Category Archives: REform

If these guys are all for solar, who can be against?

Matt Moore, Sen. Tom Davis and Rep. James Smith in front of the rally crowd.

Matt Moore of the Palmetto Conservative Solar Coalition, Sen. Tom Davis and Rep. James Smith in front of the rally crowd.

I dropped by the pro-solar rally at the State House awhile ago, and I had to ask: “When AND AND are all for liberating solar power in SC, who can be against? (Aside from the big utilities, that is…)”

And there’s the rub. The big utilities, and their dozens of lobbyists and those who do their bidding. Who are those who do their bidding? We’ll be able to see that clearly, since right now there are two competing bills — H. 4421, which would lift the cap that the big utilities placed on net metering, and H. 5541, the bill that aims to essentially kill solar power in South Carolina.

There is seldom a choice that’s as black-and-white as this one.

Joining Smith, Ballentine and Davis — representing the three main “parties” in the Legislature (Democratic, Republican, and those other Republicans) — were Reps. Mandy Powers Norrell and Gary Clary, and Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant. My own representative, Micah Caskey, showed up as the rally ended, apologizing for being late.

The crowd standing on the steps behind the pols were mainly folks employed in the solar installation industry. Which makes sense, since their phony-baloney jobs are on the line, gentlemen!

This was one of those reverse rallies where the demonstrators were all up on the steps behind the speakers, and the audience consisted of media and a few lobbyists.

This was one of those reverse rallies where the demonstrators were all up on the steps behind the speakers, and the audience consisted of media and a few lobbyists.

Again, THIS is how you get things done, people…

Funderburk

This is another little object lesson for Phil Noble and other Democrats who think the way to get worthwhile things done is to be more partisan, in a red state.

This came to my attention today because James Smith retweeted it, saying, “Great work ! Thank you for your leadership:”

Note that Democrat Funderburk makes a particular point of thanking, along with the speaker, Republicans Newton, Pope and Clary, as well as fellow Dems Beth Bernstein and Mandy Powers Norrell.

Here’s the bill in question.

Because, you know, this is how you get things done. By ignoring the partisan junk and working with anyone who wants to make our state better. Just as Smith himself has been demonstrating with his bill to raise the cap on solar, which has considerable Republican support.

Note also the shout-out to our own Lynn Teague. She’s one of those lobbyists who provides valuable information and input to lawmakers — you know, one of those people some of you think don’t exist…

Promising first step on lifting SC’s solar cap

State House

This was good to see yesterday:

The Chairman of the Palmetto Conservative Solar Coalition (PCSC) today applauded a South Carolina House Judiciary subcommittee for its unanimous passage of H. 4421, a bill that would bring more free market solar energy choices to South Carolina consumers.

“In just a few years, South Carolina has become a leader in solar energy growth. I’m thrilled that House members recognize how H. 4421 will continue this positive trend by giving consumers even more free market energy choices,” said Matt Moore, Chairman of the PCSC. “Now the bill moves to the full the Judiciary Committee, where we are confident that despite big power’s objections to energy freedom, House members will support sending H. 4421 to the full South Carolina House for passage.”

That’s James Smith’s bill, called the “SC Electric Consumer Bill of Rights,” that lifts the ridiculous cap on solar energy in South Carolina. The one I wrote about Wednesday.

Moore, the former GOP chair, made a point of thanking Smith along with Republican backers Peter McCoy and Judiciary Chairman Greg Delleney.

It’s a smart piece of bipartisan legislation — I’ve yet to hear a good reason why it shouldn’t pass — and while subcommittee passage is just a start, I’m encouraged by the unanimous vote.

Micah and the freshmen take on Power Failure, big time

micah release

I got this release today from my representative, Micah Caskey. I’ve told you he’s been pretty bold — in good ways — for a freshman. Now, he’s outdone himself — and brought a bunch of other frosh along with him.

They’re calling for no less than a constitutional convention to address the deep structural problems in our form of government in South Carolina. Here’s the main thrust of the release:

A bi-partisan group of twenty-six freshman members of the South Carolina House of Representatives and the South Carolina Senate introduced a bold plan today to reform state government. Lawmakers from across the state called for the adoption of a new state constitution. Bills introduced in both bodies seek to replace the legislatively-dominated and antiquated framework of the South Carolina Constitution of 1895. In the most ambitious reform effort since Gov. Carroll Campbell’s restructuring work in the early 1990s–and the first such endeavor led by the legislature–the plan unveiled today will result in an improved, more transparent, and more efficient state government that is accountable to the people.

Micah Caskey cropped

Caskey in 2016

The 1895 Constitution, the seventh in South Carolina history, was notoriously borne out of “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman’s explicit motivation to elevate the power and influence of white South Carolinians at the expense of black citizens. The resulting state government structure diffused responsibility throughout the General Assembly and subjugated the executive and judicial branches of government to the legislature. The legacy of Tillman’s effort continues to shackle us today.

Today’s initiative seeks to restore balance in state government. South Carolina’s governor must have the authority and control to lead the executive branch through a cabinet form of government that is not dominated or micromanaged by the legislature. Likewise, the judiciary must be an equal branch of government that is appointed with participation from both the executive and legislative branches. Reforming state government will reduce the legislature’s outsized influence and restore three, co-equal branches of government.

The bills introduced today propose a ballot referendum for South Carolina’s citizens to call only for a state constitutional convention; this process cannot in any way, whatsoever, limit the freedoms and liberties guaranteed under our United States Constitution….

The problems are basically the same ones I — and a large portion of The State‘s then-considerable newsroom — addressed in the huge “Power Failure” series in 1991 (tagline: “The Government that Answers to No One”), when Micah and many of these other folks were in grade school, (if that old). But the diagnosis didn’t originate with me or Cindi Scoppe or any of the others on the Power Failure team. Some of the main remedies we wrote about then had been recommended by one blue-ribbon panel after another since about 1945.

Micah, et al., are proposing to go a step further, calling a con-con. I always stopped short of that, because anything could happen in one of those, depending on who the delegates are. A convention could come up with proposals that make things worse, so I’ve always been leery.

In fact, my original idea for Power Failure came from a series of op-eds written by Walter Edgar and Blease Graham in 1990, in which they did advocate a convention. But I still preferred to advocate “do this, specifically” to lawmakers, rather than having them call a convention and see which way they went.

But maybe it’s time. After the partial restructuring of 1993 after our series (and with Gov. Campbell pushing it hard), reform has languished, although every few years we’ll get a small additional piece — for instance, we’ll be enacting another bit of it when we elect the lieutenant governor on the same ticket as the governor (if the General Assembly ever figures out the rules).

Several years back, Vincent Sheheen suggested taking the plunge, and even then I worried about buying a pig in a poke. But South Carolina needs fundamental reform, and it’s been so long, so maybe it’s worth the risk now.

I’ll watch with interest to see how their elders respond to this call for deep and needed change.

Thank for the leadership, Speaker Lucas

If seems that Grover Norquist no longer runs the South Carolina House of Representatives.

Jay Lucas does. And he’s doing a good job. Along with Rep. Gary Simrill and everybody who voted for his bill yesterday.

It shouldn’t be remarkable that the House just voted to increase the state gasoline tax by (eventually) 10 cents a gallon. After all, everything about the situation would tend to lead any reasonable person to take that action:

  • We need road repairs.
  • We lack money for road repairs.
  • We have a tax that is dedicated to paying for road needs.
  • That tax is among the lowest in the country.
  • It hadn’t been raised for 30 years.

But as we know, our Legislature hasn’t been inclined to make calm, objective decisions with regard to taxes since the GOP took over in 1995. Since then, taxes have been for cutting, no matter the situation — because ideology rather than real-life conditions have ruled. And that approach, as the Speaker says, “simply places politics above responsible public policy.”

Speaker Jay Lucas

Speaker Jay Lucas

Of course, you don’t have to be an anti-government ideologue to have reservations about a tax increase. And in this instance, it would have been wrong to give DOT more money without reforming the governance of the agency. But this bill takes care of that, too.

Is this a done deal? Nope, because it still has to get through the Senate, which unlike the House isn’t run by anybody. As a body, it has been as allergic to DOT reform as the House used to be to tax increases. And that’s not the whole story. There’s also Sen. Tom Davis, whom The State today described as “libertarian-leaning,” which made me smile. Tom leans toward libertarianism the way Donald Trump leans toward self-aggrandizement.

But I want to praise Speaker Lucas and the House for getting us this far.

Haley fires the whole Rec board

Read this so early today, I forgot to mention it before…

How about Nikki Haley taking decisive action on the Richland County Recreation Board?

Gov. Nikki Haley is moving to fire all seven members of the Richland County Recreation Board.

The rare action by Haley comes after months of lawsuits alleging sexual harassment by recreation director James Brown III, who retired last month after he was indicted for misconduct in office.

It also follows allegations by a bipartisan majority of the 17-member Richland County Legislative Delegation that members of the appointed recreation board that oversaw Brown had grossly mismanaged the recreation commission’s affairs for years.

Lawmakers said board members allowed unwarranted pay raises and widespread nepotism and thus had neglected their duties.

In a 10-page executive order announced Thursday afternoon by the governor’s office, Haley affirmed the charges brought by the delegation majority and named the seven board members she seeks to remove.

They are: chairman J. Marie Green, vice-chair Barbara Mickens, Weston Furgess Jr., George D. Martin Jr., Joseph Weeks, Thomas Clark and Wilbert Lewis….

This is a bit more than lawmakers had asked for — they had just wanted to ditch the four who had most enabled Brown.

But they weren’t complaining. Sen. Joel Lourie sent me this last night:

In response to the Executive Order issued by Governor Haley today, members of the delegation issued the following statements:

Senator Joel Lourie:

“We thank the Governor and her staff for their diligence in pursuit of all the facts dealing with this complicated matter.  This has always been about what is fair and right for the employees of the Recreation Commission and about providing quality, fiscally responsible services to the citizens of Richland County.”

Representative Beth Bernstein:

“I want to personally thank the Governor and her office for hearing our concerns and taking this unprecedented, but warranted, initiative on behalf of the citizens of Richland County.  This Board will now be held accountable  and the voices of the aggrieved employees of RCRC have been heard.”

Representative James Smith:

“This is a critical next step to restore public confidence in the Recreation Commission.”

Of course, those are members of the pro-reform majority of the delegation.

One of the defenders of the status quo said this:

“This is an absolute overreach,” said Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, who said Haley should leave the board members alone. “They didn’t do anything illegal or unethical.”

Could we finally get comprehensive tax reform?

One of our perennial hobbyhorses on The State‘s editorial board over the years was our demand for comprehensive tax reform.

We wrote about it a lot, whether you remember it or not. Which you probably don’t. It’s not the sort of issue that makes most people’s hearts go pitter-pat — even those interested in tax changes. (Readers would complain, “All you ever write about is the Confederate flag!” Or video poker. Or the lottery. Or whatever they didn’t want us to write about. To which I would say, “No we write about a lot of issues.” “Like what?” “Like comprehensive tax reform.” “Comprehensive what…?”)

Our point was this: Instead of making more and more piecemeal changes to tax policy, further distorting the tax burden in the state, how about if we act like we have some sense and do this: Figure out what it costs to do the things we agree state government should do, figure out how much it costs (that is to say, budget reform), and then come up with the fairest, least burdensome, most reliable ways to raise the money to pay for it.

Instead, year after year, lawmakers came charging into Columbia, determined to give this or that tax break to this or that constituency group — whoever was yelling the loudest at a given moment (say, people who owned homes that were rapidly appreciating) — without any regard to the system overall. Increasingly, that led to such things as relying less and less upon such stable and rational revenue sources as real property, and more and more reliance on such volatile — and oppressive to the economy — sources as sales taxes.

Years ago, I could have given you a list of specific things that needed addressing, but I’m not as up-to-date on the details today. Of course we should do away with the sales tax cap on cars. In fact, we should take all sales tax exemptions and throw them onto the table. Let the constituency for each have its say, but in the end, spread the pain around. You can’t make everybody happy.

(This is Doug’s cue to say, “Why don’t you start by calling for doing away with the sales tax on newspapers?” To which, as usual, I say, “Why? That’s not one of the more egregious ones, like the auto cap. It’s pretty average. Throw it on the table with the rest, and let only the most rational exemptions, if any, survive.” I’d be surprised if the newspaper one was allowed to stay.)

Trouble is, there’s little appetite for the holistic, good-government approach. Until maybe now:

Speaker Lucas Appoints House Tax Policy Review Committee

Member panel tasked with offering suggestions to reform outdated tax code

(Columbia, SC) – House Speaker Jay Lucas (District 65-Darlington) today appointed fourteen members of the SC House to serve on the House Tax Policy Review Committee.  This ad hoc committee will be responsible for reviewing South Carolina’s current tax code and submitting suggestions for reform to the Speaker before the beginning of next legislative session. The group will hold its first meeting next Tuesday, August 30th, 2016, at 2 P.M. in room 516 of the Blatt Building.

Speaker Jay Lucas

Speaker Jay Lucas

“Our outdated tax code needs a dramatic transformation in order to promote economic competitiveness and increase the size of our citizens’ paychecks. Achieving this difficult task is long overdue, but necessary to ensure our tax code is fair for our taxpayers. A broader and flatter tax code will help continue to spur job growth and provide greater opportunities for South Carolina families,” Speaker Jay Lucas stated.

Speaker Lucas selected Speaker Pro-Tempore Tommy Pope (District 47-York) to serve as Chairman of the House Tax Policy Review Committee. Additional members include: Rep. Todd Atwater (District 87-Lexington), Rep. Bill Bowers (District 122-Hampton), Rep. Mike Burns (District 17-Greenville), Rep. Joe Daning (District 92-Berkeley), Rep. Chandra Dillard (District 23-Greenville), Rep. MaryGail Douglas (District 41-Fairfield), Rep. Shannon Erickson (District 124-Beaufort), Rep. Joe Jefferson (District 102-Berkeley), Rep. Jay Jordan (District 63-Florence), Rep. Roger Kirby (District 61-Florence), Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell (District 44-Lancaster), Rep. Bill Taylor (District 86-Aiken), and Rep. Anne Thayer (District 9-Anderson).

“Representative Tommy Pope and the bipartisan members of this ad hoc committee were individually selected because of their leadership abilities and knowledge of the tax system. I am confident that this diverse group will successfully begin laying the groundwork for significant tax reform,” Speaker Lucas concluded.

Will this group come up with something based on reason instead of which wheel squeaks the loudest? The odds have always been against it, but I’m going to allow myself to hope…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

District 89

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

Tem and the Miles fam.

Tem and the Miles fam.

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

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

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

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

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

Tem Goals

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

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

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

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

Some high points from that discussion:

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

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

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

Other lawmakers think solicitor should probe RCRC

BRP-Prk10

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

This is an interesting wrinkle:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Major miracle: John Oliver focuses on Special Districts!

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

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

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

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

What he says here definitely sounds just like South Carolina:

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

That’s where we are.

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

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

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

Oliver2

Something for Doug: Abramoff backs term limits

Doug should enjoy this.

It came along with the following release from U.S. Term Limits:

Jack Abramoff Backs Term Limits in New Video

The man once known as “America’s most notorious lobbyist” is speaking out in a new video for congressional term limits. Jack Abramoff now says “Congress will never be fixed without term limits” in a video produced for U.S. Term Limits’ “Term Limits Convention” campaign.

According to Abramoff, term limits would reduce special interests’ influence in Washington by disrupting their relationships with long-serving incumbents.

“When I was a lobbyist, I hated the idea that a congressman who I had bought with years of contributions would decide to retire,” Abramoff says. “That meant I had to start all over again with a new member, losing all the control I had bought with years of checks.”

Abramoff’s comments debunk the arguments made by anti-term limits politicians, who’ve long claimed that lobbyists like term limits.

“Career politicians often smear term limits by claiming lobbyists are for it,” said U.S. Term Limits President Philip Blumel. “But the opposite is true. Whenever lobbyists get involved in a term limits campaign, all of their money goes to the side trying to prevent, weaken or abolish term limits. That’s why we’re glad Jack Abramoff is speaking out.”

Abramoff’s video closes on this note, as he warns “if you want to see pigs screeching at the trough, tell them they can’t stay there forever. There’s no trough as dangerous as the one in Washington.”

The ex-lobbyist volunteered his opinions and was not compensated by U.S. Term Limits. His remarks will be used to raise awareness for the Term Limits Convention, a new campaign to term limit Congress using an Article V amendment convention.

The campaign, launched in January, requires 34 state legislatures to pass bills calling for term limits on Congress, before a convention can be called to propose a congressional term limits amendment. Florida was the first state to pass the resolution but several others are considering it now.

Watch the Abramoff Video here.

Of course, it doesn’t change my mind. I still have problems with telling the voters who they can and can’t re-elect if they so choose.

There are good arguments in favor of term limits — ones that I find more persuasive than Abramoff’s “everybody’s a crook like me” thesis. For instance, it might increase political courage — representatives daring to do the right thing, rather than the popular thing so they can get re-elected.

Most people who favor term limits think it would be a way to bind elected officials more to the popular will. They have it backwards. It could free them from slavish adherence to the popular idea of the moment. And that could be a could thing. It could also be a bad thing, if it freed pols to do something unpopular that was also a terrible idea.

But in any case, I remain unconvinced, and mostly for the reason that drives Doug the craziest: I believe that experience is valuable in public service, just as it is in every other field of human endeavor. And a mindless mechanism that would throw out the very best representatives along with the very worst is not a good idea.

I hope the court’s deadline doesn’t blow chance at education reform

I find myself in an unusual position.

Normally, I’d be cheering loudly for Cindi Scoppe’s column today lighting into legislative leaders for complaining that the state Supreme Court has given them a deadline for coming up with a plan to fix poor, rural schools in South Carolina. Excerpts:

Yet for 22 years, our legislators have done absolutely nothing to fix the problems raised in the Abbeville lawsuit.

No, worse than nothing.

They have spent more than two decades and God only knows how much of our tax money fighting that lawsuit — paying lawyers and experts to argue that everything in those plaintiff districts was just fine and dandy, when anyone with eyes could see that it was not.

The way forward was clear from the start: for legislators to make the lawsuit moot, by fixing the problems before the justices could get around to issuing an order. But they refused, and last fall the justices finally ruled that the state is failing its constitutional obligation to provide the children in our poorest school districts with an education they need to get good jobs and support their families and pay taxes and in other ways help make our state a better place for us all….

The court, inappropriately, it turns out, did not set a deadline. Until last week, by which time it had become painfully clear even to people who do not understand our Legislature that our Legislature does not do hard things until it has no choice. So the court set a Feb. 1 deadline for the defendants to present a plan to address the problems set forth in last year’s landmark ruling….

Were I still at the paper, I might be the one writing those words. In fact, I’d be using even stronger, more condemnatory language — and Cindi, ever pragmatic, would be the one doing her best to hold me back and telling me to recognize reality and not make perfect the enemy of the good.

But today, I’m sort of in the Cindi role, because of some unique circumstances. In fact, when I saw that the court had set a deadline for less than a month after the Legislature comes back into session, I worried, thinking, I hope this doesn’t foul up an historic opportunity.

I thought that because of what I’ve been hearing lately from my old friend Bud Ferillo.

Many of you may know Bud as the guy who made the documentary “Corridor of Shame,” which coined the phrase that all SC education reformers use to describe some of our most distressed rural schools. He’s also a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat from way back, and not one to give Republicans the benefit of the doubt.

And if there is an issue on which Republicans have earned doubt in South Carolina, it’s public education. Since they have assumed control of the Legislature, actual proposals to improve schools don’t even get a hearing in the State House, much less get approved. Say “school reform” to them, and as a group they will more than start talking about the latest plan to pay parents to abandon public schools — excuse me, “government schools,” government being by its nature a bad thing, you understand — altogether.

So I was struck when I heard Bud, as a participant in a panel sponsored by the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council over the summer, start talking almost rhapsodically about school reform — real, systemic reform that would lift up rural districts — that was coming, that was just around the corner. I didn’t get a chance to talk to Bud after that event because I left early, but then I heard him saying it again on a forum on ETV.

On both occasions, no one took him up on what he said. They just sort of nodded and moved on. So I asked Bud to breakfast one morning recently. He had an appointment he had to leave for so we didn’t get into what he was talking about as deeply as I would have liked, which is why I haven’t written about our conversation.

But here are the bare bones (and if I’m getting any of this wrong, Bud, correct me): When he became Speaker last year, Jay Lucas appointed a panel to start working on a plan to address what the court has instructed the Legislature to do about poor, rural schools. I had been vaguely aware that Lucas had such a committee holding hearings around the state. From early in the last legislative session, I had seen releases such as this one:

MEDIA ADVISORY: House Education Task Force to Host Public Hearing/Meeting in Dillon

Will receive testimony and valuable input from education leaders

(Columbia, SC) – The Education Policy Review and Reform Task Force that House Speaker Jay Lucas (District 65-Darlington) appointed in January will hold a public hearing/meeting on Monday, March 23, 2015.Jay Lucas
WHO: The Education Policy Review and Reform Task Force – a group comprised of elected officials, educators, plaintiff representatives fromAbbeville v. State, and private sector job creators who are tasked with laying the groundwork for comprehensive education reform
WHAT: Task Force members will receive testimony and valuable input form invited school superintendents, retired educators, nonprofiteducation groups, and other involved members within the education community.  After the invited guests have concluded, concerned citizens will also be given the opportunity to address the group (see additional information).
WHEN: Monday, March 23, 2015 at 4:00PM
WHERE: Dillon Middle School – 1803 Joan Drive, Dillon, SC
WHY: South Carolina’s education system needs significant reform so that every child in every part of our state has access to a 21st centuryeducation. This Task Force is responsible for putting together a report with their findings and must be submitted to Speaker Lucas before the beginning of next year’s legislative session.

But I hadn’t seen any coverage of these hearings, or read or heard anything about what the committee was doing. Were I still at the paper, and still had such people at my disposal, I would have assigned a reporter or (later) an editorial writer to look into what was going on. But I’m not, and such people are thin on the ground these days, and having one spend a day running up to Dillon for a hearing is probably not high on many editors’ priority lists.

(Actually, in defense of my friends who still have newspaper jobs, I do find some coverage when I go look for it now. I just missed it at the time.)

And since I don’t get paid to do this blog, I was in no position to undertake such legwork. So I remained in the dark, until I started getting these inklings from Bud. Bud has stayed in close touch with the process, and he says this is a great panel, largely stocked with real reformers, and they’re pulling together a lot of great ideas that are to go into legislation that we’ll be seeing in the coming session, blessed by the speaker.

But, skeptical based on decades of disappointment, I said A panel with a plan is all very well and good, but how will this fare, say, on the floor of the House? Is the speaker truly committed to push this reform you speak of when the inevitable pushback comes? I mean, he has the reputation of a reformer and he’s actually from a small town and knows about the needs in rural areas, but is he committed? Bud assured me that yes, he was — and then he had to run.

That was a couple of weeks ago.

So I’m short on details, and I really need to find some time to talk to legislative leaders about all this, and I’ve been meaning to, but haven’t. And now the court has laid down this deadline, which you know is going to get the GOP caucus all ticked off and resistant (that is, even more resistant) about doing something they don’t want to do anyway, much less do it right.

So when Speaker Lucas said, in reaction to the court’s new deadline, “Because of your actions, months and months of hard work has been potentially placed in jeopardy,” I got worried. Because I don’t think he’d say that lightly.

I got to worrying that maybe the deadline might be tossing a hand grenade into delicate preparations at precisely the wrong moment. I mean, this House coming up with real, substantive education reform is such a stretch, and would take such heavy lifting, and everything would have to go just right for it to actually happen. The forces against reform would seize on anything that might help them stop it, and the petty resentments caused by an arbitrary court deadline could give them aid and comfort.

But you know what? Cindi usually knows way more about what she’s talking about than I do. I hope that, as usual, that is the case in this instance…

 

One revolution at a time: Let’s reform redistricting

Sue and Jim Rex at the American Party booth at the State Fair last year.

Sue and Jim Rex at the American Party booth at the State Fair last year.

I got this release from the new party that Jim Rex and Oscar Lovelace started here in South Carolina, and it points a way to profound political reform in our state — and then takes its eye off the ball:

The Supreme Court struck a blow against gerrymandering this summer,but the voters in our state (like most) will have to wrestle the power away from the Legislature if we are going to stop them from drawing their own districts once again in 2021 ! Since we have no ballot initiative option in South Carolina, we will need to elect members of the SC House and Senate ( they must all run in 2016 ) who will introduce and pass legislation enabling an Independent Commission to perform this important task .
The article below persuasively points out ,however, that the ultimate remedy to our dysfunctional Congress must also include doing away with single district winner take all elections. It may sound complicated and even a little ” revolutionary “, but it really is neither .
Take a minute to read . You may actually begin to feel optimistic !

http://www.fairvote.org/research-and-analysis/blog/independent-commissions-win-in-court-but-whats-next/

Set aside the fact that the release says “we have no ballot initiative option in South Carolina” as though that were a bad thing. (The American Party is much given to populism, and does not share my horror of government by plebiscite.) My objection is that the release mentions one fantastic reform — wresting control of districting from lawmakers, which would accomplish more than anything I can think of to fix our ailing political system. And then it blows right past it and goes on to another, more revolutionary, harder-to-understand “reform,” like a kid who can’t spare the time to play with one shiny toy before being beguiled by another.

The reason this is a problem (after all, you think, aren’t two reforms better than one) is that the first reform, which I know could have a dramatic, positive effect on our state and nation, is practically impossible to achieve. Most sensible people would even say it is impossible. But don’t say that to me in the same summer when we got the Confederate flag down.

It might, just might, be possible, if there is a huge push for it, and those pushing never let up or get distracted, and everything, but everything, breaks the right way. It would require every ounce of passion, attention and commitment that every true reformer in the state possesses, and then some. And the odds would still be way against it.

Gerrymandering is something that not everyone understands, but it can be explained to most people that lawmakers having the power to draw districts to ensure their own re-election (or the election of people of their own party) is a bad thing. Explain a little more, and they might understand that such redistricting is probably the one factor that does the most to drive hyperpartisanship, and to drive both parties away from the sensible center toward extremes. They might also pick up on the fact that drawing districts primarily by the race of voters is merely a milder version of the ethnic cleansing we disapproved of so strongly in the Balkans.

And if you can get the people behind it, and make it clear that this is of the utmost importance to a significant number of their constituents — a big, big, if — you might have a chance of turning redistricting over to an independent commission. (Then, of course, there’s another minefield in making sure the commission is both truly independent and has the savvy to draw better lines than we have now.)

Since we know this would be of the utmost benefit to the republic, why not start a movement that concentrates on redistricting? Then, when you accomplish that miracle, you can get fancy and talk about ranked choice voting.

 

The Senate, as is its wont, resists reforming DOT

While I think it’s great the Senate is trying to come up with even more money to fix our roads, I have to agree with Speaker Lucas on this one:

State senators passed their own version of a plan Tuesday to raise money to repair the state’s crumbling roads, setting up a crash with their counterparts in the S.C. House.

The collision came as the Senate Finance Committee voted 14-8 to replace a House road-repair plan with a Senate proposal. The Senate plan would raise more money for roads — roughly $800 million a year versus $427 million — but also increase the gas tax more — by 12 cents a gallon versus 10 cents….

House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, said he was “extremely disappointed” the Senate committee did not debate the various parts of the House bill, instead substituting its own proposal.

Lucas called the House’s 87-20 passage of its own roads plan two weeks ago a “courageous vote,” adding senators focused only on “dollar signs,” not the other reforms in the House plan.

State Rep. Gary Simrill, the York Republican who sponsored the House bill, said the resounding House vote — enough to withstand a promised Haley veto — was because that proposal also included reforming the State Infrastructure Bank and S.C. Department of Transportation.

“The Senate bill … has nothing for reform. It has nothing for right-sizing DOT,” Simrill said. “It is just a funding (proposal).”…

Funding the roads without fixing DOT is almost as bad as reforming DOT without funding the roads — as Cindi pointed out today.

We need to do both, and we’ve needed to do both for a long, long time. It’s time lawmakers move away from the past two decades of failing to do either.

I had forgotten about Rep. Funderburk voting against Haley on ethics charge

Funderburk,Laurie

Rep. Funderburk

There are good reasons for us to change our way of choosing judges in SC. Stronger ones than the fact that the husband of a legislator was elected to the bench the other day.

I briefly wondered why Nikki Haley seized on that incident to push for reform — after all, such a situation didn’t bother her in 2009 (although she hates to be reminded of the fact) — but then I set it aside. Different people are motivated by different things at different times. I suppose a lot of folks agree with the governor on this reason. So I set it aside.

And frankly, I’m still inclined to think the governor actually wants reform. But I did find this interesting:

Rutherford: Haley attack on Funderburk ‘Political Payback’ for Ethics Committee Vote
 
Calls on Haley to apologize to members of the General Assembly and come clean about her previous vote
Columbia, SC – House Democratic Leader Todd Rutherford released a statement in response to The State article revealing Governor Haley’s previous support for a Republican legislator’s spouse running for the Supreme Court in 2009 after criticizing the legislature this week for electing a highly-qualified Democratic member’s husband to be an Administration Law judge. Rutherford suggested Haley’s criticism of the legislature’s support for Judge Bill Funderburk was simply payback for his wife’s, Rep. Laurie Funderburk, vote to not dismiss ethics charges against Haley in 2012.
“Representative Laurie Funderburk had the courage and integrity to stand up three years ago and call a crook a crook, and now Governor Haley wants payback,” said House Democratic Leader Todd Rutherford of Richland County. “When Governor Haley was in the House, she clearly voted to elect spouses of Republican legislators to judicial posts. Her new-found outrage can only be attributed to Rep. Funderburk’s vote to not dismiss charges against Haley for illegally hiding income she received from a company that did business with the state. We’ve always known Haley was a hypocrite, but she continues to prove it on an astonishingly frequent basis.”
Rutherford also blasted Haley for lying to a reporter on Thursday about her vote to elect Kaye Hearn to the South Carolina Supreme Court while her husband, George Hearn, was a member of the State House of Representatives.
Jamie Self of The State reported in Friday’s newspaper that Haley denied voting for Hearn after the House journal from May 13, 2009 clearly shows Haley casting an ‘aye’ vote in favor of tabling a motion that would reject Hearn from consideration.
“It isn’t often that you see a politician blatantly lie about a previous vote when roll-call votes are public record,” said Rep. Rutherford. “I was flabbergasted when I saw Governor Haley try to rewrite history and then call it ‘offensive’ that the reporter would even bring it up. But people often act erratic when they’ve been caught in a lie. Governor Haley owes the entire General Assembly an apology for this unbelievable display of hypocrisy.”
####

You know I had forgotten about that — Laurie Funderburk being the only one on the ethics committee who voted against the governor that time. But that’s what happened:

The committee voted unanimously to dismiss three charges against Ms. Haley. On the fourth charge, accusing the governor of failing to properly disclose her payment by the engineering firm, one member, Representative Laurie Slade Funderburk, a Democrat, voted against Ms. Haley….

By all means, let’s change the system, as long as it’s to something better. And to me, something better means something like the federal system, through which both political branches get a measure of control over who becomes a judge. There are systems that are worse than what we have in South Carolina, and I wouldn’t want to switch to one of those.

But this incident is an interesting thing to remember at this time…

If you want some REform, I know where you can start

New SC House Speaker Jay Lucas put out this release yesterday:

Speaker Lucas Creates Task Force to Advance Education Reform

Appoints Legislators, Educators, and Working Professionals

 

(Columbia, SC) – House Speaker Jay Lucas (District 65-Darlington) announced the formation of a task force to begin laying the groundwork for substantial, necessary education reforms. Speaker Lucas carefully selected the members of the House Education Policy Review and Reform Task Force based upon their experience and overall commitment to education.

“Every child deserves the opportunity to receive an exceptional education that paves the way for tremendous opportunity and lifelong success,” Speaker Jay Lucas said. “Effective education reform requires more than just suggestions from administrators; it demands valuable input from our job creators who seek to hire trained and proficient employees. All available avenues should be explored to guarantee our students receive a workforce-ready education that prepares each child for the 21st century.”

Speaker Jay Lucas selected Representative Rita Allison of Spartanburg to chair the House Education Policy Review and Reform Task Force. Rep. Allison currently serves as Chairwoman of the House Education and Public Works Committee. The Speaker also appointed six additional members of the South Carolina House, State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, several working professionals, and five representatives from the plaintiffs in the Abbeville County School District v. The State of South Carolina Supreme Court decision to participate in this task force.

“I am confident that this unique and collaborative task force, under the leadership of Chairwoman Rita Allison, will successfully reevaluate our educational mandates and institute knowledgeable reforms that will put our system on a path to excellence,” Speaker Jay Lucas continued.

Chairwoman Rita Allison stated, “Speaker Lucas’ revolutionary efforts to create this task force and include private sector professionals and representatives from school districts is truly commendable. Each member of the group will provide exceptional insight that will lead to significant education reforms for the Palmetto State.”

“I am honored to be part of Speaker Lucas’ team, which brings the General Assembly and education community together,”Superintendent Molly Spearman said. “It is vital that we develop a consensus and solution that benefits all students, regardless of where they live. Together, we can develop true education reform that ensures every South Carolina student is college and career ready.”

 

Members of the House Education Policy Review and Reform Task Force

 

            Rep. Merita A. “Rita” Allison, (District 36-Spartanburg), Chairwoman of the House Education and Public Works Committee

            April Allen, Director of State Government Relations, Continental Tire Corporation

Rep. Kenneth A. “Kenny” Bingham, (District 89-Lexington), Chairman of the Public Education and Special Schools Subcommittee, House Ways and Means Committee

Rep. William “Bill” Clyburn, (District 82-Aiken), House Ways and Means Committee

            Rep. Joseph S. Daning, (District 92-Berkeley), House Education and Public Works Committee

            Lewis Gossett, President and CEO, South Carolina Manufacturing Alliance

Rep. Jerry N. Govan, (District 95-Orangeburg), House Education and Public Works Committee

  Rep. Jackie E. “Coach” Hayes, (District 55-Dillon), House Ways and Means Committee

            Rainey Knight, Former Superintendent of Darlington County Public Schools

Rep. Dwight A. Loftis, (District 19-Greenville), House Ways and Means Committee

Superintendent Molly Spearman, State Superintendent of Education

            Dr. James C. “Jimmie” Williamson, President and Executive Director, South Carolina Technical College System

 

NOTE: The five invited representatives from the Abbeville County School District v. The State of South Carolina Supreme Court Decision were chosen to ensure that every child in South Carolina is given access to the best education, regardless of where the student lives. The names of these individuals will be announced at a later date.

The task force will be required to submit a report to the Speaker by the first day of next year’s legislative session (Tuesday, January 12, 2016) with their findings and suggestions for reform. Speaker Lucas has highlighted a list of specific reforms he would like to see addressed in the report’s findings:

1) Structural – After reevaluating the current policy, the task force must develop a structural framework that allows every individual school district to provide the opportunity for a twenty-first century education for all students.

2) Curriculum Standards– Highlight the workforce needs, particularly familiarity and access to technology, of the state’s private sector employers and develop recommended updates to the statewide curriculum standards that emphasize the needs for increased math and science education. Curriculum guidelines should be reevaluated from the early, formative years when students enter the state’s public education system all the way through high school.

3) Programmatic Review – Conduct a thorough review of all current statewide requirements to determine what can be eliminated, consolidated or updated in order to increase available resources for classroom instruction.

4) Work Force Development and/or Tech College – With an emphasis on creating a job ready workforce, develop methods to enhance access and availability of current technical college resources.

Looks like a pretty good group, and I hope they can come up with a real reform agenda, so we can get beyond counterproductive fights over whether to pay parents to abandon the schools.

Here’s a modest proposal for a place to start…

I see that Coach Hayes is on the panel. You know, the guy who (unless the system was changed when I wasn’t looking) gets to appoint the members of the school board that are theoretically his bosses, in his role as head football coach and athletic director at Dillon High School.

The bizarre patchwork of ways that school boards are chosen across the state — with some still employing the old system of having state lawmakers run things — is one of the more obvious things we need to reform. Along with consolidating districts, making it easier to fire bad teachers, and instituting some merit pay for the good ones…

 

You want to REOPEN the epic school-equity case? Really?

I was a bit surprised that this was played at the bottom of The State‘s front page today. Back in my front-page-editor days, I would have found a way to get it above the fold along with the Metts plea deal — to the right of it, in the traditional lede position.

We spend two decades trying a case in which the poor, rural school districts of our state petition for an equal chance for the children in their charge. Finally, finally, the state Supreme Court issues its ruling — that the state is indeed not providing an equal chance for all its pupils, and must remedy the situation.

And now, this:

Gov. Nikki Haley and state lawmakers are fighting a court order aimed at improving the state’s school system in rural, poor districts.

In two petitions filed with the S.C. Supreme Court on Tuesday, attorneys representing Haley and lawmakers asked the justices to rehear a landmark school equity lawsuit that rural school districts, including Abbeville, brought against the state more than 20 years ago…

The court ruled 3-2 in November that the state failed to provide children in poor, rural districts with an adequate public education as required by the S.C. Constitution.

Without recommending specific policies or actions, the court ordered lawmakers and the school districts to devise a plan to address the problems the court identified, including weak rural tax bases, aging facilities and the difficulty of recruiting quality teachers to rural areas. The court also said the state’s method of paying for schools was unfair and needs to be updated, and hinted some small school districts may need to be merged.

However, Haley and Attorney General Alan Wilson’s petition for a rehearing says the Supreme Court’s majority “overlooked recent education initiatives put in place by (Haley’s administration) and the General Assembly that will directly affect rural school districts in South Carolina.”…

Really? You want to reopen a case that took this long, rather than go ahead and do what you should have done without a lawsuit?

What — do you think the court didn’t spend enough time pondering it before?

Look, I appreciate that the governor and lawmakers took steps in this past session to do more to help the poorer schools out. I’ve praised them for it. But that improvement is the sort of thing you would hold up to show, as we go forward, that you’re trying to implement the ruling — not used as an excuse to ask the court to reconsider.

But going back and trying to drag this thing out further is no way to follow up that good first step. The governor and lawmakers should instead be competing with one another to come up with the best ideas to improve the rural schools, starting perhaps with something that most politicians at least give lip service to — consolidating districts, to eliminate duplication in administration and give the poorest districts access to the tax base in the more affluent districts in their counties.

Or something. Show some leadership, folks. Instead of what I can only categorize as sullen foot-dragging.

ONE bit of progress in SC: We’ll no longer elect adjutant general

OK, I’m shaking off the doldrums here…

Let’s talk about something good that happened in yesterday’s election: We changed our constitution so that South Carolina is no longer a banana republic wannabe. We will no longer politicize the state’s highest military post. We will no longer elect our adjutant general. Instead, the AG will be appointed by duly constituted civilian authority, according to specific requirements, according to actual qualifications.

No, it’s not as big a deal as if we stopped electing, say, the superintendent of education. But it’s something. Set it alongside the decision in the last election to stop separately electing the lieutenant governor, and the elimination of the constitutionally perverse Budget and Control Board, and we’re starting to get a state government that is organized at least for the 20th century, if not the 21st.

Of all the executive-branch posts that, against all reason, we have continued to elect separately from the governor (thereby fragmenting the already-weak executive), the adjutant general was the one that most obviously needed to change. We were the only state in the nation that chose its top-ranking officer in a popularity contest — a partisan popularity contest, which produced the obscene situation of having a serving officer declare a party affiliation.

But it also seemed like the office that was most resistant to reform. The incumbent AG was always opposed to it (politicians dance with the one that brung them, and we required our AGs to be politicians), and those serving under him tended to follow his example, and the public at large tended to give the Guard what it wanted.

But things changed in South Carolina, and that is something to celebrate. Leadership in both parties embraced change, and most importantly, the incumbent AG did, too. And the rest of us followed suit.

And so we took a step forward in South Carolina yesterday. And that’s something to celebrate.

OK, sometimes things DO change in SC (maybe)

So yesterday I was being all Cameron Frye and whiny and dissatisfied over my perception (based in long and bitter experience) that try as good people might, things never change for the better in South Carolina. In the public policy arena, I mean.

That was based in the long run by decades of advocating as hard as I can for various reforms and seldom seeing the slightest progress (and in fact, a good bit of movement in the wrong direction on some things, such as tax policy). And in the short term, it was based in the almost-certain knowledge that nothing’s going to happen in the looming election to make things better.

But as I was reading the paper this morning, I got to thinking about reasons I was wrong to have done my Captain Bringdown routine (that’s for those of you who don’t get the Cameron Frye reference).

Let me share three of them:

Adjutant General — One of the things I’ve been pushing for over the course of these decades is cutting down on the absurd number of constitutional officers we elect separately, thereby fragmenting the executive branch of our government into separate governments with their own separate constituencies, and often inconsistent or even conflicting agendas. And the post of adjutant general has long been the most extreme case. It’s outrageous to choose a military leader in a partisan election, and we’re the only state in the union that does it. Finally, we’re going to have a referendum, on Nov. 4, in which we’ll have the opportunity to end this anachronism. There are still some who defend this throwback to the days when amateurism was OK in the military, when officers bought their commissions rather than earning them — Phil Leventis did so in the paper today. But I was very proud to see the chairs of the two political parties, Matt Moore and Jaime Harrison, come together to jointly call for passage of the measure. As they say, it’s not a partisan issue. It’s about whether you want professional, apolitical military leadership — which is what you want if you’re not a banana republic. I can well remember a time when there was no chance of this coming to a vote. Now we have something like consensus — both parties for it, both Nikki Haley and Vincent Sheheen for it, and the current A.G., too. That is broad-based, systemic change for the better, and it shames me for my moaning yesterday. First the lieutenant governor running on a joint ticket with the governor, now this — if it passes.

School funding — Democrats are right to complain that Nikki Haley didn’t show much interest in public education until re-election year, but I was reminded by this debate story today that she DID propose, and get passed, a measure to address the lack of funding equity for poor, rural schools. That doesn’t solve all of our education challenges, not by a long shot, but it’s another move in a direction I’ve been calling for for, well, decades. And I give her props for it.

The advent of the Jay Lucas era — A couple of months ago, it looked like Bobby Harrell was going to remain as speaker, and that there would be no positive movement on ethics reform — in fact, there was a lot of momentum in the wrong direction. Now, he’s out, and replaced by a guy who I’ve only heard good things about, from both Democrats and Republicans — and he appears inclined to push through some long-stymied reforms that were unthinkable earlier this year. That’s change for the better.

So, I just thought I should share those more upbeat thoughts.