Nathan Ballentine, R-Chapin, knows it can be easy to assume collaboration as part of the General Assembly’s supermajority. But he still saw it at work when his colleagues voted to remove the Confederate Flag from the Statehouse grounds in July and expects to see more of it again next year, this time without tragedy serving as a catalyst….

And that pretty much states it. There was an air of cautious optimism that maybe, just maybe — after the miracle they experienced together over the summer (achieving near-unanimity on an issue that had previously been too controversial even to bring up), that goodwill could be channeled productively on other fronts.

Of course, the usual differences were on display — the three Republicans tended to think in terms of coming together over infrastructure; the two Democrats wanted to see some Republicans agreeing with them on Medicaid expansion. But there was also agreement on some key issues — Democrats agreed infrastructure must be dealt with, and both sides acknowledged that the state Supreme Court’s instructions to improve educational opportunity in poor, rural districts must be meaningfully addressed as well.

Beyond that, here are some Tweets that give you the flavor of the session:

Want to serve as a college trustee? Here’s your chance

I’m not promising you a bed of roses, mind you. But if you have the right connections, get your paperwork in on time, and are willing to abase yourself before South Carolina legislators, you’ve got a shot.

Here’s a list of the available positions on the boards of South Carolina state colleges and universities…

 

Supt. Hamm’s letter about Spring Valley incidents

I’ve finally, finally, finally gotten caught up on my email for the week, so I’m belatedly sharing with you this message from Sen. Joel Lourie. He sent it out to member of the Richland County legislative delegation, with this note:

Dear Fellow Members of the Delegation –

By now, each of you should have received the attached letter from Dr. Hamm regarding the incident at Spring Valley High School.  I have heard from many parents throughout the district who have indicated their support for the way this crisis was handled, and a strong sense of optimism in moving forward.  I believe there will be positive changes that come out of this unfortunate situation.  On a statewide level, we should re-visit the “Disturbing Schools” section of state statute to insure that we are not criminalizing incidents that could be handled administratively.  I also want to thank Dr. Hamm and the administration and board for their professionalism and sensitivity in dealing with this matter.

Best regards always –

Joel Lourie

I’m in complete agreement with him that the “disturbing schools” law needs to be addressed — in fact, I see that as the one legitimate response the delegation may have to these school matters.

I would copy here the contents of the note from Dr. Hamm, but unfortunately, it’s one of those PDFs that won’t let you copy and paste the text.

But you can read it by clicking here

Mia McLeod and Joel Lourie on Spring Valley protest

Joel Lourie shared this exchange with me from over the weekend — two messages from Mia McLeod and one from him…

Rep. McLeod sent this to Sen. John Scott at 12:24 p.m. on Friday:

Senator Scott,

As you know, we are still dealing with an increasingly volatile situation at Spring Valley High School (SVHS).

From what I’m seeing on social media, in conjunction with the calls and texts I’ve received, school administrators obviously allowed some students to stage a “walk-out” in protest to Officer Fields’ firing.

Students on both sides of the issue are extremely passionate about their very different perspectives and of course, opinions and perspectives are not limited to students, parents and community members of SVHS.

As social media continues to reveal, this latest “protest” is likely to escalate already growing tensions that have been caused by Monday’s incident.

If students at SVHS and other Richland Two schools decide to do likewise, this could become a real issue for Richland Two and us.

In fact, as SVHS and Ridge View prepare to play tonight at Spring Valley, we need to understand that tensions are high and could easily play out at school events like this.

I’ve copied Richland Two so that they can advise us about District Two’s position on this and why  school administrators are approving and/or allowing any types of protests. Shouldn’t protests of any kind also be considered disruptive, since these students are missing and causing others to miss, valuable instruction? I’m concerned that this sets a very dangerous precedent.

What are we collectively planning to do about it?

Mia

Then, later on Friday, she sent this to Scott and other members of the Richland County Legislative Delegation:

From: Mia McLeod [mailto:mia@mcleodbutler.com]
Sent: Friday, October 30, 2015 2:03 PM
To: John L. Scott, Jr.
Cc: Jimmy Bales; Rep. Bales; Nathan Ballentine; Beth Bernstein; Rep. Beth Bernstein; Christopher R. “Chris” Hart; House 3M Committee; Leon Howard; Rep. Kirkman Finlay; Rep. MaryGail Douglas; MaryGail Douglas; Joseph A “Joe” McEachern; Joseph H “Joe” Neal; Rep. Rutherford; Rep. Smith; Sen Thomas McElveen, III; Senate Education Committee; Sen. Jackson; Joel Lourie; Thomas McElveen; JAMES BROWN; Kim Janha; Amelia B. McKie; James Manning; Cheryl Caution Parker;craig@craigplank.com; Susan Brill; Monica Elkins-Johnson; Calvin Chip Jackson; Debbie Hamm
Subject: Re: Spring Valley Protest

It has also come to my attention via calls and social media, that apparently, there is video footage of today’s student protest and that an SVHS Administrator is seen on that video, addressing the group of protestors and assuring them that they are not in trouble for protesting (or “disturbing schools” during the school day) and that their voices have been heard.

Can someone from Richland Two please speak to this?

I can’t imagine that the school or the District would knowingly endorse or condone this type of activity, since it clearly presents a double-standard, among other things, that is totally opposite of the school’s/district’s position concerning Monday’s incident.

Some could easily argue that the violently ejected student was also exercising her rights to protest by “sitting-in” and refusing to leave when asked by school officials. Both forms of protests should fall within the purview of “disturbing schools” when it comes to the impact on their (and other students’) classroom instruction. So why are there two extremely different outcomes?

Am I the only one who is concerned?

Mia
Sent from my iPhone

You may wonder at this point what she thought the legislative delegation, of all entities, should be doing about a walkout at a school. In his response sent on Saturday morning, Sen. Lourie seems to have wondered the same thing:

Subject: RE: Spring Valley ProtestSenator Scott, Representative McLeod, Members of the Delegation and School Board, 

This has been a very difficult week for our Richland Two Community.   Certainly the unfortunate and unnecessary actions of the School Resource Officer warrant further review of the appropriate use of officers in the classroom. I am sure there will be other policies and procedures to review as well.  We  hope and pray that the young lady involved will heal both emotionally and physically.  As a graduate of Richland Two, the parent of 2 graduates, and one of the Senators representing the area, I have been very tuned in to the events at Spring Valley and would like to offer a few comments.

 

Regarding Friday’s demonstration, I spoke with James Manning, Chairman of the School Board, and Dr. Debbie Hamm, the Superintendent. It is my understanding that the administration found out yesterday morning about a planned “walk-out” in support of Officer Fields.  In summary, a diverse group of approximately 100 students conducted a brief 5-10 minute peaceful “walk-out” and promptly returned to their school activities.  A good account of this can be found in this morning’s State Newspaper by clicking here: http://www.thestate.com/news/local/article41935716.html.  The videos included are also worth watching.

 

Personally, I see no problem with allowing students to peacefully express their opinions.  I think peaceful demonstrations are critical to our democracy, and what separates us as Americans from other countries.  The alternative of letting that tension boil inside these young students would be more destructive.  My opinion may or may not be shared with others.  However, I see no role that the legislative delegation should play in setting school board policy.  The school board is elected by the public, and therefore accountable to them as well.

 

I am proud of how our Sheriff and School Board and District Administration leaders have handled this week with great sensitivity.  The Sheriff moved quickly to return to Columbia from a conference and made a personnel decision within 48 hours of the incident.  The Administration and the Board have very transparent, strong and impressive in their actions to respond to the incident.  We as elected officials should rally together to look for positive ways to move forward.  Our state and community have been tested many times this year, and thus far, we have become better and stronger as a result.

 

Joel Lourie

SC public backs leaders’ decision to bring down Confederate flag

THE moment -- the flag starts coming down.

THE moment — the flag starts coming down.

In case you had a creeping feeling at the back of your mind that were it not for the fact that we are, thank God, a republic instead of a direct democracy, the Confederate flag would still be flying…

I offer this reassuring news:

Two-thirds of South Carolinians agreed with the General Assembly’s decision in removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds this summer after the Charleston church shootings, a Winthrop University poll released Wednesday found.

Less than a year ago, just one-third of South Carolinians thought the Civil War icon should come down after flying at the state’s most prominent public building for five decades.

That was before an African-American pastor, who also was a state senator, and eight of his parishioners were gunned down at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in June. Authorities brought hate crime charges against the accused killer, who is white.

Slightly more than half of white respondents thought lawmakers made the right decision in taking down the Confederate flag, the Winthrop survey found. More than nine in 10 African-Americans backed the decision….

At least, I find it reassuring to know that, while I still praise our elected officials (starting with Nikki Haley) for courage and leadership in bringing the flag down without waiting around for polls, even if they had, the result would have been the same.

So South Carolina really has grown up, finally, and put the flag behind it.

That is wonderful news.

I hope the court’s deadline doesn’t blow chance at education reform

I find myself in an unusual position.

Normally, I’d be cheering loudly for Cindi Scoppe’s column today lighting into legislative leaders for complaining that the state Supreme Court has given them a deadline for coming up with a plan to fix poor, rural schools in South Carolina. Excerpts:

Yet for 22 years, our legislators have done absolutely nothing to fix the problems raised in the Abbeville lawsuit.

No, worse than nothing.

They have spent more than two decades and God only knows how much of our tax money fighting that lawsuit — paying lawyers and experts to argue that everything in those plaintiff districts was just fine and dandy, when anyone with eyes could see that it was not.

The way forward was clear from the start: for legislators to make the lawsuit moot, by fixing the problems before the justices could get around to issuing an order. But they refused, and last fall the justices finally ruled that the state is failing its constitutional obligation to provide the children in our poorest school districts with an education they need to get good jobs and support their families and pay taxes and in other ways help make our state a better place for us all….

The court, inappropriately, it turns out, did not set a deadline. Until last week, by which time it had become painfully clear even to people who do not understand our Legislature that our Legislature does not do hard things until it has no choice. So the court set a Feb. 1 deadline for the defendants to present a plan to address the problems set forth in last year’s landmark ruling….

Were I still at the paper, I might be the one writing those words. In fact, I’d be using even stronger, more condemnatory language — and Cindi, ever pragmatic, would be the one doing her best to hold me back and telling me to recognize reality and not make perfect the enemy of the good.

But today, I’m sort of in the Cindi role, because of some unique circumstances. In fact, when I saw that the court had set a deadline for less than a month after the Legislature comes back into session, I worried, thinking, I hope this doesn’t foul up an historic opportunity.

I thought that because of what I’ve been hearing lately from my old friend Bud Ferillo.

Many of you may know Bud as the guy who made the documentary “Corridor of Shame,” which coined the phrase that all SC education reformers use to describe some of our most distressed rural schools. He’s also a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat from way back, and not one to give Republicans the benefit of the doubt.

And if there is an issue on which Republicans have earned doubt in South Carolina, it’s public education. Since they have assumed control of the Legislature, actual proposals to improve schools don’t even get a hearing in the State House, much less get approved. Say “school reform” to them, and as a group they will more than start talking about the latest plan to pay parents to abandon public schools — excuse me, “government schools,” government being by its nature a bad thing, you understand — altogether.

So I was struck when I heard Bud, as a participant in a panel sponsored by the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council over the summer, start talking almost rhapsodically about school reform — real, systemic reform that would lift up rural districts — that was coming, that was just around the corner. I didn’t get a chance to talk to Bud after that event because I left early, but then I heard him saying it again on a forum on ETV.

On both occasions, no one took him up on what he said. They just sort of nodded and moved on. So I asked Bud to breakfast one morning recently. He had an appointment he had to leave for so we didn’t get into what he was talking about as deeply as I would have liked, which is why I haven’t written about our conversation.

But here are the bare bones (and if I’m getting any of this wrong, Bud, correct me): When he became Speaker last year, Jay Lucas appointed a panel to start working on a plan to address what the court has instructed the Legislature to do about poor, rural schools. I had been vaguely aware that Lucas had such a committee holding hearings around the state. From early in the last legislative session, I had seen releases such as this one:

MEDIA ADVISORY: House Education Task Force to Host Public Hearing/Meeting in Dillon

Will receive testimony and valuable input from education leaders

(Columbia, SC) – The Education Policy Review and Reform Task Force that House Speaker Jay Lucas (District 65-Darlington) appointed in January will hold a public hearing/meeting on Monday, March 23, 2015.Jay Lucas
WHO: The Education Policy Review and Reform Task Force – a group comprised of elected officials, educators, plaintiff representatives fromAbbeville v. State, and private sector job creators who are tasked with laying the groundwork for comprehensive education reform
WHAT: Task Force members will receive testimony and valuable input form invited school superintendents, retired educators, nonprofiteducation groups, and other involved members within the education community.  After the invited guests have concluded, concerned citizens will also be given the opportunity to address the group (see additional information).
WHEN: Monday, March 23, 2015 at 4:00PM
WHERE: Dillon Middle School – 1803 Joan Drive, Dillon, SC
WHY: South Carolina’s education system needs significant reform so that every child in every part of our state has access to a 21st centuryeducation. This Task Force is responsible for putting together a report with their findings and must be submitted to Speaker Lucas before the beginning of next year’s legislative session.

But I hadn’t seen any coverage of these hearings, or read or heard anything about what the committee was doing. Were I still at the paper, and still had such people at my disposal, I would have assigned a reporter or (later) an editorial writer to look into what was going on. But I’m not, and such people are thin on the ground these days, and having one spend a day running up to Dillon for a hearing is probably not high on many editors’ priority lists.

(Actually, in defense of my friends who still have newspaper jobs, I do find some coverage when I go look for it now. I just missed it at the time.)

And since I don’t get paid to do this blog, I was in no position to undertake such legwork. So I remained in the dark, until I started getting these inklings from Bud. Bud has stayed in close touch with the process, and he says this is a great panel, largely stocked with real reformers, and they’re pulling together a lot of great ideas that are to go into legislation that we’ll be seeing in the coming session, blessed by the speaker.

But, skeptical based on decades of disappointment, I said A panel with a plan is all very well and good, but how will this fare, say, on the floor of the House? Is the speaker truly committed to push this reform you speak of when the inevitable pushback comes? I mean, he has the reputation of a reformer and he’s actually from a small town and knows about the needs in rural areas, but is he committed? Bud assured me that yes, he was — and then he had to run.

That was a couple of weeks ago.

So I’m short on details, and I really need to find some time to talk to legislative leaders about all this, and I’ve been meaning to, but haven’t. And now the court has laid down this deadline, which you know is going to get the GOP caucus all ticked off and resistant (that is, even more resistant) about doing something they don’t want to do anyway, much less do it right.

So when Speaker Lucas said, in reaction to the court’s new deadline, “Because of your actions, months and months of hard work has been potentially placed in jeopardy,” I got worried. Because I don’t think he’d say that lightly.

I got to worrying that maybe the deadline might be tossing a hand grenade into delicate preparations at precisely the wrong moment. I mean, this House coming up with real, substantive education reform is such a stretch, and would take such heavy lifting, and everything would have to go just right for it to actually happen. The forces against reform would seize on anything that might help them stop it, and the petty resentments caused by an arbitrary court deadline could give them aid and comfort.

But you know what? Cindi usually knows way more about what she’s talking about than I do. I hope that, as usual, that is the case in this instance…

 

One revolution at a time: Let’s reform redistricting

Sue and Jim Rex at the American Party booth at the State Fair last year.

Sue and Jim Rex at the American Party booth at the State Fair last year.

I got this release from the new party that Jim Rex and Oscar Lovelace started here in South Carolina, and it points a way to profound political reform in our state — and then takes its eye off the ball:

The Supreme Court struck a blow against gerrymandering this summer,but the voters in our state (like most) will have to wrestle the power away from the Legislature if we are going to stop them from drawing their own districts once again in 2021 ! Since we have no ballot initiative option in South Carolina, we will need to elect members of the SC House and Senate ( they must all run in 2016 ) who will introduce and pass legislation enabling an Independent Commission to perform this important task .
The article below persuasively points out ,however, that the ultimate remedy to our dysfunctional Congress must also include doing away with single district winner take all elections. It may sound complicated and even a little ” revolutionary “, but it really is neither .
Take a minute to read . You may actually begin to feel optimistic !

http://www.fairvote.org/research-and-analysis/blog/independent-commissions-win-in-court-but-whats-next/

Set aside the fact that the release says “we have no ballot initiative option in South Carolina” as though that were a bad thing. (The American Party is much given to populism, and does not share my horror of government by plebiscite.) My objection is that the release mentions one fantastic reform — wresting control of districting from lawmakers, which would accomplish more than anything I can think of to fix our ailing political system. And then it blows right past it and goes on to another, more revolutionary, harder-to-understand “reform,” like a kid who can’t spare the time to play with one shiny toy before being beguiled by another.

The reason this is a problem (after all, you think, aren’t two reforms better than one) is that the first reform, which I know could have a dramatic, positive effect on our state and nation, is practically impossible to achieve. Most sensible people would even say it is impossible. But don’t say that to me in the same summer when we got the Confederate flag down.

It might, just might, be possible, if there is a huge push for it, and those pushing never let up or get distracted, and everything, but everything, breaks the right way. It would require every ounce of passion, attention and commitment that every true reformer in the state possesses, and then some. And the odds would still be way against it.

Gerrymandering is something that not everyone understands, but it can be explained to most people that lawmakers having the power to draw districts to ensure their own re-election (or the election of people of their own party) is a bad thing. Explain a little more, and they might understand that such redistricting is probably the one factor that does the most to drive hyperpartisanship, and to drive both parties away from the sensible center toward extremes. They might also pick up on the fact that drawing districts primarily by the race of voters is merely a milder version of the ethnic cleansing we disapproved of so strongly in the Balkans.

And if you can get the people behind it, and make it clear that this is of the utmost importance to a significant number of their constituents — a big, big, if — you might have a chance of turning redistricting over to an independent commission. (Then, of course, there’s another minefield in making sure the commission is both truly independent and has the savvy to draw better lines than we have now.)

Since we know this would be of the utmost benefit to the republic, why not start a movement that concentrates on redistricting? Then, when you accomplish that miracle, you can get fancy and talk about ranked choice voting.

 

Scoppe: Lawmakers have more constructive things to do than go off on Kulturkampf chase

And she’s right. From her column today:

Last week, the committee voted to distract itself from the intensive reviews it has pledged to complete this year of the huge Transportation Department and nine other state agencies, adding an investigation into the relationship between Planned Parenthood and four state agencies.

Now, there are circumstances under which it might be a good use of the panel’s time (or at least not a bad use) to jump into the political firestorm that has been raging nationally since the release of secretly recorded videos showing Planned Parenthood officials talking cavalierly about harvesting and selling aborted fetal tissue to medical researchers.

It certainly would make sense, for instance, to add that line of questioning if the panel already were reviewing the agencies it plans to call in for questioning: the Medical University of South Carolina and the departments of Health and Environmental Control, Health and Human Services and Social Services. But it’s not.

It might even be a worthwhile question for the panel to pursue if no one else was examining whether any fetal tissue was being harvested in South Carolina, and whether any state funds were supporting that. And if there were anything to suggest that what we know has happened in California and Oregon might be happening here. And if the committee weren’t already overloaded.

But none of that is the case….

Cindi and I disagree on the abortion issue, if I remember correctly. But I could be wrong about that; we never really got into it, as an issue for the board to address. Why? For the same reason I moan when I see our public conversations careening off into Culture War territory: At least here on the state level, such issues do little beyond dividing us into irreconcilable camps. Nothing is resolved, and everyone is so embittered that there is no appetite for seeking consensus on other issues that we could, conceivably, agree on.

For similar reasons, we stayed away from such things as the same-sex marriage debate (and of course, when I was on the board, so did Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.) Now some would say that issue has been resolved, this latest mini-drama in Kentucky notwithstanding. Of course, a lot of folks think Roe v. Wade settled the abortion issue. It did not. But I do think the gay-marriage issue is different. We’ve moved much closer to consensus on that, and the issue is not the sure-fire source of pointless division that it was not long ago.

Abortion, of course, is as divisive as ever.

And it’s distressing to see our lawmakers, who have only recently started getting serious about providing oversight of state agencies, to waste energy on something that accomplishes nothing beyond giving members a chance to signal on which side of the irreconcilable divide they stand.

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…

 

Thurmond continues trend of good people leaving Senate

paul-thurmond

OK, it’s almost a trend, going by the standard set by my wise long-ago colleague Jerry Ratts, the Sage of Wichita, who often proclaimed from his throne on the metro desk, “That’s twice. Once more and it’s a trend, and we can send it to Lifestyles.” (I assure you that this is wildly funny if you ever worked at the Wichita paper. And if you didn’t, count your blessings.)

Trend or no, it’s disturbing that a fortnight after Joel Lourie announced that he was leaving the S.C. Senate after this term, Paul Thurmond announced the same:

State Sen. Paul Thurmond of Charleston, son of political legend Strom Thurmond, said he won’t run for re-election next year as his family is about to get even larger.

Thurmond said Tuesday that he and his wife are expecting their fifth child in December, meaning the demands of his family are overtaking politics.

“We’re truly blessed,” he said.

He plans to return to Columbia when the Statehouse session kicks up again in January but won’t file for the Republican primary that’s scheduled for June….

The departure of Thurmond may not be quite the blow the loss of Lourie is (especially to us in the Midlands), but the freshman has shown great promise. I refer you to his speech explaining why he would vote to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds — a speech that would have been extraordinary and inspiring even if his name were not Thurmond.

I hope the Senate doesn’t lose any more people. If it does, you won’t read about it here, because I will have turned it over to Lifestyles. Right, Ratts?

Rep. Beth Bernstein won’t run for Lourie’s Senate seat

Beth Bernstein at her campaign kickoff last year, with the back of Joel Lourie's head in the foreground at right.

Beth Bernstein at her campaign kickoff last year, with the back of Joel Lourie’s head in the foreground at right.

Well, it looks like Joel Lourie’s departure from the S.C. Senate won’t produce a Democratic primary contest between two House incumbents. Mia McLeod is going to run, but Beth Bernstein is not:

Bernstein: How I Can Best Serve 
Columbia, SC – State Representative Beth Bernstein released the following statement in regards to a possible bid for Senate District 22, currently held by Joel Lourie, who announced last week that he won’t run for re-election.
“Leadership.  An interesting concept and one not easily grasped.  In fact, I just concluded a 2 year-long course on this same topic through the Aspen Institute’s prestigious Liberty Fellowship Program.  In this program, we studied different leadership styles, philosophers such as Aristotle, Plato, and Hobbes, and instrumental leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, and Margaret Thatcher, among others.  What I learned and what I am still learning is a good leader has to make tough decisions, not rash decisions but well studied and thought out decisions.

Last week, my state Senator Joel Lourie announced that he would not be seeking re-election in 2016.  For our community and state, he has exemplified the qualities of a great leader.  He will be sorely missed and we will suffer a great void without him, but while I know this decision must have been a difficult one, it was one that was not made in haste.  And I thank him for the incredible sacrifices that he has made for our community.

With his departure came the likely inquisition on whether I would seek to run for his vacant seat.  While I wish he was given at least one day before any announcement was made to replace him, allowing him the respect and deference deserved for a career of public service coming to an end, I felt pressure to quickly make a decision.  Although, I personally needed time to study and determine if filing for Senate District 22 would be the best decision for my family and me and the community that I love and cherish.

After much prayer and personal reflection, my conclusion is that while serving in the Senate would be an exciting opportunity, I believe my recent appointments to the House Judiciary and Ethics Committees allow me to be more effective in representing this community in the House of Representatives. Therefore, at this time, I do not intend to file for Senator Lourie’s vacant Senate seat.

I am able to effect positive change for my constituency through the legislative process, and I believe I can make a bigger impact for our community by continuing to serve in the House.  Many of the bills that I have co-sponsored this year have passed, including the Cervical Cancer Prevention Act, of which I was the primary sponsor.

I feel so privileged and honored to be able to serve our community at the Statehouse and intend to file for re-election for House District 78 in March.  I want to continue advocating for our public schools, road funding and ethics reform, as well as fighting for women’s health issues, the elderly, and children’s issues.  I hope you will continue to support me.”

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So, was that a dig at Mia? I refer to the part that said, “I wish he was given at least one day before any announcement was made to replace him.” Yeah, that was kind of a dig at Mia. I think…

Mia says ‘I’m all in,’ running for Lourie’s Senate seat

Well, that didn’t take long.

The news that Sen. Joel Lourie was not running for re-election in 2016 was only a few hours old when Rep. Mia McLeod said she was definitely running for the job:

I’m all in…

Sen. Joel Lourie has announced he won’t seek reelection in 2016. I hope you’ll join me in thanking him for his service to our state.Since I was first elected to the SC House in 2010, you’ve never had to wonder where I stand on the issues.From day one, I’ve been fighting the status quo…standing up for what’s right, fair and equitable–regardless of party, race or gender…working across party lines for stronger public schools, more jobs, better roads, and greater access to quality, affordable healthcare…advocating for our state’s most vulnerable citizens, as well as comprehensive domestic violence reforms and better race relations.
From the Richland County Elections Commission to the Governor’s Office, I’ve led the charge to demand transparency and accountability from every elected and appointed official at every level of government.I don’t shy away from the tough issues. Never have. Never will.NOW is the time for bold, new leadership. With my family’s support and encouragement, we ask that you continue to pray for God’s guidance as we prepare for this next phase of our journey.Let’s take our fight for a better, stronger South Carolina to the Senate!

With your prayers and support, I plan to file to run for Senate District 22 next year because I’m confident that together, there’s so much more we can do!

I’m all in! Hope you are too…

As reported over the weekend, Rep. Beth Bernstein was also considering running for the seat. If she is “all in,” too, you’ll have two incumbent female House members running to be the second woman in the Senate.

That will be an unusual sort of race — two actual incumbent Democrats (which are kind of thin on the ground) vying for the same job.

Lee Bright draws primary challenger

The shenanigans of state Sen. Lee Bright have attracted a primary challenger for next year:

Greer businessman David McCraw is challenging state Sen. Lee Bright for the Republican nomination next year for Senate District 12, pointing to Bright’s support of the Confederate flag and his failure to back a GOP roads plan.McCraw

McCraw, 48, said “while our roads were crumbling,” Bright worked on legislation for an independent currency and supported the flag when most senators voted to remove it from the Statehouse grounds.

“Lee Bright has done an awful lot of talking, but very little doing,” McCraw said. “This month the General Assembly concluded their work for the year with very little to show for it. Partisan bickering and an attitude of self-promotion and political grandstanding instead of cooperation means that we still do not have a plan to improve our roads; it means that you will not see any decrease in your tax bills this year; and it means another year will go by without any real ethics reform. We deserve better from our elected officials. That is why I am running for Senate.”…

Interestingly, the Spartanburg paper’s report on this development didn’t mention the flag a single time. Which was odd. But it did mention another of Bright’s more notorious stands:

“It really shocked me when (Bright) suggested an independent currency for South Carolina,” McCraw said. “It’s one of the most ridiculous ideas I’ve ever heard. We are a global economy.”

Yep, that one was a doozy, too…

 

Speaker’s statement on other State House monuments

My attention is not focused on Tillman's statue at this time.

My attention is not focused on Tillman’s statue at this time.

I meant to post this yesterday when it came in, before it was in the paper:

Speaker Lucas Statement on Debate Over Public Monuments and Buildings

(Columbia, SC) – Today, House Speaker Jay Lucas (District 65-Darlington) issued the following statement to reiterate his position surrounding future debate over public monuments and memorials.  In light of the recent tragedy, several South Carolina universities and colleges have formally asked or suggested the General Assembly address changes or exceptions to the South Carolina Heritage Act.  This law, which passed in 2000, protects all monuments, historical markers, street names, and buildings named for historical figures or events.

“The South Carolina House of Representatives will not engage in or debate the specifics of public monuments, memorials, state buildings, road names or any other historical markers. The General Assembly, the House in particular, made it abundantly clear during the debate of the confederate flag that the only issue they were willing to discuss was the placement of the battle flag on the north lawn of the State House. We reached a swift resolution last week and in doing so put an end to this discussion. Debate over this issue will not be expanded or entertained throughout the remainder of my time as Speaker.”

I’m satisfied with that, and I fully understand that the speaker, who just did yeoman’s work on getting the flag down, would be uninterested in any more battles over stuff on the State House grounds.

Before I move on, however, just to get certain points on the record, I wish to make these observations:

  • I have never promised NOT to advocate to remove other items from the State House grounds. What I have said (or at least what I thought) was that the Confederate flag that flew there until a week ago was in its own, special category, qualitatively as well as quantitatively different from anything else on the grounds in terms of its political significance. And that is why I have concerned myself with that and only that with regard to the grounds.
  • If I were ever to advocate to remove or amend (as Todd Rutherford suggests) anything on the grounds, it would be the Ben Tillman statue. My longtime newspaper was founded to fight the Tillman machine, and its first editor was murdered by one of its capos. My own ancestors, who actually lived next door to Tillman in Washington, took a very dim view of him. And my ancestors and newspaper were right: He may be the nastiest piece of work ever to wield political power in his state. Which puts him, rather like the flag, in a special category of his own.
  • I have NO interest in fighting such a battle at this time. I’m enjoying the reconciliation and togetherness that bringing down the flag has engendered in our state, and I intend to bask in it for the foreseeable future. I have NEVER been guilty of the kinds of intentions that neoConfederates ascribed to flag opponents — some sort of Orwellian desire to remove all reminders of the Confederate past. I’ve never been even slightly interested in that, and I would not want in any way to give them a reason to think their “slippery slope” argument was even vaguely justified. And even though Tillman is a separate issue from the Confederacy, I’m not interested in addressing him for now. And probably not for the rest of Lucas’ tenure as speaker, although I’m always open to a good argument.

Bernstein files bill to try to stop the next Dylann Roof

This just in from the House Democrats:

Rep. Beth Bernstein to Introduce Background Check Completion Act in SC House
 
Legislation will mirror Congressman Jim Clyburn’s bill in US House
 
Columbia, SC – Richland County State Representative Beth Bernstein announced Thursday that she will prefile the “Background Check Completion Act” in December. The same bill was filed earlier this week in the U.S. House of Representatives by South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn.
The bill will require licensed gun dealers in South Carolina to wait until a background check is completed before selling a firearm. Under current law, if the FBI does not approve or deny the background check within three days, the licensed dealer has the discretion to proceed with the sale of the firearm. The alleged shooter in the Charleston massacre used this loophole to purchase the weapon that was used to kill nine people last month. Bernstein’s bill will close that loophole and make sure all background checks are completed before a transaction can be made.
“This is one of the most dangerous loopholes we currently have in our gun laws,” said Representative Beth Bernstein, a mother of two young daughters. “Most law-abiding citizens who purchase firearms have their background checks approved within minutes. But when someone has a criminal record, or pending charge, it may take longer for the FBI to gather all the information to determine if that person is legally authorized to buy a gun. We shouldn’t put an arbitrary three day deadline on something that could result in a deranged individual or criminal purchasing a gun. If we’re going to require a background check, we should require the background check be completed.”
Representative Bernstein stressed that this bill is not a form of gun control.
“As a CWP holder, I’m a strong supporter of gun rights and the second amendment. And I can assure you this bill is not gun control. It simply makes sure that the background checks that are already taking place are completed. If this bill would have been in place earlier this year, the Charleston shooter would not have legally been sold a gun from a licensed dealer. If closing this loophole saves just one life, it is worth it.”

Rep. Bernstein commended Congressman Clyburn for proposing this legislation on a federal level and maintained that she will pre-file the same bill in the South Carolina House of Representatives in December.”

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It’s a great day in South Carolina, and tomorrow will be even greater

I wasn't actually seeing this. My phone did, held high above my head.

I wasn’t actually seeing this. My phone, held high above my head, did.

It helps to make new friends at just the right moment.

As I arrived at the State House a few minutes before the appointed time for Gov. Nikki Haley to sign the bill removing the Confederate flag from the grounds, I realized I should have come a lot earlier. Anyone with a brain should have known this would not just attract media types and pols who want to get into the picture. I had to stand a couple of minutes in a queue of regular civilians before I could even get into the building. But it was a happy, friendly group to hang out with.

My friend Valerie Bauerlein had joined the queue just as I made it through the metal detector, and I waited for her. But then we had trouble — both stairways up to the lobby were blocked by uniformed guards. They said the lobby was at capacity and nobody else could come up. I told them Valerie was from The Wall Street Journal and had come a long way, but no dice. Same story at the elevator.

So I went over toward the corridor to the governor’s office, where a bunch of dignitaries — also behind guards. I saw my representative, Kenny Bingham, and tried calling on his cell. He must have had it turned off. Then I saw Nathan Ballentine. “Nathan!” I called, to no avail. Just then, Rob Godfrey, the governor’s press guy, came over to tell me how much he had liked my column yesterday, in which I said nice things about the governor. (He had earlier said obliging things on Twitter.)

I thanked him, told him of our predicament, so he went and found a senior security guy, and suddenly it was OK for two more people to ascend the stairs.

So you see, sometimes it pays to make nice to the governor. You know, when it’s warranted. (Kidding aside, I’m as proud as I can be of her these last couple of weeks, as I’ve mentioned previously.)

At this point, you’re wondering when I’m going to get to the part about the signing ceremony. Well… here’s the thing… Once Valerie and I got up there, we found we couldn’t get within five or six people of the rope line around the spot where the signing would take place. Not only were there more media than I’ve ever seen at once in the State House (more than the presser a couple of weeks ago, WAY more than Mark Sanford’s confession in 2009), but there was an equal number of dignitaries crowding the place, plus a mixed concentration of lobbyists, staff people and the aforementioned regular citizens.

We all would have been better off watching it on a video feed, in terms of seeing or hearing anything. There was no P.A. system, and about the only things I heard the governor say was something about the flag coming down — which drew a cheer — and then her patented line about it being a great day in South Carolina, followed by more cheering, because this time, everybody agreed with her. In fact, I may start saying it when I answer my own phone.

But as little as I saw or heard, I wouldn’t have missed being there. So thanks, Rob. I mean, nobody could hear George Washington’s inaugural address, because he mumbled. But wouldn’t you like to have been there?

Beyond that, well, I’ll share the bits and pieces of what I was able to witness below:

Thank God. Good for them. Good for us all. Finally. Finally.

By Tim Dominick/The State -- I hope they don't mind my using it.

By Tim Dominick/The State — I hope they don’t mind my using it.

UPDATE: The governor will sign the bill today at 4 p.m. I understand that the flag will come down Friday morning at 10.

Let us celebrate:

The Confederate flag will leave the South Carolina State House grounds after five decades this week after the House overwhelmingly approved a bill to remove the Civil War icon early Thursday morning.

The House voted 94-20 to banish the flag from the Capitol after more than 12 hours of debate over the historic measure.

The bill now heads to Gov. Nikki Haley for her signature. Haley started the call for removing the flag in the days after nine African-Americans were shot and killed in a historic Charleston church last month.

“It is a new day in South Carolina, a day we can all be proud of, a day that truly brings us all together as we continue to heal, as one people and one state,” Haley said in a Facebook post.

If Haley signs the bill Thursday, the flag could be taken down Friday….