Category Archives: Legislature

A couple of broadcast ads from House District 78

The above Beth Bernstein ad came out a couple of days ago. Just getting around to sharing it now.

And as soon as I posted it, Beth’s opponent, Republican Jeff Mobley, commented below to call our attention to his radio ad, below. So I rewrote the post to include that prominently…

No special election for Harrell’s seat

It looks like the Democrats might — might, mind you — pick up a seat in the SC House this year. Bobby Harrell’s:

Former S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell’s name will appear on ballots in his district on Election Day, but he cannot win.

Mary Tinkler

Mary Tinkler

“The election for House 114 will go forward on Nov. 4,” said S.C. Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire in a statement. “While Mr. Harrell’s name will appear on the ballot, he is no longer eligible to win the election.”

The Republican resigned his Charleston seat and withdrew from the election as part of his guilty plea last week on charges of spending campaign money for personal use.

The county voter registration and elections offices will place prominent notices in all polling places to inform voters that Harrell is no longer a candidate, Whitmire said.

Harrell was seeking re-election Nov. 4 to his seat, facing two challengers: Democrat Mary Tinkler and Green Party candidate Sue Edward….

I say “might” because, well, this is South Carolina and that’s a Republican seat. (And if you’re so naive as to believe there’s no such thing as “a Republican seat,” you need to pay closer attention the next time the GOP is redrawing district lines.)

And… the GOP still might run a write-in candidate. Also, there is another candidate, other than the Democrat.

But at least Democrats have this moment to savor…

 

Scoppe reminds us Sheheen is a guy who gets good things done

We were treated to “steak-and-steak” in The State today. That’s what former Associate Editor Nina Brook called an editorial page that had a lede editorial on one subject, and a column on the same (or related subject). As opposed to, say, steak and potatoes. (Nina meant it disparagingly. Me, I like a lot of protein.)

And while I thought the editorial endorsement of Vincent Sheheen was fine, and made its case well (no open-minded person could come away from it thinking we shouldn’t make a change), I was more pleased with Cindi Scoppe’s column.

That’s because it made a point that I made here several months ago — that Sheheen is a remarkably successful and influential leader in our State House.

This year alone, he has been the driving force behind a shift of power from the constitutionally perverse Budget and Control Board to a Department of Administration under the governor (his baby from the get-go), a huge expansion of 4k education, without any new taxes; and a ban on texting while driving.

As Cindi concluded:

There are more legislators than I can count — and then-Rep. Nikki Haley was among them — who don’t get a single significant bill passed in their entire legislative career. To pass three in a single year, all of which will help our state … well, that’s practically unheard of, even for the Legislature’s most powerful Republican leaders.

Indeed. This campaign is about flash over substance, and there’s little doubt, to a careful observer, about which side has the substance.

Prosecutors really had Harrell over a barrel

Carolyn Callahan of WIS Tweeted this just before the hearing, showing the isolated ex-speaker in the courtroom. Hope she doesn't mind my sharing it here...

Carolyn Callahan of WIS Tweeted this just before the hearing, showing the isolated ex-speaker in the courtroom. Hope she doesn’t mind my sharing it here…

There’s a country song in there somewhere.

The man who was arguably the most powerful person in state government, boasting only a few weeks ago about how the attorney general had failed to bring him down, pleaded guilty today to six counts against him, and still has other charges hanging over his head. The terms, as reported by John Monk:

In a plea hearing at the Richland County courthouse, Harrell was given six one-year prison sentences but all were suspended by circuit court Judge Casey Manning after Harrell, 58, agreed to the following conditions in a written plea agreement:

• Harrell agrees not to seek or hold public office for three years. He also will be on probation during that time. The Charleston Republican was first elected to the House in 1993.

• Harrell will pay a $30,000 fine plus an additional $93,958 to the general fund of South Carolina. Harrell will also turn over all of his remaining campaign account to the state’s general fund. That amount was not immediately available.

• Harrell agrees to cooperate with state and federal prosecutors, including being ready to testify “fully and truthfully at any trials or other proceeding” in state or federal court. Harrell must submit to polygraph examinations….

Here’s perhaps the most interesting part:

In getting Harrell’s cooperation to be a potential government witness, prosecutor Pascoe agreed to “nol pros,” or not prosecute four other indictments against Harrell. However, under a written plea agreement, Pascoe reserves the right to re-activate the indictments and prosecute Harrell if the former speaker lies to law enforcement officials.

Such written plea agreements – in which lighter sentences are given, and some charges are dropped, in return for a criminal’s information about other potential crimes involving other people – are common in federal criminal court. In federal court, defendants also agree to submit to lie detector tests and they know that dropped charges can be brought again if the government catches the defendant in a lie…

So it looks like prosecutors pretty much have Bobby Harrell on a leash for the foreseeable future. How the mighty have… well, you know the rest. But who foresaw it happening so quickly and dramatically in this case?

 

WOW — Bobby Harrell expected to plead guilty!

Here’s another reason to feel better about the direction of our state — a big one.

Bobby Harrell, who so recently went about boasting that he had beaten efforts to bring him down, is now reported to be about to surrender completely. John Monk reports:

Suspended S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell is expected to resign his House seat and plead guilty Thursday to charges of using campaign funds for his personal gain, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

Harrell is scheduled to appear at a 10:30 a.m. hearing at the Richland County courthouse, according to a prosecutor’s press release….

Harrell, 58, who faces various charges of criminal misconduct in office, already has had a bond hearing and is free on $18,000 bond.

Harrell was indicted Sept. 10 on nine charges, including illegally using campaign money for personal expenses, filing false campaign disclosure reports and misconduct in office. It was the first time in memory that a sitting South Carolina House speaker has been indicted….

This is big stuff, people. This kind of thing doesn’t happen every century in South Carolina…

Time for change: Scoppe column on judicial vote-trading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s sort of new, and sort of not.

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

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

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

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

Sheheen’s bold stand is the ONLY way the flag will come down

Vincent Sheheen’s call to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds isn’t some here-today, forgotten-tomorrow campaign gimmick.

It’s a game-changer. But only if he somehow manages to win the election.

Sheheen was paraphrased in The State today as saying that this is an issue best addressed by a governor. Sure, he could have introduced a resolution to have it removed every session, only to have it die in committee, as did Cleveland Sellers’ one such attempt as a freshman House member. One or two lawmakers might be willing to stick their necks out, but there aren’t enough others willing to go along with them to make the effort viable. Knowing that, lawmakers see little point in making enemies over a lost cause — they have other things they want to accomplish.

But a governor has the bully pulpit to raise the issue so it can’t be buried or ignored.

That said, not just any governor would have the political leverage to overcome the General Assembly’s profound inertia on the issue. It would take a governor who campaigned on the issue, and got elected. A governor who does that would have political juice, and moral authority, unlike any we’ve seen in our poor state, which has been so sadly short on political courage for the generation that I’ve covered it.

So that raises the issue, does this move hurt or help Sheheen’s chances of getting elected? I truly don’t know. His chances were slim as it stood, barring something to shake up the equation. And I’d rather see it shaken this way — by Sheheen doing something right and good and visionary and courageous — than by some new scandal or other disaster befalling Nikki Haley.

Some think it’s automatic political death for a governor or gubernatorial candidate to embrace this issue. They’re wrong. They point to what happened to David Beasley, who stirred up the Angry White Men of his party with his abortive, half-hearted attempt to take action on the flag. Yeah, a few more neoConfederates may have voted against him. But Beasley had also alienated those of us on the other side of the issue, by so quickly reversing himself and giving up on the issue when he experienced the white backlash. Even to people who, unlike me, didn’t care about the flag, it made him look weak, wishy-washy and ineffective.

(I had only contempt for his surprised, shocked and weak reaction to the angry calls and letters. I, and to an even greater extent my colleague Warren Bolton — flag defenders got especially angry at a black man who dared to say the same things I was saying — had experienced the same phenomenon every single time we published another editorial or column on the subject. That means we had experienced it hundreds of times since I had joined the editorial board and started writing on the subject in 1994. Beasley couldn’t take a few days of it.)

And there were other reasons for Beasley’s loss.

In Sheheen’s case, not only is this likely to galvanize voters who would likely have supported him anyway — motivating them to get out and vote and urge their friends and neighbors to do so — it elevates him as someone willing to lead among many who might have been on the fence. Say, business leaders. If you’ll recall, the state Chamber backed Sheheen last time, and this time (thanks in large part to the rise of some Haley allies on the Chamber’s board), it went for Nicky. Business people can be favorably impressed by someone who is willing to lead, and to lead us in a direction that sweeps away such atavistic nonsense, such unnecessary barriers to progress, as flying that flag.

People who were dispirited by Sheheen’s lackluster, take-no-chances campaign thus far will be willing to step forward and put out some effort to get him elected.

I believe it’s at best a wash, and could be helpful to his chances.

But win or lose, he’s doing the right thing. And it’s been far too long since we’ve seen anyone who would lead us do that.

Mia gives her perspective on delegation’s election board vote

Mia McLeod is still giving the “Old Guard” hell over the Richland County elections board:

Will we ever get it right?Once again, the Old Guard  (OG) has put personal loyalties, friendships and agendas above your fundamental rights. Haven’t the voters of Richland County suffered enough?  Here we are a little more than a month away from the November elections, and your Richland County Legislative Delegation has not only taken its sweet time meeting to vote on County Election Commission candidates, but delegation leaders purposely postponed our meetings until the OG was absolutely sure it had the votes to get at least one incumbent reappointed.
So much for restoring integrity, public trust and confidence to the voting process…Now, with the November elections looming, four of the five appointees have been seated, while one has been denied confirmation by the Governor’s Office.  It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of the Governor or Richland County Election Commission incumbents.  And the fact that our delegation leaders have remained steadfast in their efforts to keep pertinent information from voters and certain delegation members, while insisting upon this appointment override, is just more proof (not that we need any) that the OG continues to play by its own self-serving, manipulative rules.If I seem frustrated, here’s why:

May 2014 – Delegation members were asked to submit their written votes/ballots for County Election Commission candidates before the House adjourned. Those ballots were supposedly our “official” votes, although several of us requested (and were denied) a full/formal, publicly noticed delegation meeting

June/July 2014 – No appointments were made, no follow-up provided and no meetings of the legislative delegation were scheduled, despite several requests

August 2014 – No appointments were made, no follow-up provided and still, no meetings

September 5, 2014 – The Richland Delegation finally met to vote in person (approximately 2 months before the General Election) to fill 5 Election Commission seats, with no discussion/disposition of the May ballots

Obviously, that May ballot thingy was yet another “shady,” unofficial OG poll/ploy to determine whether they had enough votes to reappoint the incumbent.  Despite the OG Senators’ secret weapon (a.k.a. – “weighted voting”), the numbers still didn’t quite work, so what’s the OG to do?

Take no public action/votes until the numbers do work…in their favor, of course…not yours.

Waiting four more months puts new appointees at a severe disadvantage before a major general election, but that’s not their fault.  It’s the delegation’s.  And alas…the OG got the one incumbent it had been holding up and holding out for.

I know. Shocking, isn’t it?

Here’s where it gets a little tricky…er.  Turns out, after the Governor’s Office conducted the requisite screenings, only four of the Delegation’s five appointees could be confirmed and that 5th one just happened to be the 5th highest vote-getter…you guessed it, the OG’s only incumbent appointee.

Now, I don’t know why this appointee wasn’t confirmed and that’s not my issue.  I’m more concerned about whether we have a fair, transparent process so that our delegation’s OG loyalty and lack of leadership won’t cost you your vote again this November.

Knowing your vote counts is just as fundamental as the right itself.

And yet some of our delegation members have chosen to submit a letter of support, which effectively “overrides” the Governor and the procedural safeguards that are in place to protect voters–without any public input, deliberation or discussion.

Gotta give it to em…the OG gets what it wants–unequivocally and unapologetically. “The system” is set up that way.  By strategically diverting attention away from the truth and pouncing on anyone who doesn’t support its agenda, the OG successfully:

  1. reappoints incumbents over standard procedural screenings/safeguards
  2. makes it “personal” by falsely accusing dissenters of character assassination

Truth is…not too long ago, I was accused of assassinating the character of yet another member of the OG’s protected class–former Director McBride.

How’s that for déjà vu?

For me, it’s always about the process—never personal.

But as I’ve told you many times before…we can’t change the message until we change the messengers.

You shouldn’t have to worry about whether your vote counts in this upcoming or any other election, but the sad truth is…until the OG is no longer running the Richland Delegation and County Elections, you’d better worry.

For Richland County voters, it doesn’t get any more personal than that…

The best SC headline this week: ‘Lawmakers consider gas tax hike’

headline

It was the most encouraging headline I had seen out of South Carolina in some time: “Lawmakers consider gas tax hike.”

But before we write this into another chapter of Profiles in Courage, let’s ponder the cold-water caveat:

A bipartisan group of S.C. lawmakers told business leaders Monday they are ready to raise the state’s gas tax — one of the lowest in the nation — to repair roads and bridges. But, they added, they need the support of Republican Gov. Nikki Haley.

Haley, who is seeking re-election, has said she would veto increasing South Carolina’s 16-cent-a gallon gas tax, which has not been increased in 27 years…

The boldface emphasis is mine.

In other words, we’re going to be brave and step out and do the right thing — but only if the one person in South Carolina least likely to go along with us steps up and leads us.

So, no dice.

Still, the fact that they’re floating this is encouraging. It makes me think, maybe something positive can be possible — after the election. Of course, barring some road-to-Damascus conversion on the governor’s part (assuming she’s still governor), the initiative would need a veto-proof margin of support.

Which is a ridiculously high mark to have to meet in order to do the right thing, the commonsense thing.

But that might be the reality. And that’s in a best-case scenario.

Speaking of elections, allow me to remind you that only one candidate for governor has had the guts to take the right position on this issue. That’s long-shot independent Tom Ervin.

Cindi Scoppe’s litany of the trouble Bobby Harrell is in

After crushing Bobby Harrell’s explanation that he just wrote down some wrong dates on his spending disclosures, Cindi Scoppe, in her column today, went into this litany of trouble the ex-speaker is in, even if you do swallow his “wrong date” defense:

If in fact he “did travel in his private airplane on a personal trip, transporting himself, family and friends to Florida for a high school baseball tournament” and then paid himself nearly $3,900 from his campaign account, as the indictment alleges, that’s not careless reporting.

If in fact he “used his campaign account to pay credit card debt and to pay for goods and services for his home, family and friends,” that’s not careless reporting.

If in fact he “concealed this unlawful payment scheme by … changing and altering the entries in his pilot log book,” that’s not careless reporting.

If in fact he “concealed this unlawful payment scheme by … creating schedules of flights in order to justify payments from his campaign account, when in fact some of the listed flights did not occur or were personal and not related to any official or campaign purpose,” that’s not careless reporting.

If in fact he “concealed this unlawful payment scheme by … misinforming law enforcement officers about the purposes and circumstances surrounding expenditures,” that’s not careless reporting.

If in fact he “concealed this unlawful payment scheme by … misinforming the House Ethics Committee about the reason he reimbursed his campaign account,” that’s not careless reporting.

If in fact he did all that, I’m not sure why there weren’t more chareges. Much of that sounds a lot to me like obstruction of justice. Sort of like that ominous reference to his paying himself nearly $300,000 “in untaxed income” sounds a lot to me like state and federal income tax evasion…

Bobby Harrell suspends himself — or tries to, anyway

This broke earlier today:

House Speaker Bobby Harrell suspended himself Thursday from the House of Representatives and transferred his duties as speaker to his next in command.

The suspension came the day after the Charleston Republican was indicted on nine charges, including illegally using campaign money for his personal expenses, filing false campaign disclosure reports and misconduct in office….

Harrell’s suspension, he said in the letter, is effective immediately. He transferred his duties to speaker pro tempore Jay Lucas during his suspension.

But an advisory opinion by Solicitor General Robert D. Cook, requested by two Democratic House members, said Harrell cannot suspend himself because the indictments disqualify him from participating in business of public office.

Instead, the indictments require the speaker pro tempore to act immediately to suspend Harrell…

A good deal of confusion, no doubt arising in part from the fact that this is pretty much a new situation for everyone involved.

Meanwhile, I ran across this webpage from just a fortnight ago, when Harrell’s prospects for hanging on looked excellent. What a difference an aggressive prosecutor and a grand jury can make…

Harrell then

SC House Speaker Bobby Harrell indicted

When state Attorney General Alan Wilson handed off his investigation of Speaker Bobby Harrell to First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe, Harrell went around doing victory laps, as though it meant he was in the clear.

This afternoon, Pascoe announced that a Richland County grand jury had indicted the speaker. Pascoe’s statement:

First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe announces that the Richland County Grand Jury indicted Robert W. Harrell, Jr., Speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives, today on nine charges. The nine indictments are for two counts of Misconduct in Office (statutory and common law), six counts of Using Campaign Funds for Personal Use, and one count of False Reporting Candidate Campaign Disclosures.

A bond hearing date has not been set. Mr. Harrell has been provided copies of his indictments but he will be allowed to formally accept service of the true billed indictments and attend his bond hearing on the same date.

Once the date for service of the indictments and the bond hearing is set, the First Circuit Solicitor’s Office will provide ample notice to the media of the date and time. Solicitor Pascoe stated, “At this point in the process, the indictments are mere accusations. Mr. Harrell is presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

Solicitor Pascoe will have no further comment regarding this matter and respectfully requests that the media not contact his office regarding the case against Mr. Harrell. Any requests for indictments or future filings in this case should be directed to the Richland County Clerk of Court.

If you want to read the indictment itself, here it is.

Well, Mr. Pascoe certainly wasted no time on that. He’s either a really fast worker, or Mr. Wilson had already built him a pretty good case, it seems to me…

Here’s who voted to keep Adell Adams on election board

election vote

A screenshot from the minutes of the Sept. 5 meeting.

OK, now I have an answer to the burning question of who voted to keep incumbent Adell Adams on the Richland County election board. Here they are:

Here’s a link to the entire minutes, which include how everyone voted. The minutes were emailed to me this morning by Kimberly Janha, the legislative services coordinator for the delegation.

And once the strange weighted voting was fully tabulated (senators got more than representatives, and they were also weighted by the proportion of their districts in the county), here’s how the candidates fared:

  1. E. Peter Kennedy — 93.75 %
  2. Marjorie Johnson — 80.23 %
  3. Jane Dreher Emerson — 58.35 %
  4. Sylvia Holley — 56.36 %
  5. Adell Adams — 47.70 %
  6. Elaine Dubose — 41.64 %
  7. Christopher Kenney — 30.95 %
  8. Eric Mohn — 28.68 %
  9. Robert Tyson — 24.24 %
  10. William Spillane — 18.11 %
  11. Ken Gaines — 10.02 %
  12. Joanne Johnson and Pamela Sumter — 0 %

You’ll see that Ms. Adams was the only one elected with less than 50 percent — whatever that means, with this odd weighted system.

Still no word on which lawmakers voted to keep Adell Adams

Here it is the next day, and neither I nor anyone else has been able to report to you the most relevant information from yesterday’s Richland County legislative delegation meeting — specifically, which lawmakers voted for which candidates for the county election board.

So basically, I can’t report to you, as voters, the one bit of information that allows you to hold people you elect accountable for their actions.

As I mentioned yesterday in a comment, I called the number that Nathan Ballentine had given me for the delegation secretary. I was assured that the information was being compiled, and that it would be sent to me via email.

Why that would take any time at all, I don’t know. It probably has something to do with the decision by the lawmakers to use paper ballots rather than a voice vote, and to weight the votes to give senators more of a say than House members. Maybe. I don’t know.

In any case, Friday came and went, and I don’t have the information. Neither did Dawn Hinshaw:

Efforts late Friday to find out who voted for Adams were unsuccessful. Legislative members opted to cast votes on paper, rather than by voice. They also used a system giving senators’ votes more weight….

I did learn from Dawn’s story (she was there; I was not) that four lawmakers made a point of voting for no incumbents. Two were, as I reported yesterday, Reps. Nathan Ballentine and Beth Bernstein. The others voting for an entirely new broom were Rep. Mia McLeod and Sen. Joel Lourie.

Rep. Leon Howard

Rep. Leon Howard

She also reported that one representative, Leon Howard, spoke during the meeting in favor of keeping Adell Adams on the board, citing the importance of retaining “institutional knowledge.” So I guess he voted for her, but I don’t know it. And I don’t know who else did.

When I know, you’ll know.

I see that WIS quoted Todd Rutherford as also speaking in favor of institutional memory…

Also… as I keep Googling around… Eva Moore at Free Times reported that Sen. John Courson said he would vote only for nonincumbents. So that’s five.

But no one is reporting how all the delegation members voted.

Not QUITE a new start for Richland Election Commission

Well, the Richland County legislative delegation finally met today, and chose a new election commission.

That is, an almost-new election commission.

The bad news is that longtime member Adell Adams got to stay on. She was one of two incumbents seeking reelection to the commission, and she got to stay. The good news is that Elaine DuBose, the other incumbent, did get replaced, by Pete Kennedy — described as “a watchdog of the board since 2012’s debacle.”

Actually, I suppose there’s more good news in that there are three other new members: Marjorie Johnson, Sylvia Holley & Jane Emerson.

I was unable to make it to the meeting, and the question I’m burning to have the answer to is this: WHO voted to keep Adell Adams on?

All I know so far is that Nathan Ballentine didn’t vote for her:


And yesterday, Beth Bernstein told me that she did not intend to vote for any incumbents, either.

Beyond that, I don’t know.

Here’s the brief item on thestate.com, and here you can find Tweets from Dawn Hinshaw, who covered the meeting.

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

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

Here’s the most recent:

Final Trivia Question (and maybe the most important)

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

Don’t forget-there really is a prize.

Good luck,

Yeah… first, that’s not trivia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I do take exception to this observation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t know why…

See how Conservation Voters scored SC lawmakers

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This came in this afternoon from Rebecca Haynes with the Conservation Voters of South Carolina:

Conservation Voters,

Do you know who is voting for or against protecting the natural resources that drive South Carolina’s economy? You do now. Check out our interactive 2013-2014 Legislative Scorecard. Based on the Conservation Common Agenda’s legislative priorities for 2013-2014, we score how House and Senate members vote on bills important to the conservation community.

Before the 2013 – 2014 legislative session, CVSC convened conservation groups across the state to agree upon collective priorities for the state legislature over the next two years. Our Conservation Common Agenda included fully funding the Conservation Bank, protecting wetlands and the coastal shoreline, upholding environmental regulations, opposing out-of-state waste and removing barriers to solar energy as the top “to-dos” at the State House.

We organized meetings with elected leaders and constituents and visited editorial boards prior to session. We were at the Capitol from January to June educating legislators across party lines about our priorities and calling upon South Carolinians to communicate support of or opposition to priority bills as they moved through the legislature.

Check out which bills were scored and how your legislator faired on the “Conservation Counts Scorecard” website at www.cvsc.org/scorecard.

Our conservation community is already hard at work on issues that failed to move forward such as surface water withdrawals, ethics and transportation spending reforms.

Here’s the page where you can look up each individual lawmaker’s score, and here’s a graphic about the State House overall.

Sheheen’s plan for roads (first, no gas tax increase, which is a BAD thing…)

Vincent Sheheen has presented his plan for fixing roads in South Carolina, and right off the bat, he loses me by saying he wouldn’t do the most obvious thing that needs to be done — increase the gas tax in order to pay for it all.

Here’s his release:

Sheheen Releases Plan to Rebuild Roads & Bridges
Gubernatorial candidate lays out plan to responsibly invest in infrastructure and restore safety after years of neglect
Camden, SC. – Today, Sen. Vincent Sheheen released his plan of action to rebuild roads and bridges in South Carolina. The plan lays out a responsible course of action to improve safety and efficiency of the state’s infrastructure immediately and for the long term.
Sen. Sheheen’s plan centers around four key components that will increase accountability and lead the state to responsibly invest in infrastructure without having to raise the gas tax: adopt a Fix it First approach to focus on repairing roads before building new ones; reorganize the Department of Transportation to save money, improve accountability, and be more efficient in choosing what gets repaired; issue bonds for an immediate one-time infusion of money to get investments started and create jobs; each year, automatically dedicate five percent of the General Fund and surplus revenue to rebuilding our roads.
This plan of action comes after three years of total neglect to South Carolina’s roads and bridges by Nikki Haley that have left only 15 percent of South Carolina’s roads listed as “in good condition,” left thousands of bridges so unsafe that they are classified as “functionally obsolete,” and made the state’s rural roads the most dangerous in the country according to a new study. The Governor has refused to release a plan on roads until after November’s election.
View Sen. Sheheen’s plan to rebuild roads and bridges, as well as his other ideas for how to improve leadership and accountability in South Carolina, at www.vincentsheheen.com. His book, “The Right Way: Getting the Palmetto State Back on Track” includes an entire chapter on improving transportation infrastructure and is free and also available online, here.
Honest Leadership & Real Accountability to Rebuild SC Road & Bridges
Under Nikki Haley’s administration, South Carolina’s roads, bridges, rail lines, and waterways are in desperate need of repair after years of neglect.
South Carolina had the fifth highest rate of traffic fatalities in the country, according to the US Census. Our rural roads are the deadliest rural roads in the nation, according to a new report released this month. In fact, only 15 percent of our roads are classified as “in good condition” with thousands of our bridges so unsafe that they are classified as “functionally obsolete.”
South Carolina’s families, businesses and taxpayers in general deserve so much better from their government. South Carolina needs honest leadership and real accountability to responsibly fix the roads and bridges – we need a Governor who will make infrastructure a priority.
As a small business owner, and an attorney who has helped families and small businesses grow and succeed, Vincent understands that economic activity depends on a good and viable transportation system. Having reliable roads and bridges is vital to growing the economy from within and attracting companies from out of state. Similarly, as the father of three boys and a native South Carolinian, Vincent knows how imperative it is for families to have safe roads and bridges. Taxpaying citizens should not have to fear for their safety while driving down a road in their town or across a bridge in their community.  And we shouldn’t be embarrassed when visitors come to our state by our dreadful highways.
Adopt a “Fix It First” Approach
South Carolina has the nation’s fourth largest state-maintained transportation network. Additions place an increased burden on an already overburdened maintenance program. If we can’t afford to maintain roads we already have, how can we afford to build new ones? It’s time for honest leadership and a common-sense approach where we fix our roads first.
Vincent’s plan of action
  • Issue an executive order to require the Department of Transportation to adopt the Fix it First rule he has promoted in the Senate.
  • Appoint a Transportation Director to be accountable and use the limited resources to secure the safety of the existing roads.
  • Set benchmarks on Fix-It-First projects to tackle our most crumbling roads first. Hold the DOT accountable to those benchmarks and provide monthly updates on projects to improve transparency.
Transform how we pay to maintain our roads & bridges. 
Currently South Carolina is heavily reliant on the gas tax, which generates about $500 million per year and accounts for 71 percent of all state highway funding. But the gas tax is a declining source of revenue as cars become more fuel efficient. Increasing the gas tax is not going to solve our transportation funding crisis. To succeed, the state must diversify funding and weave together sources to responsibly invest over the long-term.  Because of historic underinvestment in our roads we need to create an additional dedicated funding source and issue bonds to jumpstart needed investments.
Vincent’s plan of action:
  • Issue bonds to fund long-term investment.
    • The use of infrastructure is enjoyed by generations of our citizens. Just like a family takes out a responsible mortgage to buy a house for their long-term success, bonding is a responsible way to invest over multiple years in the future that will help families and businesses alike. The use of bonds would allow the state to inject a tremendous one-time infusion of funds needed to bring our roads up to standards while using other sources of revenue to maintain their integrity.
  • Dedicate five percent of General Fund revenue for roads.
    • As a state, we must decide that road funding is such a priority to deserve a portion of general tax revenue — especially surplus revenue. As governor, Vincent would put forth a budget to phase in the automatic dedication of five percent of the General Fund and surplus revenue to Department of Transportation to repair our roads and bridges.
  • Investigate other sources of revenue.
    • Honest leadership means bringing people together and considering many new ideas while building a bipartisan coalition to move forward and deliver results. As Governor, Vincent will explore potential revenue sources to pay for the repair of roads and bridges, including:
      • Lease rest areas to private businesses to establish gas and food sales at rest stops and generate new revenue.
      • Investigate an out-of-state truck tax to gather funds from those out-of-state who use our roads but don’t pay anything to maintain them. This will generate funds and make South Carolina more competitive with other states’ approaches.
 
Make the Department of Transportation more accountable
People expect and deserve a government that works and works well – and when it doesn’t, they deserve real accountability. South Carolina can fund its priorities by cracking down on waste, mismanagement, and incompetence to put politics aside and focus on getting results.
Vincent’s plan of action: 
  • Restructure of the state Department of Transportation to make the director answer directly to the governor
  • Abolish the DOT Commission to allow the legislature and governor to manage and set road funding and policy and to increase accountability.
  • Increase oversight from the legislature so that with new leadership we could have real accountability.
  • Combine the State Infrastructure Bank with the Department of Transportation to provide a consolidated and accountable approach to road improvements and maintenance.
View this release online, here.

Yes, restructuring DOT — as we failed to do in 1993, and again in 2007 (because, in both cases, the General Assembly did not want to reform DOT) — is a great idea. It’s a no-brainer, something that should have been done long, long ago.

And I commend Sen. Sheheen for presenting a plan, instead of playing the game that Nikki Haley is playing — saying she’ll have a plan for us, but only after the election.

But if announcing your plan before the election means you feel compelled to avoid the most obvious way of paying for your proposal, then something important is lost.

Again, we have a way to pay for roadwork. It’s the gasoline tax. It has been held artificially, ridiculously low for far too long. There’s no need to run all over creation trying to find some other way to pay for infrastructure when we have a way to do it already. It’s a particularly bad idea to cut into funding available for all the other functions of government that don’t have a dedicated funding stream (“automatically dedicate five percent of the General Fund”), to pay for a governmental function that does have a dedicated funding stream — a common-sense one tied to use.

The importance of understanding politicians (and media types) as people

There I am after the show, second from left, followed by Eva Moore, Cynthia Hardy and Will Folks...

There I am after the show, second from left, followed by Eva Moore, Cynthia Hardy and Will Folks…

Having heard my limit of cynical statements bordering on paranoia, I resolved, on live radio over the weekend, to do The Most Daring Thing a Journalist Can Ever Do.

I decided to stick up for politicians. And for the media, for that matter.

I learned long ago, well before I started blogging, that the surest way to be the target of derision and contempt — from the public, and even one’s peers — is to praise someone in politics. It’s way more damaging to your reputation than criticizing people. We’re expected to do that. And those of you who know me know that I do my share of that. (In fact, some of you claim, hyperbolically, that it’s all I do, when the subject is Mark Sanford or Nikki Haley.)

But just let me say something laudatory about a politician — say, Lindsey Graham, who I believe is more deserving of such defense than anyone in high office in our state — and here comes the tsunami of cynicism. (Try to say “tsunami of cynicism” several times really fast.)

Journalists tend to relish the criticism that comes from being critical. It means we’re tough, and hard-hitting. Nobody pulls the wool over our eyes! We’re no saps. Cutting remarks make us sound like John Lennon. Saying nice things makes us sound like Paul McCartney. And everybody knows which one was the cool one, right?

Anyway, as Sunday’s show wore on, I endured a number of cynical remarks about media, politics and politicians, letting them pass by because of my long experience of knowing how hard it is to change people’s minds when they say things like, “They just stress all that negative stuff to sell papers,” or, “You can’t trust the MSM because they take advertising and are in the grip of corporate America,” or “He’s no different from all politicians; they’re all crooks.” (These are reconstructions; I wasn’t taking notes. But I’ve heard these kinds of comments SO many times.)

But finally, I couldn’t sit still, and I explained:

  • People who think advertisers control content in a newspaper have probably never worked at one. In my 35 years in newspapers, most of it as an editor, I never once was involved in a decision that was in any way influenced by money considerations, either involving advertising or circulation. (The only way money affected what we did was that the lack of it prevented us from having the people we needed, or to pay for travel, to do everything we wanted.) I DID find myself making decisions that I knew made life miserable for the ad people, and even lost the paper money. I mentioned a situation in which we took, and maintained (and the newspaper maintains to this day) an editorial position that cost the paper hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of several years. That didn’t make me happy or anything, but it had no impact on our position.
  • As for Will Folks’ assertion that we were supportive of lawmakers he despises because of the newspaper industry’s sales tax exemptions, I had to ask how he explained our ongoing repeated calls, year in and year out, for comprehensive tax reform that would put all exemptions on the table? (Doug likes to talk about that one, saying we should have called specifically for eliminating the newspaper exemption. But the truth was, I’ve never seen that one as in any way more egregious than the rest, and I would have been lying, and grandstanding, to say otherwise.)
  • Those who say this or that gets published because “it sells newspapers” don’t understand what makes journalists tick. There CAN be the temptation to be sensational, and we’re always trying to grab your attention, but not for anything so normal and sensible (the way most people see the world) as selling papers. What we wanted, what we want, is to be read. In terms of indulging my deep-seated need, no one had to buy the paper. They could steal it, just as long as they read it. Bryan loved that. After he wrote about it on his blog, I felt compelled to explain a bit. It’s not that I was advocating stealing the newspaper, mind you…
  • People talk about there being too much “bad news.” Well, I’m sorry, but to a great extent, the definition of news is something that has gone wrong. You don’t report on the 10,000 cars that pass a certain intersection safely in the course of a day; you report on the fatal wreck that occurred there. You don’t write about the thousands of buildings that didn’t catch fire; you report on the one that burned down. And you don’t write about the vast majority of politicians who are honest and doing their best; you write about the ones who are derelict and/or have their hands in the till — because that’s what people, as voters, need a heads-up about.
  • On that last point… I blame my profession, and particularly my generation of Watergate-influenced journalists, for the cynicism about government and politics that infects so many in our society today, from Will Folks and many other bloggers to the Tea Party to some of our best friends here on the blog. Maybe that’s one case where we DID overemphasize the “bad news.” We were so adversarial toward public officials and public institutions, so aggressive in chasing after scandal — and (seemingly sometimes) nothing but scandal — that we created an indelible impression among the reading and viewing public that government is a bad thing full of bad people. When it isn’t. We’re just trying to let you know about the bad parts that need addressing.

When I stated that probably 90-something percent of politicians were good people trying to do the best by their lights for their communities (even though they might, in my opinion, be really wrong about what’s best), Will erupted in derision, both on the air and on Twitter:

But I insisted it was true. I might think most of the things lawmakers try to do is stupid sometimes, but I don’t doubt their sincerity or honest intentions. As for the idea that people go into public life to enrich themselves monetarily — well, they’re really have to be stupid to do that, because the greater potential is definitely in the private sector, and the chance of getting caught is a lot lower than in public office.

Not that there aren’t some politicians for whom the pathetic renumeration that legislators receive is the best job they ever had. We had some people like that in the Legislature in the late 80s and early 90s. Lost Trust caught people selling their votes for pathetically small things, such as a new suit or some such.

Lost Trust was the low point in South Carolina, leading to indictments of 10 percent of the Legislature. But I turned that around to say that, when an aggressive federal prosecutor did his best to catch every lawmaker open to bribery or some other form of corruption… he could only get 10 percent. Which fits my 90ish-percent thesis.

Bottom line, people in politics are people, like any other. Oh, they may be more extroverted and given to exhibitionism of a sort, but they are not worse than other people. They might not be the wise solons that they should be — and I, for one, would prefer that they were a good deal wiser than average — but they’re just people.

So are journalists, for that matter, just to come full circle…