Category Archives: Parties

De Tocqueville’s description of what’s wrong with America today

Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville

One of the great things about switching to the NYT is that now I can read all of David Brooks’ columns without going over my allotment of free stories for the month.

So, I recommend to you his column today, “The G.O.P. Rejects Conservatism.” It’s about the Senate GOP’s morally and intellectually vapid “healthcare” bill, and it’s good throughout.

But the best bit wasn’t written by Brooks but by de Tocqueville about 180 years ago. He documented how the self-deceptive belief in radical individualism was a problem in our country from the start. Here’s the quote about those proto-libertarians:

“They owe nothing to any man, they expect nothing from any man; they acquire the habit of always considering themselves as standing alone, and they are apt to imagine that their whole destiny is in their own hands. Thus not only does democracy make every man forget his ancestors, but it hides his descendants and separates his contemporaries from him; it throws him back forever upon himself alone and threatens in the end to confine him entirely within the solitude of his own heart.”

Yep. Sounds familiar…

Norman: Let’s keep S.C. RED, for all you comrades out there

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Bryan Caskey brought this to my attention. Apparently, Ralph Norman tweeted it out early on the day of the special election, with the message, “The polls just opened in SC and will stay open until 7 tonight. This is a very tight race so make sure you vote!”

Bryan’s reaction:

Vote for this guy….because he’s a Republican. Apparently, that’s it.

Yup, that’s about the size of it. Actually… that overstates it. He’s not even being that explanatory. He’s just using a euphemism for being a Republican. And an unfortunate one, for a guy who’s anxious to be seen as a “conservative.”

I mean, if he gets on the Foreign Affairs Committee, is his mantra going to be, “Keep China Red?”

We’ll close with an appropriate tune, sung by the malchicks aboard Red October:

Ya think maybe next time SC Democrats can find themselves a candidate who’s willing to SHAVE?

Archie Parnell

No biggie, but each time South Carolina Democrats come up with a guy with a grizzled beard to be their sacrificial lamb to get creamed in a congressional election, I think, “They don’t even want to pretend that they’re serious.”

I grow a beard from time to time.

I grow a beard from time to time.

Come on, guys: Don’t you think it would be good, this being South Carolina, to have a candidate, just once, who is willing to take a minimal effort not to look like a professor who specializes in teaching European socialism?

I grow a beard from time to time. But you know what would be the very first thing I’d do if I decided to run for office? I’d shave. It would be the bare minimum; it would display the slightest willingness to do what it takes to get elected.

Yes, I know it’s stupid, but the criteria a lot of actual, real-life voters go by are stupid. Why give them such an obvious stumbling block? Why not make it just a little easier to win their votes, when it would cost you so little?

The fact that these guys won’t just shave, and then grow the beard back after the election if they must (that super-short one of Parnell’s shouldn’t take more than a week or two to come back), shows that they never really believe in their chances.

Yeah, I know the thing is stacked — the districts are gerrymandered so a Democrat can’t win. But can’t you at least make the minimal gesture, to look like you’re trying?

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A New Hope: SCOTUS to consider fixing gerrymandering

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This morning, I was in the middle of reading an E.J. Dionne column tracing the history of the breakdown in civility in our politics — headlined “The destruction of political norms started decades ago. Here’s how it happened” — when I received news of something that could actually reverse the evil process he was writing about:

 

The bulletin said:

Supreme Court to hear potentially landmark case on partisan gerrymandering

The Supreme Court declared Monday that it will consider whether gerrymandered election maps favoring one political party over another violate the Constitution, a potentially fundamental change in the way American elections are conducted.

The justices regularly are called to invalidate state electoral maps that have been illegally drawn to reduce the influence of racial minorities by depressing the impact of their votes.

But the Supreme Court has never found a plan unconstitutional because of partisan gerrymandering. If it does, it would have a revolutionary impact on the reapportionment that comes after the 2020 election and could come at the expense of Republicans, who control the process in the majority of states….

A revolutionary impact, indeed.

A lot of us realize that the perpetual contest between the parties started getting nasty in the 1990s. (Actually, it got bad here and there even before that, but the cancer metastasized in the ’90s — and got much worse each decade after.)

And a huge reason for that is that the parties — particularly the GOP, as the story above notes — got much, much better at drawing people who might vote for the opposite party out of “their” districts.

Consequently, general elections came to mean nothing, and primaries became contests to see which candidate could be more extreme. That poisoned the partisan atmosphere to the point that even races for non-district offices, such U.S. Senate and president, became distorted as well.

And as I’ve said so many times, to the extent there’s a universal cure what what ails us politically, doing away with partisan gerrymandering is it. No single thing could do more to restore our republic.

So I’m pretty pumped about this. You?

The problem is pulling that one lever to vote straight ticket

2 thoughts

For some reason, when someone links to my blog, it sometimes shows up as a comment awaiting my approval. I don’t know why. Anyway, that happened today, and it led to a response from me, so I thought I’d share it.

I was being quoted in the context of a much longer post. Actually, I’m not sure why what I had said fit into this post — as the writer said, it was about conservative propaganda, and as he or she said, my point comes from the center — but it did, so I’m just going to address that portion of the post.

The writer was referring to this post from this past Election Day. It was one in which I (and others) objected to people who actually vote on Election Day “late voters.” I then went on to object to the term “ticket-splitting.” My point was that there should be no such term, that the practice should simply be called “voting.” As opposed to what people who pull the party lever and ignore the ballot itself, thereby abdicating their responsibility to think, to discern, to discriminate, to make decisions about each individual candidate, to vote.

Here’s the passage of mine that was selected for quotation:

You know what I call ticket-splitting? “Voting.” True voting, serious voting, responsible voting, nonfrivolous voting. I am deeply shocked by the very idea of surrendering to a party your sacred duty to pay attention, to think, to discern, to discriminate, to exercise your judgment in the consideration of each and every candidate on the ballot, and make separate decisions.

If you don’t go through that careful discernment, you aren’t a voter, you are an automaton — a tool of the false dichotomy presented by the parties, a willing participant in mindless tribalism.

Sure, you might carefully discern in each case and end up voting only for members of one party or the others. And that’s fine — kind of weird, given the unevenness of quality in both parties’ slates of candidates — but if that’s where you end up.

And here’s what the person quoting it had to say about it:

Kernel of truth:
Human beings are certainly tribal, just in general. The idea that political parties are becoming tribes is an obvious extension of this, especially bolstered by worrying observations like increasing polarization of political opinion in the U.S. and (very likely related) increasing physical separation (segregation) between red (suburbs/country) and blue (cities) tribes. You also don’t have to look very long or hard to find a person who has a basic, surface-level understanding of politics, who doesn’t have an elaborate, well-thought-out intellectual theory of politics guiding their positions (in fact, their positions might be a contradictory mish-mash of things) but know very well who they’re supporting in the next election.

Tribal chauvinism can be scary — the ability to ascribe Deep Differences between in-group and out-group justifies (and thus creates) violence. People instinctively wish to bridge gaps between groups. Doing so stems future violence and can even be an ego boost to the person capable of doing so — being able to see how both sides are just tribal takes the person able to see it out of the realm of primitive partiality into the era of enlightenment and clear sight free from petty bias.

Why is the use of “tribalism” messed up?
There are at least three things messed up about analyzing political disagreement as largely tribalism.

First thing: it disrupts public democratic discourse by giving people the ability to dismiss people’s positions as born from blind, unenlightened loyalty rather than being sincerely held. The ability to say, “Well, you WOULD say that because that’s your tribe’s Doctrine” is not a good way to engage with fellow citizens’ opinions.

Second thing: it elides the very real differences and very real societal implications that different positions have. Whether Muslims should be banned, in my opinion, really really isn’t a matter of, “Well, you say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to. Who’s to say what’s right, really?” The concept of political disagreement boiling down, ultimately, to tribalism spreads a weird moralized amorality throughout society, where the ability to see the value of both sides becomes valorized (morally lauded) much more than the ability to take a side decisively (such preference for one over the other is close-minded, unenlightened, tribal). I’m not saying being able to see the logic or reasoning behind the other side is bad — I will never ever turn my back on the importance of empathy. But if your idea of enlightenment extends to “seeing through the bullshit of each side impartially” and no further, not to being able to evaluate the merits and awfulness of various positions, choose a side, and fight for the more moral option, your ability to see free from bias serves you and no one else.

The example above finds it unusual that someone would uniformly choose politicians of one party after careful evaluation because the “quality” of candidates varies so much that there is likely to be overlap, which means that a straight ticket will probably select a bad quality candidate over a better quality candidate. However, this doesn’t really make sense to me as someone for whom political positions are the main criteria of “quality” in a candidate. The two parties agree on a lot, but on the issues they don’t agree on, it is very rare for me to agree more with the political positions of a Republican over even a very right-wing Democrat — my notion of “quality” does not suggest there is much overlap at all. It’s true that serious issues like corruption / criminal behavior might make me consider voting for the other candidate, or a very odd politician who runs on issues no other politician has a stance on might warrant a closer look. However, I think the view that political differences seem like the least relevant consideration only makes sense when you’re in the center.

In the place of political stances, there is an unspecific notion of “quality”, and as you can see in the post, the state of being indifferent to political differences is morally valorized.

Third thing: as someone who is not a centrist, I will tell you that you can have zero loyalty for a political party (in fact, actively have an antagonistic relationship with both), and still have a very clear preference for one party’s politics. Having a preference between two teams ≠ being guided by tribalist loyalties. It just means your politics are not located midway between the teams.

Instead of / when you encounter “tribalism” you should:
Recognize that the existence of tribalism as a psychological feature of humans doesn’t negate very real differences between political stances. Recognize that while it’s good deed to reduce partisan bias in the world, there are sometimes things much worse than being partisan, and sometimes doing the right thing means decisively taking a side and fighting for it, rather than saying “well, I can see the value of both sides”.

Yes, I know that a lot of people hate it when I say “I can see the value of both sides,” and they let me know it, but this was not a case in which I was saying that.

Pleased that this writer was approaching my point thoughtfully, but distressed that my actual point had been ignored for the sake of concentrating on a word (“tribalism”) that was neither here nor there, I responded:

I’m glad you found my blog worth quoting, and I appreciate your thoughtful approach.

But you didn’t address my point.

No one’s trying to paper over differences, or call genuine disagreement “tribalism.”

I’m attacking the indefensible practice of party-line voting. I’m talking about people paying ZERO attention to the relative qualities of individual candidates, and simply pulling the party lever, choosing the very worst candidates that party is offering along with the very best. I’m referring a gross form of intellectual laziness, which I would think — given your thoughtful approach — you would abhor.

A person who pulls that lever abdicates the profound responsibility, as a voter, to think, to discern, to honestly compare each candidate to his or her opponent(s).

Sure, I can see how you can be a Democrat and vote for Democrats most of the time because you more often agree with Democrats. But it would be absurd to say, to assume, to believe, that ALL Democrats are automatically better than ALL Republicans, and vote accordingly, without taking a moment to test your proposition with each candidate on the ballot. In other words, without thinking.

If you’re really, really into being a Democrat (and of course it works the same way with Republicans; I’m just choosing the side you’re more likely to go with), then you will usually vote for the Democrat. In a particular election, you might even end up voting for every Democrat, without engaging in intellectual dishonesty. It seems to me unlikely, but then I can’t imagine agreeing with either party — or any party in the world — on everything. But a person who truly leans that way might legitimately do that.

But if he or she has not thought through every choice on the ballot before arriving at that 100 percent, we have an abdication of responsibility.

And then — you ever notice how irritating it can be when you want to change what you wrote in a comment, but there’s no edit feature (yes, I’m trying to be funny)? Well, those of you who complain about it so much can feel a little Schadenfreude at my having experienced it myself today. So looking back and seeing I had expressed something poorly, I had to add, immediately:

Rather than “I’m attacking the indefensible practice of party-line voting,” I meant to say, “I’m attacking the indefensible practice of party-lever voting.” As I go on to say, it’s OK if you end up voting for every candidate of one party or the other — as strange as voting that way seems to me.

The irresponsible thing, the indefensible thing, is doing so without having considered the individual candidates and their relative qualities in each contest on the ballot.

Beasley advocates to save U.N. World Food Programme

Beasley the last time I saw him, at the signing ceremony for the legislation to take down the Confederate flag.

Beasley the last time I saw him, at the signing ceremony for the legislation to take down the Confederate flag.

Here’s an interesting thing brought to my attention this morning by a Tweet.

To backtrack a bit first, this is from Foreign Policy back in March:

Former South Carolina Gov. David Beasley will be sworn in next week as the executive director of the World Food Program, placing the first Trump administration appointee at the helm of a major U.N. relief agency at a time when the president seeks deep cuts in funding for humanitarian causes, three senior U.N.-based diplomats told Foreign Policy.

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres is gambling that the appointment of Beasley — who has no experience running a major international relief operation, or with the United Nations — will help dissuade the administration from cutting a large portion of the more than $2 billion it contributes each year on the agency to help fight hunger around the world.

In making his case for the new job, according to U.N. advocates he reached out to, Beasley has highlighted his Christian faith, and an extensive network of lawmakers around the world. Most important, perhaps, are his personal relationships with a trio of powerful South Carolina politicians who hold the U.N.’s financial fate in their hands: Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.; Sen. Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.), who chairs the appropriations subcommittee that oversees U.N. funding; and former congressman Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget chief, who has targeted the U.N. for some of the steepest cuts in the federal budget….

I didn’t realize Beasley was all that close to any of those three — the only one whose political career overlaps at all with his is Graham, and I find it very hard to imagine that the former Democrat is major buds with Mulvaney — but perhaps he is.

In any case, this Tweet this morning shows Beasley at least trying to realize the U.N.’s hopes:

This will be interesting to watch…

How to win an election in America today: Provide positive proof that you are mentally unstable

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This is from The Guardian, which sort of has a vested interest in this American story:

Greg Gianforte has won a special election for Montana’s sole seat in the House of Representatives, just one day after he was charged with misdemeanor assault for “body-slamming” a Guardian reporter.

The Associated Press called it after 522 of 681 precincts – or 77% – reported. At that point Gianforte had 163, 539 votes, or 51% of the vote, compared with challenger Rob Quist’s 140,594 votes, or 44%.

Speaking at the G7 meeting in Sicily on Friday, Donald Trump called the victory a “great win in Montana”…

Well, of course he did. It was yet another instance underlying the fact that all you need to do to get elected in this country today is provide positive, unassailable proof that you are mentally unstable. Trump looks at this and thinks, “See? I’m not a fluke.”

Oh, by the way, the candidate apologized during his victory speech for attacking the reporter, although you could be forgiven for missing it because his supporters were laughing as he did so.

Anybody have any ideas about what we can come up with to replace this democracy thing, which clearly isn’t working any more?

Gerrymandering, South Carolina-style

SC 6th Congressional District

Yesterday, we discussed this Supreme Court ruling:

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature relied on racial gerrymandering when drawing the state’s congressional districts, a decision that could make it easier to challenge other state redistricting plans.

The decision continued a trend at the court, where justices have found that racial considerations improperly tainted redistricting decisions by GOP-led legislatures in Virginia, Alabama and North Carolina. Some cases involved congressional districts, others legislative districts.

The states contended that their efforts were partisan moves to protect their majorities, which the Supreme Court in the past has allowed, rather than attempts to diminish the impact of minority voters, which are forbidden….

The states argued that way because, bizarrely, our courts decided long ago that it was OK to stack districts to elect members of this or that party, or to protect incumbents — which to me has always seemed an abdication of the judiciary’s responsibility to check the power of the legislative branch. If lawmakers can perpetuate their personal holds on their districts, how is that unlike inherited titles, or the “rotten boroughs” that Britain did away with in 1832? But that’s just me.

I’d like to see the court take a good look at South Carolina next, if it gets the opportunity.

It should start with the 6th Congressional District, which is where GOP strategy in drawing congressional lines begins. Since 1990, our lawmakers have packed as many black voters into it as possible, so as to make our other six districts whiter and more likely — in practice now, virtually certain — to elect Republicans.

The trick, of course, will be proving a racial intent, since race and partisan leaning are so closely related. I don’t think our Republican representatives would care whether their constituents were black, white or green, as long as they voted for Republicans. But as we know, even if you drew the lines purely by voting patterns and didn’t have racial data available, if you draw a reliable GOP district, it’s going to very white.

The fact that it ends up that way can’t really be disputed — although the 5th and 7th districts “look like South Carolina” being 66.7% and 65.4% white respectively, they don’t look much like districts that include part of, or border on, the Pee Dee. And the other four GOP districts are whiter, with the whitest being the 3rd, at 76.9%.

I gleaned these figures from Wikipedia:

  • 1st — 74.8% white
  • 2nd — 69.5% white
  • 3rd — 76.9% white
  • 4th — 76.2% White
  • 5th — 66.7% White
  • 6th — 57.0% Black (40.8% White)
  • 7th — 65.4% White

At a glance, the 6th doesn’t look all that gerrymandered, until you focus on that crazy indentation that excludes the white suburbs of Charleston. And then you notice how, all along the coast, the rest of the southern border of the district goes almost, but not quite, to the beach — thereby drawing out the affluent white beaches while retaining the poor, black parts of those counties on the inland side of the Intracoastal Waterway.

Then there’s the weird little projection into Columbia at the top — which looks even more bizarre when you see what it fits into: an odd hook-like structure on the 2nd District map (below) that gives all of Columbia’s white suburbs to Joe Wilson.

Thus, Jim Clyburn is free to be the sort of Democrat that closely allies himself with Nancy Pelosi and know he’ll never lose his seat while he still wants it. And Joe Wilson, a Republican of an earlier time, is safe as long as he hangs on tight to the ears of whatever wild ideological beast is rampaging through his party at a given moment (yelling “You Lie!” helped with that, as inconsistent as it was with his personality).

It doesn’t really matter whom Republicans nominate in the 6th District, or whom Democrats find to put up in the 2nd. There are no choices to be made here.

And that’s very, very bad for our Republic.

You can see the same thing repeated again and again if you study state legislative districts. But this is the one that’s easiest to see.

SC 2nd Congressional District

A family more like the Corleones than the Waltons

How the GOP leadership probably sees itself.

How the GOP leadership probably sees itself.

The thing that really jumped out at me from The Washington Post‘s revelation that Kevin McCarthy told fellow GOP leaders last year (when there was time left to head off the disaster) he thought Vladimir Putin was paying Donald J. Trump was Speaker Paul Ryan’s reaction:

Ryan instructed his Republican lieutenants to keep the conversation private, saying: “No leaks. . . . This is how we know we’re a real family here.”

The remarks remained secret for nearly a year….

Family? Really? If that’s what it is, then this family is a lot more like the Corleones than the Waltons — complete with omertà.

Wait, wait: I take it back. This is more like The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight

How Paul Ryan made it sound in that meeting last year.

How Paul Ryan made it sound in that meeting last year.

E.J. Dionne is right: Let’s get this over with…

I wholeheartedly agree with what E.J. Dionne had to say last night. Excerpts:

Trump has caused a catastrophe. Let’s end it quickly.

There is really only one issue in American politics at this moment: Will we accelerate our way to the end of the Trump story, or will our government remain mired in scandal, misdirection and paralysis for many more months — or even years?E.J. Dionne

There is a large irony in the politics behind this question. The Democrats’ narrow interest lies in having President Trump hang around as close to the 2018 midterm elections as possible. Yet they are urging steps that could get this resolved sooner rather than later. Republicans would likely be better off if Trump were pushed off the stage. Yet up to now, they have been dragging their feet.

The reports that Trump asked then-FBI Director James B. Comey to drop his investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn may finally be concentrating Republican minds….

Nothing could be worse than slow-walking the Trump inquiries. The evidence is already overwhelming that he is temperamentally and intellectually incapable of doing the job he holds. He is indifferent to acquiring the knowledge the presidency demands and apparently of the belief that he can improvise hour to hour. He will violate norms whenever it suits him and cross ethical lines whenever he feels like it.

He also lies a lot, and has been perfectly happy to burn the credibility of anyone who works for him. White House statements are about as believable as those issued regularly by the Kremlin….

My worry is that to do it right — whether we follow the impeachment route or Ross Douthat’s suggestion of using the 25th Amendment (which has a lot of appeal to me, if doable) — may take time. Not only to dot all the legal i’s, but for a miracle to happen — for Trump’s base, which thus far has been immune to evidence, finally sees the light. Otherwise, we’re just in for more horrific turmoil and division.

But that said, we probably can’t wait for that unlikely eventuality. E.J.’s right. ‘Twere best done quickly

Rep. Rick Quinn indicted in growing corruption probe

The latest shoe has dropped:

Longtime Republican lawmaker Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, was indicted Tuesday on two counts of misconduct in office.Rick Quinn

One charge, common law misconduct, involves $4.5 million in questionable money accepted by Quinn “from lobbyists’ principals,” money he accepted but failed to report “to the appropriate supervisory office,” the indictment says.

That charge, which alleges illegal activity by Quinn from 1999 to April 15 of this year, carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine at the judge’s discretion.

The other charge, for statutory misconduct in office, carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a $1,000 maximum fine. It alleges that from April 2010 through April 15 2017, Quinn as a public official committed criminal acts “in order to obtain a personal profit and benefit.”…

Well, given the way this investigation has appeared to be swirling around the Quinns lately, it’s hardly surprising that Rick — who represents my former district (I was later drawn into the one now held by Micah Caskey) — would be a target. So this has nowhere near the shock value of the charges against Sen. John Courson.

Shock or not, it’s never pleasing to read of such developments. As our president would say, “Sad!”

In terms of the overall investigation, the interesting thing about this is that it crosses a line — this is the first time one of the Quinns has been charged with anything.

Will a crowd now join the governor in heading for the exits, getting as far away from the Quinns as possible?

New criterion for future GOP candidates

This is a short one. Basically, I just want to share, here on the blog, the same thought I Tweeted last night:

We’ve seen some Republicans backing away from the guy in recent days with the Comey firing and giving away secrets to the Russians, but I suspect that the time will come in which most of them — if they choose to remain in politics, or if they even want to face their grandchildren with a clear conscience — are going to wish they had stood up, and acted, a great deal sooner…

Seriously, how long do you stick with a guy?

Seriously, how long do you stick with a guy?

Man, that Tommy Pope’s looking better all the time

First, Nikki Haley gave Ralph Norman money.

Now there’s this:

5th District congressional candidate Ralph Norman got a big boost Thursday, winning the endorsement of former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-Greenville.

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DeMint, the former head of the Heritage Foundation and a Tea Party icon, said Norman “has a proven record of fighting for conservative principles” and would help “drain the swamp” in Washington.

“His conservative voting record shows that he will stand up for taxpayers against the special interests, and fight for personal freedom, lower taxes and a smaller government.”

DeMint’s endorsement comes as a new poll from the Trafalgar Group shows Norman and his GOP runoff opponent, House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope, R-York, in a virtual tie, heading into Tuesday’s election….

Yikes. Remember that Jim DeMint was most recently in the news for getting canned by the Heritage Foundation for being too Trumpy for the taste of some GOP board members, although there are disputes about the “why.

I dunno. I just remember Jim as the GOP’s voice in the wilderness crying, The problem with us that we’re just not right-wing enough!

Which, you know, was not cool…

Micah Caskey’s thoughtful words on gas tax bill

When I first met Micah Caskey last year, I was still toying with the idea of running for the House seat he was seeking. My interview with him put that out of my head, I was so impressed with him. I agreed with him on so many things, and was so impressed by the thoughtful way he approached every issue even when I didn’t agree, that it occurred to me that if I did run against him, I might be tempted to vote for him anyway.

The statement he posted on Facebook regarding the roads bill just passed over the governor’s veto provides a sample of what I’m talking about. When I posted in passing about him and the bill yesterday, I had not yet seen this.

I’m not sure if this is the same statement he made on the floor of the House yesterday, but whatever he said there also made an impression, judging by multiple Tweets from  and , reporters for The State.

An example:

As I said, an impression was made.

Here’s what he said on Facebook:

The #1 issue in South Carolina is improving our state’s transportation infrastructure. Our roads are in terrible condition and we’ve got to fix them.

Micah Caskey

Micah Caskey

I want to address my position on the roads. This is a rather long post, but I think it’s important that I share where I stand on the issue. I ran for office promising folks that I would call the balls and strikes as I saw them, even if it wasn’t politically popular.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to pay the piper. It’s time to raise our state’s gas tax.

Sadly, the Governor hasn’t had anything helpful to say about fixing the roads. Instead of drawing a roadmap for how things can be improved, he’s chosen to do what we’ve come to expect from career politicians:

1. Put head in the sand
2. Yell “CONSERVATIVE!”
3. Hope nobody pays attention to reality

In the absence of Executive Branch leadership, the task of fixing roads has been taken up by the Legislative Branch. Unfortunately, crafting the law to fix the roads in the General Assembly as been incredibly contentious. There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen and everybody thinks his or her solution is best.

The 124 members of the S.C. House gave it our best shot in House Bill #3516. And, as is their custom, the 46-member S.C. Senate returned the House bill will something that looked very different. (To their credit, the Senate did at least manage to break from their tradition of not passing a roads bill out at all.)

When the House and the Senate don’t agree on versions of a bill, the parliamentary rules require there to be a “Conference Committee”, made up of 3 members from each body, to sit together and negotiate a compromise.

If you think of each body’s initial bill as a compromise from within that respective body (you need a majority vote to get out of the body, after all), the Conference Committee’s version is a Compromise of Compromises.

An ugly baby, to be sure.

I have broken down the Conference Committee version of H.3516 below. Like me, there’s probably a lot you don’t like about it. But, ultimately, the two must-haves (for me to vote for it) are there:

1. Gas tax money goes ONLY to roads (no sidewalks, parks, etc.)

2. There is reform in governance at DOT so that citizens can rightfully hold the Governor accountable for the performance of his agency.

This bill has both. (1) All new revenue must go into the Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund for existing infrastructure improvement only. (2) The Governor directly appoints all of the DOT Commissioners, with approval by the entire General Assembly — not just the Senate — and can remove a Commissioner at-will, on his own.

In truth, I think we need to eliminate the DOT Commission entirely and elevate the Secretary of Transportation to a Cabinet seat, but my view is a minority view in the 170-member General Assembly (we lost an amendment vote to do that in the House 33-84). Nevertheless, I think the Conference Committee version gives citizens the ability to hold the Governor accountable when the Commissioners he appoints stray from his priorities.

South Carolina deserves action. If past Governors or General Assemblies had acted in the past, we wouldn’t be in this position. However, since we can’t go back in time, our choice is simplified.

I don’t think raising taxes is a good answer, but I also see it as the only realistic answer for this problem. There’s no magic roads fairy coming to fix this. Waiting on the ‘perfect’ answer doesn’t work in the military, and it doesn’t work here.

I will vote to adopt the Conference Committee Report, and if the Governor chooses to put his own career ahead of South Carolina’s best interest, I’ll vote to override his veto.

Certainly don’t let me get in the way of your government-hating. I encourage you to be skeptical. I implore you to scrutinize SCDOT more than ever. I certainly will. Whether through the Legislative Audit Council, Inspectors General, or the Legislative Oversight Committee, I will be working to ensure SCDOT delivers a better investment return of tax dollars than they have in the past. I invite you to put your energy toward the same.

From where we are today, a gas tax increase is the only responsible solution.

-Micah

—-

Conference Report on Roads Bill
GOVERNANCE AND REFORM

● Provides real accountability and transparency at the Department of Transportation (public records, mandated meetings, ethical requirements for commissioners)

● Gives Governor complete control of the Commission with a clear line of authority and at-will removal

● Highway Commission organized to reflect regional representation with 7 Congressional districts and 2 statewide at-large members appointed by the Governor (adds 1 member to current structure)

● Requires General Assembly, not just the S.C. Senate, to approve all 9 Highway Commission appointees

● Strengthens DOT’s control over project authorization and financial decisions by the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank
FUNDING

● Creates a long-term and sustainable funding stream by increasing the motor fuel user fee by 2 cents/gallon over the next 6 years, not exceeding 12 cents/gallon

● Safeguards taxpayers from future automatic tax increases by not indexing for inflation

● Protects SC taxpayers from continuing to solely foot the bill for infrastructure repair by not using General Fund dollars and captures 30% of the motor fuel user fee revenue from out-of-state motorists

● Creates an Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund to ensure all new revenue collected from the motor fuel user fee is used only for existing infrastructure needs

● Does not increase or change fees for South Carolina driver’s license applications or renewals

● Increases funding for County Transportation Committees targeted to repair rural and secondary roads

● Captures revenue from alternative energy motorists by creating a biennial registration fee for all hybrid and electric vehicles

● Established a road use fee to capture revenue from out of state truckers

● Raises the cap on motor vehicle sales tax to $500 and creates a $250 out of state maintenance fee

● Incentivizes road construction industry to return to SC with responsible infrastructure investment

● Provides $640 million in new annual revenue for infrastructure maintenance needs when fully implemented

TAX RELIEF

● Includes responsible tax relief to offset the user fee increase for South Carolina residents

● Offers a refundable income tax credit equal to the motor fuel user fee increase that must be reauthorized prior to 2023

● Enhances already existing College Tuition Tax Credit for every South Carolina tuition-payer to enhance workforce development

● Contains a non-refundable Low Income Tax Credit for working families (not federal model)

● Increases the maximum income tax credit from $210 to $350 for dual income household joint filers

● Reduces SC manufacturers property tax burden by $35 million using a phased-in approach over 6 years

I’m proud he’s my representative. We need a lot more like him. Keep up the good work, Micah!

You can sort of tell Bret Stephens is no longer at the WSJ

Sally

Or maybe you can’t. His title was deputy editorial page editor, but I don’t know how editorial decisions are made at that paper, so I can’t say whether he had any influence over board positions, much less a decisive one. There is evidence to indicate his influence didn’t extend far beyond his own columns — even though, for a period last year, the Journal did seem genuinely interested in stopping Trump.

In any case, the paper’s editorial about Lindsey Graham’s hearings on Russian meddling in our election, flippantly headlined “When the Senate Met Sally” (you can read the whole thing here), was rather lacking in deep concern about what Sen. Graham was (from what I’ve read and heard) legitimately focused on — the Russians.

And it ended with a conclusion that was as pure a Republican talking point as you could find — trying to distract from what the Russians did to how we knew about it, or at least how we knew about Michael Flynn’s role:

So far the only crime we know about in this drama is the leak of Mr. Flynn’s name to the press as having been overheard when U.S. intelligence was eavesdropping on the Russian ambassador. Mr. Flynn’s name was leaked in violation of the law after he was “unmasked” by an Obama Administration official and his name was distributed widely across the government.

We don’t know who did the unmasking, but on Monday both Mrs. Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper admitted that while in office they had personally reviewed classified reports about “Mr. Trump, his officials or members of Congress” who had been “unmasked.” Both also admitted that they had shared that information with others in government, though they did deny leaking to the press.

We thought readers might like to know those details in case they go unreported anywhere else in the press. The unmasking of the names of political opponents is a serious concern, and the American people need to know how and why that happened here.

That’s the sort of thing the Trump White House would put out, if it had its act together and was capable of projecting a coherent, consistent message. Which, as we know, it isn’t.

Oh, and by the way… As for that childishly petulant “in case they go unreported anywhere else in the press,” I was fully aware of it before I got to the WSJ. I think I first read of Republicans’ fixation on that point in The Washington Post. Anyway, the Journal knows (or should know) better than to say such things as that. It’s more what you’d expect to see in a Tweet from Trump himself, not serious writing by anyone who knows what he’s about…

graham yates

Finally, House GOP set to do what America does NOT want it to do

Basically, they're trying to undo what this signature did.

Basically, they’re trying to undo what this signature did.

They say Speaker Ryan has the votes now:

House Republicans are set to pass a controversial plan to revise key parts of the Affordable Care Act on Thursday, capping weeks of fits and starts to fulfill a signature campaign promise.

“We’ll have the votes. This will pass,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) vowed on Thursday morning.

Final passage of the bill that would dramatically reshape the nation’s health-care system is expected by early afternoon. Attention will then shift to the more closely-divided U.S. Senate, where formal debate isn’t expected to begin until June….

So finally, they’re about to do what they found so easy to do, over and over, when they knew it would go nowhere.

This is something they’ve really, really wanted to do really, really badly for eight years.

Trouble is — and now that it’s in their power, many of them have started to realize it, which is why this has taken so long — this is not what America wants them to do.

Of course, many House Republicans will say America wants them to do it — because they define “America” as the extreme subset of a subset of people who vote in Republican primaries in sufficient numbers to scare GOP officeholders senseless. In other words, their actions are another illustration of the evils of gerrymandering.

But the truth is, actual America really doesn’t want them to:

President Trump and many Republicans intend to move forward with another effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

But according to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, most Americans don’t want them to.

The poll, conducted between April 17 and 20, found 61 percent of respondents support keeping and working to improve the health care plan in place, while only 37 percent say they want it entirely repealed and replaced.

Ultimately 79 percent said Trump should invest in the Affordable Care Act’s success rather than expend time and energy ensuring its failure….

Of course, for the GOP, it’s all about the 37 percent, which is more than enough to cause them to win or lose a primary.

That poll was from April 25, and is consistent with others over the last few months. If you’ve seen some more recent ones, let me know…

Why doesn’t GOP just change the name to ‘Trumpcare’ and declare victory?

Just change the name, and call it a win!

Just change the name, and call it a win!

Basically, I just said it in the headline. But to elaborate:

The GOP Congress is at an impasse because it’s impossible to please both the Cro-Magnon wing of the party, which wants to make sure nobody gets healthcare from the gummint, and the moderate members, who know that their constituents don’t want to lose anything they’ve gained from Obamacare — such as providing coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

For his part, Trump has promised that the replacement will be awesome, terrific, and nobody will lose out on anything.

And we know that the real problem with the ACA for Republicans is that it’s identified with Barack Obama. If you could somehow hypnotize every GOP voter into forgetting about the former president’s involvement, the whole repeal imperative would just fade away. They might not learn to love it, but they wouldn’t hate it the way they do.

And we know that the current president just loves putting his name on things, especially if they’re shiny, and isn’t particularly fussy about the facts as long as he gets credit.

So why not start calling the ACA “Trumpcare,” tell everybody “Obamacare” is gone, and have a party to celebrate?

You think this sounds stupid? What do call what the GOP has done on the issue so far? This approach is at least something doable…

Oxymoronic group blasts Pelosi for being tolerant

I noted in passing this morning that Nancy Pelosi was being very sensible and open-minded when she split with her party’s new chair on whether Democrats would be allowed to think for themselves on abortion. An excerpt from the story I read, demonstrating the very human, respectful approach she took:

Pelosi“I grew up Nancy D’Alesandro, in Baltimore, Maryland; in Little Italy; in a very devout Catholic family; fiercely patriotic; proud of our town and heritage, and staunchly Democratic,” she added, referring to the fact that she is the daughter and sister of former mayors of that city. “Most of those people — my family, extended family — are not pro-choice. You think I’m kicking them out of the Democratic Party?”…

Of course, there are always enforcers of political dogma ready to jump down a reasonable person’s throat. The most ironic such rebuke I’ve seen comes from the oxymoronic Catholics for Choice, which can always be relied upon to put a surreal twist on the news:

As Catholics, we are dismayed by Minority Leader Pelosi’s out of touch and self-serving statements that throw women and their right to make their own moral decisions under the bus.

Let’s be clear—unity in diversity of thought is an important value in America and what any political party should seek to nurture. However, a party that claims the mantle on social justice and civil liberties cannot turn its back on women’s moral autonomy and the right to make conscience-based decisions. Women’s rights are human rights and they cannot be traded away based on short-sighted political calculations. Minority Leader Pelosi’s claim that ‘abortion is a fading issue’ is also downright irresponsible when women’s access to abortion services is under attack across America by restrictive legislative proposals and efforts to limit providers, especially for the poorest women….

How do you take a statement like that seriously when it starts, “As Catholics…?” But of course, the purpose of this organization is to convince you to accept that proposition.

I ask you: Did any part of that statement feel “Catholic” to you? In style and voice, did it sound like something, say, Pope Francis would say? No. In tone and word choice, it read as though it had been written by an indignant college sophomore interning at NARAL.

A digression: I may need to borrow someone’s Dictionary of Current Ideology. Set abortion aside. How does an individual person have something called “moral autonomy?” Is not the essence of morality that we are responsible to one another for what we do? (Where do they get this cant?)

Nice try, Nancy, attempting to make your party a little more tolerant and open. This world is full of people who simply will not stand for that sort of thing…

What’s Henry McMaster afraid of? Mark Sanford?

McMaster for governor

Several weeks back, I was on an elevator with a Republican attorney who asked me what I though about how Henry McMaster was doing as governor.

As I was mentally crafting a reply — something like I have hopes, and I see the gasoline tax issue as one that will help determine whether the hopes are justified — he followed up his own question with speculation about Mark Sanford running against Henry in 2018, and wondering whether any other Republicans will run as well.

I don’t know what I said to that. After Donald Trump handed Henry the job he’d wanted so long, I had sort of stopped pondering 2018, thinking Well, that’s that. I certainly hadn’t given any thought to Mark Sanford having ambitions of running again for the office for which he is so spectacularly unsuited, as he spent eight years demonstrating. I probably just made some noises like homina-homina, as though the speech center of my brain had been struck by lightning.

I had not spent time worrying about that the same way I don’t wake up in the morning worrying about an invasion of Nazi zombies. (Of course, when the Nazi zombies do take over, you realize that you should have worried.)

Anyway, once the brain started running again, I started thinking: Is this why Henry’s running from the chance to lead on the gas tax? Is it all about fearing a challenge from Mr. Club for Growth? (And yeah, Sanford had been on a number of people’s 2018 speculation lists — I just hadn’t been paying attention to that stuff.)

Let’s set aside the absurdity of Sanford leaving his comfort zone to once again occupy the governor’s chair. Being a member of the “no” caucus in Congress suits Sanford’s style perfectly. His political M.O. is: Toss out proposals and watch them get shot down, and then moan about it. That seems to be what he runs to do. That makes him perfectly suited to be a member of the Freedom Caucus. Nobody expect them to accomplish anything. Do that as governor, and you just make the legislative leadership of your own party want to throttle you. They count the days until you’re gone, hoping you’ll be replaced by someone who wants to govern.

Which is what, after 14 years of Sanford and Nikki Haley, lawmakers had every reason to expect. And they did. They were even described as “giddy” about the prospect:

“He’s pragmatic,” said state Rep. Greg Delleney, R-Chester. “He gets people together to reach compromises. He doesn’t dig into one position, and you’re either with him or you’re not.”

Publicly, S.C. lawmakers offer mostly guarded assessments of Haley and their optimism about McMaster, who will ascend to the governor’s office once Haley is confirmed as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in a few weeks.

Privately, however, some are giddy to trade in Haley – a 44-year-old Republican who bashed lawmakers in the GOP-controlled Legislature on Facebook and in their hometowns, offered failing “grades” to those who disagreed with her and told a real estate group to “take a good shower” after visiting the State House – for McMaster, a GOP governor they think will work with them….

Meanwhile, we saw the GOP leadership in the House stepping out and leading on fixing our roads — unabashedly raising the gas tax, and reforming governance of the agency.

And then, rather than joining them in the vanguard, Henry started muttering about what a bad idea raising the tax was (as though there were some rational alternative way of paying for roads, which there isn’t), making ominous “last resort” noises. As though we hadn’t gotten to the “last resort” stage some time ago.

No, he hasn’t promised to veto such an increase — which would have been his predecessor’s opening move — but he just won’t stop sending out bad vibes about it. (“Always with the negative waves, Moriarty!”)

It’s bad enough that the proposal has to run the Senate gauntlet, with Tom Davis shooting at it from one side and the “tax increase yes; reform no” crowd on the other. When a thing needs doing, the Senate is at its best dysfunctional. It would have been really, really nice to have the governor standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Speaker Lucas in trying to solve this problem, instead of standing by and watching it get kicked farther down the pothole-pocked road.

Taxes are a killer?” Really? No, governor — unsafe roads are a killer, if anything is on this front.

Of course, if one is inclined to pessimism, one might think the window for leadership has closed or soon will, now that a dark cloud has parked itself over anyone and everyone associated with Richard Quinn. I certainly hope that’s not the case, because we have issues in South Carolina that need to be addressed.

I also hope the governor won’t hold back out of fear of 2018, because at some point, you really need to stop running for office and govern

Trump vs. ‘Freedom Caucus:’ Whom do you root for?

This had me shaking my head this morning:

President Trump effectively declared war Thursday on the House Freedom Caucus, the powerful group of hard-line conservative Republicans who blocked the health-care bill, vowing to “fight them” in the 2018 midterm elections.

In a morning tweet, Trump warned that the Freedom Caucus would “hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast.” He grouped its members, all of them Republican, with Democrats in calling for their political defeat — an extraordinary incitement of intraparty combat from a sitting president…

I just don’t feel like I’ve got a dog in that fight; do you? All I could think of to say was this:

Is this what American political discourse has become? A to-the-death battle between irrational fringe elements, with neither side having a clue how to run a government — or even any interest in doing so?

Look at what, thanks to gerrymandering, Republican primaries have become:

The ad battles are heating up in the 5th District special election, including one spot that calls out GOP lawmakers for “folding” on the Confederate flag.

Republican Sheri Few of Lugoff launched her first radio ad in the congressional race this week, attacking “weak Republicans” who voted to remove the Confederate flag at the S.C. State House in 2015 in the wake of the Charleston church massacre.

“I’m running for Congress to reject political correctness,” Few says in the ad, a 60-second spot airing in the Columbia market….

And for you aliens who are visiting our planet and trying to understand how our politics work, here’s the exlanation:

Few is competing for right-wing Republican voters in the May 2 primary, which is expected to have a low turnout…

Yep.

Any of y’all ever have an extended conversation with Sheri Few? It’s… an experience.

I suppose I should note that she’s running for a seat vacated by a member of the “Freedom Caucus…”

Sheri Few/2008 file photo

Sheri Few/2008 file photo