Category Archives: The State

Hey, State paper! I took that picture!

Campbell

I called up this story over at thestate.com, about how Mike Campbell is going to run for lieutenant governor (again), and Henry McMaster might, too.

Imagine my surprise to see a photo I shot of Campbell years ago — during his last run for the same office.

It was taken in the board room, and with the little Canon camera I used to use. It had a tilting viewscreen, so that I could hold it down on the table, unobstrusively, and glance down at the screen to aim and focus the shot. You can see me doing it in this photo of me with Barack Obama.

I miss that little camera, which quit working after a photo session with the twins in the surf at the beach. I haven’t been able to find another in that price range with the handy tilting window, which allowed for candids I couldn’t have gotten otherwise.

Not sure how The State had that picture, since I always kept the photos on my laptop. I must have used it in a print edition one time. (Normally, my photos only appeared on my blog, as did this one.)

Anyway, it looks like my contributions to the paper continue, despite my absence…

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John Monk’s scoop about Harrell, Wilson, and secrecy

Corey Hutchins has written a piece in Columbia Journalism Review about John Monk’s investigative scoop last week, revealing that Speaker Bobby Harrell has sought a secret court hearing on his proposal to remove Attorney General Alan Wilson from Harrell’s ethics case:

The people’s court?

Will a lone South Carolina judge make a secret decision this week in a closed court? The State leads the push for transparency

CHARLESTON, SC — An investigation of one of the most powerful politicians in this state has turned into a key test of how open the courts here are, with media organizations arguing in print and—they hope—in the courtroom that key legal decisions shouldn’t be made behind closed doors. For more than a year, the state’s Republican House Speaker, Bobby Harrell, has been under investigation for possible misuse of campaign funds and abuse of his public office, though Harrell maintains he has done nothing wrong. In January, South Carolina’s Republican Attorney General, Alan Wilson, sent the case to a state grand jury. Wilson’s office would prosecute the case should it end up at trial, and the situation has been prickly for the two Republicans, with Harrell accusing Wilson of trying to damage him politically. The political intrigue blew up into an open-government concern a week ago, when John Monk of The State newspaper in Columbia, citing unnamed sources, reported that Harrell’s attorneys were secretly seeking a closed-door hearing before a state judge to argue that Wilson should be removed as the prosecutor. The substantive argument for disqualifying Wilson was unclear, Monk reported…

Which reminds me that I meant to say last week, when John’s story appeared, that it’s nice to see the paper allow him the time to do what he’s best at. Instead of routine crime stories, and other general assignment-type stuff.

I say that not to be critical of the newspaper. When your staff has shrunk to the size The State‘s has, due to financial pressures beyond editors’ control, you need every hand you’ve got on the routine stuff. And John pulls his weight on the bread-and-butter stories that must get covered each day.

Which makes it particularly great that he was able to find the time to get this story, which reveals an attempt at secret dealing that John said would be “unprecedented.”

Corey quoted press association attorney Jay Bender as saying:

What happens to our democratic society if newspapers go away? Who’s going to be out there asking these crucial questions and trying to push people in public positions to conduct public business in public view?

What happens, indeed?

Tonight on ‘Fresh Air,’ Brigid talks about her new book

Remember a couple of months back, when I told you about the new book by my friend and colleague Brigid Schulte?

Well, she’s going to be talking about it this evening at 7 on NPR’s “Fresh Air.”

That’s all. Just wanted to give a heads-up, particularly to any of y’all who remember Brigid from when she worked for The State, before her long stint at The Washington Post, where she still works when she’s not writing books…

Scoppe on elections commission: Excellent column on why a horrendous mess is worse than you thought

Cindi Scoppe did a good job this morning of telling us why the Richland County elections mess is even worse than we thought. An excerpt:

JUST WHEN you thought the mess that is the Richland County Board of Elections and Voter Registration couldn’t get any worse — never a safe assumption when we’re dealing with the spawns of the Legislative State — we learn that the temporary stay that had allowed the unconstitutional board to keep operating was lifted. In December.

Which means … well, that’s a good question.

It should mean that former commissioner Sam Selph is not interim director of the agency, because the board that last week appointed Mr. Selph had no legal authority to act.

For that matter, it should mean that Howard Jackson still is the director, because surely a board that has been declared unconstitutional would not take personnel actions of such magnitude.

It should mean that we have returned to thestatus quo ante — with separate boards running separate offices of elections and voter registration, with new commissioners who have the knowledge and capability and integrity to make legal hiring decisions and run legitimate elections.

But clearly the latter has not happened, and there’s a little glitch that makes far from clear when it can happen or what must happen on the other fronts. Which should surprise no one…. 

Ladies and gentlemen, this is very like a complete breakdown of government, one in which functions that are fundamental to our democracy have ceased to work, and no one is clearly in a position to fix the problem. Which is what you get when you let fundamental services be provided by cockeyed legislation unconstitutionally pushed into place by that bizarre hermaphroditic creature, the county legislative delegation.

As an addendum to her column, Cindi referred us to a previous piece she did last year about this mess — explaining the Power Failure, Legislative State roots of the problem — which concluded thusly:

The Legislative State might have served its purpose in the days when slaves picked cotton for the wealthy plantation owners whose interests it was crafted to serve. It might have worked a century ago, when the textile magnates controlled our government and could depend on it to provide those limited services that they needed. Maybe it even served its purpose in the ’50s, when South Carolina still could pretty much ignore the rest of the world, and government didn’t do a lot more than educate white people and pave roads for the industrialists and planters.

It does not serve its purpose, or our purpose, or anybody’s purpose today.

When things go well, it gives us state agencies that waste money and provide inferior services because they have overlapping mandates and don’t work together or even talk to each other. It hamstrings governors’ ability to deliver on the agenda the voters elected them to implement. It diverts state legislators’ attention from fixing our state’s problems, as they busy themselves delivering patronage and fixate on parochial matters that should be handled by local governments.

And when things don’t go well …. Well, then it gives us botched elections and identity theft on a massive scale and officials who lack the legal authority to make things right.

It’s time for a change.

That piece ran in 2012. Nothing has changed.Which is no surprise to those of us who’ve been writing about these problems for more than two decades.

Cindi and Warren jump into blogging

Cindi Scoppe and Warren Bolton of The State are succumbing to the pull of the blogosphere.

They’ve just launched a new blog called “And another thing…,” subhed “Opinions and observations we couldn’t fit in the paper.”

The first item is an “I told you so” post noting that the S.C. Tobacco Collaborative has found that the effect of raising the cigarette tax in SC has been just what we predicted it would be:

Key findings include the following changes since 2007:

A 19 percent decrease in the high school smoking rate (from 19.1 to 15.4 percent);

An 8 percent decrease in the state adult smoking rate (from 19.2 to 17.7 percent);

A 47 percent decrease in the middle school smoking rate (from 9 to 4.8 percent); and

A 32 percent decrease in per capita cigarette pack sales (from 96.4 to 61.9 packs per capita)….

Basically, it looks like they’re going to use the blog for the same purpose for which I started mine — to let readers in on all the stuff that lay behind our opinions, but couldn’t fit into the limited confines of the print medium.

Here’s hoping they can find the time to stick to it. If they do, it will be the paper’s first active opinion blog since a certain party got laid off. This is something, I believe, that the paper and its readers need. But I would think that, wouldn’t I?

Welcome to the ‘sphere, y’all…

That Cindi is just all business, even on Twitter

Had to smile when I noticed that Cindi Scoppe had posted something in Twitter seconds before I did this morning, so that we had back-to-back Tweets:

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That Cindi has always been all business. I use Twitter for serious purposes, too, but I also like to have fun. Which is why I Tweet a lot more than she does (about 10 times as much, so far — but I had a head start).

As for the serious business, by all means go read her piece about other reform measures that would take us a lot further down the line that the one just passed doing away with the Budget and Control Board. It’s stuff I could recite in my sleep, since we started advocating for these things in 1991, but it’s important.

As for my Tweet… You know what I’m talking about, right? After the guy says, “You’re WHAT?!?!” (At 3:37 on this video), I had always heard the response to be, “Ennnn ROUTE… Russss.”

But I was never sure I had it right. So when the song came on the radio this morning, I flipped on my SoundHound app while waiting at a red light, and the lyrics that came up said that the line was… “Tin roof, rusted.” (And no, I wasn’t driving while I Tweeted. I waited until I was seated at breakfast.)

If that’s right, it’s a disappointment. I thought my version sounded kind of off, but it’s more logical as a response to “You’re WHAT?” Because, you know, much of the song has to do with traveling TO the Love Shack. So you might naturally tell someone you were en route.

But you don’t care, do you? I can see that. So go read Cindi’s piece. Edify yourself.

Video: Sheheen explaining his restructuring bill in 2008

I was looking for a picture of Vincent Sheheen to go with the last post, and ran across this video clip that I had forgotten.

It’s from the meeting on January 29, 2008, when he unveiled his restructuring plan to Cindi Scoppe and me, in the editorial board room at The State.

It’s short — the camera I used then would only shoot video for three minutes at a time — and there are several other clips from after this one that I did not upload.

But I share this one because in it, he shows how well he understood the actual power situation in South Carolina.

When talking about South Carolina’s unique situation as the “Legislative State” (even back in 1949, when some other Southern states had some similar such arrangements, political scientist V. O. Key called South Carolina that in his classic. Southern Politics in State and Nation), we tend to use a lazy shorthand. We say that SC lawmakers don’t want to surrender power to the governor.

That glosses over an important truth, one that we elaborated on in the Power Failure series back in 1991, but which I don’t stop often enough to explain any more: It’s that the Legislature, too, lacks the power to exert any effective control over state government. This leads to a government in which no one is in charge, and no one can be held accountable.

There was a time, long ago — pre-WWII, roughly, and maybe for awhile between then and the 1960s, which saw expansions of government programs on a number of levels — when lawmakers actually could run executive agencies, at least in a loose, informal way. On the state level, agencies answered to boards and commissions whose members were appointed by lawmakers. On the local level, they ran things more directly, calling all the shots. This was before county councils were empowered (more or less) in the mid-70s.

But as state agencies grew, they became more autonomous. Oh, they kept their heads down and didn’t anger powerful lawmakers, especially at budget time, but there was generally no effective way for legislators to affect their day-to-day operations. And while lawmakers appointed the members of boards and commissions, they lacked the power to remove them if they did something to attract legislative ire.

And on the local level, the advent of single-member districts broke up county delegations as coherent local powers. Yes, we have vestiges of that now — the Richland County elections mess is an illustration of this old system, as is the Richland recreation district and other special purpose districts, all legislative creations — but largely, they’re out of the business of running counties.

Increasingly in recent decades, the main power wielded by the Legislature has been a negative power — the ability to block things from happening, rather than initiate sweeping changes. And that’s what the General Assembly is best at — blocking change, for good or ill. That’s why the passage of this Department of Administration bill is such a milestone.

Anyway, while he doesn’t say all that stuff I just said, in this clip, Sheheen shows that he understands that no one is actually in charge, and that someone needs to be, so that someone can be held accountable. Or at least, that’s the way I hear it.

You may wonder why I think it remarkable that a state senator would exhibit such understanding of the system. Well… that’s just rarer than you may think.

So, how did Brigid Schulte find the time to write a BOOK?

Congrats to my long-ago colleague Brigid Schulte, who just received a starred review in Publishers Weekly for her new book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time:

51FQv8OfA7L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_On her quest to turn her “time confetti” into “time serenity,” journalist Schulte finds that, while it’s worse for women and hits working mothers the hardest, what she calls the “Overwhelm” cuts across gender, income, and nationality to contaminate time, shrink brains, impair productivity, and reduce happiness. Investigating the “great speed-up” of modern life, Schulte surveys the “time cages” of the American workplace, the “stalled gender revolution” in the home, and the documented necessity for play, and discovers that the “aimless whirl” of American life runs on a conspiracy of “invisible forces”: outdated notions of the Ideal Worker; the cult of motherhood; antiquated national family policies; and the “high status of busyness.” The result is our communal “time sickness.” Schulte takes a purely practical and secular approach to a question that philosophers and spiritual teachers have debated for centuries—how to find meaningful work, connection, and joy—but her research is thorough and her conclusions fascinating, her personal narrative is charmingly honest, and the stakes are high: the “good life” pays off in “sustainable living, healthy populations, happy families, good business, [and] sound economies.” While the final insights stretch thin, Schulte unearths the attitudes and “powerful cultural expectations” responsible for our hectic lives, documents European alternatives to the work/family balance, and handily summarizes her solutions in an appendix. Agent: Gail Ross, Ross Yoon Agency. (Mar.)

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Brigid Schulte

Brigid was the reporter I hired as Lee Bandy’s successor in The State‘s Washington Bureau. My memories of her sort of illustrate the theme of her book. First, there’s the way we met. I went to Washington in January 1993 — there was snow on the ground of the Mall around the booths set up for the first Clinton inauguration, which was to occur a few days later. I had set up interviews with a number of candidates, using an empty office in the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau as my base. But Brigid was out of town, and wasn’t getting back until almost exactly the moment my returning flight left.

So we met in the airport, as she was coming and I was going. I was sufficiently impressed to bring her down to Columbia for further interviews. We ended up hiring her. About a year later, she got drafted by the KR national staff, and not long after that moved on to The Washington Post.

Another quick anecdote: She was covering the round of BRAC hearings that led to the closing of Myrtle Beach Air Force Base. The climax of the process occurred on a Sunday afternoon. I happened to have the desk duty that day, and Brigid was having to wait for it all to happen, then write the story and somehow catch a train on which she was to depart with her then-new husband on vacation. This was before cellphones. She filed the story (on a Radio Shack TRS-80, I guess) at a time when it seemed physically impossible for her still to catch the train. Of course, I wasn’t going to let her go until I had the story.

Then there was the matter of calling in to answer my questions after I had read it. She did so, literally breathless and a bit dazed, from a phone on the train — which in those days was a technological marvel. “I’m on the train!” she shouted. “I’m on the phone, on the train! I’m calling you from the train! I made it!” That’s wonderful, I said. Now, here are my questions…

Of course, life has become even more hectic since that time. I mean, she didn’t even have kids back then.

So, I have to wonder: How did she find time to write a book? I always wonder that — I marvel that anyone finds time in a lifetime to do that — but I particularly wonder, given that she knows so well how insane modern life is. Well enough to write a book about it.

But she was always well-organized. She used to carry two notebooks — one for the live stories that day, another for enterprise stuff she was working on for later. I suppose that, while working on this book, she carried a third. Or the electronic equivalent of a third…

Enough with the pop-ups!

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I’ve been pretty patient about this. Exceedingly patient, considering that I no longer get paid a dime out of The State‘s ad revenues.

But I’ve just gotta say that it’s getting more and more unpleasant to use thestate.com, with the constant intrusive pop-ups. (Not that I’m going to stop going there, because in spite of all, where else am I going to get that much local content?)

The kind that gets me the most is when I merely click in the search box — before I’ve had a chance to enter my search term, or hit ENTER, or anything, just click in the box — and BAM! There’s a popup jumping into my face.

It’s one thing when it’s something local, and relevant. Hey, local merchants gotta eat. But when it’s something as generic and seamy and irrelevant as the set of links above, I get annoyed.

Now, all of that said — one of y’all (Dave Crockett) recently reported getting a pop-up, or rollover, or something, while on my blog.

Has this happened to anyone else?

The Mustang at 50 — finally, some news of interest to young readers

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My 18-month-old grandson — who is often to be seen toddling about with a toy car in each hand, and who will spend hours testing one wheeled vehicle after another, rolling it back and forth on various surfaces to observe its properties — got very excited when he saw this morning’s business page in The State.

Our dedicated young engineer, carefully studying cars for rollability.

Our dedicated young engineer, carefully studying cars for rollability.

“Deh-is!” (“There it is!”) he exclaimed, pointing at the picture of the 50th-anniversary Mustang in the middle of the page.

Finally, some news that a young guy can care about. I don’t recall him taking interest in a newspaper before now.

In related news, our own Bryan Caskey posted a link to an interesting piece about how the Mustang might have looked, based on some of the concepts that Ford ran through before coming up with the one, true, perfect design.

 

Gathering to say goodbye to Lee Bandy

Lindsey Graham and Mark Sanford, at reception following Lee Bandy's funeral.

Lindsey Graham and Mark Sanford, at reception following Lee Bandy’s funeral.

Above are some of the better-known people who showed up at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia yesterday to pay their respects to the inimitable Lee Bandy.

There were other politicos, such as Sen. John Courson and former Attorney General Henry McMaster. But far more numerous were present and former colleagues of Lee’s from The State.

With the emphasis being on “former.”

Lindsey Graham wondered whether there were more alumni of the paper in the receiving line — which wound all the way around the fellowship hall — than the present total newsroom employment, and I looked around and said yes, almost certainly.

The former certainly outnumbered the present at the lunch that some of us went to at the Thirsty Fellow after the funeral and reception. That group is pictured below. Of those at the table, only three currently work at The State. The rest are at The Post and Courier in Charleston, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, and various other places. Some are free-lancing. Some of us, of course, aren’t in the game at the moment.

That night was when we gave Lee a proper newspaper send-off. There were about 50 of us at Megan Sexton and Sammy Fretwell’s house. At one point in the evening, we crowded into a ragged circle in the biggest room in the house to share Bandy stories. The first couple of speakers were fairly choked up. Then Aaron Sheinin of the AJC cheered us up by saying, “What would we all say if he walked in that door right now?” And immediately, we all raised our glasses and shouted, “Bandy!”

So we went around the room, and after each testimonial — some poignant, some humorous, some both — we hoisted our glasses and cried out his name again. Just the way we did during his lifetime, in a tone infused with delight. That was the way everyone greeted him, from presidents to senators to political professionals to his fellow scribes. Everyone was glad to see him.

And everyone was deeply sorry to see him go.

There was in the room a rosy glow of remembrance of what we had all meant to each other once, and a joy at regaining that comradeship, if only for an evening. But none of the rest of us will have a sendoff like Bandy’s, nor will any of us deserve it as much…

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John McCain didn’t like the heat in Lee Bandy’s kitchen

On a previous post, I quoted Aaron Sheinin telling a story about how, after “Brad and Cindi and Mike and Warren finished their wonk nerd questions” in editorial board interviews, Lee Bandy would weigh in with something that made the guest politico squirm.

Today, fellow alumnus Bill Castronuovo reminded me, over on Facebook, of video I shot of Lee making John McCain very uncomfortable in our boardroom in August 2007.

You don’t see Lee (hey, I had enough trouble keeping a camera trained on the candidate while taking notes and presiding over the meeting; two cameras were impossible), but that’s his voice you hear asking the question that brings out McCain’s dark side. Since the mike is facing away from Lee, you might have trouble hearing the question. I can’t make out parts of it myself, what with McCain talking over Lee before he could get it all out. But here’s the audible part:

What went wrong with your campaign? You were sailing along… you had a wide lead over everybody else… now you have to fight for your political life.

As you see, the senator did not like the question a bit.

To set the stage: McCain was considered practically down and out in this stage of the campaign for the GOP nomination. A few months before, he had been the unquestioned front-runner. But things seemed to have fallen apart for him. A few weeks earlier, I had posted this report (also with video), headlined “McCain goes to the mattresses.” In the video, McCain staffer B.J. Boling (one of his few remaining at this low point) said they were going from a huge production to “an insurgency-type campaign.”

In the end, it worked. McCain managed to win in SC, and go on to win the nomination. But at this point in the campaign, the candidate was in no mood to take questions about how badly he was doing from that pesky Lee Bandy…

We’ve lost Lee Bandy, the dean of SC political journalists

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The word went out Thursday afternoon that our old and dear friend Lee Bandy was on life support in intensive care at Palmetto Health Baptist. His family was gathering.

Within an hour or two, his other family — the one that had had the privilege of working with him during his long career as South Carolina’s pre-eminent political writer — had started gathering in a message thread on Facebook.

By the time the inevitable word came this afternoon that Lee had passed away, that exchange of memories had turned into a virtual wake among 248 people who treasured his acquaintance. It included current and former alumni of The State, veterans of the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau, family members, and many others he had touched along the way.

For those of you who didn’t know him, let me try briefly to explain…

Leland Bandy first went to Washington during the Kennedy administration. Early in his career, he did some radio reporting — he had the voice for it — but he was primarily known for his 40 years with The State, most of it as the newspaper’s Washington correspondent.

After Knight Ridder bought The State in the late 80s, Lee officially became part of the KR Washington Bureau, but he never gave up his prestigious desk in the Senate gallery. He was a rare asset for the bureau, and not just because he was one of the only two or three people in the bureau who got tickets to the Gridiron show (he was a regular performer in the shows, as well as a loyal member of his church choir). Lee Bandy had access to people that no one else had. I remember in particular the way editors in the bureau hung on every word he had to share, after he and I had been over to Lee Atwater’s office at the RNC on one of my trips to Washington.

When Atwater was dying, Lee was the only journalist he or his family would have anything to do with. It was a pattern we’d see repeated when Carroll Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and when when Strom Thurmond died.

Everybody, including the politicos who despised all other journalists, loved and trusted Lee Bandy. Why? For the simplest of reasons. He was a good man. He treated everyone not only with fairness, but with kindness and generosity. It was quite a potent formula. More journalists should try it.

As his editor for a brief portion of his career — 1987-1991 — I have my own Lee Bandy stories to tell. But I was deeply impressed by some of those told in the outpouring of love on Facebook.

Here’s a sampling…

From Aaron Gould Sheinin, formerly of The State, now with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (and here’s something Aaron wrote about Lee for The State):

I’ll go then. During the 2004 presidential campaign John Kerry came for an Ed board meeting. After Brad and Cindi and Mike and Warren finished their wonk nerd questions there was a pause. And Bandy pipes up, “So, John did you get Botox?” Kerry, his face devoid of emotion, says, “No, Lee, I didn’t.”…

Same year. Lee and I are at Crawford Cooks house to meet Bill Richardson, then governor of New Mexico who is thinking of running for president. Just the four of us. Richardson gives his opening spiel. Bandy clears his throat and says “So, I hear you got a bimbo problem.” Richardson, his face impassive, says “No, Lee, I don’t.”

Neither became president….

Oh man. So Bandy is at the Gridiron in 2001. Bush’s first year. Lee Makes his way up to the head table. Bush sees him and says Bandy! Like everyone does. Bush says I want your speaker of the house to be my ambassador to Chile.

bandy says ok. And comes back and tells the editors

He calls David Wilkins the speaker who denies all knowledge. We decide that since the gridiron is supposed to be off the record that Lee needs to call the White House press office

Lee calls and tells them what he’s writing. They get all indignant. No way. Who’s your source?

Bandy: Your boss.

The press aide: Ari Fleishcer?

Bandy: No the president.

Press aide: oh.

Long story: Wilkins turned down the job an later took the canada job.

Angelia Herrin, who represented the Wichita Eagle (which was where I first worked with her, before I knew Lee) in the KR bureau:

We are so sad, reading this and yet, George turned to me and said, can’t you hear just lee bandy laugh? And we both laughed and cried a little. Because my god, Lee Bandy could make you laugh when you were just in the middle of the worst stupid day in Washington. Because really– that’s just the right reaction on the worst stupid day on Capitol Hill.

Jeff Miller, formerly of The State and now with an advocacy group in Washington:

I cut my teeth covering politics during the 1988 GOP presidential primary, the first to come right before Super Tuesday, and Poppy Bush needed to win. I was so far out of my comfort zone that crazy month. In hindsight, I needn’t have worried. I had… Bandy, who knew everything and everybody, to coach me through it. Greatest professional experience of my life. Bless you Lee. A legion of young, impressionable reporters owe you so much.

Megan Sexton, formerly of The State, now working at USC:

My favorite: Bandy interviewing Strom Thurmond Bandy: “Strom, have you tried that Viagra yet?” Strom: “Bandy, I don’t need it.”

Wayne Washington, formerly of The State, now of the AJC:

Lee, who was a reporting giant when I was in elementary school, was the first person to call me and tell me how much he was looking forward to working with me when I was hired by The State. I was speechless. Great sense of humor. Great generosity. Class.

Kay Packett, a sometime commenter on this blog, who explains in her stories how she knew Lee:

I am heartbroken. I met Lee when I was a brand-new press secretary in Washington and I avoided him assiduously because my previous boss — Mont Morton at the SC Department of Education for you old-timers — had told me Lee would have me for lunch. Then he called one day at the end of a very bad day and suggested a Bloody Mary, and I have loved him every minute since. He taught me everything I know about working with a real reporter, and he made me learn it the hard way! But we had a lot of fun along the way. My thoughts are with his family and I am so sad for all is us who loved him….

That truly was Lee’s gift — doing his job well and fairly and keeping his friends at the same time. I remember once when Carroll Campbell had instructed me to yell at Lee over an unflattering column, and I called to tell him I had to yell at him, and he said, “Good. Meet me at Yolanda’s.” So we had a couple of scotches and laughed. I wonder what questions he’s asking Campbell now.

There is a hole in my heart. Thanks, everyone, for sharing your memories.

Doug Pardue, formerly of The State, now with the Charleston Post and Courier:

A true journalist’s journalist, hard-hitting, and a truly nice guy. I remember when one young reporter from The State went to Washington and got in a cab. The driver asked him where he was from and he replied South Carolina. The cabbie then asked him, “Do you know Lee Bandy?”

Valerie Bauerlein Jackson, who used to sit next to Lee in The State‘s newsroom and went on to work for The Wall Street Journal:

I could not guess how many stories Bandy wrote about Carroll Campbell and Strom Thurmond–hundreds, maybe, and many, many of them critical. I think Bandy was the first to question whether Thurmond was still fit to hold office, and he certainly broke the story that Strom was living at Walter Reed. But when the Campbells were ready to let the world know that the governor had early-onset Alzheimer’s, they called Bandy. And when Strom died, the Thurmonds called Bandy….

… he also said, “In many of our newsrooms today, we have too many people living a life of journalism for journalism. There’s nothing else. Well, I would like to suggest there is something else. That there is something more to life than being a journalist. And that is being a human being.”

Bandy was one of the best human beings I’ve ever known.

Michelle Davis, formerly of The State:

He was the only person from The State to ever come visit me in the far-flung Camden bureau when I was 23 years old. He treated me to lunch at The Paddock and actually took me seriously when I said I wanted to go to Washington someday like he did. And then he helped me get there.

Danny Flanders, formerly of The State:

I’ve been reading this all day, and it didn’t hit me until tonight when I first truly encountered Lee. As a new night editor at The State in 1990ish, one of my Friday night duties was helping with weekend copy. (Unless, of course, someone set fire to Rockaways) On my first Friday night on the job, I was told to “keep an eye out” for Lee’s Sunday column when it came in. Oh, God, no. I would be charged (in my early 30s) with editing Bandy, whom I read for years? So when he called me to tell me he’d filed (Remember all of that?) he introduced himself and we chatted for an hour about life, not the business, before he said, “Change anything you like, Danny.” I thought, Was he buttering me up to protect his copy, was he calling from a phone booth at happy hour, or is this guy really that nice? Yikes!. So I made a few nips and tucks, then held my breath as I called him to read it back to him, and he thanked me profusely for, he said, making him “look better”. Whew!…

thanks for the vote of confidence, Lee. Godspeed.

Brigid Schulte, whom I hired to “replace” Lee when he moved from Washington to the Columbia office in the early 90s. She is now with The Washington Post:

Lee Bandy. You can’t say the name without a smile. And perhaps a bit of a chuckle, remembering something he said, or did, hearing his own frequent chuckle after saying something a tad irreverent but always spot on. I had the great, wondrous and intimidating privilege to follow Lee Bandy as the State’s reporter in Washington after his long, illustrious stint when he’d decided it was time to go home. Bandy ferried me around the Capitol, expertly ducking in and out of offices, secret passageways, waving to just about everybody along the way. He was gracious, generous, supportive, hilarious, kind and just great fun to be with. He even snuck me into a Grid Iron rehearsal after we’d had a long, breezy, gossipy lunch that stretched into the late afternoon. We both giggled at the thought of Strom Thurmond referring to me as “that nice little girl from the State Newspaper.” My heart goes out to his family. I wish him not just peace, but dearly hope he’s sitting somewhere with his feet up, celestial newspaper open, a tinkling glass by his side, regaling fellow angels with irreverent, and spot on commentary on the doings in the world below. He was a peach of a man. He’ll, no doubt, make one hell of an angel.

Joseph Scott Stroud, formerly of The State, now political editor with The Tennessean:

Thanks to all for the sustaining thoughts through all this. Lee’s life showed us, and has reminded me this weekend, that you can be a constructive critic and observer of public life and still have a generous heart. Mary, I hope you and the family are blessed with a sense of why Lee is so loved by the rest of us — because of his good, kind heart and buoyant spirit. He won’t be replaced, but we all carry him with us in our hearts

And finally, one more from Valerie Bauerlein:

I love you, Lee Bandy.

She is far from alone in that.

Cindi Scoppe on the now-rare ‘loyal opposition’

Cindi Scoppe had a good column in the paper today — one I might have written myself (ironic, self-mocking smiley face).

She was praising Leona Plaugh for attitudes that used to be fairly common among elected officials, but now are alarmingly rare — and practically nonexistent within the District of Columbia.

An excerpt:

Ms. Plaugh, you might recall, helped lead the opposition to Mayor Steve Benjamin’s rush job on the contract the city signed this summer promising tens of millions of dollars in incentives to Bob Hughes in return for his developing the old State Hospital property on Bull Street in accordance with city desires. She criticized the way the deal was rammed through so quickly that people didn’t know what was in it and she criticized what she did know about its contents. And she was happy to repeat those criticisms when she met with us.

But when my colleague Warren Bolton asked her what happens next, she said, essentially, we make it work.

“Once you vote for something and it’s done, it’s done,” she said. “We all need to get on the bandwagon now and hope it’s the best it can be.”

A few minutes later, when she was talking about her surprise at ending up on the losing end of a 2010 vote to turn control of the Columbia Police Department over to the Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, and we asked why she hadn’t brought that idea back up as the department’s woes have mounted, she recalled all the debate and public hearings that had preceded that vote.

“I don’t think you continually go back and harp on things that this council has already voted on,” she explained, “unless someone on the other side is ready to change their position on it.”

Well.

Then we got to the city’s decision this spring to purchase the Palmetto Compress warehouse over her objections, and the news in that morning’s paper that a local development group had tentatively agreed to buy the property, at a small profit to the city. And there wasn’t even a hint of sour grapes when she told us, “I hope I lose my bet with the mayor and that that will be a roaring success.”

What put an exclamation point on all of this was the timing. Our conversation with Ms. Plaugh took place at the very moment that what passes for grownups in Washington were racing the clock to reach a can-kicking agreement to keep the federal government out of an elective default. An agreement that we weren’t at all certain they’d be able to sell to their colleagues.

Which is just mind-boggling….

As Cindi went on to say, Leona was expressing the attitude of a member of the loyal opposition, “a concept that no longer exists in Washington, outside the occasional Senate gang, and is falling out of favor at the State House, replaced with open disdain for the idea of even talking with people in the other party, much less accepting defeat and moving on.”

And our republic is much, much worse off for that quality being so rare.

‘Power Failure’ problems still plague South Carolina

Yesterday, at Jack Van Loan‘s gathering for Steve Benjamin, the mayor at one point — in talking about the strong-mayor system — invoked “Power Failure.”

He does that frequently when I’m around, which causes me to think he does it to flatter me. But he always does it relevantly. For those who don’t know what “Power Failure” was, a brief description that I put together recently:

South Carolina is different. It took me about three years of close observation to understand how it was different. I realized it toward the end of the incredible summer of 1990, when one-tenth of the Legislature was indicted, the head of the highway patrol resigned under pressure after helping the head of the local FBI office (which was investigating the Legislature) with a DUI, the president of the University of South Carolina resigned after a series of scandals, and… well, there were two or three other major stories of malfunction and corruption in state government, all at the same time. Under my direction, The State’s political reporters stayed ahead of all the competition that summer, and broke at least one story that even the feds didn’t know about. All this fed into my determination to explain just why our state government was so fouled up. There were reasons, and they were reasons that were peculiar to South Carolina, but they were invisible to most citizens.

I proposed to The State’s senior management that they let me undertake a special project that would let the voters in on the secret. They agreed, and turned the resources of the newsroom over to me to use as I needed them for the “Power Failure” project. Over the course of a year, 17 multi-page installments and more than 100 stories, we explained why ours was the state government that answered to no one. And we set out a blueprint for fixing it.

That helped lead, the following year, to a major government restructuring, creating a cabinet system and giving the governor actual control over a significant portion of the executive branch. It didn’t go nearly far enough. Only about a third of the government, measured by share of the budget, answers to the elected chief executive. But it was a start…

As it happens, I had occasion today to look back at a reprint of the series, and I continue to be struck by how relevant it remains.

The series was about much more than the fact that the state’s executive branch was governed by a bewildering array of boards and commissions that answered to no one. It was about more than making the governor accountable. It went into problems with local government, the judiciary, and other aspects of government at all levels.

The sad thing is that while that reprint is old and yellowed, being 21 years old, so much of what it described remains unchanged.

I was reminded of that in this morning’s paper. We see that a Nikki Haley ally is planning to run against Glenn McConnell for lieutenant governor next year. This is portrayed as a sort of dress-rehearsal for 2018, when the governor and lieutenant governor will run together on a single ticket. That is a tiny, tiny movement toward the “Power Failure” recommendation that we stop electing all these constitutional officers separately from the governor.

Meanwhile, the bill to replace the Budget and Control Board with a Department of Administration answering to the governor hovers out there, and maybe, maybe it will actually be enacted in the next legislative session. Nikki Haley has been pushing hard for that since entering office. Rival Vincent Sheheen has been pushing for it longer than that, and he still is doing so. From a Sheheen op-ed last week:

Government restructuring is Job No. 1

BY VINCENT SHEHEEN 

Posted: Thursday, October 3, 2013 12:01 a.m.

Post & Courier·

  • It’s time to take another giant step in reforming South Carolina’s state government to improve accountability for the hardworking people of our state.

Over the last few years, South Carolina has gone backwards in so many areas — we’re now one of the toughest places in the nation to earn a living and achieve the American dream, while our government has failed on its most basic functions. But one of the places where we are moving forward is in modernizing our state government in an effort to improve accountability.

Last year, I introduced S. 22, a restructuring bill to overhaul and reform South Carolina’s legislative and executive branches. I worked across the aisle to ensure the bill speedily passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support. Then it was altered and passed late in the session by the House of Representatives.

A conference committee has been appointed to hammer out the differences in anticipation of the upcoming session. So now we have an exciting opportunity to reconcile the two versions and make history for our state….

Actually, you should probably go read the whole thing, at the Post and Courier.

The reprint is old and yellowed, but we’re still struggling along with the same problems. Still, let’s celebrate what we can. I for one am thankful that both Haley and Sheheen back reform, and that maybe this one change is about to happen. Beyond that, there’s a lot more work to do.

Warren Bolton, Herbert Ames, Irene Dumas Tyson and Roddie Burriss in the editorial boardroom earlier this week.

Gearing up for Reality Check, visiting old haunts

Earlier this week, I found myself in the editorial boardroom of The State, for the first time in, what — two years, I guess.

It was unchanged. And to show that I was unchanged, I shot a couple of pictures — something I used to do obsessively in that room, as long-time readers would know. I explained to those present, who were trying to talk while I was distractingly getting up and moving around the room for a good angle, that if I didn’t do this, Warren Bolton wouldn’t know who I was.

I had brought friends with me — Irene Dumas Tyson and Herbert Ames, co-chairs of the Urban Land Institute’s upcoming Midlands Reality Check, on Oct. 22 at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. They were there to meet with Warren, and reporter Roddie Burriss.

That’s the event at which 300 people, from all walks of life in the Midlands, will get together and talk about how to prepare for the growth that’s coming over the next 30 years.

More about that later.

Anyway, I just thought I’d take note of the fact that I had been back to the old homestead, briefly. Below is a picture from earlier days, with one of our guests…

obamaboard

The truth about SC: Taxes are low and getting lower, and government is not ‘growing’

Cindi Scoppe struck another blow today in the lonely fight to base public policy in South Carolina on facts. It’s not only a lonely, but a losing battle, since the people who are driving things in the State House have contempt for facts, preferring to “govern” on the basis of extremist ideology, which holds that facts are bunk.

Basically, she was answering this kind of nonsense:

Consider this analysis from an Upstate anti-government activist, speaking recently to The Greenville News: “Every year our state budget continues to go up, up, up, far exceeding our growth. So we’re getting more government, we’re getting higher taxes.

“They tell us, ‘We cut taxes.’ That’s nonsense. How can you increase spending and cut taxes and yet you claim that we also are not running a deficit? The numbers don’t add up.”

That certainly sounds like a sensible analysis. And there are circumstances under which it could be accurate. If, say, our population were remaining stagnant, or declining. Or if people’s income or purchases remained flat, or declined. But of course none of that is happening.

What’s happening isn’t that complicated. It just isn’t necessarily intuitive…

And what is happening is that tax rates have been lowered over and over for the past two decades. What is also happening is that, while the total amount of state funds spent on government is greater because of our skyrocketing population growth, the amount spent per capita is less and less:

South Carolina’s tax collections are the lowest in the nation, at $1,476.50 per capita; they dropped 18 percent from 2001 to 2011 — more than they did in 48 states. Our combined state and local tax burden per capita was less than all but one state, at $2,742. Our 2012 Tax Freedom Day — the date when we’ve earned enough money to pay all of our federal, state and local taxes for the year — was earlier than all but three states, at April 3.

This is simply not a state in which we’re “getting higher taxes.”

Ah, but our government is growing, right? Well, if by “growing government,” you mean that the total amount spent on state government each year is generally more than it was the previous year, then yes, it’s growing. With the exception of two years during the recession, state general fund expenditures (the money over which the Legislature has the most control) are growing — although this year’s $6.1 billion general fund budget is still down from the $6.7 billion in 2008-09, just before the recession hit.

But remember: While the general fund grew by 12 percent over the past decade, our state’s population grew by 15 percent. That means the Legislature appropriated less general fund money per resident, even without considering inflation, in 2012 than in 2002…

Ah, but what about all those “other funds,” from the feds and fees? Hasn’t that increased the size of government? Consider:

What’s a little surprising is that even with all that federal and other money, the total number of state employees is actually down, from 63,000 in 2002 to 56,000 in 2012. In fact, the total number of state employees has decreased over just about any period you look at during the past two decades, except last year, when it rose slightly from 2011, but remained well below the 2010 level.

So if by “growing government” you mean government is increasing the number of people on the payroll, it’s not.

If you mean government is providing more services, it’s also not. Our state is providing services to more people — Medicaid and food stamps, both funded primarily by the federal government, are prime examples — but it’s not increasing the services to each person…

Actually, you should just go read the whole thing.

View of Jim DeMint changed radically after the 2004 campaign

I was rather startled to run across something I’d written about Jim DeMint in 2004.

For so many years now, I’ve seen him as a hyperpartisan ideologue, as responsible as anyone in the country for pulling his party into Tea Party extremism right up until his recent resignation from the Senate, that I’d forgotten I used to see him differently.

Here’s what I wrote right after the 2004 election, when he had defeated Inez Tenenbaum in the contest to replace Fritz Hollings:

While I criticized Rep. DeMint heavily for choosing to run as a hyperpartisan (despite his record as an independent thinker), there’s little doubt that that strategy was his key to victory. The president won South Carolina 58-41, and Mr. DeMint beat Mrs. Tenenbaum 54-44, demonstrating the power of the coattail effect. I congratulate him, and sincerely hope he now returns to being the thoughtful policy wonk he was before he wrapped himself in party garb in recent weeks.

Wow. What a difference a few years make. “Thoughtful policy wonk?” I only vaguely remember that Jim DeMint.

So that’s when it began. Before the 2004 campaign, I saw him as a fairly thoughtful guy. But I guess that campaign showed him what red meat could do for him…

Farewell to a solid reporter, Jim Davenport

Back in October, Nikki Haley gave Jim the Order of the Palmetto -- which frankly made me feel better about Nikki than I had in awhile.

Back in October, Nikki Haley gave Jim the Order of the Palmetto — which frankly made me feel better about Nikki than I had in awhile.

My favorite Jim Davenport story won’t make much sense to most people, but it always makes me smile.

Jim, whom we called “Dav” because that was his login on the Atex mainframe system we used at The State back then, first came to work for the paper on a sort of unofficial basis while he was still a graduate student at USC. Tom McLean, who was the executive editor in those days, paid him from some mysterious fund only he had access to — so Dav was working for us, but invisible to the folks in H.R.

The managing editor didn’t know about him, either. This was in the very late ’80s or very early ’90s, because that was when Bobby Hitt, now our secretary of commerce, was the M.E. One day in an editor’s meeting, Bobby (who had been away on a fellowship) asked, “Who’s this Jim Davenport and why are we cutting him checks?” One of my colleagues explained that he did various special projects and answered to the executive editor, but wasn’t able to provide any details.

At that moment, then-Features Editor Jim Foster leaped to his feet and cried, “Clarence Beeks!” At which point I just about literally fell on the floor laughing — although most in the room didn’t get it.

Assuming most of y’all are in the same boat, “Clarence Beeks” was the name of a shadowy character in the comedy “Trading Places,” who did top-secret, off-the-books jobs for these two rich guys who employed him to, among other things, get ahold of a top-secret crop report so that they could corner the market on frozen concentrated orange juice. There’s a sort of “eureka” moment in the movie when both Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd leap to their feet crying out in unison, “Clarence Beeks!”

OK, so maybe that story doesn’t tell you much about Jim Davenport, who died today at age 54 after a two-year battle with cancer. But in a way it does, because even that early in his career, he had a quiet, matter-of-fact competence about him that made you believe that he could go out and get done whatever needed doing. Tom McLean obviously thought so, or he wouldn’t have brought Jim on board when there was no actual position open for him. He was something of a jack-of-all-trades, as the story by his AP colleagues today attests:

Before entering journalism, he drove a barge for a dredging operation, worked as a roadie for a band and made tires at a factory. He also had a master’s degree in English. The journalism bug bit him while he was at the University of South Carolina…

… which was about when I met him.

Today, most in the trade in South Carolina know Jim as the Associated Press’s longtime stalwart watchdog over the State House. He’s known for such attention-grabbers as being the first to report when our governor went missing in 2009 (only to turn up later on a return flight from Argentina).

But Jim was also the kind of reporter that an editor like me particularly appreciates. I’ve never been a big admirer of the reporters who just hit an occasional home run and then rest on their laurels. I like the ones who get on base at least once in every game. Jim was solid day after day. Nothing stopped him. Just as one small example — it was his dogged persistence, nagging at the governor’s office, that finally got Nikki Haley to admit that she had no idea what she was talking about when she claimed that half of job applicants at the Savannah River Site had failed drug tests (the actual rate was less than 1 percent).

What I like is the kind of reporter who just doesn’t let feckless politicians get away with routine assertions about things that fit their ideologies, but not the facts, and that’s the kind of reporter Jim was.

I knew some months ago that the end was coming for Jim. Still, he was out there working, even when the sweat was pouring from his brow as he showed up for yet another press conference. Despite the obvious physical strain, he would still set the tone for the event, calmly asking his common-sense questions, not letting anything get by him.

The last time I saw him out there, I asked how he was doing. Not well, he told me matter-of-factly. He wasn’t going to get over it, not this time. I didn’t know what to say. I told him I didn’t know what to say. He just nodded, like a man who had already sorted it out in his own mind, but understood that others might have trouble dealing with it.

I so wanted to say something that would make it better somehow. But I couldn’t. Now he’s gone, and South Carolina is the less for having lost him.

Yes, SC has 500 problems worse than election commission

For more than 20 years, I’ve taken every opportunity to apprise South Carolinians of just how amazingly fouled-up their system of government is. Whenever something that touches on the fact is in the news, I try to tell people. And while I was editorial page editor, the editorial board did so as well.

And the two remaining associate editors continue to do so, as Cindi Scoppe did in today’s column. An excerpt:

BY S.C. standards, the byzantine arrangement that produced perhaps the worst election debacle in modern state history — an inexperienced elections director hand-picked by state legislators who thought they reserved unto themselves the exclusive ability to fire her but in fact did not, and might or might not have given that authority to a commission that they also hand-picked and can’t fire, and an elections office over which the county council has absolutely no control but must fund at a level set by an almost certainly unconstitutional state law — is practically a governmental best practice.

After all, there are only 46 of these legislative delegation-controlled/uncontrolled election commissions, each one covers an entire county, and they don’t meddle in anybody else’s business.

For a truly remarkable example of legislative meddling gone mad, consider South Carolina’s special-purpose districts, each of which provides a single service, mostly to tiny segments of the population, most of which are operated by people who are at least two steps removed from even the theoretical possibility of accountability to the public, some of which have been disguised to make voters think they have some say, when they actually don’t.

They are the tail that wags our legislative dog: These legislative creations are among the most potent political forces at the State House, capable of stymieing an array of reforms that would make local government more efficient and effective and accountable to the public. Which they do.

Did I mention that there are more than 500 of these independent fiefdoms? Which means that, when you add them to all the counties and cities and towns and school districts, we have 900 local governments in South Carolina? Talk about fragmentation…

You should read the rest of it. Cindi, and I, have pointed these facts out many times in the past. And we keep hoping that one day, people will pay enough attention to demand change.

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?…