Category Archives: Legislature

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.

Um, you don’t want to wait a minute or two and see if Bright’s Bathroom Bill actually has a chance of passing?

I’m reacting to this rather preemptive action on the part of a businessman down in Charleston:

A senate bill that would outlaw transgender men and women from using the bathroom of

Anthony Watson

Anthony Watson

their choice has caused a Charleston-based company to decide to move to the West Coast.

Anthony Watson, CEO of Uphold, described himself as an “openly gay, British CEO.” He said the company will move its U.S. corporate headquarters from Charleston to Los Angeles. Uphold is a financial services company that says it handled $830 million in transactions since its founding in 2014.

“I have watched in shock and dismay as legislation has been abruptly proposed or enacted in several states across the union seeking to invalidate the basic protections and rights of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) U.S. citizens,” he said on the company’s website….

Talk about being on a hair trigger. You don’t want to wait a minute and see if the bill gets any traction at all, much less passes?

I hate to break it to this guy, but there’s a distinct possibility that there’s a lawmaker in California just as loony as Lee Bright who will propose a similar bill. Then what is he going to do? It’s a significant feature of representative democracy that people who have a different worldview from you get to vote, too — and elect people like them. So there’s no way to guarantee that someone won’t file a bill that you find unfair, unjust or abhorrent.

People file stupid bills all the time, for all sorts of crazy causes. The time to worry, or for that matter pass judgment on the state in question, is when it looks like it’s going to pass, and be signed into law.

I’m not saying that won’t happen here. It’s disturbing that the bill was just introduced a week ago today, and there’s a hearing on it going on at this very second, as I type this.

But I chalk that up to the committee being chaired by one of Bright’s three co-sponsors, Kevin Bryant. It remains to be seen how many, other than those four, would vote for such a bill.

So, you know, before you make a multi-million-dollar decision, you might want to wait a minute. That is to say, Uphold might want to hold up…

What?!?!? They’re having a HEARING already on the Bathroom Bill?

This is just bizarre, people. They’re already having a hearing on Lee Bright’s Bathroom Bill — Wednesday morning.

We’re talking about a bill that fits neatly, or should, into the “people can file a bill about anything, but that doesn’t mean it will go anywhere” category.

Lee Bright

Lee Bright

If anyone in the State House agrees with Bright that this is a needed bill, I’ve missed it. Oh, I’m sure some would vote for it, but I’ve missed the groundswell that called for immediate action.

And yet, in the blink of an eye by State House standards, they’re having a hearing on this? While critical legislation that speaks directly to lawmakers’ core responsibilities languishes? So did lawmakers deal effectively with road funding and DOT reform and ethics reform when I wasn’t looking, thereby clearing their decks for this stuff?

This thing was introduced less than a week ago. Unfortunately, the news story didn’t get into what I want to know, which is how this hearing came about — who decided to schedule it, and how. It doesn’t even mention which committee is holding the hearing.

In any case, it says Bright hopes he can have the bill to the Senate floor by next week. And given the speedy hearing, I suppose he has every reason to hope that.

This is absurd…

 

Want Good Government? Set a good example: Disclose.

good government

This is a small matter, but I felt that someone should point out what should be obvious…

I got this email from a group calling itself SC Good Government Committee… No, excuse me, “sc good government committee,” e.e. cummings-style.

The release basically attacked Sen. Lee Bright’s Bathroom Bill for distracting from important issues in our state.

So I immediately thought, as any journalist would, “Who’s the sc good government committee?” Scanning through the email release partially satisfied my curiosity, at least by implication: It is apparently connected somehow to the state Chamber of Commerce. Ted Pitts — my former representative, Nikki Haley’s former chief of staff, and now president of the state Chamber — has a statement that is featured prominently in the release:

“South Carolina businesses don’t need the government telling them how to run their business. The governor has called the bill unnecessary and the State Chamber strongly agrees. South Carolina businesses already understand the importance of treating people with respect. Senator Bright is trying to create a political crisis that doesn’t exist to save his political career. Meanwhile our state has real issues we need to address including crumbling roads and a skills gap. We’ll be working on electing serious Senators next year who will be focused on addressing the states infrastructure and workforce needs and limiting government’s role in our lives.”

But when I clicked on the logo in the email and went to the group’s website in search of further info, I was stymied. The first and most obvious question — Who are the members of this committee? — is never answered. The About page says:

The South Carolina Good Government Committee (PAC) promotes good government in the Palmetto State by supporting free market policies in an effort to create economic opportunity and improve the quality of life for all South Carolinians.

The Good Government Committee is authorized to financially support selected elective measures and candidates. This PAC is organized and operated on a voluntary, non-partisan basis.

GOALS

To further the democratic process of the free enterprise system
To advance business, industry and private sector job creation in South Carolina

ACTIONS

The Good Government Committee achieves its goals by:

Financially supporting efforts to educate South Carolinians on issues that are important to her citizens

Participating in the nomination or election of selected candidates for nomination to elective state office and who are believed to be in general agreement with the committee

… to which I say, “What Committee?”

Beyond that, the site’s blog and Latest News pages let us know that this PAC is interested in electing certain people to the Legislature. The blog promises, “The Good Government Committee will endorse candidates in the coming weeks.” So far, the group has taken an interest in the special Senate District 4 election that elected Rep. Mike Gambrell (that is, he won the GOP runoff and is unopposed in the general). The group’s Facebook page congratulated him for winning his runoff.

And that’s all I know.

I’m not alleging ill will here or anything because this kind of “mystery committee” thing is all too common to read much into it. But I will say this:

If your goal is good government, then you will certainly be advocating for greater transparency in government.

The least you could do is set a good example by telling us, clearly and frankly, who you are…

FYI, Bobby Harrell is once again out there, in the public eye

Harrell

This is certainly just coincidence, but as the struggle between Alan Wilson and David Pascoe has been in the news, I keep running into Bobby Harrell on Twitter.

There he is, popping up with some frequency, still using the @SpeakerHarrell handle, even though the content is purely business, and “Speaker” is something he will never be again.

It has seemed to me that this started just as the ongoing legislative investigation hit the front pages again, but his re-emergence on social media predates that a bit.

Harrell was absent from Twitter from 10 Sep 2014 to 14 Apr 2015, and after that Tweeted infrequently and with no apparent aim for several months — two Tweets in April, one in May, none again until September. But in December he launched his campaign, Tweeting 32 times, then 43 times in January and 43 again in February, rising to 45 in March.

The content ranges from the blandly seasonal…

… to the kind of content meant to position himself and his company as authoritative on insurance-related matters:

And no, I haven’t seen him weigh in on politics even once.

It’s interesting that he decided to use his own feed, his own identity (complete with “Speaker”), to promote the business — as opposed to having an employee Tweet via a feed branded more directly with the name of the business (which is the approach he takes on the Facebook page). Apparently, he’s decided the value of his name recognition outweighs other considerations.

No, I don’t have any particular editorial point to make here. I just thought these renewed sightings were interesting…

Angry, indignant AG Wilson says Pascoe chose politics over proper procedure

Wilson, backed by former attorneys generals Charlie Condon and Henry McMaster (Travis Medlock is off camera to the left)

Wilson, backed by former attorneys generals Charlie Condon and Henry McMaster (Travis Medlock is off camera to the left)

An angry, indignant Attorney General Alan Wilson, backed silently by three former attorneys general, said this afternoon that Special Prosecutor David Pascoe would have had the State Grand Jury investigation he says he wants if only he had met with Wilson’s office Friday as requested.

Instead, Wilson said, Pascoe chose to file a complaint about Wilson with the state Supreme Court, and apparently tip the media off that he had filed it.

Throughout his press availability Wednesday, Wilson insisted that a State Grand Jury investigation can only be called for by a joint request from the SLED chief and the attorney general, and the fact that he recused himself from the case does not change that requirement. (He also drew a distinction between his own voluntary recusal in “an abundance of caution” and involuntary “disqualification” by a judge.)

He said he stands ready to give that ratification for an investigation at the request of an “untainted” prosecutor — which he does not consider Pascoe to be.

“I’m here today to say that not only do I support a state grand jury investigation, but I’m here to tell you there will be a state grand jury investigation,” he said at the outset of the presser. “But it has to be done lawfully, and by someone who is not tainted.”

Wilson recounted the history of his involvement with Pascoe, going back to “the legal battle of our lives” trying to prosecute former House Speaker Bobby Harrell in 2014.

He said “Solicitor Pascoe was not my first choice, nor my second, nor my third, nor my fourth, nor my fifth…” because “The solicitors wanted no part of this case… they saw the living hell I was going through…”

“I had reservations, he said, “about Solicitor Pascoe’s temperament.” He said he was also concerned because someone related to Harrell had worked in Pascoe’s office.

In the end, he found the charges that Harrell pled to “disappointing,” but said “we were tired, and we just wanted to move on.”

As Pascoe continued investigating possible legislative corruption, Wilson said, the AG’s office had concerns about how Pascoe was conducting it a number of times, but let it pass.

When Pascoe tried to call for state grand jury involvement, “We had concerns… we wanted to fix his mistake…” So, he said, Pascoe was invited to meet with the AG’s office on Good Friday.

Pascoe declined to meet, and instead filed with the Supreme Court his petition for a writ of mandamus saying that Wilson was acting improperly.

Wilson said this document contained as “outright lie” — that he had sought to impede the investigation. He insisted that “at no time has anyone on my staff” done such a thing.

Wilson was mad about that. He was also mad that John Monk knew to show up at the court to get that petition Monday. When Wilson invited questions at the end of his statement and the first one came from John, he said he would answer the question if John would tell him how he knew the document had been filed. (Moments later, he apologized to John for being so confrontational.)

In the end, Wilson’s position is that he will ratify a request from an “untainted” prosecutor. But with Pascoe insisting Wilson can’t fire him and 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson declining to take over unless there is a definitive ruling on the matter of Pascoe’s firing, it’s unclear who that untainted prosecutor might be.

To all his critics, Wilson issued a challenge: “Keep doing what you’re doing… You do your worst, I will do my best.”

Anyway, that’s what Wilson had to say. This isn’t a complete news story until we hear from Pascoe and others. And we likely won’t know where all this is going until the Supreme Court makes a determination. For that matter, had I been in the room instead of watching this on a live feed from WIS, I’d have had some questions of people in the room.

But it was an extraordinary live performance by a very angry AG. When I find a complete video recording, I will embed it. (HERE’S THE VIDEO.)

Wilson

Speaker Lucas is right to trash the Senate GOP roads plan

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I understand from various sources that the Senate today is debating, and plans to vote on, the “roads plan” that I excoriated last week. Here’s hoping it’s not going well.

As Cindi wrote the other day, the GOP proposal has its good parts, including real reform in governance of DOT. But it also contains an absolute dealbreaker, ladies:

If the legislation skipped over Section 4, Gov. Nikki Haley would be correct to say it’s “exactly what we need.” We would have the reform we need, and the Legislature could devote some one-time money to roads again this year and adopt a long-term funding plan next year that befits the reformed Transportation Department.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t skip Section 4, which commits not just this General Assembly but every General Assembly in perpetuity to siphoning $400 million out of our state’s general budget fund and giving it to the Transportation Department.

The result is a bill that promises to break trust with the voters and strangle out other state obligations and, at bottom, isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

For as long as we have been paving roads, we have collected a gas tax and driver fees to build and maintain those roads, on the theory that people inside and outside of South Carolina who use our roads the most should pay the most for them.

We have collected sales and income taxes to pay for our schools and courts and state police and child protection and economic development and environmental protection and most other state services.

The Senate plan changes that, dramatically. It diverts $400 million in sales and income taxes — more than 5 percent of the state budget — to pay for roads. That means we have $400 million less — not just next year but every year going forward — to pay teacher salaries, including extra pay to reward and attract the best teachers for the neediest students, to pay cities and counties for holding elections and performing other duties the state requires them to perform, to hire caseworkers to protect vulnerable children from abusive parents, to employ the judges who lock up the bad guys and the prison guards who keep the bad guys from escaping and the scientists who test our water to make sure it’s safe to drink, and everything else.

The roads diversion breaks trust with voters, in much the same way lawmakers do when they raid trust funds….

Make no mistake: A proper roads bill includes both proper reform and a gas tax increase. And it most assuredly does not include an open-ended raid on the funding for everything else the state of South Carolina does.

If Harvey Peeler manages to ram through this awful mess today, it will be up to the House to kill it. And Speaker Jay Lucas said it best last week:

1126136229“For 323 days, the Senate has had every opportunity to show leadership and propose a real, long-term solution for road repair in South Carolina. The current Senate amendment simply kicks the can further down the road and frankly, into a pothole. The General Assembly has been using general fund dollars to slap a band-aid on roads for years with very little to show for it. I urge the Senate to give this issue the attention that it requires and rally around a proposal with a long-term solution that keeps our families safe and our economy thriving.”

 

 

 

That’s no roads deal. It’s a cut-everything-else deal…

I’m running from meeting to meeting today, but here’s a topic to get y’all started:

The “good” news is that they don’t cut income taxes — which, of course, was always an insane, utterly irrelevant condition imposed by the governor.

So basically, it’s a wash. It’s a deal that does nothing to address the need for an adequate revenue stream for roads…

Mia McLeod trashes Identity Politics

Sometimes Rep. Mia McLeod loses me with her rhetoric. But hey, I — or some other grumpy heterosexual white guy — could have written this, from a missive she sent out Saturday:

A reporter asked me whether I chose race over gender when I supported Sen. Obama over Sen. Clinton in 2008. But he didn’t stop there. Next, he wanted to know whether I’m supporting Hillary now because she’s a woman.

Really?

His questions weren’t meant to be offensive. They just were.

I didn’t choose race then or gender now. I chose the person I believed to be the best candidate…the one whose vision and life experiences resonate most with me…the one whose passion and purpose move and inspire me.

So why are my choices presumably defined by or limited to race and gender?

If race trumps everything, shouldn’t I be down with Dr. Ben Carson, whose neurosurgical skills I’ve always admired and respected, but whose politics I can neither understand nor appreciate? Should I believe he’s the right “prescription for America,” simply because he’s the only black man who’s running?

And when it comes to gender, am I expected to support any woman who runs for office…just because she’s a woman?

If that’s the general sentiment, I can see how we got Nikki Haley….twice….

So how is Mia is trashing Identity Politics just as I would do? I guess because our “life experiences resonate.”

You see, we were both born in Bennettsville

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

Shortly after noon today, John Monk reported this:

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

Did you read John’s previous report about this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bloggers are we, born to be free…”

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

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

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

No way, I responded defiantly:

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

Studio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lawmakers hope to see more cooperation, building upon the summer

panel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Supt. Hamm’s letter about Spring Valley incidents

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

Dear Fellow Members of the Delegation –

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

Best regards always –

Joel Lourie

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

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

But you can read it by clicking here

Mia McLeod and Joel Lourie on Spring Valley protest

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

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

Senator Scott,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are we collectively planning to do about it?

Mia

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

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

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

Can someone from Richland Two please speak to this?

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

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

Am I the only one who is concerned?

Mia
Sent from my iPhone

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Joel Lourie