Category Archives: South Carolina

How many more ways can this Kitzman thing get weird?

OK, we already knew that Eleanor Kitzman’s main qualification for the job of DHEC director was that she’s a passionately loyal Nikki Haley supporter.

And we’ve seen her be handed another job at the agency so she doesn’t have to wait around on Senate confirmation to start collecting a paycheck. (Admittedly, it’s as a mere hourly employee — one who makes $74 an hour, that is.)

And now there’s this:

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control board did not seek applications from anyone to fill the agency director’s job before voting to hire former state insurance chief Eleanor Kitzman, a campaign contributor to Republican Gov. Nikki Haley.

In response to an open records request from The State newspaper, DHEC said Thursday that while the board talked about several potential candidates, “no applications were requested or submitted.” The department thought Kitzman was the best person for the position, an agency statement said.

The State newspaper’s request, filed under the Freedom of Information Act, sought copies of job applications for the post vacated Jan. 8 by Catherine Templeton.

But agency spokeswoman Cassandra Harris and Freedom of Information Office director Karla York said they did not have any to provide. Only Kitzman’s resume was provided to the newspaper….

How many more ways can this nomination get weird?

Let’s ask the question: Does SC need SC State?

Or to ask it another way, does the state of South Carolina need to keep propping up an institution that has become a money sinkhole, and is not delivering on its mission, with a 13.7 percent four-year graduation rate?

This is a question, of course, that has hovered out there since USC and other formerly white institutions were integrated: Given that other state institutions are open to all, do we need a separate college that formerly existed just for folks who couldn’t get in elsewhere?

And when we ask that, we hear various arguments for why an institution like SC State — or such private colleges as Benedict — have a greater affinity for, and understand better how to educate, a portion of the population that still lacks the advantages and support systems that middle-class whites take for granted. That such historically black institutions are better at meeting such students where they are, and lifting them to where they want to be.

And perhaps that is the case.

But at some point, we need to look at whether that job of lifting up the disadvantaged is getting done, and how much we are spending on dubious returns.

Note:

Struggling S.C. State University wants an added $13.7 million from House budget writers to pay off a $6 million state loan and improve operations at the college, which has one of the worst graduation rates in the state.

The Orangeburg college must get out “from under this cloud” to improve its graduation rate, S.C. State president Thomas Elzey said after he made the school’s budget presentation Wednesday to S.C. House members.

“The negative kind of statements about the quality of this university and the value of this university (need) to be taken off the table because we are valuable, and we do offer quality,” Elzey said.

However, legislators focused on S.C. State’s financial and academic woes.

S.C. State’s enrollment has fallen 20 percent recently but the school failed to cut its budget to match lost tuition payments. As a result, the state’s only historically black public university owes vendors $10 million in unpaid bills. To reduce costs, cuts have been made to staff and are being considered for athletics, the school’s president said.

The school wants its state taxpayer money doubled – to nearly $27 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1, including money to pay off the state loan – from $13 million this year.

That request does not include any money to pay back a $12 million state loan – to be issued over three years – that the Joint Bond Review Committee approved in December….

I added the bold-faced emphasis in those two places.

An institution that in recent months and years has only been in the news for financial and leadership failures wants its appropriation doubled to get out “from under this cloud?” And then what? What are the realistic prospects going forward? What do we really expect in terms of improvement and reduced need for state infusions of money?

When the bond review committee gave the school that $12 million “loan” in December, Gov. Haley said they “gave it away because they know it can’t be paid back.” And I’m not seeing any indications that she was wrong to say that.

So… where are we going with this? Where can we realistically expect to be in five years if the state keeps funneling in the money?

And at what point is it not worth it anymore?

Even hometown Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter says “we’re going to have to exercise some tough love” with SC State. But how much more love of any kind is it worth investing?

These are very tough questions that everyone involved is hesitant to articulate. Maybe these questions don’t occur to anyone, but that would surprise me.

There may be a million — or 27 million (wait; 39 million counting money to pay back the loan) — reasons why I’m wrong (and heartless and insensitive) to raise such questions. I hope there are. I want to hear them.

But I thought I’d play the part of the little kid in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, if only to see if y’all can come up with those great answers for me. I want to be embarrassed for having asked such silly questions.

But I ask them because it seems that we’re just stumbling along from crisis to crisis here. And I think it’s useful to step back, and ask where we’re going, and whether we want to go there, and whether what we’re doing is getting us there…

Do you believe in the concept of the rule of law? If so, what is your personal relationship with it?

Rep. Hill, from his campaign Facebook page.

Rep. Hill, from his campaign Facebook page.

On a couple of occasions during my years chairing The State‘s editorial board, someone who had come to meet with us to advocate for a position on some complex issue would say, in response to our questions, “Wow. Y’all understand this better than a lot of legislators.”

I can’t recall now whether I was ever startled into saying this out loud, but I know what I wanted to say whenever this happened: “Well, I certainly hope so!”

You may think that sounds arrogant and conceited. But it wasn’t really. It was based in extensive experience with legislators like Rep. Jonathon Hill, R-Anderson, who distributed to SC judicial candidates a questionnaire with such questions as:

9. Do you believe in the “Supreme Being” (SC Constitution, Article VI, Section 2)? What is the nature of this being? What is your personal relationship to this being? What relevance does this being have on the position of judge? Please be specific….

14. Please name an example of a Federal violation of the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and state how you would respond as a state-level judge.

15. What role do you wish to play in effecting policy change?…

19. Would you ever assign the death penalty in a particular case? Under what circumstances?…

21. Do you believe unborn children have rights? If so, how would those factor in to your decisions as a judge?…

24. Would you perform a homosexual marriage, either voluntarily or involuntarily?

25. Does the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution apply only to the militia and military, or to the people at large?…

To which one naturally wants to reply:

  1. Do you believe in the rule of law and not of men?
  2. If your answer is “yes,” what’s with the questions?

This case illustrates well something else I’ve learned over the years, something which I continue to have trouble convincing Doug of: Experience as a lawmaker has value. Which is why, if all other things are equal, I’ll pick a veteran lawmaker over a novice.

You see, Mr. Hill is a freshman lawmaker, in his first month in office. He is, in fact, a 29-year-old freshman legislator, which means that not only does he not know much about the way the political and legal worlds work, but he’s not overly burdened with life experience in general.

To his credit, he seems to understand this, and is willing to learn. As he said after staffers of the state Judicial Merit Selection Commission diplomatically told him some of the questions were “problematic:”

“You live and learn,” said Hill, a 29-year-old Anderson businessman and freshman legislator. “Maybe next year I’ll be in a better position to — if I put out a questionnaire — to craft it in a way that would work a little bit better.”…

I find that reassuring. I am less comforted that he also said this:

Hill said he tried not to ask leading questions because he wanted honest answers. “If you’re a candidate and you tell me … what you think I want to hear … that doesn’t help me at all.”…

So, apparently, he actually thought that no one could infer where he was coming from from these questions. But again, he’s young.

Fortunately, as of The State‘s reporting of the matter, no judicial candidates had actually answered Rep. Hill’s questions. This should make us all feel better.

It’s not ‘rewriting history;’ it’s paying ATTENTION to history

Cindi Scoppe had a good piece on the issue of unnaming Tillman Hall at Clemson today.

Basically, she took apart the silly argument from certain quarters that changing such a name constitutes “rewriting history.” A salient passage:

The comparison to slave owners might work if this debate were simply about someone who owned slaves. That is, someone who was simply following the accepted norms of his day. That is not what Benjamin Tillman was.

Tillman, sans patch

Tillman, sans patch

Benjamin Tillman was an outlier, an extremist, a brutal racist even by the standards of his time. Many of his contemporaries considered him a dangerous man who wanted to push our state and nation in a dangerous direction — among them the men who founded my newspaper in 1891, for the primary purpose of opposing the new governor’s policies.

Many white people in post-Reconstruction South Carolina disliked black people, even considered them inferior. Most did not collude with lynch mobs and defend murdering black people, as Gov. Benjamin Tillman did. Most did not threaten to kill black people who tried to vote, as Mr. Tillman did in 1876. Most did not lead a militia that terrorized and killed former slaves in the Hamburg Massacre, about which Mr. Tillman frequently bragged that “we shot negroes and stuffed ballot boxes.” Most did not give speeches urging white people to prepare to respond with violence if black people tried to claim the rights promised us all under the U.S. Constitution, as U.S. Sen. Tillman did.

Sen. Tillman earned the name “Pitchfork Ben” when he threatened to impale President Grover Cleveland on a pitchfork. He was censured by the Senate for assaulting another senator on the Senate floor. Such brutality alone should have been reason not to name things after him….

Amen to that.

If one must honor Ben Tillman in order to respect history, then I will henceforth abandon my lifelong love of the subject. I not only have the prejudice here of a former editor of The State, which as Cindi says was founded to fight Tillman and all he stood for (which is why his nephew murdered our first editor). It’s my personal heritage. My ancestors despised him.

I’ve told you before the anecdote about my grandmother, as a child, living next door to Tillman in Washington, a state of affairs which appalled her parents (they later moved out to Kensington, Md.). She remembered sitting on his lap and asking what was under his eyepatch.

Her family provides the very contrast that Cindi points to. My grandmother’s family — my family — had owned slaves, long before she was born. They were of that time and that class (other ancestors of mine, however, were far poorer and therefore innocent of slaveholding). Her grandfather had served in the Legislature both before and after the War, and that was what that demographic did in South Carolina.

As uncomfortable as that personal history makes me, my family by contrast looks great next to Tillman, who was a monstrous figure.

Cindi’s piece mentions the decision to strip ex-Sheriff James Metts’ name from a boat landing. That was a perfectly appropriate thing to do, after the sheriff’s disgrace. But I tell you, I’d name the whole state for Jimmy Metts before I’d name a mad dog after Tillman. Metts is not 1,000th the malevolent figure that Tillman was.

I say that not because I want to rewrite history. I say it because I know my history (although still not nearly as well as I should, and my education continues), and choose to learn from it.

Speaker appears ready to get to work on improving rural schools

This came over the transom this afternoon:

Speaker Lucas Reacts to Supreme Court’s Denial for Abbeville Rehearing

Releases names of the five plaintiff participants in the education task force

(Columbia, SC) – House Speaker Jay Lucas (District 65-Hartsville) announced the five representatives who will participate in the House Education Policy Review and Reform Task Force. These individuals were selected by the plaintiffs’ attorneys in the Abbeville v. StateSupreme Court case and their names were provided to the Speaker’s office on Friday.

The House and Senate asked for a rehearing in November after the Supreme Court issued its decision on the twenty-one year old case.  Speaker Lucas, a representative from the Pee Dee, submitted the request primarily because the Court did not provide enough clarity on how to proceed in its ruling.

“Today’s Supreme Count announcement further confirms the dire need for comprehensive education reform,” Speaker Jay Lucas stated. “In light of the Court’s decision to deny a rehearing, I am hopeful that the House Education Task Force will immediately begin its work to develop a robust strategy that ensures every child is given access to the best possible education in every part of our state. These five representatives from the Abbeville v. State case will provide significant insight and help create standards that put our state back on a path towards excellence.”

Representatives from Abbeville County School Districts v. the State of South Carolina

            Wanda L. Andrews, Ed. D.

Superintendent, Lee County School District

Former Assistant Superintendent, Spartanburg County School District 7

Former Deputy Superintendent, Sumter County School District 2

 

            David Longshore, Jr., Ph.D.

Former Superintendent and current consultant, Orangeburg County Consolidated District 3

Former Member, State Board of Education

Former President, South Carolina Association of School Administrators (SCASA)

Former President, SCASA Superintendent’s Division

Former Consultant, Educational Testing Service

Former Member, Board of Visitors, MUSC

 

            Terry K. Peterson, Ph.D.

Senior Fellow, College of Charleston

Education Advisor, C.S. Mott Foundation

Former Chief Counselor to U.S. Secretary of Education, Secretary Riley

Former Education Director, Office of Governor Riley

 

            Rick Reames

Executive Director, Pee Dee Education Center

Former Deputy Superintendent, Florence County School District 1

 

            John Tindal

Superintendent, Clarendon County School District 2

Former Chair, State Board of Education

Former President, South Carolina Association of School Administrators (SCASA)

            Former President, SCASA Superintendent’s Division

Seems like the speaker has a fairly healthy attitude on the subject, in that he’s ready to get to work on the problem. Or says so, anyway.

What Haley proposed isn’t a ‘road plan.’ It’s a tax cut plan

In the sake of clarity, The State‘s editorial Sunday about Nikki Haley’s “Let’s Make A Deal” proposal on paying for roads maybe what should have been an obvious point, although I had not yet thought of it this way:

WHEN MARK Sanford ran for governor in 2002, he proposed to increase our tax on gasoline and eliminate the state income tax. He didn’t claim it was a plan to save our roads. It was a plan to cut our taxes, plain and simple.

And that’s what Gov. Nikki Haley offered us in her State of the State address on Wednesday: a plan to cut taxes. Oh, she called it a plan to address what most businesses and lawmakers and many citizens consider our most urgent problem: our crumbling roads and bridges.

But it would cover barely a fifth of the need, and in reality it was just a warmed-over version of the Sanford plan. It should meet the same fate as the Sanford plan, which the Republican Legislature rejected, because lawmakers knew we could not afford a massive reduction in the money available to pay for schools and prisons and industrial recruitment and mental health and other basic services.

Gov. Haley did propose to spend the new gas tax revenue on roads: $3.5 billion over the next decade. But she also proposed to steal $8.5 billion from those core functions of government over that same period.

The governor says she’s making roads a priority (although really she’s making tax cuts the priority), and it’s true that we can fix a big problem in government by making it a priority. But if we aren’t careful, we create other problems, as we saw most recently with the cuts to our child-protection program that Gov. Haley now wants to reverse…

Yup. Instead of focusing on the problem under discussion, something of importance to everyone who cares about the state’s actual needs — the lack of funding for roads — the governor is really using that as a smokescreen to achieve an ideological goal that doesn’t address any actual problem.

That wasn’t fully clear to me until I saw the numbers: $3.5 billion for roads, but $8.5 billion for tax cuts…

Legislative progress (or at least, progress toward progress) against criminal domestic violence

Just a couple of things to share with you from the last couple of days, reflecting progress on criminal domestic violence over in the State House — actual progress in the Senate, and movement toward progress in the House.

This came from Senate Republicans on Wednesday:

Senate Judiciary passes Criminal Domestic Violence Bill

Proposal Heads to Full Senate for Debate

Columbia, SC – January 21, 2015 – Recognizing the need for immediate movement on the issue of domestic violence, the Senate Judiciary today passed legislation that would get tougher on offenders, as well as restrict gun ownership for many of those convicted of criminal domestic violence.

S.3, sponsored by Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin and others, is the first major piece of domestic violence legislation in years. Among other provisions, the bill would increases the penalties and prohibits those who have committed Criminal Domestic Violence from possessing a firearm for 10 years.

“We in state government have a duty to protect the most vulnerable in South Carolina, and tragically, that too often ends up being members of an abuser’s household,” Martin said. “South Carolina has been among the worst in the nation in domestic violence for far too long, and I’m hopeful the full Senate will address this bill quickly.”

“As a former solicitor, I’ve seen the tragedy of domestic violence more than I’d care to recall,” said Senator Greg Hembree. “When you look at those statistics, domestic violence deaths have too often involved firearms and repeat offenders. This is a commonsense way to make sure that offenders with a history of committing violence in the home are punished have a lessened ability to commit violence in the future.”

“I’m incredibly proud of my colleagues of Judiciary for moving so quickly on this bill,” said Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler. “This is a bill that has been a long time coming, and I’m hopeful that we can get it to the House quickly for consideration.”

Then, this came across from the new House speaker yesterday:

Speaker Lucas Applauds CDV Ad Hoc Committee
Legislation will introduced in the House next week 

(Columbia, SC) – House Speaker Jay Lucas (District 65-Darlington) issued the following statement after the House Criminal Domestic Violence Ad-Hoc Committee completed its responsibilities and reached an agreement on legislation.

South Carolina unfortunately ranks second in the nation for women killed by men as a result of domestic violence.  This unacceptable statistic deserves immediate attention and the government has a responsibility to enact significant reforms to our laws.  Speaker Lucas is very pleased that the dedicated members of this committee have been working diligently since August to extensively investigate ways to better protect our citizens from abuse.

“Criminal domestic violence has no place in a civil society,” Speaker Lucas stated.  “Our government has a responsibility to dramatically change our laws so that we can offer our citizens the best possible protection from those who attempt to inflict senseless harm. I applaud Chairwoman Shannon Erickson and the rest of this steadfast committee for their dedication and hard work on this extremely important issue and I look forward to seeing this piece of legislation progress through the South Carolina House of Representatives.”

Chairwoman Shannon Erickson stated, “I am proud of the work of this committee. We were able to spend time listening to the concerns of domestic violence victims in addition to concerns from the law enforcement agencies charged with prosecuting their offenders. After months of work, we have a piece of legislation that will give added protections to victims, respect individual rights as well as crack down on violent domestic offenders. I want to thank Attorney General, Alan Wilson, and each individual who contributed to this much needed reform. Our work is not yet done, but we remain dedicated to strengthening justice for victims in South Carolina.”

The legislation agreed upon in this ad hoc committee will be introduced in the House of Representatives next Tuesday and proceed through the proper legislative channels.

Members of the Criminal Domestic Violence Ad-Hoc Committee:

            Rep. Shannon S. Erickson, Chairwoman (District 124-Beaufort)

Rep. J. David Weeks, Vice Chair (District 51-Sumter)

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (District 66-Orangeburg)

Rep. MaryGail K. Douglas (District 41-Fairfield)

Rep. Ralph Shealy Kennedy (District 39-Lexington)

Rep. Deborah A. Long (District 45-Lancaster)

Rep. Peter M. McCoy, Jr. (District 115-Charleston)

Rep. Mia S. McLeod (District 79-Richland)

Rep. Robert L. Ridgeway, III (District 64-Clarendon)

Rep. Edward R. “Eddie” Tallon, Sr. (District 33-Spartanburg)

Rep. Anne J. Thayer (District 9-Anderson)

Key provisions included in the legislation:

·         Removes the word “criminal” because domestic violence itself is a crime

·         Increases penalties for criminals by moving from a strictly occurrence based model to one that considers degree of injury; orders of protection; occurrence; and enhancements such as abuse to pregnant women, strangulation or incidents occurring in the presence of a minor

·         Extends time period for a bond hearing to ensure a judge has all necessary information

·         Allows the bond judge to consider not only the danger of the alleged criminal to the community, but also to the alleged victim

·         Develops a fatality review committee to study domestic violence cases which result in death

·         Adds domestic violence education to the curriculum for compressive health classes required in middle school

·         Allows judges to proceed with the case without the presence of the victim

·         Permits the Department of Social Services to study a voucher system for child care to allow the victim to appear in court

I’m noticing that Speaker Lucas has a penchant for these ad hoc committees, I suppose as a means of greasing the skids — getting some consensus from various stakeholders — before going through the actual, official bill-considering process.

Here’s hoping it works, on worthwhile bills such as these appear to be.

In any case, I’m glad to see interest from the speaker’s office in getting some things done. Lucas appears to working energetically to get beyond the malaise — actually, worse than malaise — of Bobby Harrell’s last years in office.

As to the merits of the bills — well, I’ll be interested to see what emerges as these bills move along, and see what comes out in debate. But for now, having GOP leadership in both houses showing this kind of eagerness to protect women, in a state so notorious for not doing so, is encouraging.

Today is not as great a day in SC as yesterday was: Bose shutting Blythewood plant

Nikki Haley’s is lucky this didn’t break a day earlier. It would have taken some of the shine off her State of the State address…

Haley’s ‘solution’ for roads: Rob the general fund

On my way home last night, listening on the radio, I heard some things from our governor that sounded pretty good to me, including her continuing initiatives to try to help out poor, rural schools. It was refreshing to hear a South Carolina Republican say, in such a prominent venue, “for the first time in our history, we acknowledged that it costs more to teach those children mired in poverty than those born into a secure economic situation.”

I was less enchanted a moment later, when she announced, “And all of this will be done without spending a single new tax dollar.” In other words, any gains we make in education will be accomplished by cutting back on something else that state government does.

And that brings us to her proposal on paying for roads, which is essentially to take the money out of the general fund, underfunding some other state function.

She says she can go for doing the right and logical thing, the obvious thing we should do without any conditions or contortions — raise the gas tax. But only if we cut the unrelated income tax. (And restructure the transportation agency, which of course is fine — I’ve advocated it for more than two decades — although not necessarily a thing we should hold our breath on while roads and bridges fall apart.)

The foolishness of this would be immediately apparent to everyone if it were a one-to-one swap. If the income tax was dedicated to paying for roads, then no one could miss the idiocy of raising revenues for roads with the left hand while lowering them with the right.

But the income tax doesn’t pay for roads; it goes into the general fund to pay for the rest of government. And among the hate-the-government crowd, the Haley proposal will make sense. How do they get there? By clinging to the belief that most government spending is waste anyway. And to the even more absurd belief that if you just cut off the money tap, efficiencies will magically appear, and only the “waste” will be cut.

I’ll say to this what I always say to such proposals: If you believe the general fund can do without those revenues, then tell us what you want to cut. Make the cuts first, and then reduce the no-longer-needed revenues.

But they won’t do that. That would be hard. They prefer the magical-thinking approach — just cut off the money, and everything will work out OK.

The honest thing would be to say, here is the thing that I think is less important than funding roads. But that would incur a political cost. The governor, and those who will support her idea, just want the warm-and-fuzzy credit that comes from cutting a tax, any tax.

This is the kind of proposal you make when you’re more interested in staying in the good graces of the Grover Norquists than you are in governing.

I think our governor has matured in office in a number of ways. She used to call the discomfort of mainstream Republicans over her sudden rise “a beautiful thing,” with a twinkle of malice in her eye. Now, she uses that phrase in a more positive way:

Whether I’m in California or Connecticut, Montreal or Minnesota, the story of South Carolina’s success is front and center. Everywhere we go there is excitement – and frankly, not a small amount of envy – over who we are and what we’ve been able to accomplish. It’s a beautiful thing….

But the deal she is proffering on roads is a dereliction of responsibility.

Again, if we want better roads, we should dig into our pockets (and into the pockets of visitors who use our roads) and pay for them. Magic beans are not a solution.

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…

 

Democrats walk back their awful casino proposal (a bit)

Two days ago, I said I hoped that when the SC House Democrats announced their legislative priorities on Tuesday, they would back away from their awful idea of legalizing casinos in order to pay for roads.

I didn’t have much confidence that they would, and I didn’t attend their presser.

But I’m pleased and surprised by the release they sent out after yesterday’s event. No, they didn’t abandon the idea. But it was no longer the first thing they mentioned on the topic of paying for roads, and the first thing was now the one rational way to do it — by raising the tax that is intended for that purpose, a tax that hasn’t been raised since 1987:

SC House Democrats Announce 2015 Legislative Agenda
Highlights include road funding, education funding reform, equal pay, redistricting reform
Columbia, SC – South Carolina House Democrats announced their legislative agenda for the 2015-16 session at a press conference at the state house on Tuesday. Led by Minority Leader Representative Todd Rutherford, Democrats first stressed the need to tackle road funding this session.
“House Democrats are endorsing an ‘all of the above’ approach to road funding this year,” said Democratic Leader Todd Rutherford (D-Richland). “The time to be picky about how we fund our roads is over. Simply put, we will not stand in the way of a gas tax increase, nor will we stand in the way of new revenue through casinos. The only thing we’ll stand in the way of is kicking the can down the road. We have to plug our $45 billion infrastructure deficit before a bridge collapses and people die.”
Democrats also called on the Governor and Republicans in the general assembly to withdraw their “embarrassing” appeal to the Supreme Court ruling over K-12 funding.
“For twenty years, Republicans have ignored the issue of education funding in South Carolina,” said Representative James Smith (D-Richland.) “Instead of fighting the Supreme Court ruling calling on us to address the inequalities in school funding, let’s actually roll up our sleeves and do it. We owe it to the students, parents, and teachers of South Carolina. “
Democrats also called on Governor Haley to negotiate a South Carolina-centered alternative to Medicaid Expansion with the federal government to allow us to bring our federal tax dollars back to the state.
“It makes zero sense to continue to refuse to accept our own tax dollars just so Governor Haley can thumb her nose at the President,” said Rep. Justin Bamberg (D-Bamberg). “Fourteen Republican Governors have now come out in support of some sort of Expansion alternative that they negotiated with the federal government. Why shouldn’t we do the same?”
The other issues Democrats will focus on this session include equal pay for female state employees. South Carolina is one of just four states in the nation without a equal pay law. Representative Leon Stavrinakis has proposed a bill that would ban gender pay discrimination among state employees. His bill was modeled after a Louisiana bill that passed an overwhelming Republican General Assembly and signed into law by conservative Republican Governor Bobby Jindal.
House Democrats also endorsed a plan to establish a living wage in South Carolina. Currently, South Carolina is one of just five states in the country without a state-mandated minimum wage law. Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter’s proposal would set the wage at $10.10 per hour.
Democrats also pledged their support for ethics reform this session. Though they said any ethics reform should also include reforming the redistricting process in South Carolina. Their proposal would install an independent panel to draw district lines instead of partisan legislators. In 2014, 100% of all incumbent legislators were re-elected in the general election.
“District lines are purposely drawn by legislators in order to create a safer political environment for themselves and their political party,” said Rep. Laurie Funderburk (D-Kershaw), the author of the bill. “Gerrymandering has created a polarized legislature that seeks to root out moderates and replace them with politicians who only have to worry about winning their primaries. Reforming our redistricting process is critical to a more functional General Assembly and regaining the trust of the voters.”
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Sure, I’d like to see them pick up the gas tax ball and run with it, but this indirect sort of endorsement at least marks progress.

SC is about to be one of only 3 states Obama has not visited as POTUS

The last time I saw Barack Obama in SC -- January 2008.

The last time I saw Barack Obama in SC — January 2008.

We’re accustomed to being flyover land for national Democrats, while being a Mecca for every stripe of ambitious Republican.

But did you know that South Carolina was one of only four states that Barack Obama has not visited as president — and that after he visits Idaho on Wednesday, that group will dwindle to three?

My eye was drawn to the headline this morning in The Washington Post, “Obama’s fly-over states, in one map.” But you know, getting that info “in one map” isn’t much of a cartographic accomplishment. To the extent that I’m not even going to bother reproducing it here and possibly get into trouble with the Post‘s copyright cops.

You can just say it: South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah.

The Post‘s correspondent says “cheer up, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah. Your time will surely come before January 2017.”

I don’t know if I’m so sure about that. Maybe if Hillary Clinton somehow finds herself again in a tight race in the SC primary after having it sewn up earlier, he would come and help her out. Or maybe help Joe Biden out; who knows?

But other than that, I’m wondering what his motivation would be…

Here’s hoping SC House Democrats’ priorities have improved over the last couple of weeks

I received this this morning:

SC House Democrats to Unveil Agenda and Discuss 2015 State of the State at Tuesday Press Conference
 
Columbia, SC – SC House Democrats, led by Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, will hold a press conference on Tuesday morning, January 20th, to unveil their 2015 legislative agenda and to discuss expectations for Governor Haley’s 2015 State of the State.
Who: SC House Democrats
What: Press Conference to Unveil 2015 Legislative Agenda and Discuss Governor Haley’s State of the State
When: Tuesday, January 20th – 11:45am
Where: SC State House – First Floor Lobby
For More Information please contact Tyler Jones at 843-732-2550 or tylerjonesmail@gmail.com
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Here’s hoping that SC Democrats’ priorities have changed somewhat since they released them a couple of weeks ago. Particularly, I hope they’ve scrubbed the first one:

  1. 3127 – Allow gaming referendum to pay for roads (Rutherford)
  2. 3110 – High Quality Education for public schools (W. McLeod)
  3. 3140 – Legalization of Medical Marijuana for Patients (Rutherford)
  4. 3031 – Establish a state minimum wage (Cobb-Hunter)
  5. 3253 – Establish an equal pay law in South Carolina (Stavrinakis)
  6. 3174 – Comprehensive Ethics Reform (Tinkler)

I hope, I hope, I hope…

Courson, McElveen to host conservation confab

This came in today from the CVSC. I pass it on in case any of you would like to attend:

Conservation Voters:

Let’s get to work! The legislative session starts today and we are ready.

We hope you will join us for the Senate Briefing: Conversations with Conservationists on January 21st at 10:00 am in Room 105 of the Gressette Building. Hosted by Senators Courson and McElveen, this is an opportunity for members and supporters of SC Conservation Coalition to share their legislative priorities with decision makers.

Your presence makes our voice stronger so please join us for the Briefing and for an informal lunch afterwards at 701 Whaley.  You can let us know if you plan to attend: info@cvsc.org or on Facebook.-

Something like this also helps explain, for those confused, why all those Democrats in Shandon keep voting for John Courson…

The absence of SC’s poet laureate from inaugural

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Sorry to repeat myself, but I find this digression from a previous thread sufficiently interesting for its own post.

M. Prince brought this story to my attention, asking, “Was it really a matter of too little time?”

Marjory Wentworth expected to read a poem Wednesday at her fourth gubernatorial inaugural, but South Carolina’s poet laureate has been silenced.

Marjory Wentworth

Marjory Wentworth

Gov. Nikki Haley’s inaugural committee turned down Wentworth’s words, saying there wasn’t time enough to read a poem during the inaugural. Wentworth was told she did not have a spot at the State House ceremony before her poem was finished and submitted to the governor’s office.

“While we appreciate Ms. Wentworth’s long service to South Carolina, the inaugural committee told her the 96th S.C. inaugural program — which, in part, celebrates our state’s rich culture — has been full for weeks,” Haley spokeswoman Chaney Adams said. “Scheduling constraints simply wouldn’t allow a poem to be read.”…

One doubts that it was just a lack of time. But if the organizers were trying to make a point by leaving her out, I don’t know what the point was.

Unless, even though they hadn’t seen her finished poem (which you can read here), they knew she was someone who might write:

Here, where the Confederate flag still flies
beside the Statehouse, haunted by our past,
conflicted about the future; at the heart
of it, we are at war with ourselves

Not very “It’s a great day in South Carolina!,” is it?

M. said maybe it was those lines. But he thought it was more likely these:

“at Gadsden’s Wharf, where 100,000
Africans were imprisoned within brick walls
awaiting auction, death, or worse.
Where the dead were thrown into the water,

and the river clogged with corpses
has kept centuries of silence.
It is time to gather at the water’s edge,
and toss wreaths into this watery grave.”

M. thought that maybe “somebody considered that sort of imagery too much a downer” for “the governor’s own great day in South Carolina.”

I responded that maybe we could persuade the organizers to invite Randy Newman to sing this at the inaugural.

Of course, that would depend on them completely missing the irony.

M. loved that idea, which shows we can agree on something.

On another subject, I had forgotten that we HAD a poet laureate. How does one run for that?

What do y’all think of her poem? It occurs to me that maybe the organizers are poetry snobs, the sort who sneer at Poe (not likely, but possible). Even to me, Ms. Wentworth’s imagery and messages seem too plain and obvious — too… prosaic — and lacking a bit in pretentious profundity. And I’m no poetry snob. I love Poe’s driving rhythm and rhyme.

But what do y’all think?

Mulvaney: House insurgents can’t be trusted

At first, I thought SC’s Mick Mulvaney had had an awakening, and was spurning the Tea Party fervor that put him in office. I thought maybe his views had matured as a result of four years’ exposure to political reality. I was misled by this headline in the WashPost this morning: “House Republican slams anti-Boehner movement hard. Like, really hard.

That sounded as though maybe he was criticizing the thinking, or the goals, of the ineffectual insurgents. But no. He apparently still shares the goals. But he doesn’t trust the insurgents because they’re ineffectual.

Here’s his statement:

“There was an attempt to oust John Boehner as Speaker of the House today.  I didn’t participate in it.  That may make some people back home angry.  I understand that, but I’ve got some experience with coup attempts against the Speaker, and what I learned two years ago factored heavily in my decision today not to join the mutiny.

First, I learned two years ago that people lie about how they are going to vote.  And you cannot go into this kind of fight with people you do not trust. We walked onto the floor two years ago with signed pledges – handwritten promises – from more than enough people to deny Boehner his job.  But when it came time to vote, almost half of those people changed their minds – including some of those who voted against Boehner today.  Fool me once, shame on you… Today was even worse: there were never enough votes to oust Boehner to begin with.   On top of that, some people who had publicly said in the past that they wouldn’t vote for Boehner did just that. This was an effort driven as much by talk radio as by a thoughtful and principled effort to make a change. It was poorly considered and poorly executed, and I learned first-hand that is no way to fight a battle.   This coup today was bound to fail.  And in fact, it failed worse than I expected, falling 11 votes short of deposing the Speaker.  At least two years ago we only failed by six.

I also learned that the Floor of the House is the wrong place to have this battle.  The hard truth is that we had an election for Speaker in November – just among Republicans.  THAT was the time to fight.  But not a single person ran against Boehner.  Not one.  If they had, we could’ve had a secret ballot to find out what the true level of opposition to John Boehner was.  In fact, we could’ve done that as late as Monday night, on a vote of “no confidence” in the Speaker.  But that didn’t happen…and at least one of the supposed challengers to Boehner today didn’t even go to the meeting last night.  That told me a lot.

Some people wrote me encouraging me to vote for Louie Gohmert.  I like Louie, but let’s be clear: Louie Gohmert was – is – never ever going to be Speaker of the House.  I respect his passion, but he isn’t a credible candidate.  That was proved today by the fact that he got three votes, despite all the national media attention he managed to grab.  My colleague who got the most anti-Boehner votes was Daniel Webster of Florida who got 12 votes. I like Daniel.  He is a nice guy, and a good thinker…but his lifetime Heritage Action score is 60% (by comparison, mine is 91%).  And this was supposed to be the savior of the conservative movement?  Would the House really have been more conservative if he had won?

The truth is, there was no conservative who could beat John Boehner. Period.  People can ignore that, or they can wish it away, but that is reality.  

Some people tried to argue that voting against Boehner would give conservatives leverage, or somehow force him to lead in a more conservative fashion, even if the coup attempt failed.  All I can say to that is that the exact opposite happened two years ago:  conservatives were marginalized, and Boehner was even freer to work with moderates and Democrats.  My guess is that the exact same thing will happen again now.  And I fail to see how that helps anything that conservatives know needs to be done in Washington.

I understand people’s frustration and anger over what is happening in Washington.  And I also acknowledge that John Boehner may be partly to blame. But this was a fool’s errand.  I am all for fighting, but I am more interested in fighting and winning than I am fighting an unwinnable battle. 

Finally, the most troubling accusation I have heard regarding the Boehner vote is that I have “sold out” my conservative principles.  All I can say is this: take a look at my voting record.  It is one of the most conservative in Congress.  And I was joined today by the likes of Jim Jordan, Raul Labrador, Trey Gowdy, Mark Sanford, Trent Franks, Tom McClintock, Matt Salmon, Tom Price, Sam Johnson, and Jeb Hensarling.  If I “sold out” then I did so joined by some of the most tried and tested conservative voices in Washington.

I can say with 100% confidence that I have done exactly what I said I would do when I came to Washington: fight to cut spending, stop bad legislation, work to repeal Obamacare, and hold the President accountable for his actions.  That will never change, and neither will I.”

The Post may be right that this statement “is remarkably blunt and the kind of thing that is rarely seen from a member of Congress.” But it in no way reflects a change of heart. Unfortunately, this is still a guy who thinks mainstream Republicans aren’t radical enough.

SC House Dems announce priorities, lose me on the 1st one

This just in from SC House Democrats:

SC House Democrats Announce Priorities for 2015-16 Legislative Session

Columbia, SC – South Carolina House Democrats released their legislative priorities for the 121st South Carolina General Assembly. Caucus priorities are centered on “Modernizing South Carolina for the 21st Century.” Over the next two years, House Democrats will focus on finding adequate and stable sources of revenue to fix our crumbling roads and bridges, reform the state’s K-12 Public Education funding system, providing affordable and accessible health care options, establishing a state minimum wage, increasing teacher pay, strengthening the state’s ethics laws, and a host of other challenges and issues important to all South Carolinians.

“House Republicans have now been in charge for twenty years; and on almost every single issue – employment, education, roads, healthcare – things have gotten demonstrably worse in South Carolina,” said House Democratic Leader Todd Rutherford of Columbia. “At some point Republicans have to realize that their agenda of abandoning our public schools, putting government in our bedrooms and doctor’s offices, and completely ignoring our state’s roads, simply isn’t working. House Democrats are prepared to make this session about new, innovative ways to specifically address our state’s problems and modernize South Carolina for the 21st Century.”

House Democrats have already pre-filed several pieces of legislation that address a number of our most critical challenges including:

  1. 3127 – Allow gaming referendum to pay for roads (Rutherford)
  2. 3110 – High Quality Education for public schools (W. McLeod)
  3. 3140 – Legalization of Medical Marijuana for Patients (Rutherford)
  4. 3031 – Establish a state minimum wage (Cobb-Hunter)
  5. 3253 – Establish an equal pay law in South Carolina (Stavrinakis)
  6. 3174 – Comprehensive Ethics Reform (Tinkler)

“House Republicans have spent three decades digging a very deep hole with their negligence and extreme ideology,” said Rutherford. “Now it’s time for them to stop digging. We must try something new, and we must do it quickly.”

House Democrats plan to unveil their legislative agenda the second week of the 2015 Session.

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Of course, they lose me immediately on the very first proposal listed.

Really, Democrats? This is what you want the party of FDR and JFK to be known for in SC? A plan to introduce ANOTHER scheme to exploit human weakness, as an alternative to simply raising the tax that we already have in place to pay for roads? Really?

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.

Columbia’s ‘Justice for All’ initiative

Passing on this release, about the city of Columbia’s response to Ferguson and Staten Island:

Mayor Benjamin announces new “Justice for All” initiative

Columbia, SC. – Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin was joined by Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook, Members of Council and leaders from across the community to announce his major new “Justice for All” public safety initiative.

“We are committed to building a world class Police Department and in order to do this we must commit to strengthening the foundation of trust and accountability that exists between our communities and our law enforcement agencies,” said Mayor Benjamin. “This is about more than public safety. This is about justice.”

Comprehensive in its approach, the Justice for All initiative focuses on Training, Diversity, Accountability and community Engagementthrough a series of new and expanded policies which include:

  • Providing new and ongoing cultural sensitivity, conflict resolution and de-escalation training.
  • Appointing minority community representation on CPD’s police hiring board.
  • Establishing a citywide Human Rights Commission.
  • Appointing civilian representation to CPD’s Internal Affairs Review Board.
  • Publicly publishing an Annual Internal Affairs Report.
  • Recording all violent crime suspect interviews.
  • Organizing ongoing listening sessions in communities across Columbia.
  • Providing body cameras to all uniformed personnel.

(Justice for All initiative outline attached)

For more information, contact Michael Wukela at 803-413-5052.

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Here’s the news story in The State today.

Thoughts?