Category Archives: Legislature

League keeps striving to Make Democracy Work

League

Our friend Lynn Teague included me on the email when she sent out this League of Women Voters newsletter, and I thought I’d share it with y’all, since this stuff is much in the news.

As Lynn explained…

This MDW Update is one in a series from the League of Women Voters of South Carolina on legislation within the core area of League interest — “Making Democracy Work” through accountable and transparent government. It was posted following announcement of a Senate subcommittee meeting that will address eight bills related to elections and voting.

Two bills are mentioned in this update without explanation because they were covered in an earlier post. They are discussed at https://my.lwv.org/sites/default/files/mdw_update_6.pdf

Here ya go:

Making Democracy Work in SC: Election Bills Scheduled for March 16 in Senate, Adding New Bills to Mix

Things are moving fast. The Senate has scheduled a subcommittee meeting on a group of election-related bills for Tuesday, March 16, following Senate adjournment. Subcommittee members are senators Campsen (chair), Hutto, Young, McLeod, Garrett.

The bills are as follows:

  1. 113 (Absentee Ballots)
    S. 174 (Independent Expenditure Committee)
    S. 187 (Interest on Campaign Account)
    S. 236 (Municipal Precinct Pooling from 500 to 3000 Voters)
    S. 499 (S.C. Election Commission Restructuring Act)
    H. 3262 (3rdParty Candidates Filing Fee; Certification Fee
    H. 3263 (Candidate Primary Protests to State Executive Committee)
  2. 3264 (Newspaper Ad Requirement for County Conventions)

Note that H.3444 is not listed for consideration. That is excellent news. The last three bills that are listed are basically partisan housekeeping. The League is not addressing those. All of the bills originating in the Senate are of interest.

S.499 (https://www.scstatehouse.gov/billsearch.php)

We discussed this bill earlier today in the previous update. The League supports it as a reasonable measure to broaden input into appointment of the SEC Director through Senate advice and consent.

S.113 (https://www.scstatehouse.gov/billsearch.php?billnumbers=113)

South Carolina’s procedures to vote absentee by mail are more convoluted than necessary to maintain election security. They even seem to have confused the General Assembly, as the SEC found when trying to interpret special provisions for 2020 elections during the pandemic. This bill perpetuates existing problems and adds a few new ones. It should be possible to file a request for an application to vote absentee by mail (not the actual ballot) on-line. Instead, one can fill out the form on-line, but must then print the form out and deliver it in person or by mail. This confuses voters and is at best an additional impediment for the many voters who can access the online webpages but do not own printers to produce a hard copy to mail or deliver in person. Also, S. 113 would amend §7-15-385(B)(3) to provide that the only legal methods of returning ballots are by mail or by personal delivery, either by the voter or by a member of the applicant’s immediate family. The bill therefore eliminates the return of ballots by authorized persons who are not family members. This will be an obstacle for homebound persons who rely on unrelated caretakers, either in their homes or in group residencies. Finally, in stating that only the specified means of ballot return are permitted, S. 113 would prevent the use of ballot boxes in secure locations for return of ballots, which have been used successfully in South Carolina’s counties.

  1. 174 (https://www.scstatehouse.gov/billsearch.php)

This bill is an attempt to address the longstanding deficiencies regarding dark money disclosures in South Carolina, in this case for groups not organized for the primary purpose of influencing elections. The League supports addressing this serious problem. We note that federal court decisions have clarified this to some extent in recent years and has established that it is not a restriction on free speech to require basic disclosures. However, this bill will face strong opposition.

  1. 187 (https://www.scstatehouse.gov/sess124_2021-2022/bills/187.htm)
  2. 187 would greatly assist in the transparency of campaign bank accounts and at the same time help to fund more consistent oversight of campaign filings.

236 (https://www.scstatehouse.gov/billsearch.php)

For purposes of municipal elections only, this bill would increase the number of voters that must have their own voting place from 500 to 3000. It also would increase the permissible distance of voters from a pooled municipal polling place from three to five miles. This could present significant obstacles for voters without easy access to transportation. Turnout is usually low in local government elections, but there remains an increased potential for long lines and delays, which can make voting difficult or impossible for those with work and family obligations.

Lynn Shuler Teague
VP for Issues and Action, LWVSC

Rep. Russell Ott, pro-life Democrat

Russell Ott statement

Russell Ott’s statement about his vote on S.1.

As we spoke on the phone today, I kept hearing bubbling, crackling sounds in the background, like something wildly boiling over. I asked Rep. Russell Ott what was going on.

Oh, he said, that was people applauding during the signing ceremony for S.1, the abortion bill that The State describes thusly:

S. 1 requires doctors to perform an ultrasound to detect a heartbeat before performing any abortion. If a heartbeat is detected, the doctor would be prohibited from performing an abortion unless the pregnancy threatens the woman’s life or could cause severe harm to her health, if the fetus has a detectable anomaly that is not compatible with life or in cases where the woman reports being the victim of rape or incest. If a woman reports to a doctor that she was the victim of rape or incest, the doctor would then be required to report the crime to the local sheriff with or without the woman’s consent.,,,

Apparently, Henry just couldn’t wait to sign that one.

As it happened, this was what I had called to talk to Russell about. He thought he had found a quiet place where we could speak. But for him, there is no quiet place on this issue.

Russell Ott

Russell Ott

Back in December when he was re-elected as assistant leader of the Democrats in the South Carolina House, he had looked forward to working on sentencing reform, hate crime legislation, rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine, and trying to get relief and support to small business owners.

“At the end of the day, that is what it means to be a Democrat,” he told the Times and Democrat. “To look out for the working families, to make sure they have everything they need, and our support as much as possible.”

Some days, it’s easier to be a Democrat than at other times.

It turns out that once the legislative session began, the party that actually runs the State House had another priority in mind, one that led Rep. Ott to put this on Twitter yesterday:

That led to a lot of warm responses from his fellow Democrats, such as “Disappointed is a gross understatement,” and “Yeah you should definitely be primaried. Shame on you.” Someone called him “American Taliban.” So far, there are 25 replies. Of course, that’s not so bad when you consider that at the same time, there are 131 “likes.”

 

So I reached out to him in a text, noting that the reasons he cites as to why he’s a Democrat are the reasons I support Dems such as James Smith and Joe Biden. But abortion is one of the main things that keeps me from being a Democrat myself, so I could sympathize. So I wanted to chat with him before putting his statement on the blog.

He called and we spoke. I noted that it seemed he was having a rough day. He said he’d “probably had some easier ones, but it’s OK.”

He’s not bothered too much by the Twitter stuff. “Twitter’s not even real, Brad. You know that.”

“Come into my district,” he said. “People are not upset.”

Not that he dismisses the concerns of those commenting on Twitter. He respects their views. He respects everyone’s views, as he indicated in his statement. Having gotten into the habit in recent days, he asked me what mine were. I told him that might take years to relate (as y’all know), but I got to talking a bit about some of my problems talking with people who agree with me on so many things, but not on this. And while I’m not a party member, I touched on the problems I’ve had as a Catholic, in light of the fact that about half of my coreligionists voted for Trump over this very issue — setting aside everything else it meant to be pro-life.

He’s a Methodist, but he seemed to understand. Similarly, he wishes some of his more critical fellow Democrats would look at the big picture of what it means, and has long meant, to be a Democrat.

“I put up the amendment that led to the flag coming down” at the critical moment of the House debate in 2015. He’s fought for public education. He’s pushed for expanding Medicaid. “And I certainly have been applauded for that.” But for the moment, at least on Twitter, “That was all gone.”

“But that’s OK,” he says. “There’s a lot of people out there that acknowledge like I do that this is not an easy issue.”

A lot of Democrats maintain their position is not only the right one, but not to be questioned. Ditto among the Republicans, as we know. “Let’s not ignore the hypocrisy on the other side,” he emphasized. As he said in his statement, he’s a Democrat because he cares about babies after they’re born, as well.

“I’m the representative of people who sent me here to … address each issue, as they come,” he said. “I know that the opinion that I hold is not unique. A lot of people that vote Democrat a majority of the time agree with this.”

But that’s because they’re not the professional Democrats, the ones on Twitter. While many of those are fine people, ones Russell gets along with most of the time, sometimes they can be kind of like the Republicans: “Both parties weaponize this issue, and I just reject that position… If that’s the way that person feels, then fine… But if you believe that’s a human being, it’s a baby…” You have to do what you think is right.

“We shouldn’t have a litmus test in this party.”

Russell isn’t alone, of course. I just reached out to him because of the statement he had posted. Democratic Rep. Lucas Atkinson voted with him. I should probably reach out to him, too. I don’t know him and he doesn’t know me, but I found out the other day that we’re related. He’s… hang on; let me go look at the tree… my 3rd cousin, once removed.

But they’re a small group.

There’s nothing new about pro-life Democrats in South Carolina, though. Remember Vincent Sheehen, Democratic nominee for governor in 2010 and 2014? Pro-life Catholic, and one of the smartest and best people in the Senate? Yeah, he got dumped by the voters for the sin of being a Democrat — fer bein’ one a them libruls, you know.

When I brought up Sheheen, Russell pointed out how close Vincent came to being governor in 2010. He said it seems like more Democrats in the state would look and notice how well a pro-life Democrat did. And also note the fact that Jaime Harrison ran as a conventional, pro-choice Democrat, and was easily defeated in spite of having raised more money than any Senate candidate in American history.

But never mind political calculation. Russell voted the way he thought was right. And he expects others to do the same, whether they agree with him or not…

Did anyone pay attention to the State of the State?

Henry 2021

I sort of forgot about it, what with a POTUS getting impeached for the second time and all. And other stuff.

Normally, I’d want to watch and see what sort of excuses Henry is offering for his stewardship of our state, but I was busy and to the extent that I was aware of news, other things were shouting louder.

Once, those were Big Wednesdays for me. They took up a lot of my day and night. My colleagues and I would go to lunch at the governor’s house to be briefed on the speech and receive our copies, and then we’d go back to the office and read the copies and argue over it, then one of us would write the editorial, and the writer and I would stay at work through the speech that night to see if we needed to amend the edit before letting the page go. Which we sometimes did.

All this effort was fitting, since the overwhelming majority of what we wrote was about South Carolina and the issues before it.

But now… I’ve done what I could to help South Carolina get committed, rational leadership that actually cares about said issues — all those years on the editorial board, and those few months in 2018 more directly — and just kept running into the same brick walls. It’s hard even to get people to pay the slightest attention. And now I don’t have the soapbox I once did, so… I don’t follow every word said in SC politics the way I used to.

Especially not yesterday.

What about you? Tell me you hung on every word, and offer some cogent thoughts about what was said, and make me feel guilty for having missed it. Beyond that, I’m just curious: Was anyone paying attention?

Let’s celebrate a belated win for solar energy and SC

The unanimous vote in the House on Thursday.

The unanimous vote in the House on Thursday.

And may I add, it’s a win for my erstwhile boss James Smith, even if he’s no longer in the Legislature to share in the celebration.

Last year, James’ bill to lift the cap on solar energy in our state was cruising to victory before the big utilities got the rules changed at the last minute. It was a stunning exhibition of “your oligarchy at work,” as one State House sage described it long ago. Check out my report on that, headlined, “In stunning reversal for people of SC, utilities manage to kill solar bill AFTER it passed overwhelmingly.”

Here’s Sammy’s story on what happened. An excerpt:

As the legislative session ended this week, South Carolina lawmakers approved a sweeping solar energy bill that will keep the state’s rooftop solar industry from collapsing and protect customers who seek to save money by installing sun panels on their homes.

The bill, the result of two years of negotiation between utilities and solar advocates, now needs only Gov. Henry McMaster’s signature to become law. McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes said the governor will sign the bill. The Senate voted for the bill Wednesday and the House approved it Thursday, the final day of the legislative session.

“We had a good deliberative process on some pretty groundbreaking clean energy legislation,’’ said Rebecca Haynes, deputy director of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina. “This saves the rooftop solar industry.’’

This week’s action is significant because it lifts restrictions that threatened to grind the state’s burgeoning rooftop solar industry to a halt. State law capped the amount of rooftop solar allowed in areas served by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy in South Carolina.

The Legislature’s action eliminates those caps, as well as restrictions on solar-leasing programs….

Well it’s about time. Congrats to Peter McCoy and everyone who supported it. Which was, um, everybody…

Should teachers walk out tomorrow? (No, they should not.)

From the Facebook page of SC for Ed...

From the Facebook page of SC for Ed…

I’m inclined not to offer any arguments on this point and let Cindi do my talking:

Yup. The more of them who show up at the State House when they should be working, the less favorably lawmakers will view their wishes.

Walking out is a bad idea to begin with. Making the State House the end point of your walk is even less wise.

There are all sorts of reasons. Here are two or three:

  • We don’t have public employee unions in South Carolina. Never mind whether you or I think that’s a good thing; the point is that our Legislature thinks it is a good thing. So probably the worst thing you can do, if you’re trying to get something out of the Legislature, is to act like a union, with a walkout.
  • As the editorial Cindi links to asserts, the assertion that teacher “grievances” have “fallen on deaf ears” rings extremely hollow when the lawmakers you are griping about are about to give you all a 4 percent raise.
  • May Day? Really? Are we thinking of the State House grounds as Red Square? Will Scud missiles (or perhaps giant pencils) roll down Gervais Street on trailers?

Is that all that should happen? No. This was supposedly the year for education reform, and thanks to the Senate being the Senate, that didn’t happen. The House did its job, thanks to the leadership of Speaker Jay Lucas and the good-faith work of a consensus of the body, ranging from my old boss Mandy Powers Norrell to my own rep, Micah Caskey.

But I can’t imagine how a mass abandonment of duty on the part of teachers helps us get to where we need to be.

It will be interesting to see who walks out, and who doesn’t. This walkout is the work of the upstart SC for Ed organization, which has been trying to take the role of representing teachers away from the more established groups, such as the S.C. Education Association. SCEA president has expressed some doubts about the event.

But whoever they are, I don’t see the event furthering stated goals…

Is Harpootlian the famous ‘person from Porlock?’

It's a stately dome. I don't know about the "pleasure" part, though...

It’s a stately dome. I don’t know about the “pleasure” part, though…

When I saw this this morning…

Panthers’ plans for SC headquarters include massive complex, hotel

The Carolina Panthers say that a complex that includes a medical facility, a hotel, entertainment venues and more are planned for the team’s York County site.

I got to thinking about Coleridge:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery….

I guess that makes Dick Harpootlian the “person from Porlock,” since he’s the one trying to wake everyone from the dream…

Tom Davis attacked by high-larious (but offensive) mailers

mailer 1

This was tweeted yesterday by my own favorite legislative libertarian, the inimitable Sen. Tom Davis:

Needless to say, it’s getting a lot of response.

First, I thought it was a hoot. Next, I had other thoughts:

  • Does the shirt indicate that Tom is holding Maui Wowie in his hands? Where did he get it? How much did it cost?
  • At first, I thought the headline was ungrammatical. Shouldn’t it be “Will Folks agrees…,” since there is only one Will Folks who is known to Tom and would agree with him on this. Then I realized it’s not a reference to Folks, but just to “folks.” In general. The fact it was in all caps prevented me seeing that right away. But that’s an indication that this was likely produced outside SC. Because people inside SC know Will…
  • Party boy Tom Davis? Party boy Tom Davis?!?!?
  • Is the dope Tom is holding in a plastic grocery bag? If so, do the producers of this thing know that Tom supports local bans on such bags? Are they saying this is inconsistent of him as a libertarian? Nah. I’m thinking about it too hard…
  • What is that girl doing down to the left of Tom? Never mind, don’t tell me. This really is a party, isn’t it? You know, there are all sorts of ways they could have put a bong in the picture without it looking like that…
  • The whole “call Tom Davis” shtick is offensive enough — public figure or not, no one should be subjected to such harassment, especially when based on a lie — but then it gets really dirty: “Tell him to stop trying to turn South Carolina into California.” Fightin’ words…
  • And finally, I get serious: These kinds of dishonest hidden-hand mailers are a scourge upon our politics, as I have said again and again. Which sets up a video I’d like y’all to watch in which our own Mandy Powers Norrell touts her dark-money bill…

And finally… here’s another such mailer (or, I suppose, the other side of this one):

mailer 2

The new Henry McMaster (we can only hope)

henry

I’ve been meaning to write about this, but when it was timely — on Inauguration Day, and when we had the State of the State — I was too busy to blog, and let it slide.

But now I’m thinking about it again, so…

A number of times lately, I’ve thought, Hey, at least one voter out there was listening to us during the campaign: Henry McMaster.

At least it seems that way. Everywhere we went, James and Mandy touted their plan to raise teacher pay and take other measures to make all our schools places where kids were well educated and teachers loved their jobs and didn’t want to quit. And James had a crowd-pleasing line he used with regard to his opponent that went kind of like this: The only thing Henry McMaster has offered our schools is to arm teachers with guns. I want to arm them with better pay, and with the tools they need to be effective.

The line worked, because Henry offered nothing to counter it. He didn’t talk about schools. Any reasonable person could be forgiven for assuming that he didn’t give a flying flip about schools.

Now, he’s all on fire for education reform. Which is why, after the State of the State, Mandy Powers Norrell tweeted this:

It’s great. It’s gratifying. But don’t think I think we deserve the credit (and I don’t think Mandy does, either). I don’t flatter myself that Henry is taking his cues from the Smith campaign. I do think he’s taking them from House Speaker Jay Lucas. And that’s a good thing.

(Oops, I forgot to use The State newspaper’s recent style. On first reference, and sometimes even in headlines, it’s always “powerful House Speaker Jay Lucas.” It’s become such a part of his title, I expect them to start capitalizing the “P” next. Back in the old mainframe days when we were on Atex terminals, we would have said, “they’ve got it on a SAVE/GET key…”)

Lucas has been wanting to get serious on helping our schools for several years now. Even though the Supreme Court has backed off on forcing the Legislature to provide all the state’s students with a better-than-minimally adequate education, Lucas really wants to do something about it.

And he’s willing to let Henry get in front of the parade and take credit for it.

And to his credit, Henry for once is acting like a leader and stepping out to do something, to lead, to be a governor.

His first two years in office, we saw no sign of that. In fact, when Lucas and others in the State House tried to lead, Henry lay down in front of their efforts. He only cared about the upcoming election. It was painfully evident that, on a twist of another of James’ campaign lines, Henry would rather keep the job than do the job.

The way he tried to block leadership on the roads bill was the perfect example. Rather than support the lawmakers in the risk they were taking, he vetoed the bill, and neither tried to offer a viable argument why nor made any effort to get lawmakers to sustain the veto. He knew they would override him. He just wanted zero responsibility for what happened. (Which reminds me of a postwar German phrase: Ohne mich. They could do what they liked, but without him.)

Now that he’s been elected governor for the first time, he seems to have decided he’s going to act like one. For a change.

I worked so hard to get James Smith elected mostly because of my tremendous respect for him, personally. I’d have been for James even if Henry had been a fairly decent governor. But I worked even harder for him because Henry gave no sign of being any kind of governor at all, decent or otherwise. It was an extra spur to my efforts.

And when we lost, we had little reason to hope for anything better going forward.

Which is why it’s so encouraging to see Henry accepting the mantle of leadership that the Speaker has offered him. It’s not as good as having James as governor, not by a long shot, but it’s something.

I applaud this unexpected development. And I’m daring to hope that something good will come out of it. After all, Dum Spiro Spero

Rep. Hart underlines silliness of the ‘wall’ nonissue

Here’s a release with a silly headline about a silly bill mocking something equally, you know, silly:

unnamed (2)

I only have one beef with it: I had to show you the release as a picture, rather than copying and pasting text, because it wasn’t sent in a text form.

Which is inconvenient. And irritating. And perhaps silly as well…

As to the merits of the measure that the Democrats are filibustering — I have no idea. Don’t know why Republicans are for it; don’t know why Democrats are against it. Don’t much care. Here’s a Tweet about it; that’s all I’ve got:

Today’s Hot Topic: Columbia taxes and ecodevo

We had a pretty good crowd, who seemed engaged.

We had a pretty good crowd, who seemed engaged.

We’ve relaunched the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council’s monthly Hot Topic discussions. Today at the Chamber offices we tackled the subject of Columbia property taxes and their effect on economic development efforts. Or, as local Chamber head Carl Blackstone said when I told him about it, “My favorite topic.”

On the panel were:

  • Mayor Steve Benjamin
  • Paul Livingston, chairman of Richland County Council
  • Henry Baskins, executive vice president, Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce
  • Ryan Coleman, director of ecodevo for the city
  • Jeff Ruble, head of ecodevo for Richland County
  • Lasenta Lewis-Ellis, president/CEO of LLE Construction Group

We had a good discussion, and will probably have another to follow up before long.

Local businessman Hal Stevenson moderated.

To give y’all some idea of what was said, here are some of my Tweets from during the session:

All of that said, the mayor speaks pragmatically when he says that he imagines the chances of the Legislature undoing the damage it did with Act 388 are “slim to none.”

Local attorney Mitch Willoughby chats with the mayor after the forum.

Local attorney Mitch Willoughby chats with the mayor after the forum.

Here you go, Doug…

2789653

I initially used this image when I posted our medical cannabis release on the campaign website. James communicated to me that it wasn’t quite the look he wanted to go with so, ya know, I took it down…

How did we win over Doug Ross back during the campaign (however briefly)? Well, I imagine a number of things went into it, but one think I know played a role was our stance on medical cannabis.

James won’t be around to get ‘er done, but I’m sure Doug will be encouraged by this release yesterday from Tom Davis, the most libertarian member of the Legislature:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

CONTACT:

State Sen. Tom Davis

tdavis@harveyandbattey.com

State Rep. Peter McCoy

peter@mccoyandstokes.com

COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina State Sen. Tom Davis and Rep. Peter McCoy released the following statement regarding their intent to file tomorrow, on Tuesday, January 15, 2019, a bill titled the “South Carolina Compassionate Care Act,” in order to legalize in South Carolina the use of cannabis by patients for certain specific medical conditions, subject to a physician’s authorization and supervision, and to legalize in this state, subject to regulation and oversight by DHEC and SLED, the cultivation, processing and dispensing of cannabis for such medical use:

“For the past several months, we have worked with law enforcement, health professionals, grassroots advocates, and other individuals and organizations to draft the most strictly regulated and tightly supervised medical-cannabis program in the country.  Poll after poll on this issue confirms what we consistently hear from our constituents – that the overwhelming majority of South Carolinians do want physicians to have the legal ability to authorize the use of cannabis by their patients if those physicians believe it would be of medicinal benefit, but that they do not want to legalize the use of cannabis for recreational purposes.

“Our objective in drafting this bill has been to provide for a medical-cannabis program that reflects South Carolinians’ views on the matter – that is, to draw a bright line between medical and recreational use.  We believe the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act, a copy of which is attached, does that.  The summary of the act, also attached, breaks down in detail the safeguards put in place to ensure that a medical-cannabis program does not morph into a recreational one.  In developing these safeguards, we have looked at what has worked and what hasn’t in the 33 states that have already legalized cannabis for medical purposes.

“We acknowledge that the medical-cannabis program we propose is much stricter than the others; that is intentional.  From the tightly defined list of qualifying medical conditions to the level of detail required in the written certifications by the authorizing physicians, from the prohibition against smoking cannabis to the imposition of felony penalties for the diversion of medical cannabis for recreational use, and from the mandatory use of seed-to-sale tracking systems to the testing of medical cannabis by independent testing laboratories, we believe the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act draws the bright line between medical and recreational use of cannabis that the overwhelming majority of South Carolinians want.

We will have a press  conference at the State House in Columbia at 4 p.m. tomorrow, Tuesday, January 14, 2018, to review the provisions of the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act in detail and to answer questions about that act.”

###

Tom notes that polls show a supermajority of South Carolinians favor the change. Well, he’d better get a supermajority of votes in the General Assembly, because the guy who won the governor’s race doesn’t hold with it.

If we’d won, he wouldn’t have that problem.

The young folks just love hearing Sen. Land talk about ‘likkah’

James speaking at the event John Land hosted for us in Manning.

James speaking at the event John Land hosted for us in Manning.

On the first day of the Leave No One Behind Tour, we had two reporters and a photographer on the bus with us.

One was Maayan Schechter of The State. Maayan wasn’t at the paper when John Land was in the Senate, but she knew his rep. And when we stopped in Manning for an event the senator had set up for us, she couldn’t resist asking him to talk about “liquor.”

She has not ceased being delighted by his willing response, as I learned when a “like” by Mandy Powers Norrell drew me to this Tweet, featuring video shot that day:

If you want to know more about the senator and likkah, you might want to watch this clip from several years back:

That, of course, was a tribute to this famous bit from Mississippi politician Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat, Jr. in 1952.

Sen. Land is a South Carolina treasure.

By the way, at one point another campaign aide and I had the same idea independently of each other, proving the old saw about great minds: We both thought it would be wonderful to get Land to play Henry in debate prep. Not just because of the accent, but because Land is so sharp that he’d really have given James a workout. We didn’t follow through on it, though. A shame. I’d love to have video of that. Imagine Land saying, “Ah like it, ah love it, ah want some mo’ OF it!

On the bus that same day. That's Maayan sitting next to the photog over on the right.

On the bus that same day. That’s Maayan sitting next to the photog over on the right.

Ol’ Henry can’t catch a break: Tom Davis hits him from the OTHER side of the roads-bill veto

Today, Sen. Tom Davis — a man I greatly respect but seldom agree with — endorsed insurgent John Warren in the runoff against his party’s incumbent governor, Henry McMaster.

Tom Davis

Tom Davis

What grabbed my attention was one of the chief reasons Tom offered: He’s mad at the governor over his veto of the roads bill last year.

But unlike my own representative Micah Caskey, who ripped the governor a new one for vetoing the bill, Tom’s ticked because Henry didn’t veto it hard enough, so to speak.

Tom quotes from his own statement that he had entered into the Senate Journal at the time of the veto:

“I’m also disappointed in Gov. Henry McMaster for what can fairly be described as a “drive-by veto.”  Not only did he fail to try and any build support for his gas-tax veto – I’ve yet to hear of even one instance where he met with a legislator to try and garner support for having his veto sustained – he did not provide those of us willing to fight for taxpayers with the chance to do so in his absence; he simply “checked the box” by vetoing the bill as quickly as possible and returning it to the General Assembly for an equally quick override, even though I and other reform-minded legislators asked him to delay issuing his veto so that we had a full two weeks to rally support for it being sustained.”

In a way, though, both Micah and Tom are hitting the governor for the same thing: Not taking the issue seriously enough, and acting with a disgusting degree of political expedience.

Micah was indignant that the governor never seriously offered an alternative to the gas-tax increase. This was particularly galling when the GOP leadership in the House was taking the political risk (by Republican standards) by raising the tax. I think if Henry had been pushing a real alternative, Micah could have respected him more.

Tom’s critique is that the governor merely pandered by offering the veto — something with which I think Micah would agree — without caring whether it was sustained or not (or perhaps even wishing it to be overridden, which it promptly was).

Both hit the governor for putting his own political advantage ahead of important matters of state policy. Both seem to see him as disrespecting allies and potential allies in his own party, and worse, disrespecting the people of South Carolina.

From their perspectives at either end of the GOP spectrum — that of a moderate House freshman and that of the most ideologically pure veteran senators ever to serve in the State House — they’re fed up with the governor’s fecklessness.

So both are backing James Warren.

Henry’s in trouble…

Micah Caskey last year, wadding up the governor's veto message and throwing it away.

Micah Caskey last year, wadding up the governor’s veto message and throwing it away.

Another stupid attack on Micah Caskey

carry back

Another mailer came from that same group attacking my rep, Micah Caskey.

Again, it relies entirely upon an assumption that voters are mentally feeble.

This time, the accusation is that Micah doesn’t support “2nd Amendment rights” because he didn’t vote for a “constitutional carry” bill.carry 1

I don’t know what Micah thinks about “constitutional carry” and don’t really care. The other Caskey, our resident 2nd Amendment guy Bryan, sees no need for such a provision in South Carolina, which is a “shall issue” state. In other words, if you can own a gun, no one can refuse to issue you a permit.

“Constitutional carry” is the kind of litmus test issue that shows how far gone alleged “conservatives” are today. Once, when real conservatives roamed the Earth, you’d get attacked if you didn’t support a balanced budget amendment. Now, you have to support the kind of hyper-pro gun legislation that is only important to the kind of people who like to freak out the citizenry by carrying a weapon down a city street simply to assert that “I got a right to!” (I know those aren’t exactly the same thing. I’m just thinking there’s probably a lot of overlap there.)

At least, with these people that’s the standard. To the extent that they can be said to have standards.

My favorite bit: “He may talk a big game, but…” You mean, like, when he mentions (which he seldom does) carrying a rifle into combat in Iraq as a United States Marine, stuff like that?

Another good part: “I don’t need the government’s permission to defend myself!” That’s right, you don’t. And you never have. Which underlines how unnecessary that bill was.

Anyway… I’m going to ignore that and take comfort from this straw poll that the Lexington County GOP did at their June meeting. Nathan Ballentine proudly tweeted it out because he got 72.9 percent.

Micah Caskey got 97.6 percent. Sounds like he might have earned the right to “talk a big game…”

De4_RDlUYAAAXTx

John Courson resigns seat, pleads guilty. So NOW what?

The empty space in the State House underground lot. I shot this in early April .

The empty space in the State House underground lot. I shot this in early April . It’s been vacant a LONG time.

Sen. John Courson has entered a guilty plea and resigned his seat in the Senate.

This is a sad day, as I — like most people who have interacted with him over the years — have always liked and respected him, so this is very disappointing.

If you want comments from someone who is pleased by this situation and will talk with satisfaction about how the senator “got what he deserved,” I refer you to our own Doug Ross.

For me, this is an opportunity to bring up a number of things I’ve been thinking about in the last few days:

  • First, whither the Pascoe investigation? John Monk reports that Courson has “agreed to cooperate with an ongoing investigation into public corruption in the S.C. State House.” Is there an ongoing investigation? Because it doesn’t seem to have “ongone” anywhere in the last few months, ever since charges were dropped against Richard Quinn, Rick Quinn was allowed to plead to a misdemeanor, and the special prosecutor David Pascoe criticized the judge for not sentencing Quinn fils to prison, even though he, Pascoe, had allowed him to plead to a charge that did not warrant prison. Since then, the probe has seemed to be in limbo. Is it coming back to life now?
  • If it does come back to life — or is perceived to be doing so — what does that do to the governor’s race? Does it affect the primary a week from tomorrow? To what extent will the incumbent’s primary challengers try to make hay from this resurrection of the topic, trumpeting McMaster’s long association with Richard Quinn? To what extent will that work? (We’ll discuss later what effect all this might have on the gubernatorial race in the fall, if McMaster is the nominee.)
  • Will this cause the attack on James Smith that did not happen two weeks ago to happen now? I’m still puzzled that the rumored attack did not materialize when expected. Did the attackers have an attack of conscience (I’m trying to consider ALL possibilities, you see)? Will this tempt them to do their dastardly, unfair worst? Given some things I’ve seen happening in the Democratic contest lately (more on that later), very little would shock me.
  • What, if anything, happens in the GOP race for attorney general? Several months ago, it looked like this was going to be a knock-down-drag-out, with the Pascoe probe as the topic dominating everything else. Pascoe was telegraphing like crazy that the public official he most wanted to go after next was incumbent Alan Wilson. Todd Atwater decided to give up his House seat (now being sought by Paula Rawl Calhoon, whose ad you see at right) to challenge Wilson against that background. But with the Pascoe investigation in suspended animation recently, Wilson has been able to run a pretty conventional incumbent re-election campaign, stressing positives in his record rather than going on the defensive. Does today’s development change that dynamic?
  • What exactly did Courson plead guilty to doing? According to John, he had been charged with “misconduct in office, criminal conspiracy and converting campaign money to his personal use by taking kickbacks.” But the report says he has owned up to one count of “misconduct in office.” Since the converting campaign money to his personal use part was a separate charge, does that mean that is dropped? So what has he pled guilty to?
  • If the investigation is “ongoing,” who might be targeted that we don’t even know about? No one who knew Courson would have expected his name to come up (of course Doug knew, something that I type just to save Doug the trouble), so anybody could be a target.
  • Who will be running for Courson’s seat? I know of one person who’s highly likely to run, whom I won’t name until I get confirmation. But beyond the who, exactly how does this unfold? I assume there will be a special election, but does it occur before the election we’re having anyway this year? That Senate district has already gone a full session without representation, so what would be the hurry now, with the General Assembly practically done for the year?

Those are my first thoughts. Others will no doubt occur to me.

Chamber endorses 15 incumbents with primary opposition

The Chamber of Commerce is playing it safe — which doesn’t mean they’re not right about some of these endorsements:

COLUMBIA, S.C. – The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce PAC, which supports pro-jobs candidates for the General Assembly, today endorsed 15 members of the S.C. House of Representatives who are running for re-election.chamber_pac_logo_2-1

Each Chamber PAC-endorsed candidate has joined the business community in the fight to make South Carolina the most competitive state in the nation for business development.

“The business community is proud to announce its support for these House members,” said Chamber President and CEO Ted Pitts. “They have strengthened our workforce, delivered tax relief, invested in our infrastructure and reduced the regulatory burden – and, when they are re-elected, we look forward to working with them to keep South Carolina on the move.”

The following House members have earned the business community’s support in June’s primary elections based on their performance on the S.C. Chamber of Commerce’s annual legislative scorecard.

  • State Rep. Nathan Ballentine (District 71, Richland and Lexington Counties)
  • State Rep. Micah Caskey (District 89, Lexington County)
  • State Rep. Sylleste Davis (District 100, Berkeley Country)
  • State Rep. Greg Duckworth (District 104, Horry County)
  • State Rep. Craig Gagnon (District 11, Abbeville and Anderson Counties)
  • State Rep. Jackie Hayes (District 55, Darlington, Dillon, Horry and Marlboro Counties)
  • State Rep. Phyllis Henderson (District 21, Greenville Country)
  • State Rep. Joe McEachern (District 77, Richland County)
  • State Rep. Samuel Rivers (District 15, Berkley and Charleston Counties)
  • State Rep. Mike Sottile (District 112, Charleston County)
  • State Rep. Kit Spires (District 96, Lexington County)
  • State Rep. Eddie Tallon (District 33, Spartanburg County)
  • State Rep. Jay West (District, Abbeville and Anderson County)
  • State Rep. Brian White (District 6, Anderson County)
  • State Rep. Ronnie Young (District 84, Aiken County)

At this point, Doug or someone is bursting with indignation at the idea of endorsing all these incumbents! Understandable.

Although the ones with whom I’m most familiar — Nathan Ballentine and Micah Caskey, for instance — are ones I’d pick, too. And if I knew more, I’d likely back quite a few of the others, too.

Unfortunately, our parties have become so corrupted by our system of reapportionment that incumbents seldom, if ever, draw primary opposition that a sensible person would seriously consider. Challengers tend to be extremists trying to pull their respective parties even farther from the sensible center, perpetual candidates who time and time again have been rejected by the voters.

The latter is the case with Micah Caskey, for instance. I forget how many times Billy Oswald has run in the past — sometimes as a Democrat, sometimes as a Republican. If I recall correctly from meeting him long ago, he’s a nice guy (and I have no reason to believe he’s involved with this perfidy), but voters have repeatedly rejected him. And I see no reason they should change their minds after the strong freshman performance Micah has turned in.

In fact, he’s done such a good job that even if he had really strong opposition — such as, say, Tem Miles, whom Micah faced last time — I’d definitely be for giving Micah another term. He’s more than earned it, and I expect more good things from him.

All of that said, there must be SOME incumbents the Chamber doesn’t want to see re-elected. But being the Chamber and therefore risk-averse, those folks aren’t being listed. Because, you know, then the Chamber would be making enemies among folks who will likely be re-elected anyway.

I’d sort of like to see the other list, the one whose existence this one implies: In other words, the incumbents whom the Chamber didn’t endorse despite their having primary opposition. That list would be interesting. I might see if I can infer who those folks are if I get some time later….

 

Lynn Teague on the Legislature’s unfinished business

When I saw this Tweet yesterday, it gave me an idea:

In my church, we confess every week as follows: “I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do…”

That last part is where I, personally, fall down the most. So I take it seriously.

I asked Lynn if she would write us a blog post on what our lawmakers “have failed to do.” She kindly obliged, and here’s her report:

What Remains at the State House

The General Assembly just canceled their scheduled return to Columbia for May 23-24 to work on unfinished business. The conference committee on S. 954 and H. 4375 has been scheduled for Wednesday, but there will be no meeting of the whole House and Senate until the end of June. What haven’t they done? What should they be doing before the days dwindle down to a precious few?

Lynn Teague

Lynn Teague

Their work for the remainder of 2018 is defined by the sine die resolution, passed before their departure from Columbia on May 10. Under that resolution, they can return to deal with the state budget, anything related to V. C. Summer, legislation to make the state tax code conform to changes in the federal tax code, bills that have been passed in both houses and are now in conference committee, and some local legislation. They have given themselves until November to do this. That is far too late for some of the remaining bills.

First, the state needs a budget. The government won’t shut down if the budget doesn’t pass by July 1, but it would surely be better to let agencies know what they have to work with at the start of the fiscal year. The budget also includes important provisos that are there in part because the General Assembly failed to pass other needed bills. Legislators should be working now to resolve their differences on those.

What else should legislators do when they return? They must surely bring our tax system into conformity with changes in the federal tax code, either by reconciling H.5341 and S. 1258 in conference or by writing a new bill. This is an area in which failure to act could be costly for South Carolina’s citizens.

And then there are the utilities. Of course, the utilities, which everyone said were the sole focus of the 2018 session. And yet, bills to resolve both short-term and long-term issues arising from the catastrophic failure of V. C. Summer remain to be passed. Some of the delay can be attributed to differences between House and Senate. Some can be attributed to a Senate Judiciary subcommittee that was not inclined to haste. I wouldn’t say that they were slow, but substantial parts of the Greenland ice sheet collapsed between meetings. So now a significant amount of work remains to be done.

S 954 is best known for the ongoing battle between House and Senate over the amount of a temporary rate suspension, whether 13% or 18%. With each passing day, we pay more to SCANA for something that we aren’t getting because this isn’t resolved. However, in the long term the more important aspect of this bill is the PSC schedule, which would give all participants certainty of a schedule to resolve the complex issues surrounding SCANA and its exorbitant rates. This schedule is especially important given SCANA’s stonewalling of discovery requests from intervenors and the Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS) at the PSC, delaying the ability of stakeholders to examine material evidence.

Other surviving utility bills include H.4375, amending the Base Load Review Act (BLRA) that made the V. C. Summer catastrophe possible. Retroactive repeal would be lovely, but is pretty surely unconstitutional. The most important elements of H. 4375 are preventing future use of the BLRA and introducing a definition of prudency, a central concept in evaluating whether SCANA’s costs at V. C. Summer were legitimately incurred. Another bill, H. 4379, creates a consumer advocate and removes the serious conflicts currently embedded in the ORS mission statement. The first two of these bills are on the agenda for the Wednesday conference committee, but H. 4379 is not yet in conference. Legislators must be working to resolve their differences on these bills before proceedings at the PSC and in the courts move further forward.

Those are the absolutely necessary bills for June. We are sure that legislators expect to dig in and move fast when they return to Columbia, but there is a lot to do. November is too late for much of it. July is too late for some of it.

Two other important utility bills, H. 4377 and H. 4378, were never heard in Senate Judiciary subcommittee, but nevertheless could and should be taken up under the sine die resolution. No one has indicated any intention to do this, but it is possible and needed so it is worth mentioning. H. 4377 makes important changes to strengthen the qualifications of members of the PSC and improve their access to information. We need that. PSC members shouldn’t be just representatives of local areas there to look out for local interests, they must be technically and legally competent to address the complex issues before the PSC.

H. 4378 revised the membership of the powerful State Regulation of Utilities Review Committee (PURC) that oversees the whole regulatory system. It gives the Governor appointments to this important body and ensures that legislators are not a majority on the committee. We badly need this. However, at present H.4378 does not go far enough. We should also prohibit members of PURC, their immediate families, and the businesses with which they are associated from receiving income, donations, or gifts from any regulated monopoly. At present they can receive all of these benefits from the industries that they oversee. This should end, now.

So, with all that time until November, there is no good reason for the General Assembly not to take up these other bills and actually reform our regulatory system.

Lynn is more diplomatic about all that than I would be, but she sure knows her stuff, and I felt a post from her would be far more informative than one from me…

Caskey strips out stupidest part of sanctuary cities bill

Micah Caskey selling his amendment in the House./@TigerMuniSC

Rep. Micah Caskey selling his amendment in the House./@TigerMuniSC

Yesterday afternoon I ran into my representative, Micah Caskey, on my afternoon walk, and asked what he’d been up to on such a fine Wednesday.

He was glad to tell me, as he’d had a good day doing worthwhile work for us all. He told me briefly about it, and followed up with more info today.

You know about Henry McMaster’s stupid Sanctuary Cities bill, the pointless solution to a non-existent problem. We have no Sanctuary Cities in South Carolina, a fact that no one disputes — but in order to pander to the Trump crowd, the governor would force South Carolina municipalities to file a bunch of red tape proving they’re not sanctuary cities, or lose state funding upon which they rely.

So Micah got the House to amend the bill to strip out the reporting requirements. You see, Sanctuary Cities are already against the law in South Carolina. Micah’s amendment would allow the state attorney general to take legal action against any municipalities suspected of the heinous crime of being nice to illegal aliens. (Currently, only a resident of the relevant municipality can can file a lawsuit to enjoin the city from adopting such policies.)

Micah did a nice job selling his amendment, bringing along this Powerpoint presentation to explain the actual facts of the situation, and what he proposed to do.

So basically, he managed to strip out the stupidest part of a stupid bill, minimizing the damage of what he termed the Incremental Growth of South Carolina Government Act.

Here’s how he summed up the change:

Original Bill

  • Paperwork shuffle (ICR)
  • Grows government
  • Adds to SLED workload
  • No due process
  • Violators lose LGF

Caskey Amendment

  • Empowers AG to enforce
  • Due process ensured
  • Protects rule of law
  • Violators lose LGF

“LGF” means “Local Government Fund.” “ICR” means “Immigration Compliance Report.”

Nice job, Micah. This is a good case of, as you put it in your presentation, “Common Sense Trumping Politics.”

In stunning reversal for people of SC, utilities manage to kill solar bill AFTER it passed overwhelmingly

It's like if, after the Death Star was destroyed, Darth Vader used the Force to snuff out the Rebellion anyway...

It’s like if, after the Death Star was destroyed, Darth Vader used the Force to snuff out the Rebellion anyway…

If you had any lingering sympathy for the big utilities in South Carolina, this should wipe it out:

Under pressure from the state’s major utilities, the S.C. House killed a solar bill Tuesday that was intended to protect thousands of jobs and save customers money on their monthly power bills.

The bill’s defeat, a stunning reversal from a House vote last week, brought withering criticism from many lawmakers, who said the House caved in to opposition by Duke Energy and SCE&G, derailing the legislation. Utilities have expressed concern about how competition from solar could affect them.

State Rep. James Smith, the bill’s chief sponsor, also blamed Republican Gov. Henry McMaster. Smith, a Democratic candidate for governor and potential opponent to McMaster in November’s general election, said the Republican urged some lawmakers not to vote for the bill — a point McMaster’s office hotly disputed.

“He called House Republican leadership and raked them over the coals,” Smith said he was told by fellow legislators. “It was giving me a victory. But it ain’t about me. It ain’t about Henry.”…

The solar bill died Tuesday in the House after utility boosters raised a technical point, saying passing the bill would require a two-thirds majority vote. The House voted for the legislation, 61-44, but that was short of the two-thirds required for approval….

Wow. This is bad on so many levels — particularly if our governor got involved in order to screw over his likely Democratic challenger. But even if he didn’t, this is a stunning example of bad faith, and the kind of oligarchic, anti-democratic maneuver that almost makes the anti-elite paranoia of a Bernie Sanders sound sane.

Matt Moore, the former GOP chair who has been heading up Palmetto Conservative Solar Coalition, reacted this way:

Ten-plus years? I think that’s an understatement. In my more than 30 years of covering SC politics, I haven’t seen the likes of this. You have to go back to before my time. There probably hasn’t been a case of the powers-that-be frustrating the public will to this extent since the Old Guard found a way to disqualify charismatic gubernatorial candidate Pug Ravenel on a technicality in 1974.

The will of the people, acting through their elected representatives (which is how you do it in a republic), had been clearly expressed. The best people in the General Assembly were all for it — Democrats, and both flavors of Republican (Regular and Tom Davis).

And now, the people who gave us the shaft on the nuclear fiasco have shown us what they think of that. And of us.

So… what are we going to do about it?

Belated congrats on a bipartisan solar victory

A shot of the voting board posted by Boyd Brown...

A shot of the voting board posted by Boyd Brown…

I was deliberately avoiding actual news the end of last week while at the beach, but now I want to congratulate James Smith and his allies of both parties on their big victory in the House last week.

Their bill to lift the cap on solar power passed the House 64-33 Thursday, after representatives rejected a competing bill pushed by the big utilities — which obviously don’t have the clout they had when they passed the Base Load Review Act.

Out of those 64, Matt Moore of the Palmetto Conservative Solar Coalition particularly thanked   and my own rep, .

See how everybody voted on the board above.

Now, on to the Senate!