Category Archives: The State

That classic Ariail cartoon I couldn’t find the other day

Bent but not broken_cmyk

On Wednesday, I had wanted to use the above cartoon with my post about remembering The State‘s coverage of Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

It’s one of Robert Ariail’s most popular ever, and it served a good cause — it was turned into a poster, copies of which were sold, and the proceeds donated to disaster relief.

Unfortunately, it’s from the pre-digital days, so I couldn’t find it online.

Robert was kind enough to email this to me, so I share it now.

The original that ran in the paper was black-and-white, although color was added for the posters. After scanning the original to share it with us, Robert photoshopped in some color to recreate the poster effect…

The court’s unanimous ruling in the Harrell/Wilson matter

Dave Crockett points out that we haven’t discussed the SC Supreme Court’s unanimous smackdown of Judge Manning’s bizarre ruling in the matter of Bobby Harrell, and Alan Wilson’s power to investigate him.

Maybe I’ve just been avoiding it, subconsciously, out of petulance over being scooped by that upstart Bryan Caskey:

Bryan didn’t just scoop ME. I happened to read that Tweet while attending the awards ceremony at The State Wednesday afternoon. I followed his link, and passed my phone first to Cindi Scoppe, then to John Monk — two people who have done more than anyone to keep us informed on this case — to give them the heads-up. (To John’s credit, he had told me before we sat down that the ruling was sort of expected, “Even as we stand here.” Fortunately, another reporter from the paper was covering that base while he was occupied.)

What to make of the ruling?

Well, to start with, it affirms what remaining faith we have in the rule of law. The justices unanimously rejected the absurd argument that the trial judge had constructed of whole cloth.

On the other hand, Manning could still rule unfavorably on Wilson’s ability to continue to handle the investigation, as the judge was instructed by the court to consider Harrell’s original motion seeking to remove the attorney general from the case.

So justice is still not out of the woods.

And I’m still a bit worried by that footnote to the ruling: “Due to the secrecy afforded state grand jury proceedings, future arguments regarding jurisdiction, or any other ancillary matter, should be held in camera.” I’m not sure what that means, in terms of what will be cloaked in secrecy and what will not. You’ll recall that our awareness of this power struggle began with John’s story about how the attempt by Harrell to have the court consider whether to toss Wilson off the case secretly.

On that point, I await further elucidation.

There seems little doubt, though, that the justices have been distressed from the start by the splash this case has made on the front pages.

But how could it be otherwise — a struggle between the highest levels of two branches of our government, with the third branch caught uncomfortably between?

The unofficial Sammy Fretwell ‘Fan Club’

Had a nice time attending the awards ceremony at The State yesterday afternoon. Aside from recognizing the staff that almost won the Pulitzer for Hugo coverage, we saw three former colleagues inducted into the paper’s Hall of Fame, and honored two current staffers with the annual Hampton and Gonzales awards.

Sammy Fretwell received the Gonzales award, which is given each year for superlative reporting. It was an excellent choice. In keeping with theme that was running through a lot of the event about noting ways things have changed in the business, Sammy mentioned that something he’s had to get used to is the flurry of critical Tweets that follow everything he does these days.

When he said it, I thought, well, yeah — that’s something you have to expect today. Goes with the territory.

But when I Tweeted an innocuous picture of Sammy and me together after the reception, I saw what he meant. There does seem to be a rapid-response team on a hair trigger, ready to fire at any mention of Sammy Fretwell in the Twitterverse. Note the following:

An act of God kept The State from winning that Pulitzer

TIM DOMINICK TDOMINICK@THESTATE

TIM DOMINICK TDOMINICK@THESTATE

That is to say, a second act of God, less than four weeks after the first.

You may have read in the paper that those of us who were on the newsroom staff that nearly won the Pulitzer for our coverage of Hurricane Hugo in 1989 are being honored with a reception at The State today.

We should have won it. We did a bang-up job in those days and weeks before and after the landfall on Sept. 21, not only covering every possible angle of the damage and its impact across the state, but providing lots of “news you can use,” telling people where and how to get help or give it, updated daily.

It was a heady time, characterized by strong teamwork. A couple of my fellow editors got to go down to the ravaged coast with the reporters and photographers, and I was envious of them. I was stuck at the office, helping supervise and coordinate coverage and get it into the paper.

But then, on Oct. 17, the second act of God — or the fickle finger of fate, if you prefer — struck. A 6.9-magnitude earthquake hit San Francisco during the World Series. The fact that it was the first earthquake captured live on television — because of the Series — riveted national attention on that disaster in an unprecedented manner. The San Jose Mercury News, our Knight Ridder sister paper, also did a bang-up job. Remember the quake beginning as my wife’s cousin Tim McCarver was narrating highlights from the previous game? Remember the images of the pancaked overpass? Yeah, everybody else did, too. They got the Pulitzer for General News Reporting, leaving us as one of the two finalists.

Since then, The State has only come close to a Pulitzer twice. Both times, the finalist was Robert Ariail, during the years that I was his editor. So I was close to the situation all three times that The State was close to a Pulitzer. But that one in 1989 was particularly bittersweet, because it would have been a win for all of us, Robert included. We wanted to win for The State as an institution, and for Tom McLean, as that was his last year as executive editor.

We didn’t make it, but we went down swinging. And we remember what we did together fondly. Not that we’re ghouls, fondly recalling a disaster. It’s the camaraderie, the Band of Brothers aspect that generates the positive feeling.

Here’s the list of people being credited with that finalist showing:

Hugo Alumni include:
Jeff Amberg
Susan Ardis
Robert Ariail
Dottie Ashley
Perry Baker
Pat Berman
Warren Bolton
Lee Bouknight
Margaret Bouknight
Claudia Brinson
Rosie Brooks
Bobby Bryant
Clint Bryson
Pat Butler
Bob Cole
John Collins
Betty Lynn Compton
Jeffrey Day
Tim Dominick
Carol Farmington
Thom Fladung
Holly Gatling
Bob Gillespie
Doug Gilmore
Kay Gordon
Richard Greer
Frank Heflin
Bill HIggins
Dawn Hinshaw
Gordon Hirsch
Bobby Hitt
Deborah Lynn Hook
Bhakti Larry Hough
Bill Hughes
Page Ivey
Joe Jackson
Bill Kelly III
Lou Kinard
Michael Kozma
Dawn Kujawa
Clif LeBlanc
Michael Lewis
Mike Livingston
Diane Lore
Salley McInerney
Norma McLean
Tom McLean
Jim McLaurin
Jeff Miller
Michael Miller
Bill Mitchell
Dave Moniz
Will Moredock
Fred Monk
Loretta Neal
David Newton
Jennifer Nicholson
Margaret O’Shea
Paul Osmundson
Levona Page
Charles Paschal
Lezlie Patterson
Beverly Phillips
Ginger Pinson
Charles Pope
Bertram Rantin
Dargan Richards
Bunny Richardson
Maxie Roberts
Bill Robinson
Pat Robertson
Cindi Ross Scoppe
Michael Sponhour
Bob Stuart
Beverly Shelley
Steve Smith
Bob Spear
Bill Starr
Linda Stelter
Clark Surratt
Rick Temple
Rob Thompson
Ernie Trubiano
Jan Tuten
Helene Vickers
Nancy Wall
Brad Warthen
Neil White

I wonder how many of us will be there this afternoon…

pulitzer

The State’s ‘won-lost’ record

Cindi Scoppe wrote this post on The State’s editorial blog, “And Another Thing…”:

People who don’t get The State’s endorsement or who just like to be snarky love to say that our endorsement is the kiss of death. That never has been the case: Well over half of the people we endorse always have won, and it seems to me like the number is usually significantly higher, but I’m not certain and I don’t feel like trying to figure it out.

But this year’s primary elections were a dramatic example of how inaccurate the sore-losers’ claim is….

Our only loss was in the Democratic primary for education superintendent, where Montrio Belton was trounced. But we endorsed Tom Thompson in the runoff, and he won his nomination. Easily.

So for the record, that’s 7-1, or an 88 percent success rate. Hardly the kiss of death.

The beginning of that post is almost word-for-word what I have written multiple times in columns and blog posts. Except that she didn’t mention the part about endorsements not being predictions, just statements of who should win (and far more importantly, why they should win), regardless of what actually happens.

And except for this: I never did this after primaries, just after general elections. Which is why Cindi can’t cite a won-lost record over time, because the numbers I tracked were for general only. Why? Because I thought that was, a truer measure of the extent to which we were in tune with our readers overall. Also, since we were moderates and the parties were increasingly extreme, tracking primaries is a sure way to pull down your percentages.

(By the way, the record over the years I was on the board was that just under 75 percent of the candidates we endorsed won.)

But the thing about this primary season just ended is, SC voters went for the sober, moderate, experienced candidates this time, rather than the angry ideologues (one exception being the county council race where I live).

So, congrats to Cindi and Warren Bolton on their chosen candidates doing so well. But congratulations even more to South Carolina…

Did you vote today? Were you the only one there?

Voted

Well, I did, and I was the only voter at the time. I was greatly outnumbered by poll workers, poll greeters, and media. It was 8:41 a.m., and I was the 46th voter to take a Republican ballot. Exactly one person had voted in the Democratic runoff.

Of course, I HAD to take a GOP ballot, having voted Republican two weeks ago. But had I not been wrongly, unfairly forced to do that (you should be able to vote in both primaries, any time), I would have anyway. I don’t think there was anything on the Democratic side other than superintendent of education, and I didn’t have an opinion on that choice. (Had I voted in that, lacking a view of my own, I likely would have accepted The State‘s recommendation and gone with Tom Thompson. As you may know, I generally, but not always, vote a straight State paper ticket.)

Whereas on the GOP side, I not only had superintendent of education and lieutenant governor, but a hotly-contested county council race.

On my way in I did something I don’t usually do, which is reveal how I was going to vote. Chalk it up to that knock on the head the other day; I cracked under questioning. And since I did it in the presence of the press, I’ll share it with you. I stopped to say hey to Tim Dominick from The State — he shot the picture below at my precinct (I hope The State won’t mind my sharing it — here’s the link to where I got it). He was chatting with a lady who urged me to vote for Bill Banning, for county council. Not feeling like being cagey, I said I would.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who read this story, or who otherwise has been paying attention. A key excerpt:

Anti-tax and limited-government groups are helping Tolar…

In other words, Tolar is sort of the tea party option. I mean, seriously. Anybody who thinks taxes are too high in Lexington County is not likely to get my vote.

Anyway, please share your voting experiences today. You don’t have to say how you voted. Unless you want to. And even then, you don’t have to…

Quail Hollow precinct, right before or after I was there. Photo by Tim Dominick of The State; click on it to read the story at thestate.com.

Quail Hollow precinct, right before or after I was there. Photo by Tim Dominick of The State; click on it to read the story at thestate.com.

Could a man have a better headline on his obit?

HonorThis front page obit today noting the passing of Leroy “Nab” Inabinet bore a headline that any man should aspire to.

I suppose there are other attributes by which one would wish to be remembered — “good father,” “loving husband.” Some may aspire to the status of “hero.”

But you can only get so much into a headline, and in a newspaper it’s most appropriate to refer to the public side of a subject’s character.

With that in mind, it’s hard to beat this tribute.

It’s the sort of thing that makes me wish I’d known Mr. Inabinet, and feel a sense of loss because I did not.

Those who did were fortunate, and are no doubt reflecting on that today.

Endorsing Brad Hutto because ‘he’s not a felon’

Hutto

Knowing the editorial board as I do, I had to do a double-take this morning when I saw Sen. Brad Hutto’s picture on an endorsement editorial in The State.

Not that Sen. Hutto is a bad sort of fellow or associated with other bad sorts — his mother, a longtime devoted reader of the paper with whom I corresponded regularly when I was the EPE, is a lovely lady, and she is the first association that comes to mind when I see his name — but my general impression is that he is at odds with positions taken by the board more often than he is in agreement. Or at least when he is at odds, he’s very visibly so. Also, he’s very much a Democratic Party happy warrior, gleefully engaging in the sort of partisan behavior that tended to set our teeth on edge.

Cindi (I assume) dutifully sets out arguments as to why he should carry the Democratic standard against Lindsey Graham, including one of our default reasons for slightly preferring incumbents, as long as they haven’t misbehaved:

AS POPULAR as it is these days to praise the virtues of outsiders, of political novices, the fact is that there is always a huge danger in electing someone who has never been active in their communities or engaged in public life, much less held public office.

S.C. Democrats, of all people, should understand this, after their disastrous encounter with Alvin Greene, the unemployed Army veteran who defeated a respected retired judge in the 2010 primary to win the U.S. Senate nomination and went on to become a serious embarrassment to the party and a distant loser to Republican Jim DeMint….

But the next sentence spoke more directly to the reason Sen. Hutto got The State‘s nod:

The danger is even greater when the unknown outsider has a criminal record.

State Sen. Brad Hutto has neither of these problems. The Orangeburg attorney is not a felon, and he has served respectably as an outspoken (which is to say high-profile) member of the Legislature for nearly two decades….

“He’s not a felon” may seem to be faint praise, one likely to lead us to lament that the standard should fall so low. But as a bottom-line standard, it’s hard to argue with…

The Nerve’s Rick Brundrett makes CJR, courtesy of Corey Hutchins

I remember Rick Brundrett as a reporter in The State‘s newsroom. He left the paper about the same time I did. He now reports for The Nerve, the online publication run by the S.C, Policy Council. Which means he’s written a good bit about Bobby Harrell lately.

Corey Hutchins writes about Rick in the latest edition of Columbia Journalism Review. Here’s a passage that quotes somebody else who’s been writing a good bit about Harrell:

“The Nerve is not the propaganda arm of the Policy Council. We are a news site, so I’m covering it as a news story,” he continued. “But, that being said, I can’t ignore that our parent organization is the one that initiated this and I can’t ignore statements that have been made public by our president. I can’t ignore documents that were filed by the parent organization. I wouldn’t do that if I were a mainstream journalist, and I’m not going to do it here … I’m in, quote, ‘the alternative media’ world now, but I’m still doing what I consider to be traditional journalism and following traditional journalism practices.”

That’s an accurate description of his work, according to those have followed his writing through the years. And, though I wrote a pretty critical piece about the Policy Council shortly after it launched The Nerve a few years ago, it’s one I agree with. While I didn’t say so explicitly then, I worried, like others, that The Nerve and its writers would become weaponized journalistic functionaries of its parent organization. I’ve since come around. Brundrett’s copy can sometimes take a prosecutorial tone, but he plays it straight.

“He seems to be still following the same sort of rules that we do in mainstream journalism,” says Cindi Scoppe, the opinion page editor of The State, Columbia’s daily paper, where Brundrett worked from 1998 to 2009. If there’s an ideological bent to his work, she says, it’s in his selection of stories: The Policy Council, which crusades for ethics reform and seeks to reduce the legislature’s power, is clearly invested in the Harrell investigation, and The Nerve has been all over it. But that’s not much different from Scoppe’s own approach as a columnist—and the story is one that any journalist focused on how power is exercised here would grab on to.

As Scoppe told me about the Harrell-Wilson duel, “Frankly, if you tell any good reporter ‘Go look at this,’ and you’re Ashley Landess, you’re going to be happy with what they come up with.”…

Lawmakers, listen up! Here’s how you can fix ethics mess

You knew Cindi would have a good column reacting to the ruling by Judge Manning that she had foreshadowed with dread, and today she did. Read it here.

It’s all good, but on the chance that some of our lawmakers are reading today, I want to call attention to the part in which she explained what they could do to fix the situation. Noting that there’s no guarantee that the Supreme Court will reverse the circuit judge, she urged lawmakers to act today:

The best chance this year for making that fix could come Wednesday. That’s when the House could make final changes to an anemic ethics-reform bill, before it goes to a House-Senate conference committee. This stage is crucial, because it’s the last time legislators can insert new language into the bill by a simple majority; after this, any new language will require two-thirds approval in the House and the Senate.

So, what we need is for someone to propose an amendment to make it clear that ethics violations are crimes and that the attorney general is free to prosecute them. It needs to be a clean amendment — one that doesn’t also grant other forms of immunity, or raise the standard for prosecution, or make any other nefarious changes that reduce the chance that legislators who violate the law will be punished.

There are lots of other shortcomings of that bill, but frankly, no loophole in our ethics law even approaches the significance of the one that Judge Manning just discovered. If the Supreme Court doesn’t overturn his order or the Legislature doesn’t pass the fix, then I’m not sure anything else in the ethics law will really matter very much.

The only people who would vote against such an amendment are those who believe that legislators should remain above the law. No, not even that: It would be those legislators who are so arrogant in their power that they are willing to admit that they believe they are above the law.

Here’s hoping her words have a positive effect.

What the former AGs said about what Manning is considering

Cindi Scoppe and Warren Bolton are making good use of their new blog — as a timely supplement to what appears on the opinion pages, which is what I originally intended my own blog to be. You should check it out from time to time — not as often as you should check this blog, of course (let’s keep our perspective here), but from time to time.

For instance, check it today, and see where Cindi provides the full statement that former attorneys general McMaster, Condon and Medlock made to the court last week regarding the bizarre idea, proposed by the judge, that the AG lacks authority to investigate lawmakers without special permission:

STATEMENT FROM S.C.’s THREE LIVING FORMER ATTORNEYS GENERAL
Friday May 2, 2014

The three of us listed below are attending the hearing before Judge Casey Manning today to offer our support for the time-tested authority of the Attorney General to prosecute crime and enforce the laws of South Carolina equally, with no privileges or special terms or conditions for any citizen, including elected officials.

We served consecutively as South Carolina Attorneys General for nearly 30 years, from 1983 to 2011. During his term in office, Travis Medlock successfully advocated the passage of the State Grand Jury, which is a critically important tool all subsequent attorneys general have used in the public interest to investigate allegations of public corruption and, when appropriate, to bring forward criminal indictments.

Over the past thirty years, not one of us ever imagined the Attorney General needed authorization from a legislative committee or political body in order to investigate or prosecute alleged criminal behavior by an elected official. Such a restriction would undercut the core Constitutional authority of the Attorney General. And even more importantly, it would violate the fundamental basis of our system of government that all people should be treated equally under the law.

We are here today because we believe these principles must be upheld to preserve our State’s founding ideal that no one should be above the law.

TRAVIS MEDLOCK, Attorney General 1983-1995

CHARLIE CONDON, Attorney General 1995-2003

HENRY McMASTER, Attorney General 2003-2011

This whole mess deserves all the attention Cindi is giving it and more. This is an important moment in South Carolina’s life as a place ruled by law.

Beyond that, I’m pleased to see the way both Warren and Cindi are embracing social media. The last few headlines on their blog all provide important perspective on the issues of the day:

Which reminds me… I need to go ahead and put a link to “And another thing…” in my blogroll…

And I urge you to check out both of their Twitter feeds as well. They’ve gone from an almost grudging use of the medium to using it more dynamically to maintain a public conversation. Here’s Warren’s, and here’s Cindi’s.

Cindi Scoppe’s latest dead-on column about Harrell case

You may recall that Cindi Scoppe worried earlier that maybe Judge Manning himself came up with the outrageous idea that maybe there was some doubt about whether the attorney general had the authority to investigate crimes allegedly committed by legislators, without special permission.

She writes today that her fears were realized:

I respect the idea enunciated Friday by Circuit Judge Casey Manning that, before this case proceeds any further, he wants a thorough examination of subject-matter jurisdiction. That is, he wants to make sure that the State Grand Jury and Attorney General Alan Wilson actually have jurisdiction to investigate this case without the House Ethics Committee asking them to.

But honestly, the idea that they don’t … . Well, it remains too bizarre to even comprehend….

You want to know how out-there an idea it is that the state constitution prohibits the attorney general from investigating legislators without other legislators’ blessing? It’s so out there that even Mr. Harrell’s attorneys didn’t think of raising it.

That’s right. Mr. Harrell has some awfully audacious attorneys… But even they didn’t dream up this crazy theory. They quickly embraced it, of course; they’d be crazy not to. But the idea was not, as so many people had assumed, the brainchild of Bart Daniel and Gedney Howe.

It was, as Judge Manning acknowledged in court on Friday, Judge Manning’s idea.

How preposterous is the idea? Listen to former Attorneys General Henry McMaster, Charlie Condon and Travis Medlock, who served as South Carolina’s chief prosecutors for the past 30 years, showed up in the courtroom to make a point and issued this statement:

“Over the past thirty years, not one of us ever imagined the Attorney General needed authorization from a legislative committee or political body in order to investigate or prosecute alleged criminal behavior by an elected official. Such a restriction would undercut the core Constitutional authority of the Attorney General. And even more importantly, it would violate the fundamental basis of our system of government that all people should be treated equally under the law.”

Not one of us ever imagined such a thing.

This is not a close call….

So we all wait with bated breath, while the judge considers something that, given the law, should be beyond consideration. Or at least, it appears so to this layman.

Here’s hoping he reaches that same conclusion.

No decision in Harrell/Wilson case

QOfGr.AuSt.74

Three things to note from hearing this morning in Speaker Bobby Harrell’s effort to keep Attorney General Alan Wilson from prosecuting him:

  1. John Monk is making good use of Twitter today in covering this. For a blow-by-blow account, check his feed — including photos.
  2. As pictured above, the state’s last three AGs are standing behind Wilson in defense of his obvious constitutional authority in this matter. I hope The State doesn’t mind my showing this to you, seeing as how I’m urging you to go read their coverage and all. (And if they do, I’ll take it down immediately.)
  3. The judge put off a decision for a week. What Judge Manning is finding so tough about this bewilders me. Harrell hasn’t a leg to stand on.

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…

351_36773959858_2515_n

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:

cindi twitter

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.