Category Archives: South Carolina

Cindi Scoppe’s Gonzales Award acceptance speech

Sorry about the quality of the photo. The light wasn't ideal...

Sorry about the quality of the photo. The light wasn’t ideal…

Yesterday, as I mentioned, was my day for awards ceremonies. The best, for me, was the one at The State at which Associate Editor Cindi Scoppe received the paper’s Gonzales Award (named for the paper’s first editor, who was shot and killed on Main Street by the lieutenant governor in 1903).

It was the second time she had received the award, having gotten it in 1999 as well.

Bud Ferillo, Bob McAlister and I had written letters supporting her nomination, which is why we were there.

The work for which Cindi was honored took place during her first months alone, as the last remaining member of the editorial department. (There were once nine of us.) I addressed the significance of that in my letter supporting her:

When it comes to cold, dispassionate, hard-eyed assessment of South Carolina government and politics, no one touches Cindi Scoppe. Not in 2014, and not in 2015, either.

But in 2015, she did something else as well. She grew. She still did everything she had always done, the stuff no one else could do, but she added a couple of new ingredients: Heart and Soul.

There was a time when she didn’t have to do that sort of writing, and that comforted her. She liked being, in her own assessment, the board’s “Designated Mean Bitch.” When empathy and violins were called for, she was more than happy to let other associate editors “resonate” with the proper emotion for the moment – and some of them were really good at it. She would stick to the hard stuff.

But by mid-2015, there were no other associate editors. Warren Bolton – an ordained minister who could speak to the heart as well as anyone who had ever served on the board – left in the spring, and by June, Cindi was alone….

That sort of sets up what Cindi had to say in her acceptance speech. Here it is, shorn of some personal acknowledgments at the beginning:

The day after Dylann Roof slaughtered those nine innocents, Bertram Rantin stopped by my office to chat. I probably said I knew I needed to write something about the massacre but I had no idea what to say. Because what our community needed, what our state needed was not policy prescriptions but emotion and understanding. What was needed was RESONATING. And I don’t do resonating.

And Bertram said, you know, we used to have two people who could speak to this sort of situation. And isn’t it ironic that this would happen just weeks after we lost both Warren Bolton and Carolyn Click.

We talked some more about other things, and he left, but his words stayed in my head. And at some point, I realized that I had to step up to the task. I realized, as Brad wrote in his letter supporting my nomination, that I had to grow. I had to become a writer I had not been willing to.

Three thousand years ago, when God wondered aloud who he could send to speak to his people, the prophet Isaiah answered saying “Here am I, send me.” I think that’s one of the coolest passages in the Bible. Christians and Jews see that as a great act of faith. But it could also be seen as an act of dedication, of commitment to a cause, to a calling.

And don’t we all have a calling? Isn’t that what journalism is?

Shouldn’t we all be willing to ask, in the secularized iteration of Isaiah’s response: “If not me, who? If not now, when?”

Isn’t that the commitment that all of us need to give to our craft, to our community?

Now, except for Paul, there’s no one on the second floor who should be doing what I do routinely – advocating for policy positions. It’s probably not often that you should be writing about your personal experiences. Certainly not about how your faith informs your life decisions, or how it relates to public policy.

But what I had to do last year – after the massacre and a few months later, after the flood – is something every one of us can and should be willing to do every day: Look for where we can make a difference, fill roles we might not be comfortable filling, grow, if necessary, into the bigger demands of our jobs.

In his supporting letter, Bob McAlister said this about our jobs:

“I have spent my professional life in South Carolina’s political/media axis and have seen the media, especially newspapers, evolve. Of this I am certain: Our citizens have never needed good journalism more to help them wade through the complexities of life and the chaos of the Internet.”

As newspaper staffs grow smaller and the cacophony of self-interested voices grows louder and objective truth becomes increasingly optional, what each one of us does becomes exponentially more critical.

I would urge all of us to focus on the critical nature of what we would do: Not duplicating what others are doing, but providing our readers with important information they can’t get anywhere else. I urge you all to be truth-tellers, not just stenographers.

Today people in public life just make stuff up..

I can remember a time when it simply didn’t occur to journalists that we needed to verify basic facts from someone in a position of authority. Oh, we needed to watch for spin. We needed to make sure they weren’t manipulating numbers or not quite telling the whole story. But if a governor said half the job applicants at the Savannah River Site failed drug tests, it was safe to assume that was true. Not anymore.

Unfortunately, there’s no way we can fact-check every single thing that public figures say. We can’t even fact-check every single thing a governor says.

But at the very least, we can do this: When people say things we know are not accurate, and we report what they say, we can point out the facts. We can say this is what the law actually says. This is what was actually spent. Or this is what the audit actually recommended.

This isn’t being an editorial writer. This is being an authoritative voice. This is being a journalist. This is something I did as a reporter. It’s something y’all do sometimes as reporters. It’s something we all need to do more of. We need to help our readers understand what is true and what is not. We need to give our readers the facts and the context they need to make informed decisions. It doesn’t matter whether we agree with those choices or not; it matters that they are informed.

Of course, as Jeff will remind us, we need to write things that people will read. And this is the hardest part. It’s never been easy to get people to read the stuff they need to know, and now we have metrics that show, at least in the online world, how little they read it. So it’s very tempting to just give up and give people what they want. That’s the easy way to drive up our unique visitor numbers.

It is not the right way.

The right way is keep trying to figure out how to turn what people need into what they want.

It is a daily battle. It is a battle that I often lose.

But it is a battle that I absolutely must keep fighting.

It’s a battle that you absolutely must keep fighting.

We have big and difficult jobs, and they are getting bigger and more difficult every day. And we have to stretch and grow to fill those jobs.

We have a calling. We work for our community.

Not to entertain our community. To inform our community. To give our readers the tools they need to be active citizens.

It is not an overstatement to say that our system of self-governance depends on our willingness to fulfill our calling.

Amen to that.

CRC honors Jack Van Loan, Nikki Haley

Jack Van Loan in 2006.

Jack Van Loan, flying back-seat in a civilian aircraft in 2006.

Today at our annual luncheon at the convention center, the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council (of which I am a board member) honored my good friend Jack Van Loan and our governor, Nikki Haley.

Jack received the Milton Kimpson Award for a lifetime of service to his country and to this community. As you’ll recall, he was an Air Force pilot who was shot down, captured, tortured and held prisoner for several years at the Hanoi Hilton, where he became fast friends with fellow prisoner John McCain. Since moving to Columbia in retirement (he’s originally from Oregon), Col. Van Loan has been a community leader particularly in the Five Points area, and is the guy who built the annual St. Pat’s Day celebration into the huge event it is today.

We honored the governor with the Hyman Rubin Award for her leadership last year after the killings at Emanuel AME in Charleston — for the way she led us in mourning and honoring the dead, and for (in my mind, especially for) doing the unlikely thing and leading us, finally, to take down that flag. Her leadership during last fall’s floods was also mentioned at some of the meetings I attended.Nikki Haley

Now I’m going to tell a tale out of school, and if it significantly bothers a consensus of my fellow board members, I’ll take it down…

Some very good people who are deeply invested in the cause of the CRC contacted board members in recent days to protest our honoring Gov. Haley. In one case, we received a long and thoughtful letter reciting a litany of reasons why, because of her policy and political actions in office, she did not embody the spirit of Hyman Rubin, or of our group.

I can’t speak for the rest of the board, but I can speak for myself on this. My reaction was that the protests were thoughtful and respectful and stated important truths. Most of the items counted against the governor were things that I, too, disagree with her about.

But I strongly believed that we should give the governor the award. (And while I didn’t poll everyone, I haven’t yet spoken with a board member who disagrees with me.) Our group is about community relations, particularly in the sense of fostering better interracial relations, and what the governor did last year did more on that score than I’ve seen from any elected official in recent years. Despite what some believe, she did not have to do what she did. I did not expect her to do it, right up until the miraculous moment when she did. Based on what I have seen over almost 30 years of closely observing S.C. politics, what she did was a complete departure from the norm.

So I was pleased to see her receive the award. She was unable to attend personally, but she sent along a video clip in which she thanked us quite graciously.

Congratulations, governor. And thank you for your leadership…

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.

Micah Caskey, Republican, S.C. House District 89

Micah Caskey

Micah Caskey

The Caskeys and the Warthens have some common history, although it’s from before my time. Remember when I mentioned that my mother was writing her childhood memories, and I was typing them and creating a blog for them? Well she made prominent mention of “Hop” Caskey, who was a teacher and coach at Bennettsville High School in the ’40s, and his wife, “Madam.” They were good friends of my mother’s family — they used to buy season tickets together for Tarheel football so they could go see Charlie “Choo-Choo” Justice play.

"Madam" and "Hop" Caskey

“Madam” and “Hop” Caskey

Well, those were Micah Caskey’s great-grandparents. I was happy to be able to share with him recently a picture of them that he’d never seen before. By the way, the photographer in the foreground is Jimmy Covington, who’s been a fixture in Columbia media circles for decades. He was at BHS with my Mom.

Still, I’d never met him until back in March, when he filed to run for Kenny Bingham’s House seat. We had a wide-ranging conversation about values and policies. Unfortunately, if I took notes I can’t find them. At the time, my main aim was to find out whether this was a someone I wanted to run against, so I don’t think I took notes at all. I was looking for an overall impression.

And the overall impression was this: I was reluctant to run against him because dang it, not only is he a Marine combat veteran, but it was eerie how many things we agreed on. Of all the things we talked about, there was one thing we sharply differed on, and now I’ve forgotten what it was.

So for blogging purposes, that was a useless interview (aside from getting the photo above). But fortunately you can find out about him at his website. He lives in Springdale, and he’s an assistant solicitor in the 11th Circuit solicitor’s office (the one Rick Hubbard and Candice Lively are competing to run). I asked him why he didn’t just run for solicitor, and he said others seeking the office had more experience than he did.

The son of a locksmith, he’s the product of Lexington 2 schools and the University of Florida. He describes his military service thusly:

After college, Micah spent the next several years on active duty in the Marine Corps—rising to the rank of Captain. Micah commanded both company and platoon-sized units during his two combat tours of duty in Fallujah and Ramadi, Iraq. Later, in 2009, Micah left law school for a year to continue his service to the country. It was during that year that he commanded a small team of specialized Marines in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

He obtained his law degree from USC, plus a master’s in international business from the Darla Moore School. He worked as a management consultant in the oil and gas industry for awhile before joining the solicitor’s office.

Here are the issues he’s running on (which are pretty similar to the ones his runoff opponent, Tem Miles, cites):

  • I want to get government working for us. America is at its best when individuals and private businesses are pursuing life, liberty, and happiness — not when wrapped up in bureaucratic red tape.
  • I’ll fight to fix South Carolina’s roads and bridges. I’ll work for meaningful reforms that innovate the way our state government functions. We need accountability and transparency.
  • I will be a voice for public safety. Last October, when the floods came, our first responders answered the call. I’ll help ensure we are ready for the unexpected.
  • I’ll fight to ensure that South Carolina continues to be a friendly place for our military to call home. As a veteran, I know what it means to serve. I want South Carolina to remain a magnet for our military, our servicemembers, and our veterans.

That’s all from his website. One thing you won’t find there (or on his opponent’s site, either) are a lot of details about how he would accomplish the above. He says he’s following political advice on that, which runs against the grain because “I want to just tell people what I think about everything.” But he realizes that unless he has an hour to get into the nuances and layers of each position with each voter, it’s easy to be misunderstood when you get into specifics.MicahCaskey_Logo_v02

(I nodded when he said that. As you know, I am no fan of campaign promises. Tell people who you are, describe your experience and your overall interests in running. But don’t say exactly what you’re going to do, because you don’t know what you’ll be dealing with into office, and you don’t want to trapped by promises into doing something that turns out to be dumb under the circumstances.)

“Taking absolutist positions isn’t useful” because “I’ve seen how layered and complicated things can be.” To take one buzzphrase, he mentions “limited government.”

“What does that mean?” he asks. He prefers to say he likes “smart government,” but even there, you have to do a lot of explaining. For an example, he says, he’d do away with having to go to “15 different offices to start a small business.”

Bottom line,”I think I’m a common-sense candidate, a pragmatist.” He notes that someone called him a “consensus candidate,” a guy who would work with anyone from anywhere on the political spectrum who would help pass sensible legislation.

He accepts service on that.

Being about the age of my kids, he has run on the slogan of “A New Generation of Leadership.” That seems to have served him well over the much-older Bill Banning and Billy Oswald.

Now, he’s up against a contemporary and fellow attorney, Tem Miles. On June 28, GOP runoff voters will decide which young man they want representing them in this relatively new century.

FYI, the UnParty almost ran its first candidate this year

The candidate that wasn't, posing on the State House steps (for the ADCO website, NOT for a campaign!)

The Candidate Who Wasn’t, posing on the State House steps (for the ADCO website, NOT for a campaign!)

Actually, “almost” is a little strong, but the UnParty’s unleadership did think about it a good bit. (You think Ethan Hawke was good as Hamlet? That was nothing compared to this.)

I just got off the phone with both Micah Caskey and Tem Miles, who are in a runoff for the GOP nomination for Kenny Bingham’s House seat. I plan to post something about both of them before the day is over. (OK, so it took me until the next day.)

But before I do I should tell y’all something that I’ve mentioned to a handful of people, but not to you or the world at large:

When I heard that Kenny Bingham, my representative, was stepping down, I immediately thought about running for the seat myself — as an independent, of course. (I’ve told Messrs. Caskey and Miles this.)

Ever since I left the paper, I’ve thought about the fact that, after all these years of telling politicians what they ought to do, maybe I should get off the sidelines and do something myself.

The most logical office for me to run for would be the House. My understanding of state government and issues is far greater than my knowledge of local government. And the idea of trying to raise the resources needed to run as an independent for Congress, especially in my über-Republican district (represented by Congressman-For-Life Joe Wilson) was too high a mountain to contemplate climbing. Anyway, I think people should hold other offices before aiming that high.

And the state House would be easier than the state Senate.

But I wasn’t interested in running against Kenny (or my senator, Nikki Setzler), largely because I think he’s done a good job over the years. Also, I didn’t see how I could beat him.

So this seemed like my chance. And a good one, in one sense, even though an independent is always at a disadvantage: If I ran, I would run overtly against both political parties. I would tell voters exactly what I think of the parties, and that I was running because I didn’t want Columbia to become any more like Washington than it was. (I’d tell them a lot more than that, but that would be the thrust of my elevator speech.)

I’d be running against my opponent’s parties, not the opponents themselves.

If that pitch was ever to be effective, it would be in a year in which voters are highly disaffected from the parties — with most Republicans picking a non-Republican for president, and almost half of Democrats going with a non-Democrat. And when disgust with the partisan gridlock of Congress is at an all-time high.

If I would ever have a chance, that is. My chief handicaps would be:

  • Running as an independent, period. Despite all that disaffection, voters in this country for the most part have no practice at wrapping their minds around the concept of an independent candidate. It takes a lot of explaining, which means you start out in a hole. You run as an independent in a Republican district like mine and people assume you’re really a Democrat and trying to hide it. (Sure, I’ve written thousands upon thousands of words explaining my distaste for both parties, but how many people will go read all that?) Beyond that, it’s a hugely difficult task logistically — you have to gather thousands of signatures on petitions to get on the ballot. (At least I think so — I didn’t get to the point of actually going to the election commission and finding out all the rules.)
  • Raising the money. Because I simply cannot self-finance, even partially. I can’t spend what I don’t have. And raising money is hard for me, just as it’s hard to go out and sell ads on the blog. Not my forte. (I have raised money with some success — such as when I was on the Habitat board. But asking for money for a cause like that is far easier than when the cause is me.) Which means I’d be ill-equipped to overcome the difficulties that an independent would have with fund-raising to start with.
  • This is the biggie: There has possibly never been a candidate for public office in South Carolina who is on the record (on the easily-accessible record) on as many issues as I am. And none of my positions have been crafted to help me win elections. (In fact, I’ve spent a lot of time urging pols to do the right thing even when the right thing is unpopular.) I don’t regret any of them, but the fact remains that there are thousands of cudgels out there for an opponent to beat me with. And while every one of my opinions is chock full of nuance and careful rationale that I think would help if the voter bothered to go read it, a lot of them could be misrepresented with devastating effect.

But those aren’t the things that cooled my ardor to run. Two factors stopped me. (Or at least, stopped me so far. I’m 90 percent sure I won’t run. Let’s see how this runoff ends up. But the truth is, I’ve now waited so long that I’ve made the already-long odds close to impossible.) Here they are:

  1. Some people I liked — and who I thought would be strong Republican candidates in the general in this Republican district — filed to run. I liked Bill Banning when he was my county councilman, and was sorry to see him lose his seat. And I had breakfast with Micah Caskey (I was curious to meet him because my mother was friends with his grandparents and great-grandparents in Bennettsville) a couple of months back. I agreed with practically everything he had to say about why he was running. And oh, yes — he’s a combat veteran. I didn’t talk with Tem Miles until today, but knowing I liked both Bill and Micah, and that they would both be formidable opponents, was enough to seriously discourage me.
  2. I had a bad spring with my asthma. For the first time in years, it wasn’t under control, and I couldn’t do my daily workout — and undertaking a campaign of going door-to-door nights and weekends was just unimaginable for me. I’m better now, by the way, but I lost a lot of precious time. You’ve got to feel GREAT to undertake something like this, and I didn’t there for awhile.

So anyway, now you know where things stand — or might have stood. I thought you should know this stuff before I write about either of these candidates, which I hope to do within the next 24 hours…

When I told Kenny Bingham himself that I might run, he was kind -- he didn't laugh.

When I told Kenny Bingham himself that I might run, he was kind — he didn’t laugh.

Thoughts on the primary results?

Ck_4xgEUUAIyaec

Our hero’s identity revealed!

Well, I finally got to vote last night. I picked up my wife on the way there, and we were almost the last voters at Quail Hollow (there was one after us). So we did our duty.

What do y’all think about the results? Here are some random thoughts that I’ve had:

  • Wes Hayes’ loss. Well, the best of the three senators opposed by Nikki Haley was unfortunately the only one to lose. No offense to Hugh Leatherman and Luke Rankin — they both won in spite of the governor’s allies’ $500,000 onslaught, so good for them — but Wes Hayes, a.k.a. “the Dean of Ethics,” was the one whose plight most demonstrated the hypocrisy of the governor’s own commitment to ethics. So I’m sorry to see it.
  • Runoff for Kenny Bingham’s seat. This is my House district. I felt like the two strongest candidates were newcomer Micah Caskey (any relation, Bryan?) and former county councilman Bill Banning. Micah (the scion of a Bennettsville family with close ties to my own, by way of disclosure) was the top vote-getter and is in a runoff. Bill, unfortunately, did not make it. But I say this with no knowledge of the other guy in the runoff, Tem Miles — whom I have not interviewed or even met. I need to remedy that.Ballentine - Warthen Ad
  • Midlands incumbents prevail. Wes Hayes said it was a bad year for incumbents, and in many cases across the country that’s true. But most Midlands legislative incumbents with opposition did just fine. I was happy for Katrina Shealy because she’s done a good job, and I was rooting for her after that awful thing Cindi Scoppe did to her several years back (tsk, tsk).  Nathan Ballentine deserved to win, of course, because he advertised here on the blog. You see the logic in that, right? Other winners included Rick Quinn (in spite of the slight cloud from Pascoe’s investigation), and in Richland County, John Scott and Darrell Jackson (despite the election commission, the Recreation Commission and so forth).
  • Solicitor runoff. Going by The State‘s endorsement, the strongest guy in the field to replace Donnie Myers got the most votes, but he’s in a runoff with Candice Lively, about whom I need to learn more, just as I do with Tem Miles. Stay tuned for more.
  • Dems divided over whom they will sacrifice to Joe Wilson. Well, we heard a lot about how Arik Bjorn was the only real Democrat in their 2nd District primary. The state party even endorsed him, in an extremely unusual move (they didn’t want another Alvin Greene). And he did prevail — but by a grand total of 49 votes in unofficial results — over alleged interloper Phil Black. This 50.1 to 49.9 triumph is particularly pathetic when you reflect that in Lexington County, the gravitational center of the district, only the most dedicated, partisan Democrats — the kind who wouldn’t be caught dead voting Republican — would even have selected a Democratic ballot, since this was the only thing on it. Bjorn can take comfort that proportionally, he did a little better in my precinct than he did elsewhere — 14 to 9. No, those aren’t percentages; that’s how many people voted.
  • As expected, Sanford prevailed. Jenny Horne’s tirade against the flag, wonderful as it was at that one moment last summer (and it may have been what turned the tide in the House and got the flag down), didn’t prove enough to send her to Congress. They love them some Mark Sanford in the 1st District. I suspect it’s something in their water. But in this case, since Jenny backed Trump and Sanford did not, perhaps justice was done.
  • Lott prevails, but his secret is out! Perhaps the most satisfying result of the night was Leon Lott’s overwhelming 3-to-1 win over James Flowers for a sixth term as Richland County sheriff. I would have been cheering my twin anyway, because he’s done a great job, but that WashPost series gave us good reason to be deeply concerned about his challenger. But I’m not sure I’m happy that he’s revealed his secret identity (see photo above, which I hope The State doesn’t object to my sharing). Doesn’t this grant an advantage to the supervillains out there? I suppose the secret was bound to come out. I thought it careless of him to win those statewide Toughest Cop competitions several years back…

Your thoughts?

Horne header

I was denied the right to vote for lack of a photo ID!

direct mail

My colleague Lora Prill at ADCO brought me some of the primary-related mail she’s received at home. This is about a third of it, she says.

As you know, I’ve been pretty dismissive over the years of the respective positions of both Democrats and Republicans regarding voter ID. (Basically, I think Republicans came up with it to address a virtually nonexistent problem, and Democrats exaggerate the degree to which it amounts to an insurmountable obstacle.)

So my Democratic friends should really enjoy the irony of this:

Today, I was denied the right to vote for lack of a photo ID!

But I’m not going to picket the State House or anything, on account of it being, you know, my fault

Basically, I showed up without my wallet, something I realized when I walked into the polling place, approached the check-in table, and reached into my jacket for it. I announced my problem, was told, “You’d better go home and get it.”

Which I did. But I did it on the way downtown, and didn’t go to the polling place again, as I no longer had time. (Get this: I searched all over, and finally found it in a pocket of a pair of pants I was wearing on Sunday. Which means I drove around all day yesterday without a wallet. Sheesh.)

But I’ll go back this evening. Which makes me a little nervous. I usually vote first thing, so that I don’t have to worry about something coming up to prevent me from making it by 7 p.m.

Also, I don’t get to walk around all day with one of those “I voted” sticker, which, square that I am, always makes me feel a little bit proud of myself.

So, that’s me. How about you? Did you vote yet? How was it? Were there lines? Were there technical glitches? Share…

Interesting juxtaposition: Haley vetoes helmet bill; three motorcyclists killed

helmets

Talk about your ironies, check out the above juxtaposition of headlines from thestate.com.

In the moped safety story, the governor cites some libertarian claptrap about “government overreach” in vetoing a bill that would require moped riders under 18 to wear helmets, and all riders to wear reflective clothing at night. But to her credit, she does say she remains open to new moped safety laws, just not this one. Here’s her veto message.

In the other story, we have five tragic cases of the sort that is all too common, three of them involving motorcyclists. I wonder how many were wearing helmets.

No, there’s not a cause-and-effect here. And of course, mopeds and motorcycles aren’t exactly the same thing. I just found the timing interesting…

The difference between voting Republican or Democratic in my precinct (and yours, if you’d like to look it up)

Sample GOP

On that last post, Jeff Mobley weighed in thoughtfully, and mentioned that you can go view a sample ballot for your polling place at SCVotes.org.

So I went and did that, in order to illustrate the difference between choosing a Democratic or Republican primary ballot in my precinct, Quail Hollow.

As you can see above, I get to make some significant electoral decisions if I choose a Republican ballot. As you see below, all I’d get to do on a Democratic ballot is choose who is going to lose to Joe Wilson in the fall.

For some loyal Democrats, that is enough, as my longtime colleague Rick Temple suggested on Facebook:

This is a good year for Lexington County Democrats to vote in the their party’s primary because of the 2nd Congressional District race. One of the candidates, Arik Bjorn, is actually a Democrat. The other, Phil Black, is a Republican who has admitted he is running as a Democrat because he knows he has no chance against Joe Wilson in the Republican primary.

The ephemeral abstract rewards of such a quixotic gesture, however, escape me, in part because I don’t care who is a real Democrat and who is not, but mostly because neither of them will be going to Congress.

That makes the decision very easy.

If you live in Richland County, of course, you likely have the opposite situation, and should choose a Democratic ballot tomorrow, as our Republican friend Jeff plans to do…

sample Dem

Sorry, SC Democrats! I see no point in voting in your primary — a matter of geography, you see

unnamed

Got the above via email over the weekend.

Nice of you to think of me, SC Democrats, but I see no point in voting in your primary.

If I lived in Richland County, it would be different, as Cindi Scoppe noted in her recent column, aptly headlined “SC voters have one chance to make a difference, and it’s not in November“:

Unless you are so partisan that you can’t bring yourself to vote in a primary for the best or at least the least bad candidate in the other party, you should go where the elections are being decided. I always vote in the Republican primary when we have statewide contests, because those races are decided in the primary. This year I’m voting in the Democratic primary, because there are no statewide races and I live in Richland County, where all but one of the legislative and local contests are among Democrats. If I lived in Lexington County, I would vote in the Republican primary, for similar reasons.

Exactly.

Cindi and I agree politically about as much as any two people you’re likely to know, which means that she doesn’t care which party wins in November any more than I do. But she cares about having her vote count, which is why she votes in the Democratic primary where she lives, and I vote in the Republican over in Lexington County.

So that we get a voice in the actual election. Because where I live, the Republican primary is the election.

Video: An upbeat Fred Sheheen, back in 2013

Fred Sheheen from Matthew Warthen on Vimeo.

My son shot this clip at a fund-raiser for Vincent Sheheen at James Smith’s law office on April 16, 2013, when he was just starting to gear up for his unsuccessful second run for governor.

This was moments before some Democratic Party operatives asked us to stop shooting video, which was a disappointment. (I’ve found that while lots of campaigns don’t mind if I slip into one of these friends-and-family affairs and mingle, they hate it if I shoot video — and with my son Matt’s big, professional camera, we were doing so ostentatiously on this occasion. The people I interviewed, such as Fred, didn’t mind a bit. It was the hired hands who didn’t like it.)

As it happened, we never used any of the footage until now. I’d like to team up with my son more for video for the blog — so much better than what I shoot with my phone — but I hate to ask him to take time away from his family. When he did the video on the flag rally last year — which I think came out wonderfully — he had to spend most of the night editing it. That was a special occasion.

Anyway, I share this now with Fred’s friends and family, as a little postscript on Vincent’s moving eulogy yesterday. It shows Fred with characteristic confidence and commitment, eager to roll up his sleeves and help his boy get elected. We know now that it didn’t work out, but Fred had good reason to think it was doable, as he explains.

Enjoy, and remember…

McMaster is really standing up to Nikki Haley now

You don’t find a more dutiful soldier in the South Carolina Republican Party than Henry McMaster.Henry McMaster

Even when he went suddenly from being the most logical GOP choice for governor to losing to Tea Party upstart Nikki Haley in 2010 (basically, he was Jeb Bush to her Trump), he didn’t brood — he became her right-hand man in helping her win the general election.

That’s Henry, every time (although he made me wonder whether he’s losing it when he became the first establishment figure in South Carolina to back The Donald).

Ever since Nikki was elected, he’s gone around with a salute stapled to his forehead, faithful and true to his party’s governor.

But now, it looks like his party loyalty is broader and deeper than loyalty to her. He’s stepping up and defending the party stalwarts whom the governor is trying to take out:

S.C. Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster is endorsing state Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York, in his re-election bid, putting him on the opposite side of another race from GOP Gov. Nikki Haley.

Republican McMaster, who presides over the Senate, also is backing two other Senate incumbents who face contentious re-election battles against GOP primary challengers who Haley has endorsed.

In a statement from Hayes’ campaign, McMaster said Hayes is “one of the finest men I’ve ever known. He is a man of character, honor and trust. Time and time again, when Republican senators go into battle, they seek Wes Hayes’ leadership on huge issues like ethics, fixing our roads and education.”…

Earlier, he had stood up for Hugh Leatherman and Luke Rankin. (With regard to Leatherman at least, McMaster is joined by Supt. Molly Spearman and Speaker Jay Lucas.)

This is a very interesting development, and from what I’m seeing so far, my hat’s off to Henry. The governor’s taken a wrong course in this primary, especially with regard to Hayes. It’s good to see Henry step up like this…

WSJ still fantasizes about stopping Trump at convention

WSJ

Every morning, I read three newspapers (or rather, their associated apps), just for starters. That is, I read the portions that interest me (mostly politics and opinion) in the three papers I subscribe to — The State, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. Beyond that, I’ll check out individual items from other sources as they are brought to my attention by Twitter.

I know that makes me seem like the least sociable member of the Capital City Club, sitting there alone at my table with my nose in my iPad (someone remarked on it just today). But it’s the only way I can keep up. That’s my main reading time.

Anyway, yesterday I had on my mind several things I’d read in the Post. Today, the Journal made more of an impression.

For awhile there, you may recall, I was frequently praising the editorial board of the WSJ because they were trying so hard to get the GOP to wake up and back John Kasich.

Lately, since Kasich dropped out, I’ve been more and more disturbed by what I’ve read there. In keeping with the general partisan tendency toward acting like this is just another election in which it matters which party wins, I’ve actually seen the editors start offering Trump advice, saying such things as If he wants to improve his chances in November, he needs to do thus-and-so…

As though improving his chances were desirable. Which makes me want to retch, particularly because I know they know better.

There was even some of that today

The polls show the economy is Mr. Trump’s chief advantage over Hillary Clinton, but he was too busy claiming Hispanics can’t be fair judges to showcase Friday’s dispiriting jobs report. He also allowed the State Department investigation of Mrs. Clinton’s private email practices to tumble down the memory hole, and he made little effort to counterpunch her speech on his temperament and foreign policy—aside from tweets about her appearance. Unanswered attacks usually succeed….

But what stood out to me, in that editorial and in a couple of other places, was the repeated mention of the possibility, however slim, of still stopping Trump at the convention. I was at first startled by it, then increasingly intrigued by the way they kept mentioning it.

What brought this on was the widespread consternation among Republicans about Trump’s unprovoked comments about Judge Gonzalo Curiel. Personally, I’m still trying to figure out why this abomination is so much more shocking than all his previous ones. Maybe the GOP really had hypnotized itself into thinking there was a “new Trump,” as unlikely as that seems. Whatever.

From the above-referenced editorial, headlined “High Trump Anxiety,” ended with these words:

If Mr. Trump doesn’t start to act like a political leader, and his poll numbers collapse between now and the July convention, he may start to hear rumblings that delegates are looking for someone else to nominate. As traumatic as that would be, the Republican desire to avoid a landslide defeat that costs the House and Senate might be stronger.

Another editorial above it, which I enjoyed for the headline alone (“Saving Speaker Ryan“), ended with this:

The Trump ascendancy is a dangerous moment for Republicans and conservative ideas. But unless the convention delegates in Cleveland stage an uprising and nominate someone else (see below), Mr. Trump or Hillary Clinton will be the next President. Those who want to preserve space for a better conservative politics should support politicians who share those beliefs, not engage in Trump-like purges.

The “(see below)” referred to other editorial, “High Trump Anxiety.” Again, the possibility of stopping him at the convention was only mentioned at the very end, but it’s interesting that the editors chose to conclude two editorials that way, and to call our attention to the fact.

Then there was the column by Holman W. Jenkins Jr., which said in part:

Happily, there’s still time for Republicans, at their convention, to replace Mr. Trump with someone else, though this will require continued help from Mr. Trump. But he’s working on it. On Monday, he ordered his staff to double-down on vilifying Judge Curiel. He said on TV that a hypothetical Muslim judge might also be unfit to preside. And when and if the Trump U cases proceed to trial before a jury, whole voting blocs (women) will be on the edge of their seats to find out if they’re disqualified because Mr. Trump previously insulted them.

All this offers a second chance for those prominent Republicans who, from party loyalty, misborn hopes for Mr. Trump’s transformation or a mistaken idea of their own populist bona fides, clambered aboard the Trump express….

Echoing the two editorials, he returned to that theme at the very end:

The Trump ascendancy is a dangerous moment for Republicans and conservative ideas. But unless the convention delegates in Cleveland stage an uprising and nominate someone else (see below), Mr. Trump or Hillary Clinton will be the next President. Those who want to preserve space for a better conservative politics should support politicians who share those beliefs, not engage in Trump-like purges.

Note that the Journal isn’t going out on a limb and trying to predict that something so unlikely might actually happen. But they keep mentioning it, just in case there’s someone out there (actually, it would take quite a few someones) with the guts to take the idea and act upon it…

The shocking, tragic news about Fred Sheheen

A friend just brought this to my attention:

Fred SheheenFred Sheheen, former commissioner of the state Commission on Higher Education, and father of state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, died Monday in a car crash.

Kershaw County Coroner David West confirmed Sheheen’s death….

Sheheen was the older brother to Bob Sheheen, D-Kershaw, former speaker of the S.C. House of Representatives….

I’m just stunned to hear this.

I knew and respected Fred — and his brother Bob, the House Speaker when I first arrived in SC — long before I ever heard of Vincent.

As head of the CHE, Fred was the kind of public official that even Doug Ross would have appreciated. One of the stranger things about our fragmented system of government in South Carolina is our huge profusion of public colleges and universities, each governed by its separate, autonomous board of trustees. We have no board of regents or other central authority to decide how best to allocate higher education resources and to prevent duplication of effort.

The CHE had limited ability to say “no” to what the universities wanted to do, but where it did have that power, Fred exercised it to the utmost. He didn’t just say “no” when schools wanted to duplicate efforts or waste resources; he said “HELL no!”

Which didn’t make him the most popular guy in the state, but he certainly won my respect.

This is just terrible news, for the Sheheens and for South Carolina…

SC Dems’ email not quite up to the Daisy Ad standard

Trump nuclear

I got the above image in an email from the S.C. Democratic Party over the weekend, over the words:

Donald Trump…Nuclear Codes?
Stop Him.

… followed, of course, by a “Click to Contribute” button.

Sorry, folks, but your standards seem to be slipping. The same thing was done far, far more creatively by the Johnson campaign in 1964.

Come on, guys, step up your game. It’s like you’re hardly trying…

Response to Post series from James Flowers

I got this comment over the weekend from James Flowers, Leon Lott’s opponent for the Democratic nomination for Richland County sheriff:

Brad Warthen. You should have reached out to me before writing this article so that you would have actual facts instead of what is written in this article by the civil attorney. First of all, as a SLED agent we investigate CRIMINAL actions. This was a CIVIL deposition. My only purpose is to gather the facts and provide them to the James FlowersSolicitor. What you obviously don’t know is that the Solicitor’s office, the FBI, and the US Attorney’s office reviewed my report and had ZERO issues with the work. The Solicitor’s office made the determination that there was no criminal action on the part of the law enforcement officers not Me or SLED. Also, when 3 certified law enforcement officers that are serving 2 valid warrants have any sort of weapon pointed at them, they should by all means respond with deadly force. A real law enforcement leader stands behind and supports law enforcement officers 100% when they are right. Even if he has to be arrogant to do it. This article is nothing more than a hit piece orchestrated by an overzealous civil attorney who has a different legal standard than law enforcement does in reviewing shootings. I also noticed that you didn’t mention the unflattering second article about your friend Lott. So please do some due diligence prior to your next blog. Thank you. James Flowers.

As it happens, the last person to get on my case for not having contacted him before posting something was… Leon Lott. And he kind of had a point, from his perspective, since the point of the post he called about was to wonder aloud why the sheriff hadn’t done a certain thing. Turns out that he had an answer to the question that he wanted to share.

I will always, always be on the defensive when people say I should have contacted them before posting something. But here’s the thing, folks: This is  a commentary blog, not a primary news source. I read things, and I react to them. And invite you to react to my reactions. On the rare occasions that I have time to go out and cover an event myself, I do so. Look back — you’ll see that’s my M.O. It’s not optimal; I wish I could afford to blog full-time. But WYSIWYG.

As it is, I don’t find time to comment on as many things as I’d like to — not even close to it. I’m very straightforward with you about the basis of my comments, so you can look at what I’m looking at and challenge my conclusions. And your comments, like Mr. Flowers’, get posted as well.

In this case, I spent way more time than I usually spend on a single post because it took so long for me to read that 7,000-word Washington Post article on which it was based. As I said, I’d read that one story and the fourth piece from the series by Radley Balko (more accurately, I skimmed the fourth piece). Now that Mr. Flowers has said Lott looks bad in the second installment of the series, I’ll go read that, and share what I find. I probably won’t have time to read the third piece today, but if you get there ahead of me, please share what you find.

Oh, and I don’t plan to call Leon before sharing what I find in that second installment. The story says what it says, and that’s what I’ll be reacting to — as per usual.

Although if I can find the time later, this subject is interesting enough that I might go above and beyond (in other words, take the kind of time I did back when I got paid to do this) and give both Lott and Flowers a call. But it remains to be seen whether that will be possible between now and next Tuesday’s primary.

Maybe some of my colleagues out there in the community who still get paid to do such reporting will get to it ahead of me. Let’s hope so.

Anyway, I welcome Mr. Flowers to the conversation.

WashPost raises serious questions about SLED probes — and about Lott’s primary opponent, James Flowers

Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement. It raises loud alarms.

I regret that I failed to read any of this series from The Washington Post until our own Jeff Mobley brought it to my attention. I remember seeing a rather lurid headline about law enforcement in SC, noting that the story was very long (more than 7,000 words) and meaning to go back and read it later. I never did.

I should have.

Basically, the series reports that while South Carolina has looked pretty good for investigating officer-involved shootings in the last couple of years, those few cases don’t tell the whole story by a long shot. In fact, this series suggests that our system of having such shootings investigated by SLED (everywhere but in Richland County) looks good in theory, in practice it falls far short of providing a credible check on police.

The series begins with the horrific story of the death of Lori Jean Ellis, a 52-year-old black woman, at the hands of cops in 2008.

There was a lot in police accounts of her killing to raise questions, but none more dramatic than the weapon with which she was supposed to have fired at the officers before they fired back with deadly effect. They reported see a flash and smoke from a weapon that, based on its loud report, could only have been a high-powered rifle.

It was a pellet gun. Which means, for those not hip to such things, that it would not produce smoke, a flash or a bang. And it’s not entirely clear that she fired it at them, or even aimed it at them.

And yet the officers were never questioned about this discrepancy, a lapse that this report suggests is all too common in SLED investigations.

You might think Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott would come out looking pretty bad in these reports, since his department doesn’t even go in for the window-dressing (at least, these reports suggest it’s only window-dressing) of SLED investigations, preferring to handle such shootings internally.

But, at least in the two installments I’ve read so far, is not the case. In fact, in one case, he comes out looking better than others — as the only officer who spoke to the journalist who wrote the series, Radley Balko. (Although his comments dismissing the need for outside investigations didn’t inspire confidence.)

On the other hand, his opponent in this month’s primary looks pretty horrible.

James Flowers was the lead SLED investigator in the shooting of Lori Jean Ellis. And he showed a shocking lack of concern over the discrepancies in the officers’ account. From his deposition in a lawsuit brought by the estate of Ms. Ellis:

Phillips: So did anything prevent you, from the moment that you found out it was a mere BB gun, to say, “I want to go back and talk to this deputy . . .”

Flowers: Nothing prevented me from doing that.

James Flowers

James Flowers

Phillips: Okay. Why didn’t you go back?

Flowers: Because I didn’t feel it necessary.

Phillips: So someone telling you something that you’ve never seen before, that doesn’t compel you to maybe follow up?

Flowers: No. Not in all cases . . .

Phillips:  . . . so if I tell you something that can’t physically happen, you’re just going to take my word for it?

Flowers: See, here’s the thing. As the lead investigator for the state’s premiere law enforcement agency, it is my responsibility to put this case together. After looking at this information, I deemed that it was not necessary to interview that officer again. And that was the decision that I made….

As a police expert interviewed for the series notes,

““The arrogance here is stunning,” Downing says. “This response either reveals Flowers’s incompetence or his bias. Either way, he should not be conducting investigations of officer-involved shootings.”

You should go read the whole thing, or at least that first installment. It’s disturbing.

By the way, there are mentions in the series about legislation to make changes to such procedures in S.C. I’m unclear as I write this as to what happened to that legislation in the session that ended yesterday…

What has government ever done for us?

The New York Times decided to have a bit of fun with the upcoming Brexit vote. Noting that a lot of Britons can be heard saying, “What has Europe ever done for us?,” the NYT’s editors harked back to the classic Monty Python bit in which a group of first-century Palestinian revolutionaries indignantly ask the same about the Romans.

Only to come up with a LONG list of examples, causing their leader, played by John Cleese, to rephrase his question:

But apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the freshwater system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?

Good stuff.

But of course, whenever I see the clip, I hear the voices of all the people who insist that government is the problem, not the solution.

Unfortunately, after years of being governed by folks like that — or at least, folks who walk in fear of the Grover Norquists of the world — many of the blessings of a civilized government are falling apart. Thereby putting us in a situation in which government actually is doing less of what it should do for us, or at least doing it less well. Which convinces more people that government is no damn’ good, which causes more such people to be elected, and so forth…

Anyway, that’s sort of what my friends over at The State are on about with their new series, “How SC’s leaders have failed South Carolinians.”

And they have failed us. Because if our elected officials can’t manage to keep the basic functions of government up and running properly, what indeed have the Romans ever done for us?

IMG_1089

These folks have the right idea about which senator to target. Now, if only I knew who they were…

good gummint

As I said on my previous post (although I might as well have been pounding my head against a wall as far as Doug is concerned), if you want to make things better in the S.C. Senate via the ballot box, try to get rid of the worst senators, not the best ones.

This group, the “sc good government committee,” have the right idea. They’re going after the worst of the worst, Lee Bright.

Here’s their latest release about that, and here’s a link to their new radio ad. And here’s what it says, in case you’re too lazy to click on a link:

FULL TRANSCRIPT
ANNCR: 
If you live here in the Upstate or drive I-85, you know what it’s like to dodge potholes and hit the brakes – and you’re always behind that ONE guy who just won’t get out of the way. It’s a lot like being in the state senate with Lee Bright. For eight years, while our roads crumble and bridges collapse, Lee Bright has just talked and talked spewing more hot air than a busted radiator. Did you know he’s introduced 116 bills and only ONE has ever been signed into law? He spends time on bills to give South Carolina its own currency, then votes down common sense legislation that fixes our roads and bridges without raising taxes. Just a few weeks ago, Bright voted to bankrupt South Carolina farmers, TWICE. He’s trying to hold up roads solutions, voting against our farmers and doing nothing to get more jobs to the Upstate. We need a Senator to lead the way, not get in the way. On June 14, tell Lee Bright to get out of the way. We need a Senator who can actually get things done.

Those are not necessarily the points I would make, but hey, they’ve got the right idea: Bright needs to go.

There’s just one problem, and I’ve mentioned it here before:

One of the first, most basic requirements of “good government” is transparency. (Especially in South Carolina, where we have so little of it.) But I can’t seem to find out who the “good government committee” is (although I suspect their publicist is a big fan of e.e. cummings.) I go to the About page, and there’s not a name to be found.

I’ll say it again: Want good government? Set a good example: Disclose.

By going after Hayes, Haley tells us she’s not really serious about ethics at all

Sen. Wes Hayes, a.k.a. "Mr. Ethics"

Sen. Wes Hayes, a.k.a. “The Dean of Ethics”

First, she went after Hugh Leatherman and Luke Rankin, and I did nothing. Or nothing beyond a mention in an open thread.

Now, she’s gone far too far:

Gov. Nikki Haley is backing another opponent of a longtime S.C. senator.

Wes Climer cropped

Wes Climer

Haley is expected to endorse Republican Wes Climer, a Rock Hill financial adviser running to unseat state Sen. Wes Hayes of Rock Hill, Climer said Wednesday.

Haley will campaign with Climer, a former York County GOP chairman, at a barbecue at his home next Thursday at 6 p.m.

The endorsement pits Haley against Hayes, who has been in the state Senate since 1991 and served in the S.C. House since 1985 beforehand.

“Wes Climer is a conservative businessman who is leading the fight for term limits, lower taxes and good government reform,” Haley said in the release. “If we are going to change the way the Senate works, we are going to have to change senators.”…

In other words, she’s saying Climer is an unknown about who we know one thing: He would be a reliable vote for trashing government. Another Tea Partier. Another of those who have eviscerated the Republican Party from within.

Because if what she cares about is “good government reform,” she’d be going all-out to re-elect Wes Hayes.

On one level, this is reminiscent of the governor’s capricious replacement of Darla Moore on the USC board of trustees with an unknown guy who had contributed to her campaign. I mean it’s like that in the sense that she wants to replace someone who has a stellar record of solid support and service to the people of South Carolina with a political nonentity who can be relied upon to do the governor’s bidding.

Wes Hayes is one of the best members of the S.C. Senate, particularly on the issue of ethics. Even the Democrats call him “the Dean of Ethics” (and by the way, that link shows you just how far Sen. Hayes has gone to avoid offending the governor — something he has reason to rethink right about now).

No one who is serious about ethics would lift a finger to help an opponent of Wes Hayes.

This is outrageous. This is the most Mark Sanford thing Nikki Haley has done in quite some while…