Category Archives: Legislature

Race card flung at Joel Lourie, of all people

Lourie at his recent retirement party.

Lourie at his recent retirement party.

As a smart friend of mine once said somewhat hopelessly, she feared that a thousand years from now, historians would look back and say, “The United States was a noble experiment, but they never got over that slavery thing.”

john-scott

Sen. John Scott

In the Midlands, in South Carolina, across the nation, there are a lot of issues that turn largely, if not primarily, on race. On the local level, race is the (usually) unstated pivot point on attitudes concerning, for instance, local school districts.

Some people still think of Richland One and Richland Two as the black district and the white district, although perception is catching up to reality, which has changed dramatically. District One has long been a black power base — with white influence clustered into a few zones within the district (Dreher, A.C. Flora). Now there is a struggle for the future of District Two that is largely rooted in racial identity.

Elsewhere — such as with the Richland County election and recreation commissions — race is a widely understood subtext, shaping viewpoints but not openly acknowledged. Until now.

Apparently, the defenders of the status quo at the Richland County Recreation Commission — a legislative special purpose district with a growing reputation that brings to mind the routine corruption on “The Wire” and “Boardwalk Empire” — feel backed into a corner.

How else to explain Sen. John Scott and Rep. Leon Howard suggesting there is something racist in the white majority of the county legislative delegation demanding accountability from the commission?

Sen. Scott even had the nerve to bring the notoriously, spectacularly incompetent Lillian McBride (of the election commission meltdown) into the equation, as though that helped his case:

“This is the second time the same group has made an inquiry as it relates to an African-American director,” Sen. John Scott said, referring to then-Richland County election director Lillian McBride.

Sen. Joel Lourie, one of the letter’s authors, said Scott’s suggestion is offensive….

And well he should say that. Sen. Lourie, I mean.

leon-howard

Rep. Leon Howard

It’s a sad day when Joel Lourie has to defend his good name in the twilight of his Senate career, saying, “‘My family and I have a very proud record of community and race relations for the last 50 years.”

Indeed they have. Sen. Darrell Jackson has a Senate seat because Joel’s father, Isadore, gave up his seat in order to let an African-American have a shot at it.

And Joel’s record as a champion of social justice is impeccable — as is those of others being smeared by innuendo, such as Reps. James Smith and Beth Bernstein.

The saga of the recreation commission was sordid and shameful enough. Messrs. Scott and Howard have made it more so, by choosing such an inexcusable manner of defending it.

The SC Supreme Court sides with Pascoe against Wilson

Wilson, flanked by ex-AGs Charlie Condon and Henry McMaster, during his raging presser back in March.

Wilson, flanked by ex-AGs Charlie Condon and Henry McMaster, during his raging presser back in March.

Which surprises me. I haven’t read the decision yet, but John Monk’s story doesn’t explain how the court got around the fact that you can’t call a statewide grand jury without the attorney general.

All it says is that the court has essentially ruled that, for the sake of this investigation, Pascoe is the attorney general. Huh, seems like that would surprise those involved in writing the state constitution. But hey, they’re the experts, not me.

An excerpt:

The S.C. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Attorney General Alan Wilson can’t stop his special prosecutor, David Pascoe, from investigating possible corruption in the General Assembly.IMG_david_pascoe

Although Wilson tried to stop Pascoe – and apparently halted Pascoe’s investigation several months ago – the Supreme Court made it clear in its Wednesday ruling that Wilson acted unlawfully in trying to keep Pascoe from continuing his probe. Pascoe was working with SLED on the investigation.

“…the Attorney General’s Office’s purported termination of Pascoe’s designation was not valid,” the Supreme Court ruled in a 4-1 opinion.

The Supreme Court’s decision means that Pascoe now is the effective acting Attorney General for the purpose of Pascoe’s General Assembly investigation – and Wilson can’t stop him from proceeding….

The Court seems to have essentially sided with the popular narrative that Alan Wilson was trying to stop an investigation into his political buddies — which I know a lot of folks accept as gospel, but which I don’t believe for a second. It seemed to me that Pascoe acted outside the law in trying to call the jury on his own — something that Wilson made it clear he was ready and willing to do for him.

Of course, Wilson didn’t do himself any good with that raging press conference — but that wouldn’t seem to change the law, just his political image.

But maybe the court ‘splained it in a way that negates my concerns. We’ll see…

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

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

Dear Fellow Delegation Members –

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

Joel 2

Sen. Joel Lourie

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

Wishing you and your family a safe holiday weekend  –

Joel Lourie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The plot sickens.

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

One of the commission's many facilities.

One of the commission’s many facilities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

District 89

Ding-dong, Lee Bright is gone — but don’t ask me why

Bright FB

Pretty much everybody is celebrating the pending departure of Lee Bright from the S.C. Senate – the governor, the state Chamber’s political entity, and liberals everywhere. So many people had so many reasons to want him gone that I hadn’t even noticed how much the conservationists disliked them, as they reminded me last night in claiming credit for his defeat:

Dear Conservation Voter,

We just received the news – VICTORY!

CVSC endorsed candidate, Scott Talley, has defeated anti-conservation Senator Lee Bright with approximately 51.3% of the vote.

That’s right – “Mr. No” is gone. The worst Senator in South Carolina on conservation issues – and one of the worst in the country – has been defeated.

CVSC played a big part in Talley’s victory. We implemented our most ambitious election strategy in our history, knocking on over 21,000 doors, making over 7,500 phone calls, and sending 120,000 pieces of mail for Talley.

Our work paid off – we elected Scott Talley and defeated one of the worst legislators in the country on clean air and clean water issues.

CVSC has been an unstoppable force in this election. Almost every voter I spoke with had been contacted by CVSC in some way. I cannot thank them enough for helping get us across the finish line. I look forward to working with CVSC to protect the South Carolina we all love,” shared Senator-elect Talley at his victory party.

We had a plan to win and executed it with precision. I could not be prouder of our team and for all of you who supported our efforts. Since April, we have spoken with thousands of voters across the Upstate on the need to elect Scott Talley and were welcomed in almost every conversation we had with voters.

Our proven strategy of face-to-face contact with voters made the difference. We plan to use the skills we honed this election cycle to expand our efforts and incorporate them into our ongoing advocacy work.

This is how we will protect the South Carolina we love.

Please join me in congratulating our field team for a hard-fought race and congratulating Senator-elect Talley on his victory!

In Victory,

John F. Tynan, Political Director

By comparison, the state Chamber, response was understated. They just posted this oh-so-brief statement from Chamber chief Ted Pitts:

“The results are clear, the majority of the people two weeks ago and again tonight wanted new conservative leadership in Columbia.  The business community looks forward to working with Senator Scott Talley.”

Which almost sounded like they didn’t have a dog in the fight, but they did.

But whether Bright’s demise should be credited to the Chamber, the CVSC, or the governor dropping a house on him, everyone in Munchkinland is pleased.

Meanwhile — and this was the real news of the night — three other incumbent senators lost their positions Tuesday night. The real shockers were Republicans Larry Martin and Mike Fair, but there was also Democratic Creighton Coleman, with whom I am not as familiar (a quick search shows that I’ve only ever mentioned him once on the blog, and that was only as one name in a list of lawmakers endorsing Vincent Sheheen in his bid for the gubernatorial nomination in 2010.

Fair was phlegmatic about his loss:

“It was a bad night for incumbents, but I don’t know why,” Fair said, before calling Timmons to congratulate him. “I got clobbered. It wasn’t even close. … With the margin of victory that big for Mr. Timmons, I think the constituency here has had enough of me.”

But does “a bad night for incumbents” really describe it? I think he comes closer with the “I don’t know why.”

We should resist the temptation to boil everything down to universal formulas that explain everything. I don’t think last night’s results lend themselves to the kind of simplistic analysis that we’ve seen applied to the Brexit result, trying to tie it all into the same anti-establishment sentiment that has aided Donald Trump and Bernie Sander on this side of the pond.

Think about it — if Tuesday’s results were due to anti-incumbent, anti-establishment impulses, how do we explain the ouster of Bright?

Lee Bright was the kind of candidate the pitchforks-and-torches crowd loves. Note his chosen tagline above: FIGHT THE ESTABLISHMENT. And the forces lined up against him were as Establishment as can be — yet the voters went along with getting rid of him. Seriously, pause and ponder that: Republican primary voters, who these days supposedly immediately rebel against anything the Establishment indicates it wants, meekly went along with the pooh-bahs in District 12 yesterday.

All of this leads up to my own anti-simplistic analysis — voters tend to vote as they do in particular races for reasons specific to those individual contests, which usually have little to do with sweeping movements. I tend to be dismissive of interpretations such as “Voters wanted Republicans to run the Congress,” or “Voters were in an anti-incumbent mood.” Such things can be factors, but usually their effect is exaggerated.

Bottom line, I suspect Mike Fair was ousted for the last explanation he offered: “I think the constituency here has had enough of me.” And since I don’t live in his district and haven’t made a study of it, I can’t begin to tell you why that is. Since Mr. Fair doesn’t know, how could I? Nor can I explain to you with any degree of confidence why Sen. Martin’s voters were tired of him, or recite the completely different reasons Sen. Coleman’s constituents dumped him.

Pundits like to give you those sweeping explanations because it makes them sound like they know more about what’s going on than they do. (This is related to why they try to shoehorn everything into simple dichotomies: left-right, Democrat-Republican, black-white, winner-loser and so forth.)

I’m not going to do that. To cite one of my favorite Twain quotes, “I was born modest; not all over, but in spots….”

But while I can’t blithely give the why, I can give you a simplistic assessment of what was good and bad news for South Carolina: Bright’s departure is wonderful news — if there was a wrong side to an issue, he embraced it. On the whole, losing Martin and Fair is bad for South Carolina — particularly Martin. Nothing against their opponents because I know nothing about them (maybe they’ll turn out great), but on the whole those two guys have been positive problem-solvers in the Senate.

Creighton Coleman? I have no idea. He just never made an impression one way or the other…

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

Tem and the Miles fam.

Tem and the Miles fam.

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

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

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

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

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

Tem Goals

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

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

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

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

Some high points from that discussion:

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

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

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

Micah Caskey, Republican, S.C. House District 89

Micah Caskey

Micah Caskey

The Caskeys and the Warthens have some common history, although it’s from before my time. Remember when I mentioned that my mother was writing her childhood memories, and I was typing them and creating a blog for them? Well she made prominent mention of “Hop” Caskey, who was a teacher and coach at Bennettsville High School in the ’40s, and his wife, “Madam.” They were good friends of my mother’s family — they used to buy season tickets together for Tarheel football so they could go see Charlie “Choo-Choo” Justice play.

"Madam" and "Hop" Caskey

“Madam” and “Hop” Caskey

Well, those were Micah Caskey’s great-grandparents. I was happy to be able to share with him recently a picture of them that he’d never seen before. By the way, the photographer in the foreground is Jimmy Covington, who’s been a fixture in Columbia media circles for decades. He was at BHS with my Mom.

Still, I’d never met him until back in March, when he filed to run for Kenny Bingham’s House seat. We had a wide-ranging conversation about values and policies. Unfortunately, if I took notes I can’t find them. At the time, my main aim was to find out whether this was a someone I wanted to run against, so I don’t think I took notes at all. I was looking for an overall impression.

And the overall impression was this: I was reluctant to run against him because dang it, not only is he a Marine combat veteran, but it was eerie how many things we agreed on. Of all the things we talked about, there was one thing we sharply differed on, and now I’ve forgotten what it was.

So for blogging purposes, that was a useless interview (aside from getting the photo above). But fortunately you can find out about him at his website. He lives in Springdale, and he’s an assistant solicitor in the 11th Circuit solicitor’s office (the one Rick Hubbard and Candice Lively are competing to run). I asked him why he didn’t just run for solicitor, and he said others seeking the office had more experience than he did.

The son of a locksmith, he’s the product of Lexington 2 schools and the University of Florida. He describes his military service thusly:

After college, Micah spent the next several years on active duty in the Marine Corps—rising to the rank of Captain. Micah commanded both company and platoon-sized units during his two combat tours of duty in Fallujah and Ramadi, Iraq. Later, in 2009, Micah left law school for a year to continue his service to the country. It was during that year that he commanded a small team of specialized Marines in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

He obtained his law degree from USC, plus a master’s in international business from the Darla Moore School. He worked as a management consultant in the oil and gas industry for awhile before joining the solicitor’s office.

Here are the issues he’s running on (which are pretty similar to the ones his runoff opponent, Tem Miles, cites):

  • I want to get government working for us. America is at its best when individuals and private businesses are pursuing life, liberty, and happiness — not when wrapped up in bureaucratic red tape.
  • I’ll fight to fix South Carolina’s roads and bridges. I’ll work for meaningful reforms that innovate the way our state government functions. We need accountability and transparency.
  • I will be a voice for public safety. Last October, when the floods came, our first responders answered the call. I’ll help ensure we are ready for the unexpected.
  • I’ll fight to ensure that South Carolina continues to be a friendly place for our military to call home. As a veteran, I know what it means to serve. I want South Carolina to remain a magnet for our military, our servicemembers, and our veterans.

That’s all from his website. One thing you won’t find there (or on his opponent’s site, either) are a lot of details about how he would accomplish the above. He says he’s following political advice on that, which runs against the grain because “I want to just tell people what I think about everything.” But he realizes that unless he has an hour to get into the nuances and layers of each position with each voter, it’s easy to be misunderstood when you get into specifics.MicahCaskey_Logo_v02

(I nodded when he said that. As you know, I am no fan of campaign promises. Tell people who you are, describe your experience and your overall interests in running. But don’t say exactly what you’re going to do, because you don’t know what you’ll be dealing with into office, and you don’t want to trapped by promises into doing something that turns out to be dumb under the circumstances.)

“Taking absolutist positions isn’t useful” because “I’ve seen how layered and complicated things can be.” To take one buzzphrase, he mentions “limited government.”

“What does that mean?” he asks. He prefers to say he likes “smart government,” but even there, you have to do a lot of explaining. For an example, he says, he’d do away with having to go to “15 different offices to start a small business.”

Bottom line,”I think I’m a common-sense candidate, a pragmatist.” He notes that someone called him a “consensus candidate,” a guy who would work with anyone from anywhere on the political spectrum who would help pass sensible legislation.

He accepts service on that.

Being about the age of my kids, he has run on the slogan of “A New Generation of Leadership.” That seems to have served him well over the much-older Bill Banning and Billy Oswald.

Now, he’s up against a contemporary and fellow attorney, Tem Miles. On June 28, GOP runoff voters will decide which young man they want representing them in this relatively new century.

Interesting juxtaposition: Haley vetoes helmet bill; three motorcyclists killed

helmets

Talk about your ironies, check out the above juxtaposition of headlines from thestate.com.

In the moped safety story, the governor cites some libertarian claptrap about “government overreach” in vetoing a bill that would require moped riders under 18 to wear helmets, and all riders to wear reflective clothing at night. But to her credit, she does say she remains open to new moped safety laws, just not this one. Here’s her veto message.

In the other story, we have five tragic cases of the sort that is all too common, three of them involving motorcyclists. I wonder how many were wearing helmets.

No, there’s not a cause-and-effect here. And of course, mopeds and motorcycles aren’t exactly the same thing. I just found the timing interesting…

McMaster is really standing up to Nikki Haley now

You don’t find a more dutiful soldier in the South Carolina Republican Party than Henry McMaster.Henry McMaster

Even when he went suddenly from being the most logical GOP choice for governor to losing to Tea Party upstart Nikki Haley in 2010 (basically, he was Jeb Bush to her Trump), he didn’t brood — he became her right-hand man in helping her win the general election.

That’s Henry, every time (although he made me wonder whether he’s losing it when he became the first establishment figure in South Carolina to back The Donald).

Ever since Nikki was elected, he’s gone around with a salute stapled to his forehead, faithful and true to his party’s governor.

But now, it looks like his party loyalty is broader and deeper than loyalty to her. He’s stepping up and defending the party stalwarts whom the governor is trying to take out:

S.C. Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster is endorsing state Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York, in his re-election bid, putting him on the opposite side of another race from GOP Gov. Nikki Haley.

Republican McMaster, who presides over the Senate, also is backing two other Senate incumbents who face contentious re-election battles against GOP primary challengers who Haley has endorsed.

In a statement from Hayes’ campaign, McMaster said Hayes is “one of the finest men I’ve ever known. He is a man of character, honor and trust. Time and time again, when Republican senators go into battle, they seek Wes Hayes’ leadership on huge issues like ethics, fixing our roads and education.”…

Earlier, he had stood up for Hugh Leatherman and Luke Rankin. (With regard to Leatherman at least, McMaster is joined by Supt. Molly Spearman and Speaker Jay Lucas.)

This is a very interesting development, and from what I’m seeing so far, my hat’s off to Henry. The governor’s taken a wrong course in this primary, especially with regard to Hayes. It’s good to see Henry step up like this…

What has government ever done for us?

The New York Times decided to have a bit of fun with the upcoming Brexit vote. Noting that a lot of Britons can be heard saying, “What has Europe ever done for us?,” the NYT’s editors harked back to the classic Monty Python bit in which a group of first-century Palestinian revolutionaries indignantly ask the same about the Romans.

Only to come up with a LONG list of examples, causing their leader, played by John Cleese, to rephrase his question:

But apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the freshwater system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?

Good stuff.

But of course, whenever I see the clip, I hear the voices of all the people who insist that government is the problem, not the solution.

Unfortunately, after years of being governed by folks like that — or at least, folks who walk in fear of the Grover Norquists of the world — many of the blessings of a civilized government are falling apart. Thereby putting us in a situation in which government actually is doing less of what it should do for us, or at least doing it less well. Which convinces more people that government is no damn’ good, which causes more such people to be elected, and so forth…

Anyway, that’s sort of what my friends over at The State are on about with their new series, “How SC’s leaders have failed South Carolinians.”

And they have failed us. Because if our elected officials can’t manage to keep the basic functions of government up and running properly, what indeed have the Romans ever done for us?

IMG_1089

These folks have the right idea about which senator to target. Now, if only I knew who they were…

good gummint

As I said on my previous post (although I might as well have been pounding my head against a wall as far as Doug is concerned), if you want to make things better in the S.C. Senate via the ballot box, try to get rid of the worst senators, not the best ones.

This group, the “sc good government committee,” have the right idea. They’re going after the worst of the worst, Lee Bright.

Here’s their latest release about that, and here’s a link to their new radio ad. And here’s what it says, in case you’re too lazy to click on a link:

FULL TRANSCRIPT
ANNCR: 
If you live here in the Upstate or drive I-85, you know what it’s like to dodge potholes and hit the brakes – and you’re always behind that ONE guy who just won’t get out of the way. It’s a lot like being in the state senate with Lee Bright. For eight years, while our roads crumble and bridges collapse, Lee Bright has just talked and talked spewing more hot air than a busted radiator. Did you know he’s introduced 116 bills and only ONE has ever been signed into law? He spends time on bills to give South Carolina its own currency, then votes down common sense legislation that fixes our roads and bridges without raising taxes. Just a few weeks ago, Bright voted to bankrupt South Carolina farmers, TWICE. He’s trying to hold up roads solutions, voting against our farmers and doing nothing to get more jobs to the Upstate. We need a Senator to lead the way, not get in the way. On June 14, tell Lee Bright to get out of the way. We need a Senator who can actually get things done.

Those are not necessarily the points I would make, but hey, they’ve got the right idea: Bright needs to go.

There’s just one problem, and I’ve mentioned it here before:

One of the first, most basic requirements of “good government” is transparency. (Especially in South Carolina, where we have so little of it.) But I can’t seem to find out who the “good government committee” is (although I suspect their publicist is a big fan of e.e. cummings.) I go to the About page, and there’s not a name to be found.

I’ll say it again: Want good government? Set a good example: Disclose.

By going after Hayes, Haley tells us she’s not really serious about ethics at all

Sen. Wes Hayes, a.k.a. "Mr. Ethics"

Sen. Wes Hayes, a.k.a. “The Dean of Ethics”

First, she went after Hugh Leatherman and Luke Rankin, and I did nothing. Or nothing beyond a mention in an open thread.

Now, she’s gone far too far:

Gov. Nikki Haley is backing another opponent of a longtime S.C. senator.

Wes Climer cropped

Wes Climer

Haley is expected to endorse Republican Wes Climer, a Rock Hill financial adviser running to unseat state Sen. Wes Hayes of Rock Hill, Climer said Wednesday.

Haley will campaign with Climer, a former York County GOP chairman, at a barbecue at his home next Thursday at 6 p.m.

The endorsement pits Haley against Hayes, who has been in the state Senate since 1991 and served in the S.C. House since 1985 beforehand.

“Wes Climer is a conservative businessman who is leading the fight for term limits, lower taxes and good government reform,” Haley said in the release. “If we are going to change the way the Senate works, we are going to have to change senators.”…

In other words, she’s saying Climer is an unknown about who we know one thing: He would be a reliable vote for trashing government. Another Tea Partier. Another of those who have eviscerated the Republican Party from within.

Because if what she cares about is “good government reform,” she’d be going all-out to re-elect Wes Hayes.

On one level, this is reminiscent of the governor’s capricious replacement of Darla Moore on the USC board of trustees with an unknown guy who had contributed to her campaign. I mean it’s like that in the sense that she wants to replace someone who has a stellar record of solid support and service to the people of South Carolina with a political nonentity who can be relied upon to do the governor’s bidding.

Wes Hayes is one of the best members of the S.C. Senate, particularly on the issue of ethics. Even the Democrats call him “the Dean of Ethics” (and by the way, that link shows you just how far Sen. Hayes has gone to avoid offending the governor — something he has reason to rethink right about now).

No one who is serious about ethics would lift a finger to help an opponent of Wes Hayes.

This is outrageous. This is the most Mark Sanford thing Nikki Haley has done in quite some while…

Clementa Pinckney on the Confederate flag in 2000

Since they had unveiled Clem Pinckney’s portrait in the Senate that day, Joel Lourie got to talking with me about the late senator at his retirement party. Joel asked if I had seen this footage of Pinckney talking about the Confederate flag during the debate in 2000, when he the youngest member of the Senate.

I said I hadn’t, so he sent it to me.

It might give you chills to hear him on the subject, showing so much heart and idealism and love and promise.

He spoke of young people like him not wanting to still be talking about the flag for years to come.

There was no way for him, or any of us, to know that it would take his death, and those of eight others, to get us all to hear him and bring the flag down.

Speaking of youth… Dylan Roof was 6 years old at the time of this speech. I don’t know what I mean by observing that, other than to say we certainly had to talk about the flag for a long time…

The Pinckney portrait, from the Twitter feed of Tara Pettit of WACH-Fox.

The Pinckney portrait, from the Twitter feed of Tara Pettit of WACH-Fox.

Joel Lourie’s Senate retirement party

Soon-to-be-former Sen. Joel Lourie chats with well-wishers at his retirement party.

Soon-to-be-former Sen. Joel Lourie chats with well-wishers at his retirement party.

I went by the Music Barn off Senate Street last night for Joel Lourie’s going-away party as he prepares to leave the S.C. Senate after 18 years in the Legislature.

I didn’t get there in time for the speeches (I stopped by another event first), but I was there in time to see that there was a good-sized, bipartisan turnout. By bipartisan I mean: I’m pretty sure I saw Speaker Jay Lucas across the room, although I can’t swear to it because I didn’t get to speak to him. Veteran Republican operative Trey Walker was on hand. I was told Susan Brill, the Republican running for Joel’s seat, was there, but I missed her. John Courson was one of the hosts, according to the invitation I had received.

And I had a good, interesting chat with one Republican senator in particular. More about that in a moment.

And then there were scads of Democrats, of course, starting with the other two musketeers, James Smith and Vincent Sheheen. And Beth Bernstein and Darrell Jackson, both co-hosts, and Mia McLeod, who’s also running for Joel’s seat, and Nikki Setzler, and Todd Rutherford, and a fairly long list of Dems who don’t hold office, like Phil Bailey and Trav Robertson.

Some highlights, for me:

  • Good golly Miss Molly was-a even there, too. By which I mean Cindi Scoppe, But when I spotted her from behind, I had to go up and get her to turn around to be sure, because Cindi Scoppe does not DO social events, aside from her annual cake party. She works 24 hours a day, and therefore lacks the time. Or the inclination. She doesn’t follow pop culture, for instance, because it’s not to the point — in what way will it contribute to her next column, she wants to know? And the answer is, in no way, because she’s not going to write about anything frivolous. So I was deeply impressed, and I hope Joel was, too, because it was quite a compliment for her to show up. But then she and I both think a lot of Joel.
  • Also interesting is who she was talking to — the aforementioned Republican senator, Katrina Shealy, who has been such a valued ally of Joel’s in trying to reform DSS’ Child Protective Services. Other things, too, probably, but that’s the one that first comes to mind. Since this was the first time I’d spoken with her since we endorsed Jake Knotts instead of her, I thought it would be wise to start over, so I introduced myself. She introduced herself back. I said, “You’ve been doing a fine job.” She said “I bet you never thought you’d say that.” I came back with, “Aw, now, that wasn’t about you. That was about Mark Sanford.” As if, you know, that would make her feel better. We went on after that to have a fairly pleasant conversation, although she mostly spoke with Cindi and I missed a lot of it on account of loud background music and my Meniere’s.
  • I’ll spend this bullet on a digression: Some of you may not understand that endorsing Jake Knotts was something that the editorial board of The State would never, ever have done under my direction. Right up until we did it, that is. And we did it because Jake had dared to stand up to Mark Sanford, and Sanford was promoting Ms. Shealy as his candidate, and we took exception to the governor and his out-of-state supporters trying to remake our Legislature in their image. I say “we” endorsed Jake. Truth is, I insisted upon the backhanded endorsement, and Cindi had to write the thing (I wrote a column to go with it, in which I noted, “We are not comfortable with this. We’ve had some terrific arguments about it on our editorial board. It was not one of your quick decisions, shall we say.”). Cindi has never really quite forgiven me for that. So, when I said after the senator moved away that I hoped Cindi would find something nice to say about Katrina in her bid for re-election, because after all Cindi really owes her after what she did to her, Cindi didn’t laugh at all. Which is strange, because I’ve always thought irony to be a rich source of humor. But seriously, I’m pleased with how Sen. Shealy turned out, and I wanted everyone to know that the Knotts endorsement was never Cindi’s fault.
  • As I said, I missed Susan Brill but spoke briefly with Mia McLeod. That’s going to be an interesting contest in the fall. I spoke about it at some length with Trav Robertson, who is helping Mia some with her campaign, and he was very upbeat. When I said Susan was a strong candidate and they had their work cut out, he came back with the fact that Obama won the district with 55 percent of the vote — and in 2012, mind you. So yeah, the Democrat has a bit of an edge, but I suspect the Republican has a chance. We’ll see.

At this point I should reflect on Sen. Lourie’s career in the Senate, but I think I’ll do that in a separate post. This one turned into too much of a Hedda Hopper-style name-dropping piece. Suffice it to say that the Lourie era, which includes his father’s time in the Senate, has been one worth celebrating. Joel has done his late father’s memory proud with his honorable, principled service to his constituents and the people of South Carolina. I can hardly think of a time when I strongly disagreed with anything he advocated, and that’s unusual.

He will be missed. But he has decided to pull back and devote his attention to his business, Lourie Life and Health, and I wish him and his partner, Chris Johnson, great success.

 

Apparently, there ARE pro-life Democrats in South Carolina

They’re out there.

Despite our perception of the parties being monolithic on the issue of abortion, in South Carolina, that’s not quite the case.

It's not as monolithic as you might think.

It’s not as monolithic as you might think.

At least not among Democrats.

Remember when the S.C. House voted last week to ban abortion at 20 weeks or later, sending the bill to the governor?

Well, all 29 of the votes against came from Democrats. No shock there.

But it should be noted, at least in passing, that eight of the 79 votes for the bill came from Democrats.

To be specific, these Democrats:

  1. Rep. Mike Anthony from Union
  2. Rep. Bill Bowers from Hampton
  3. Rep. Grady Brown from Lee
  4. Rep. Laurie Funderburk from Kershaw
  5. Rep. Wayne George from Marion
  6. Rep. Jackie “Coach” Hayes from Dillon
  7. Rep. Russell Ott from Calhoun
  8. Rep. Robert Ridgeway III from Clarendon

You can find the vote breakdown in the House journal for that day.

Is there a commonality? Well, they’re all from smaller, more rural communities rather than any of the metropolitan centers of the state. Your big-city Democrats — such as Beth Bernstein, Chris Hart, Mia McLeod, Todd Rutherford and James Smith — all voted against.

Their reasoning for stepping out this way? I don’t know. If I had time, I’d interview all eight, but I don’t have the time right now. Maybe some of them would say they’re not pro-life, but have other reasons for their votes.

It’s just that I’ve noted this pattern on previous votes having to do with this issue, and I’ve never seen it get any media attention, so I thought that this time, I’d at least point out what the record shows.

And yeah, it could use some followup.

But in the meantime, I see it as positive. At least on the Democratic side, we have some representatives in South Carolina who think for themselves, even on an issue seen as the ultimate litmus test.

Other lawmakers think solicitor should probe RCRC

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

This is an interesting wrinkle:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legislators, stop telling local governments what to do

Wow, how many times have I said that over the past quarter century?

Actually, it’s easier to count the number of times I’ve been heeded by our solons at the State House. It’s somewhere around zero.

Through most of its history, South Carolina basically didn’t have much in the way of local government, especially on the county level. Our system of government was set up to serve the slaveholding class of big landowners, who didn’t cotton to bases of power other than their own. Consequently, rather than have separately elected county government, county legislative delegations ran things on that level. Today, 41 years after the Home Rule Act, we still have vestiges of that in the Richland County Recreation Commission, and those counties where the legislators still name school board members.

Supposedly, we empowered local governments with passage of the Home Rule Act of 1975, but lawmakers have remained jealous of their prerogatives on the local level, and continue to lord it over the governments closest to the people — that is, the governments that ought to know best the needs and values of their own communities. Remember several years back when lawmakers tried to keep Columbia and other municipalities from banning smoking in public accommodations? They only backed down when the Supreme Court made them.

Here’s where I could go off on another screed about subsidiarity, but I won’t. Or maybe just a bit…

I will state the basic idea: Governmental decisions should be made by the smallest, least centralized level that is competent to handle the matter at hand.

So… if the people of a given community want to allow anyone who says he or she is of a certain gender use the restroom consistent with that identity, that person should be allowed to do so.

And if communities that care deeply about marine life want to ban plastic grocery bags, they should be allowed to do so.

Lee Bright thinks otherwise. He’s wrong.

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Jay Lucas

Speaker Jay Lucas, whom I respect a lot more than I do Lee Bright, is also wrong on this point — although his position is more defensible. He has a plant in his district that makes such plastic bags, and it employs a lot of his constituents.

You might not think that’s a defensible position, but I disagree. It’s an essential feature of representative democracy that all voters should be empowered to elect representatives who stand up for their interest (although one always hopes that the larger public interest should prevail).

It’s not inherently wrong for a lawmaker to stand up for jobs in his district. That doesn’t mean the other 169 have to go along with him.

No, the problem isn’t that the speaker is protecting jobs; it’s that he’s telling people who live in communities other than his how they should arrange their local affairs.

One could of course argue that under the principle of subsidiarity, balancing the economy vs. the environment is more properly a state rather than a local matter. And that makes some sense.

But I tend to see this more as a part of a long and disturbing trend in South Carolina.

Beth Bernstein celebrates passage of HPV bill

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Since I missed this in the news last week –which means maybe you did, too — I thought I’d share Rep. Beth Bernstein‘s newsletter with you. She also makes passing reference to the Richland County Recreation Commission scandal:

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

This week at the State House, we were back in full force after our two week furlough.  One piece of news that I am particularly excited to share is the passage of my bill, H.3204, the Cervical Cancer Prevention Act.  The bill, with minor amendments, overwhelmingly passed in the Senate last week, and the House concurred with a vote of 107-1!  It will now be sent to the Governor for her signature, after a 7 year-long effort!  The bill will allow DHEC to provide a brochure about the human papillomavirus (HPV) to all parents of students entering into 6th grade and allows DHEC to administer the HPV vaccine. This is a monumental step for educating the public about the virus and stopping this preventable form of cancer.  Other notable bills discussed this week include a “Safe Harbor for Exploited Minors” bill, a requirement for literacy coaches to be trained for students with dyslexia, and a lengthy debate about our infrastructure and finance reform in South Carolina — the “Roads Bill.” 

In response to the most recent revelations concerning the Richland County Recreation Commission, Senator Joel Lourie, Representative James Smith and Ihave called on Sheriff Leon Lott to coordinate a special investigation of the Recreation Commission, its director and members of the governing commission.  We have had concerns for some time now over allegations of misconduct at the Commission, and we trust Sheriff Lott and the Richland County Sheriff’s department will give this case their full attention.

As always, I am interested in hearing your thoughts and concerns on the issues.

Thank you for electing me to serve you and our community at the State House.

Best,

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Major miracle: John Oliver focuses on Special Districts!

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

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

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

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

What he says here definitely sounds just like South Carolina:

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

That’s where we are.

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

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

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

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Lourie, Smith, Bernstein call for probe of recreation commission

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I just got this from Joel Lourie:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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