Category Archives: South Carolina

The Senate District 22 debate went OK — by which I mean, better than the presidential ones


My only complaint was that more people weren’t there. There were about 60 in the audience, which isn’t terrible, but in the vast Richland Northeast auditorium, that looked pretty sparse.

The candidates, Democrat Mia McLeod and Republican Susan Brill, were both quite civil and well-behaved, but not shrinking violets. They asserted themselves. More than once, after they both had answered the question and both had rebutted, they asked for more time, so I gave them another round of rebuttal. I think rules should be flexible, as long as order is maintained. I’ll not have any debate I moderate turn into the ugly spectacles we see between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton — if I can help it. Harrumph.

Of course, you can’t always help it, and visions of this debate devolving into a scene from Lord of the Flies caused me to be more nervous yesterday than I think I’ve ever been before moderating a debate. I’ve just seen so much chaos on TV this year, I wondered whether it had set an uncivilized precedent. I could hear the nervousness in my own voice at the outset of the forum, but once we were engaged and we’d interacted a bit, I calmed down. (It was kind of like my wrestling days in high school. I always hated, hated, HATED the circling around at the start of a bout — it made me super apprehensive, not knowing what was going to happen. But once my opponent and I had a grip on each other, I settled down and knew what to do.)

Interestingly, I actually had to stop Susan Brill a couple of times when she interjected during Rep. McLeod’s time, telling her to wait her turn. That made me feel pretty foolish, since I had earlier asked her whether she was assertive enough to be effective in the Senate. (This was a companion question to asking Mia whether her abrasive communication style would work in the collegial Senate. I saw them as sort of opposites on the assertiveness scale — Mia too hot, Susan too cold.)

Only once did the audience get out of hand. Ms. McLeod was speaking when suddenly a man’s voice boomed from the audience something along the lines of Wait, are you trying to say… Everyone turned to stare in that direction — I couldn’t see him for the stage lights. I cut in immediately with something like, No, sir! We are not going to do that… I said he should write his question on a 3X5 card like everybody else, and pass it to Community Relations Council Executive Director Henri Baskins. To his credit, he complied. (As I said that, I knew I probably wouldn’t get to his question, because I had plenty of good questions — many more than I had time for — in front of me already, and I thought polite people’s questions should have precedence. But as it happened, Henri passed his question to me and, deciding I may have implied that I would ask his question, I made it the last one in the program.)

Were there any serious gaffes? Not really, although Ms. Brill got a pretty snarky reaction to her assertion — in trying to prove that the Richland Two school board of which she is a member provides all the district’s schools what they need, without favoritism — that the board had provided Ms. McCleod’s children’s high school with… wait for it… Astroturf for their football field.

At this point, y’all are saying, “Where’s the substance? You’re talking about the style.” Well, that’s the thing: When I’m moderating, I find it impossible to take notes. I’m too busy with the forms — making sure the rules are followed, watching the timekeeper, trying to keep up with what the candidates are saying even as I sort through the 3X5 cards from the audience trying to pick the next question.

But here are my prepared questions — I got to all but one — and a very brief summary of what I remember them saying in response. Sorry I can’t do better:

  1. I think most voters in the district are sorry to see Sen. Joel Lourie ending his distinguished career in the state Senate. He has played a leadership role on a number of issues of statewide importance. I’d like to ask each of you, to what extent to you intend to follow through on Sen. Lourie’s initiatives, and what sorts of issues are you likely to stress that he has not? Both said they would follow through on his issues. Mia mentioned DSS reform in particular. She also said one issue she would work on that she didn’t think Joel had done enough on was gender pay equity.
  2. We’ve had the opportunity to observe both candidates in public office for a number of years. I’d like to ask a question of each of you regarding your personal leadership styles. Ms. McLeod, you have been a very active and energetic advocate on a number of controversial local issues. You sometimes have a forceful, assertive style. Your critics say it’s too forceful, and unnecessarily alienates people. Your supporters say you’re a breath of fresh air, and exactly what’s needed. You’re running to be a part of the state Senate, a body that prides itself on its collegiality. My question is, how effective do you think your approach will be in that body? She had said in opening remarks that she was “a fighter,” so I reworded this to reflect that. She maintained that she had nothing to apologize for, and cited her ability, for instance, to work across the aisle with Republicans.
  3. Ms. Brill, I have almost the opposite question to ask of you. In many ways your leadership style seems the opposite of your opponent’s. We seldom see you stepping out and making headlines in the same forceful way that Ms. McLeod does. Some might see your approach as more passive. Our state, and Richland County, have a number of very contentious, controversial issues lying before them. My question of you is, are you assertive enough to lead on these issues in an effective manner? She argued that she was, too, a leader, although it seems in retrospect (my memory could be playing tricks) that she had to go back to her time on county council years ago to come up with good examples.
  4. As I said, you are both experienced officeholders. Ms. Brill has gained a perspective on education and on local government that many members of our state Senate may lack. And Ms. McLeod well knows that the House can see things very differently from the way senators do. I’d like to ask each of you, what will you take from your specific experience in office that will make you a better senator? Sorry. I know they both had fairly substantive answers to this, but I honestly can’t recall the specifics
  5. Let’s talk about the Richland County Recreation Commission. After a year of upheaval in which many residents of the county began to despair of seeing the matter addressed meaningfully, we have recently seen movement, in part because of stands taken by the legislative delegation. But what has happened falls far short of what lawmakers have demanded. What should happen next, and what would you do as a senator to make it happen? I didn’t feel like either fully answered this, which may be because I wasn’t specific enough about what I meant. Mia sort of leaped ahead to answer Question 7, saying she would change state law to make lawmakers able to remove commissioners. She also noted that she thought the governor had all the information she needed to act. I think Susan also spoke of broader remedies. I considered asking the question again, demanding to know what they think should happen with the problem commissioners who haven’t quit, but I had a lot of subjects I wanted to get to, and moved on.
  6. Here’s a question near and dear to the CRC and its mission: The Recreation Commission issue is like many in Richland County, including on the Richland Two school board. It often breaks along racial lines. Things can get pretty ugly. Even Sen. Lourie, after all his years – and those of his father before him – of leading on social justice issues, has had the race card flung at him. How can we move forward on these difficult issues, which are tough enough without the painful ingredient of racial tension? How would you further communication to achieve the understanding needed to get everyone working together? Mia got slightly defensive on this, and defended herself well by going back to her leadership on the Election Commission debacle, when hers was the loudest voice calling for reform, and saying failing to run an election competently has nothing at all to do with race. (At some point in the debate — I don’t recall if it was now or later — there was some back-and-forth about Mia having injected herself into the incident at Spring Valley last year, something Brill supporters have decried as inappropriate.
  7. One more related to the Recreation Commission. The central political problem it poses is that while the legislative delegation can appoint its members, lawmakers can’t remove them, even if the delegation can itself come to agreement on something so difficult. This, along with hundreds of Special Purpose Districts across our state, is a vestige of the Legislative State, of a time when state legislators ran everything on the local level in their communities. The SPDs just did not go away when the Home Rule Act was passed in the 70s. What should be done about these hundreds of unaccountable little governments called special purpose districts, and will you lead on addressing the situation if elected? Neither seemed as interested in taking this on as I would be, although Susan may have been more willing than Mia — I really can’t recall now. I just remember being disappointed, and moving on.
  8. Let’s talk about infrastructure. Even before the floods of a year ago, our state was struggling to figure out how to maintain its vast network of roads, and failing to agree. Then came the floods, with all those dams failing right here in this district. The damage to dams, roads, bridges and such landmarks as the Columbia Canal was tremendous, and we had not nearly recovered from all that damage when Hurricane Matthew came along and did further harm. What should South Carolina do to address its infrastructure challenge, for the safety and economic development of our state? Both decried the situation, but neither really offered a long-term solution for paying for infrastructure. At some point — but I think it was later — Mia mentioned raising the gas tax, and if I remember correctly, Susan did not disagree. (Anyone who was there, please jump in and correct my memory if I get it wrong.)
  9. Let’s switch to taxes. Speaker Lucas has a committee looking at our tax system, so some pretty big potential changes COULD be before the General Assembly soon. I want to ask about the LAST big change lawmakers made to state law, 10 years ago. I refer to Act 388, which removed the burden for supporting public school operations from homeowners and placed it on a combination of business property and an increased sales tax. This has had a number of unintended consequences, such as stifling business, and people who can’t afford to own their homes paying higher rents, and schools and local governments not being able to raise the money they need to operate. Should ACT 388 be maintained as it is, repealed or amended? And if amended, how? Mia said repeal. I think Susan’s answer was more nuanced, but I don’t remember the details.
  10. South Carolina has a vast army of state retirees, including, I would expect, some in this very room. How would you address the unfunded liability of state retirement systems? I remember nothing at all about their responses.
  11. Here’s something that over the years at the newspaper I ALWAYS asked candidates about. We have before us, as usual, a Democrat and a Republican. I want to ask each of you, how important is party to you? To what extent will you follow the party line, and to what extent will you go your own way? I skipped this question, as after asking some audience questions, I was running out of time.
  12. South Carolina opted not to expand Medicaid when the Affordable Care Act was implemented. Was that the right course? What should our state do about healthcare going forward? Sorry. I forget the details. Dang.

OK, that was a pretty pointless exercise. I just don’t remember enough — and worse, I tend to remember Mia’s answers better than Susan’s. Not that Susan’s were bad; at the time I felt like she was addressing the questions well enough. I just can’t remember them as well.

Dang. Well, y’all should have been there.

Oh, wait — people want to know about zingers. I remember one in particular aimed by Mia at Susan. And it may have been the one thing Mia said that illustrated the unnecessary abrasiveness that her critics cite. One of the audience questions was about Mia’s $49,500 contract with the city of Columbia for communications consulting. That’s the subject of an attack ad from the Senate Republican Caucus, and a sore point for the Democrat (and it wasn’t among my questions because I knew it would come up).

She used it as an occasion to lash out at her opponent as a woman who had never worked outside the home, and didn’t understand people who had to go out and earn a living. She also hit her for failing to distance herself from Donald Trump — something I was about to ask about (another audience question).

Ms. Brill responded accurately that she had nothing to do with the attack ad; that was the caucus. I found her answer about Trump less satisfactory, but let’s be fair: I’m never satisfied with anyone who won’t say she’ll vote for Clinton — which is, of course, the only way of stopping Trump.

Yeah, I know; this was a lousy report. But I just don’t know how to moderate and take proper notes at the same time…

Senate District 22 debate coming up Monday

On Monday night at Richland Northeast High School, I’ll be moderating a debate between Democrat Mia McLeod and Republican Susan Brill, who are competing to replace Joel Lourie in representing state Senate District 22.

The event is sponsored by the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council, of which I am a member. It will be in the school’s auditorium, and will run from 6-7:30.

Y’all are welcome to come, especially if you live in the district.

Also… I’ll be working on my questions over the weekend, so this is your chance to offer any suggestions you have along those lines. What would you like to ask these candidates?

This is the only forum we’re doing for the general election. We selected it as the one truly competitive general election contest in the Midlands area. We may have missed some just as hot, but if so, I haven’t heard about them yet.

So come on out if you’ve a mind to, and meanwhile, feed me some good questions…


SC Dems recruiting poll-watchers in response to Trump

Thought y’all might find the contents of this email interesting, particularly the penultimate paragraph:

Dear Brad,
With Election Day less than three weeks away (and absentee voting already happening), it’s all hands on deck for the final push to turn South Carolina blue!  Several polls show victory in South Carolina within reach for Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine, but we’ll need an all-out effort to make it happen.
And there’s so much more than the presidential race that’s at stake—we need you to help us carry Democrats to victory up and down the ballot.  Don’t wake up November 9

knowing you could have done more.  Here are two ways you can help:

Get Out the Vote: We need volunteers in every corner of the state to make phone calls and knock on doors to make sure Democratic voters show up to cast their ballots.  To help in this effort, email our State Field Director, Ernest Boston, at, or call him at (803) 888-9047.  Even if you only have a small amount of time, every phone call and door knocked counts!
Protect the Vote: Donald Trump is publicly threatening to intimidate voters.  We need your help to ensure that every eligible South Carolinian is able to cast a ballot and have their voted counted.  To serve as a poll watcher on Election Day, sign up here.  You do not need to be a lawyer or law student to be a poll watcher.  This is about more than Democrat vs. Republican; it’s about the integrity of our democracy.
Thank you for all you do for the Democratic Party and for South Carolina.  With your help over the next 20 days, we will set our state and our nation on the right path for the future.  But we can’t do it without you.
Jaime Harrison
Chair, SCDP

Ah, but who will watch the watchers?


DOT wants to put an Interstate in front of my house, I have not been notified, and today is the last day to comment


Here’s the notice that was brought to my attention — not by the government, but by my daughter — this afternoon.

Actually, that headline pretty much states the case, but I’ll elaborate a bit.

I’m a big Douglas Adams fan. But I’d always thought what he was writing was satire, outlandish situations that couldn’t possibly be true-to-life, which were grossly distorted for comic effect.

For instance, take this passage from the start of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which our loser hero Arthur Dent has just lain in front of a bulldozer that is trying to knock his house down in order to build the bypass he has just learned about:


Funny, huh?

Well, today I learned that Adams wasn’t writing a comic novel. He was writing journalism. Predictive journalism, I suppose you’d call it. He was describing the very situation in which I find myself today.

Today, I forgot to bring in the lunch I had prepared, so I drove home to eat it there. Good thing, too. As I walked in, my wife was on the phone expressing amazement and alarm, and saying things like, “Nobody told ME!!!…”

She was on the phone with my daughter who lives in Shandon, who had discovered, quite incidentally, through a mutual acquaintance’s social media post, that the state of South Carolina had rather specific plans to build an Interstate more or less through our house (as I initially heard it in that moment of shock), and that today was the last day for comments.

And no, no one had told us. No one had walked down our street to knock on doors and tell us (assuming they had the courage) or left little fliers on our doorknobs (assuming they didn’t, which seems the safer bet). No one had sent us anything via snail mail. Or emailed us. Or sent us Facebook messages, or Tweets, or texts, or called on the phone, or left a comment on my blog, or used any of the bewildering array of communication methods available in the Year of Our Lord 2016.

In other words, I’d have been no worse off if the notice had been on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of the Leopard.”

Nor had I seen any news coverage of the plan, which is one of three potential routes the state is considering for addressing the “problem” called Malfunction Junction.

Of course, I must confess, I had seen stories in the paper about that process, and hadn’t read any of them. You know why? Because I wasn’t interested. You know why? Because it had never struck me as a particularly compelling issue. Because why? Because I live less than a mile from the much-cursed interchange, and people have been griping about it ever since I moved back to South Carolina in 1987, and I have yet to fully understand what they are whining about.

I’ve passed through that intersection coming from every direction and going in every direction, at every time of day on every day of the week, and yeah, it gets backed up somewhat during peak drive times. You know what I call that? Living in a city. You know how to deal with it? Adjust your route, or your drive time. Or just live with it. Try this: Go live in the District of Columbia for a month and come back here, and you’ll get down and kiss the pavement at the very knottiest point of the intersection of Interstates 20 and 26. Just kidding. Don’t do that. If you do, people will start whining about you causing traffic to back up, and next thing you know, I’ve got the bulldozers at my door…

Oh, but wait — I do anyway. Almost.

But, upon closer examination, there’s good news: Once I took a careful look at the proposed connector, I saw that it wasn’t exactly, technically, going directly through my living room. No, when I zoom in as much as the website will let me (which isn’t much), it looks like it’s going down the SCE&G right-of-way that runs directly behind the houses across the street from me. That’s a good 50 or even 100 feet from my house. All it would do is cut me off from the only ways out of my subdivision, aside from swimming across the Saluda River.

Whew. And to think I was worried.

But let’s calm down a bit. Let’s get informed. Let’s go read the news coverage we’ve been ignoring, shall we? Such as this story in The State last week, which gets specific:

If the Department of Transportation decides improving existing intersections and widening roads is the way to go, the bulk of the properties affected will be along Broad River and St. Andrews roads. Those two commercial thoroughfares parallel either side of I-26 in the heart of the busy corridor.

Widening Broad River would affect 999 sites, while another 705 would be affected on St. Andrews, according to plans outlined at an update on the massive road project at Seven Oaks School….

Ummmm… I didn’t see anything there, or elsewhere in the story, that in any way indicated that there was something to which I needed pay attention!!!!

Did you? I mean, I live on the opposite side of the river from all of that. And it sounded like they had no intention of disturbing residential areas.

Here’s the map. The crudely drawn yellow star shows you where my house is:


Apparently, there are two alternatives to ripping through my subdivision under consideration. Both are on the other side of the river from me, are cheaper, and would disturb far fewer people that the one cutting through my neighborhood.

Here’s the comparison:


The one called “Directional Interchange” is the one that goes through my neighborhood. The two above it seem to go mostly through some woods. Although… there is slightly greater wetland impact.

So obviously, since we live in a rational universe, I have nothing to worry about, right?

Oh, wait. I just remembered: Donald Trump is a major-party nominee for president of the United States in this universe. And there’s no guarantee he’s going to lose.

OK, I’m worried.

Wait — I just remembered: Today is my last day to comment. OK, here’s my comment:

Don’t do it. Don’t do any of these. Save the money. Or, if you must address this problem, choose one of the options that cost less and cause less disruption.

That, by the way, would be my recommendation if this didn’t come anywhere within 100 miles of my house. It’s sort of my default position.

Oh, and one other thing, which may sound personal, but also fits with my beliefs about sound public policy: Next time, how about giving a guy a heads-up?


Now, could someone please hand me something that says, in large, reassuring letters, DON’T PANIC?

(Below you see the other two routes under consideration.)



Man, I’ve got to get back down to the beach!


A couple of post=hurricane stories from down on the coast are making me feel like I’m missing out, stuck here in the Midlands.

First, there’s this item from the Sun News about the million-year-old Megalodon shark’s tooth someone found north of Myrtle Beach. My whole family spends a good bit of their beach time with eyes down looking for sharks’-tooth fossils, and if any of us found anything like this, we could retire happy from the search.


I also love the idea that ImagiNation Athletics of Myrtle Beach had of putting the awesome Jason Hurdich, the sign-language guy who got us through Hurricane Matthew, on a T shirt. It looks like Mr. Hurdich is giving us a double “shaka” sign — hence the interest taken by surfers — but The Island Packet reports that to signers, that means “now.”

I got a little bit of sun at the Fair yesterday, which was nice, but it looks like the place to be right now is the beach…


Lawmakers urge Haley to remove recreation commissioners

I just received a copy of a letter the responsible majority of the Richland County Legislative Delegation just sent to Gov. Nikki Haley. It’s to follow up on what the lawmakers asked the governor to do in a meeting last week, before the hurricane.

It begins:


To read the entire 31-page document, click here.

Obviously, the governor has been quite busy since the meeting with the lawmakers, but one hopes she will attend to this as soon as practicable.

Actually, I should say, the two meetings with lawmakers. I understand she met separately with the minority that is NOT pushing for removing the problem commissioners.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering: The lawmakers who choose the commissioners do not have the power themselves to remove them. Just another of the insane things about special-purpose districts.

At this point, it is my duty as a journalist to digest the document for you, going through charge after charge. But I’m kind of busy with my day job at the moment. I thought I’d just go ahead and give y’all the whole thing now rather than delay. In the meantime, here’s a very fine news story done by my good friend John Monk.

Perhaps I’ll be adding to this post later…

Oh, one other thing: The lawmakers signing the letter (that is, the responsible lawmakers) are these (sorry I keep having to give you text as pictures; the PDF isn’t the kind that lets you highlight and copy text):


The OTHER lawmakers on the delegation are:

Darrell Jackson, District 21
John L. Scott, Jr., District 19
Dr. Jimmy C. Bales, District 80
Christopher R. Hart, District 73
Leon Howard, District 76
Joseph H. Neal, District 70
J. Todd Rutherford, District 74

Please don’t send in the clowns

Do you like clowns? Have you ever liked clowns? If so, why?

My earliest memory of clowns is this: I can distinctly remember being surprised, and filled with doubt, when an adult explained to me that they were humans in disguise. I had assumed, based on the evidence, that they were some separate species — like aliens, or some particularly bizarre-looking animal. Hey, I was a little kid. Until somebody told me they were people, I saw no reason to think so.

I wouldn’t say I have a complex about clowns, but I’ve never really warmed up to them, even after learning they were just people. And I find myself wondering how this clowning thing got started, and who it was who decided that they were a nonthreatening form of entertainment for children — something that seems highly unlikely.

A piece in The Guardian today gives a little history:

Nobody laughs at clowns anymore.

Maybe antiquated proto-clowns did make people smile. But the legendary Chinese jester Yu Sze and the imperial Roman stupidus would be unrecognizable to us today.

The first clown who fits our description – painted face, frilly collar – was Joseph Grimaldi, who entertained Londoners in the 19th century but had a decidedly dark side. “I am Grim-all-day,” he told people.

A young Charles Dickens ghost-wrote Grimaldi’s memoirs, a saga of abuse, addiction and agony. “A tale of unmitigated suffering, even when that suffering be mental, possesses but few attractions for the reader; but when, as in this case, a large portion of it is physical,” Dickens wrote, it “grows absolutely distasteful”.

Dickens recognized, even with the very first modern clown, that what fascinates us is not the exaggerated painted face, or the dull face of a man underneath. It’s the tension between the two. The dissonance between what is and what appears to be.

That conflict plucks at some ancient strand of human genetic code….

That’s in a piece that starts with the recent sightings in the Greenville area of threatening clowns.

It’s all very well and good for a newspaper in London to be bemused by these sightings — they’ve got a whole ocean between them and the threat.

Not that I’m worried, you understand. But I am kind of creeped out…


Jaime Harrison and Matt Moore are my heroes

Matt, me and Jaime, on the day the legislation was signed to get the Confederate flag off the State House grounds.

Matt, me and Jaime, on the day the legislation was signed to get the Confederate flag off the State House grounds.

You might say “heroes” is a tad strong, but I wanted to draw you in and get you to read this, and both of these young men really do deserve a rather hearty pat on the back.

This is especially remarkable since y’all know how much I despise both parties, and Matt and Jaime are, respectively, the chairmen of the Republican and Democratic parties in South Carolina.

But they are remarkably free of many of the most objectionable characteristics associated with being party chairmen in the 21st century.

To begin with, rather than being enemies who reflexively spit on the ground whenever each other’s names are mentioned, they are buds. CNN noted this in a piece back in February — the month of the presidential primaries here — headlined, “Odd Couple: How a Republican and a Democrat became friends in South Carolina.

The AP’s Meg Kinnard followed up this month with a piece headlined “South Carolina party chairs beat vitriol with friendship.”

And you’ll recall when I celebrated their unanimity on the day the legislation to bring down the Confederate flag was signed. See the above photo.

But there are additional reasons to applaud these guys.

Back to how much I despise parties… I’m not going to go into all the reasons I do, but let’s look at two biggies — two things that have done more to make the parties into destructive forces in our republic than any other. Particularly the first one:

  1. Party-protecting reapportionment. This is the biggie. If we fixed this, we would repair most of the damage the parties have done to our country. As things stand, almost every congressional or legislative district in the country is drawn — by lawmakers of whichever party controls the body — to make it completely safe for candidates of one party or the other. This makes the November elections a joke, and puts the real contest in each district in the primary of the controlling party. That means the only competition an incumbent has to worry about is a primary challenge from someone who is more extreme, more ideologically pure, in terms of that party’s ideology. That means both parties get pulled to their respective extremes, and the space in the middle — where members of each party can talk to members of the other, the place where solutions are found and commonsense legislation enacted — becomes depopulated. And our government flies apart, and ceases to function. Nobody can even speak the same language, much less find commonalities to build on.
  2. Straight-ticket voting. I hate this for what it encourages voters to do, and even more for what it encourages them not to do. It enables them to avoid thinking. Voters who choose this option don’t have to think about any of the candidates on the ballot. They don’t have to be informed; they don’t have to discern; they don’t have to make comparisons. Which means they don’t have to pay attention before Election Day, or on Election Day. They just choose a party, and go home. This makes an utter travesty of the voters’ role in our representative democracy. And most shockingly, half of the voters in South Carolina choose this option.

Knowing how much I despise those things, imagine how pleased I was to find Jaime and Matt speaking out against both of them.

Particularly the way reapportionment is done.

From a recent story by The State’s Jamie Self:

One way to make S.C. races more competitive, Moore and Harrison say, is to end lawmakers’ control over the process of drawing district lines.

The GOP and Democratic party leaders suggest a nonpartisan or bipartisan panel draw district lines, instead of lawmakers.

Massey, R-Edgefield, said convincing lawmakers to cede their influence over the redistricting process – and their political futures – would be a heavy lift. Even he would be “reluctant to give up that authority to an outside group.”

But Massey said he would support ending straight-party voting.

“I don’t think it’s too much to ask people to take 30 seconds to push all the buttons,” he said. But, he added, there will be “partisans on both sides that are going to go ballistic over that if you try to change it.”

Yes, they would. As they would totally freak out over reapportionment reform. There is probably nothing that incumbents will fight harder to hang onto than their enormously destructive power to draw district lines so as to choose their voters, rather than letting the voters choose their representatives.

But that makes me appreciate all the more Matt’s and Jaime’s willingness to take a stand on this.

Jamie’s story also delved into the evil of straight-party voting. The story wasn’t as clear in term of communicating what the party chairs think of that, so I contacted them both yesterday to find out.

I reached Mr. Harrison via email, asking whether he was willing to take a stand against straight-ticket voting. He responded, “Personally yes… It isn’t the stance of the party, because the issue hasn’t come up for a party position.  Nonetheless, I personally believe that is one of the many reforms we need.”

Amen. Later in the day I reached Matt Moore by phone and posed the same question. I didn’t ask for an official party position, but just asked whether he, Matt Moore, would take a stand.

And he did. There’s no proposal currently before lawmakers, but “in theory, I am for doing away with it.” He sees a need for “more informed voters,” and doing away with the straight-ticket copout would certainly be a way to demand more more knowledge, more attention, from voters.

We also chatted a bit about reapportionment, and it was along the lines of what he said about it in Jamie’s story:

Moore said he is glad his party controls the state Legislature, but the way district lines are drawn is taking its toll on the GOP nationally.

“It’s led to Republicans being in control of Congress, but being unsuccessful in presidential elections,” Moore said, adding the GOP’s difficulty in appealing to minority and younger voters stems from its candidates not having to campaign for their votes at home.

More competitive districts “would force candidates to go out and talk to people who don’t look like them.”…

And wouldn’t that be something wonderful? Lawmakers paying attention to everyone in their communities, rather than the narrow constituencies they’ve carved out for themselves through reapportionment.

I firmly believe it would cure a great deal of what ails our politics today.

And while it’s not a concrete step, I think it’s a great first step to have the chairs of both parties willing to talk about the need for change, rather than defending the intolerable status quo.

The rape suspect cross-examined the victim? REALLY?

Being blind, Lady Justice missed a travesty in one of her courts Tuesday.

Being blind, Lady Justice missed a travesty in one of her courts Tuesday.

I don’t read a whole lot of crime news, because it seldom involves editorial points I want to make.

But this story sort of blew me away today:

Woman sobs on stand under questioning by alleged rapist

A woman wept on the witness stand, at times uncontrollably, as her accused serial home invader and rapist, acting as his own attorney, grilled her about what happened that morning.

Nathan Martinez, 37, confronted his accuser in a Richland County courtroom in steady but accusatory tones, asking the woman if she had in fact really been raped during a March 2014 home invasion in Forest Acres. In her testimony for the prosecution, he said, she had not said anyone kicked or hit her.

“You said that the individual used force,” Martinez charged.

The woman, who now lives out of state with her family, replied, “He used force by putting a gun in my face, by tying me up and threatening to kill me!”

It was an unusual day in court. It’s rare for defendants to represent themselves, especially in complex, violent crimes such as this week’s case….

Yeah, John. To say the least…

You hear about rape victims feeling like they’re the ones on trial, but I have never even heard of something this outrageous.

I read on to determine how such a miscarriage of justice could occur, and found this explanation:

It was only after questioning Martinez and making sure he knew he was giving up his right to an attorney that trial Judge Knox McMahon allowed him to be his own lawyer. If McMahon had refused Martinez’s request to be his own attorney with cross-examination rights, the case could be overturned on appeal….

Well, I’m sure that you, like me, are all broken up from worrying about Martinez and his rights.

Look, I’m not one of these people who goes on and on about how our system only extends rights to the accused and none to the victims, yadda-yadda. I believe in the rule of law. I believe in being innocent until proven guilty. And while I’m sympathetic, I feel like sometimes the victim’s rights movement can go a tad overboard.

But a terrible thing happened in one of our courtrooms yesterday. Even if you extend the “innocent-until-proven-guilty” thing to the point of saying “hey, maybe the guy didn’t do it” — you’re left with the fact that to this innocent woman and her innocent children, he did do it. And they were subjected to this outrage.

And I’m wondering whether there are any statutory remedies out there to make sure this never happens again…

‘A bidness doin’ pleasure:’ Cindi on how Ron Cobb changed us

I hope y’all saw Cindi Scoppe’s column today on how the late Rob Cobb, the most infamous lobbyist in South Carolina history, changed our state:

I DIDN’T KNOW Ron Cobb back when he was buying up a tenth of our Legislature for the FBI.

Didn’t even recognize his picture when FBI agents subpoenaed campaign disclosure reports for all 170 legislators, and legislators and fellow lobbyists started whispering that Mr. Cobb was somehow involved in what would come to be known as Operation Lost Trust.

In fact, while I would learn and write a lot about the cigar-chomping lobbyist who hummed his signature “It’s a bidness doing pleasure with you” while the hidden video camera recorded him counting out crisp $100 bills for legislators who promised to support his horse-gambling bill, I didn’t actually meet him until five years later…

He certainly had a big impact on Cindi and me. We did some of our best work ever chasing the Lost Trust story. Before it was over, Cindi herself had gone to jail, and I had spent a year explaining everything that was wrong with government in South Carolina. Our coverage of the scandal, and my “Power Failure” series, played a big role in my becoming editorial page editor later.

All because of Ron Cobb buying votes and wheeling and dealing from his room in the former Townhouse, just yards from where I now sit. That hotel is undergoing a huge renovation, much as our political life did as a result of Cobb’s actions:

Our news department launched a yearlong examination of how the Legislative State produced not only corruption but a hapless government that answered to no one, and pushed along by that “Power Failure” series, Lost Trust and Gov. Carroll Campbell, the Legislature voted two years later to hand a third of the government over to the governor.scoppeonline3-2x2tighter-2-2x2tighter-2

Lawmakers unleashed the powerful State Grand Jury to investigate political corruption cases. They passed a reporter shield law after a judge ordered me and three other reporters held in federal custody for two days for refusing to testify in one of the trials. And voters elected a target of an earlier vote-buying scandal to fill an open Senate seat in the middle of all this, lawmakers amended the constitution to bar felons from holding office until 15 years after they completed their sentences.

There are still a lot of problems with the way our government operates — the Legislature still holds far too much power over state and local agencies, too many agencies still effectively answer to no one, the ethics law even after this year’s improvements remains far short of what it should be.

But those reforms did a lot of good. And Ron Cobb paved the way for every one of them.

Oh, and speaking of Warthenesque writing… I also appreciated this column because its style was more like my own than Cindi’s. Finally, it seems, I’ve rubbed off on her.

Cindi has always been very task-oriented. When she goes into an interview, she’s all business. When she writes a column or editorial, she intends to accomplish this and this and this, and she lays out her arguments in a perfectly disciplined form.

My own way of approaching interviews or writing has always been like the method Dirk Gently, Douglas Adams’ Holistic Detective, employed whenever he got lost: “My own strategy is to find a car, or the nearest equivalent, which looks as if it knows where it’s going and follow it. I rarely end up where I was intending to go, but often I end up somewhere I needed to be.”

I loved this digression into purely superfluous detail:

It was June 26, 1995, and I was working on a “where are they now” package of news articles for the upcoming five-year anniversary of Lost Trust becoming public. We met near the interstate, and I followed him to his townhouse overlooking the 10th hole of one of Greenville’s premier golf courses.

Longtime girlfriend-turned-wife Shelley was there to greet us, and they showed off their rooftop garden, where Ron was growing tomatoes and cucumbers, and the Stairmaster he said he used for 10 to 15 minutes every day after work, and he talked about how his values had changed since his career as a lobbyist ended. Of course we also talked about Lost Trust and the Legislature and what he thought had and hadn’t changed, and Shelley talked as much as Ron did.

I don’t remember all those details; I got them from reviewing my notes from our lengthy visit. The only clear memories I have of that rarefied encounter are the rooftop and Bella — the cat who kept running toward the wall and hurling herself into it. Ron and Shelley laughed each time, and assured me the cat was fine, that she just did that for attention….

Why the Chamber took a stand on recreation commission


The Columbia Chamber of Commerce joined calls for the problem members of the Richland County Recreation Commission to resign because this latest scandal is another in a string that have been bad for business.

“Everything’s about perception,” Chamber President Carl Blackstone told me last night, adding that the following have projected a terrible impression of Richland County:

The various criminal investigations are one thing, but regardless what happens on that front, the problem commissioners need to go, the business leader said.

And on this one, there’s little county government can do. “I don’t feel sorry for Richland County Council much, but I do on this,” Blackstone said.

Richland County has been “missing out,” he said, nothing that there have been only two industrial announcements in six years. And lack of confidence in local government plays a role in that.

“The business community is jut tired of the constant black eyes in the paper,” he said. “In Richland County, we pay a heck of a lot of taxes” — too much to put up with one mess after another.

“We deserve better.”

Anyway, that’s what he said on the phone last night. Today, he sent out this email to Chamber members:

Dear Partners, 

In August, ten members of the the Richland County Legislative Delegation called for the immediate resignation of Richland County Recreation Commission Director James Brown, III and five additional board members due to the allegations of impropriety and public corruption. In a letter sent to the members of the Richland County Legislative Delegation, the Columbia Chamber supported their call for action.

The mission of the Commission is crucial to our community and should not be overshadowed by the ongoing controversy. Now more than ever, I encourage you to become involved in your local government. Please see the current vacancies on boards and commissions: State Boards and Commissions, Richland County, and City of Columbia.

Chamber joins demands for rec com members to go

You probably already saw that Richland County Councilman Greg Pearce has joined the majority of the county’s legislative delegation in calling on the problem members of the Recreation Commission to resign — and threatening to freeze their funding if they don’t.

That was good. Now there’s this…

Joel Lourie has sent me a copy of a letter from Carl Blackstone, president and CEO of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, making the same demand. Here’s a PDF of the letter. It’s one of those PDFs that won’t let me grab text for an excerpt, but here’s a screenshot:



Lest you wonder whether Mr. Blackstone is speaking for the whole Chamber, he tells lawmakers at the end, “The Columbia Chamber and I join you in your call for change.”


Carl Blackstone

Joel welcomed the business community’s involvement, to say the least. He told me he met with some folks at the Chamber last week and the Recreation Commission mess was “all they wanted to talk about.”

“Our delegation needs to hear from you,” he said he told Chamber leaders. “I want our delegation to feel the heat.”

Of course, most of the delegation was already there.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say this sort of stance by the Chamber is unprecedented, but I’ll say I don’t remember having seen the group stepping out into local political controversy to this extent since the late Ike McLeese was president.

So, the question rises — how much longer can self-exiled director Brown’s friends on the board continue to hold out in the face of this gathering consensus?

Should SCETV air congressional debates?

I hadn’t really focused on this until I got the release from the state Democratic Party complaining about it:

Dear Brad,
Earlier this week, SCETV announced they do not plan to televise any 2016 general election debates because they do not view the races to be “highly competitive.”  We are circulating a petition asking them to reconsider this misguided decision; clickhere to add your name.
It is regrettable that SCETV has apparently decided to focus on political punditry rather than informing the public about the choices facing voters this November.
What’s more, their political punditry is woefully off the mark.  A recent poll conducted by the Feldman Group found that 37% of South Carolina voters are more likely to vote for a Republican for Congress, while 34% are more likely to vote for a Democrat.  For the state legislature, 36% of South Carolina voters are more likely to vote for a Republican, compared to 33% for a Democrat.  Both of these results arewithin the poll’s margin of error of +/- 4%.  And while Republicans did their best to rig the districts through undemocratic gerrymandering, the poll found that in the 1st Congressional District, voters’ preferences are evenly split, and in the 5th Congressional District, voters favor a Democrat by a 5-point margin.  These results are the definition of ‘highly competitive.’
Moreover, SCETV is assessing the competitiveness of these races more than two months before Election Day, when few voters have tuned in to down-ballot races.  Denying voters the opportunity to directly compare candidates because SCETV thinks voters favor the better-known incumbents is putting the cart before the horse.  This sort of amateur political punditry is unbecoming of an institution like SCETV with such a stellar track record of enriching our democracy.  Sign the petition asking SCETV to draw upon their public interest roots and reverse this decision.
In addition, SCETV will be holding a public meeting on September 13 at 11:00 amat 1041 George Rogers Blvd. in Columbia.  Join us there as we ask SCETV to do what’s right for our democracy.  With the support of thousands of South Carolinians like you signing the petition, we can give South Carolina voters a chance to make more fully informed decisions in November.  The stakes are too high for anything less.
Jaime Harrison
SCDP Chair

I wasn’t entirely clear on what the specific issue was here, so I wrote to Jaime Harrison to get clarification. Was he talking about congressional debates here, or what? The way this read, ETV could be refusing to carry presidential debates, but I didn’t think that was what this was about. And there are no statewide elections for state offices this year…

And was he saying ETV should stage debates, or merely televise (“televise” is the word the release used) debates that others are staging?

He replied:

Hi Brad!  So traditionally ETV has staged/televised debates between candidates.  They recently had such a debate between Republican primary candidates Horne and Sanford.  They also held several debates in the 2014 cycle.
In this situation, Wilson and Bjorn have agreed to have a debate.  The Bjorn campaign approached SCETV as did the SCDP.  We were told that they had decided not to stage/televise any debates this cycle.  It is one thing if this was a budgetary decision, but the quote in the paper made it seem as if it was an editorial one based on competitiveness.

I think what he’s referring to there is this, from The State:

South Carolina’s public broadcasting network will not televise debates between S.C. candidates ahead of the Nov. 8 general election.

SCETV made the editorial decision Monday – not long after receiving a request to televise a planned 2nd District debate between U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-Springdale, and Columbia librarian Arik Bjorn.

“The main thing is our own resources and our staffing,” said Tom Posey, SCETV’s director of news and public affairs. He added the decision might have been different if the state had a series of “highly competitive” general election races….

I can see ETV’s point: The way our congressional districts are gerrymandered, we do pretty much have foregone conclusions in the general election. Joe Wilson has little to sweat about, to say the least. Pretending, even for the space of an hour’s debate, that this is an actual contest can have a certain Theater of the Absurd quality.

But on the other hand, should our public TV network just acquiesce in the way the Republican Party has taken control of our elections? Should the only debates it airs be between conservative incumbents and the primary challengers who keep pulling them farther and farther to the right? (OK, admittedly, the Horne-Sanford contest was an exception to that pattern, but that’s usually what Republican primaries are about.)

Should no other views get a hearing on ETV?

I appreciate ETV wanting to be careful with its resources. But saying “That’s just the way things are” to the ugly reality that gerrymandering gives us doesn’t seem right at all to me. It’s either naive — based in a lack of understanding of the way our lawmakers stack the deck — or it’s really cynical.

It’s one thing if the free marketplace of ideas has produced a race with a popular incumbent and a super-weak candidate who has no support. I could see not wasting money on that. I’ve spent a career using the brain God gave me to decide which races are worth spending finite resources on. (The political parties do the same thing, by the way.) But this isn’t a free-market thing. Elections this lopsided don’t just happen. You know how Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump and other paranoids are always going on about how the system is rigged? Well, in this case, it actually is. And our media — especially our public media — ought to be confronting that fact, not shrugging at it.

The Dems’ interest in having ETV give their guy a boost is plain, but they do have a point on this one. Their guy is going to get creamed not because he’s such an awful candidate, but because the Republicans in our Legislature have done their best to put as many of the state’s black voters they can into Jim Clyburn’s one district, making all six other districts unnaturally white, which in SC translates to Republican.

What do y’all think?

10 of 17 delegation members call for RCRC resignations

Lawmakers McEachern, Finlay, Lourie, Ballentine, Smith and Bernstein this morning.

Lawmakers McEachern, Finlay, Lourie, Ballentine, Smith and Bernstein this morning.

Well over half of the Richland County Legislative delegation today called on five members of the Richland County Recreation Commission to resign because of multiple incidents of malfeasance.

The 10 lawmakers demanding accountability are:

  • Sen. John Courson
  • Sen. Joel Lourie
  • Sen. Thomas McElveen
  • Rep. Nathan Ballentine
  • Rep. Beth Bernstein
  • Rep. Mary Gail Douglas
  • Rep. Kirkman Finlay
  • Rep. Joe McEachern
  • Rep. Mia McLeod
  • Rep. James Smith

Six of the 10 who signed the letter demanding the resignations — Lourie, Ballentine, Bernstein, Finlay, McEachern and Smith — appeared and spoke at a press conference at the State House this morning. Sen. Lourie was the chief spokesman, beginning and ending the prepared presentation.

The group emphasized that what they are doing is independent of investigations into alleged criminal wrongdoing. They said five of the seven commission members should resign immediately because of the following “acts of malfeasance:”

  1. “Disregarded the hostile work environment for employees.”
  2. “Blatant abuses of nepotism.”
  3. “Approval of irresponsible compensation.”
  4. “Multiple allegations of sexual harassment and other inappropriate conduct.”
  5. “Lack of effective oversight.”
  6. “Excessive litigation and costs.”

The five commissioners the lawmakers said should resign are:

  1. J. Marie Green, Chair
  2. Barbara Mickens, Vice Chair
  3. Weston A Furgess Jr., Secretary
  4. George D. Martin Jr.
  5. Joseph B. Weeks

The lawmakers also shared some information they had FOIed from the commission. One of the highlights of that was a spreadsheet showing the salaries of the 11 commission employees who make more than $50,000.acts of malfeasance

Seven of those 11 are named “Brown.”

With a recent raise of more than $30,000, the executive director, James Brown III, is currently making $151,800. He’s still receiving that salary even though he is on “voluntary” leave in response to the ongoing scandals centered around him.

Nice non-work if you can get it, huh? OK, back to the news.

The legislators also released figures showing that Brown is paid far more than other county recreation chiefs across the state. Of the big-county salaries listed, only one other was as high as six figures — that was the Greenville County director, with a mean salary of $131,520.

“Clearly, we have an unaccountable board, with no oversight,” said Sen. Lourie. “I regret that we didn’t step in earlier.”

Other points from the presser:

  • Rep. Smith said of the five commissioners, “This can only end in their resignations,” implying that there were avenues for removing any who don’t quit on their own. He wasn’t specific about how that might be done. But he served notice that today’s presser is not a one-time thing, that the pressure will continue until the problem commissioners are gone. Their offense is that they have been “serving themselves first, serving Mr. Brown and his family first,” at the expense of serving the public.
  • Rep. McEachern — the only African-American member present (which wouldn’t be relevant except for the way some other lawmakers have injected race into the issue) — spoke in particular of the way the commission has failed conscientious employees who have dared to speak up. “Instead of getting a hearing, they get punished.” This, he said, is “a structure that has failed.” Amen to that (I say as one who has called for doing away with such Special Purpose Districts for a quarter of a century now).
  • Nathan Ballentine noted something that I hadn’t realized. He said none of those present are members of the nominations committee that gets to nominate commission members (who are then appointed by the governor, technically). “The group behind me and others have not been allowed in the process.” (Rep. Jimmy Bales chairs the nominating committee; I’ll try to get the names of the others.)
  • Kirkman Finlay said the commission spent $35,000 of taxpayers’ money paying attorneys to do a study of the commission and its problems — then refused to release the study, and voted 5-2 to ignore its findings.
  • Beth Bernstein said she had an additional beef with the commissioners “as a woman and as a mother of two daughters.” She was speaking of the sexual harassment complaints that the commission has ignored.

More as I have it. I’m working on getting PDFs of the documents released today. If nothing else, I’ll scan them at home tonight…

The assembled media. Second from right is Ron Aiken of Quorum, whose reporting has done much to bring things to this point.

The assembled media. Second from right is Ron Aiken of Quorum, whose reporting has done much to bring things to this point.

Below are pictures of the five commissioners the lawmakers want to resign:








An illustration of the advantage of incumbency

Susan Brill, Senate candidate, watches as members of the Richland County delegation call on RCRC members to resign.

Senate candidate Susan Brill, left, watches as members of the Richland County delegation call on RCRC members to resign.

You hear tell of the advantage that incumbents enjoy over challengers in elections, and here is a prime example.

This morning, I went to the presser (which I’ll post about separately after this) where several members of the Richland County legislative delegation called on the worst five members of the Richland County Recreation Commission to resign.

You’ll recall that Mia McLeod did the same alone on Monday, and got good coverage for it (Mia was not present today, but signed the letter along with three other lawmakers who couldn’t make it).

Looking very alone standing back behind the assembled TV cameras, watching the proceedings, was Susan Brill, Rep. McLeod’s Republican opponent in the race for the seat Sen. Joel Lourie is giving up.

She told me after that she agreed with what the lawmakers were doing: “I think their action is appropriate, and long overdue.” But the fact that she is not the incumbent, and therefore not a member of the delegation, relegated her to the status of spectator at the event.

Could she call a press conference of her own? Sure. Would it be as well attended as this one was, or as Mia’s was Monday? Probably not. They are legislators; she is not. She showed her interest by showing up, though. (Of course, Mia isn’t the incumbent in the particular office she and Susan are seeking, but she’s in the House, which is almost as good.)

I didn’t see any of the other media types talking to her afterward. They were busy talking to an employee of the commission who had attended and thanked the lawmakers (who I missed talking to because I was talking with Susan and the lawmakers). But I could have missed it…

Mia joins calls for accountability on recreation board

Obviously, this is not news photo. But I needed art, so I went to her campaign website.

Obviously, this is not news photo. But I needed art, so I went to her campaign website…

This would have made my Open Thread last night, but I didn’t see it on The State‘s home page at the time. Maybe it hadn’t been posted yet.

In any case, I had heard late last week, off the record, that this was in the offing, and yesterday she made it official:

The Richland County Recreation Commission’s embattled executive director and five board members “who support him” should quit, a Richland County legislator said Monday.

State Rep. Mia McLeod said the resignations are necessary for the commission to regain the public’s trust amid ongoing state and federal law enforcement investigations into corruption at the office, and given civil lawsuits accusing director James Brown III of sexual harassment and other improper behavior.

Brown has denied any wrongdoing.

The Richland Democrat also announced she will push to give Richland County lawmakers the power to fire Recreation Commission board members if she is elected to the state Senate this November….

Sen. Joel Lourie — whom Mia is running to replace (the release about this came via her “miaforsenate” account) — welcomed her to the ranks of those calling for accountability. (Lourie, by the way, has remained neutral in Rep. McLeod’s contest with Republican Susan Brill.) You’ll recall that Mia was conspicuous in leading the charge against incompetence on the election commission, but was until now less so on the recreation commission scandals.

Rep. Beth Bernstein, who backed off last year after her House colleague’s aggressive announcement of interest in the Senate seat, also applauded:

And if you’d like to read her prepared remarks in their entirety, here you go:

“Thank you for joining us at one of Richland County Recreation Commission’s shining examples of what we can do right….The Adult Activity Center.

I’ve called this press conference today, not only as a member of the Richland County Legislative Delegation that appoints members of the County Recreation Commission, but also as a parent.

You see, my sons grew up playing rec league sports and our experiences were positive.  So when I get calls and emails from concerned parents, employees and community members whose fears are real and whose experiences aren’t positive…it’s heartbreaking.

We must remember, our actions will have a lasting impact on our children. As a legislator and parent…I know that we must come together to fix this situation.

So before I tell you what this is about…let me begin by telling you what it’s not about.  The issues and challenges we’re facing are not about race.  They’re not about politics.  And I would argue that they’re not even about the guilt or innocence of those who have been accused of wrong-doing.

This is about the people we are elected and appointed to serve…about their perceptions and their trust in our leadership.  It’s about honest, responsible and accountable government.

That’s why it’s critical that everyone understand that the dynamics at play within our legislative delegation are only exacerbated when members and the media engage in race-baiting and other divisive rhetoric, which diverts attention away from the real issues and positive solutions.

We may represent different constituencies within Richland County, and like the people we serve, we may be of different races, genders and political parties…but we can find common ground and work together for the good of this county and state that we love.

And while this unfortunate situation may be about a lot of things, race isn’t…or shouldn’t be…one of them.  When it comes to competency, corruption, leadership or accountability…what’s race got to do with it?

Don’t all of us want public officials who are competent and represent us with honesty, integrity and professionalism–regardless of race, party or politics?

Allegations of corruption and incompetence are not new to Richland County.  Just four years ago, I led the fight for accountability, transparency and restoration of the public’s trust when many Richland County voters were disenfranchised.

That’s why I can’t agree with colleagues who insist that we shouldn’t get involved. Truth is…we “get involved” every time we appoint any Commissioner to any County Commission. When things go badly as they have here, we don’t have the luxury of throwing our hands up and doing nothing.

That’s not leadership.

From sexual harassment to bribery, the allegations facing this Director and Commissioners are beyond alarming.  And although the FBI and SLED are investigating and multiple lawsuits are pending, none of us know when or how this will end.

If every allegation, rumor or innuendo prove to not be true….this Recreation Director and the Commissioners who support him will still be operating under a cloud of suspicion, facing a disheartened and frustrated public that simply has lost faith and trust in their ability to govern and guide this agency into the future.

Irrespective of guilt or innocence, these positions of public trust and the reputations of those who hold them have been tarnished to the point where public perception has become our reality.

I’m not here to speculate about anyone’s guilt or innocence. Obviously, elected and appointed officials are and should be held to a higher standard and sometimes legal and ethical probes are justified.  But there are times when we too, can be unfairly targeted and prosecuted in the court of public opinion without cause and due process.

And while I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, these allegations must be addressed, either privately or publicly.  When those who must defend against allegations like these choose to do so publicly, as the Director and Commissioners have here, they aren’t the only ones who are impacted. Their family members, the Commission’s employees and their families and the children and community members the Commission serves…all feel the brunt of an agency in turmoil.

I believe that the Director and the Commissioners who support him, want to do right by our children and this community. That’s why, today, I respectfully ask them to resign so that this Commission, its employees and our community can begin to face the challenges ahead–openly, honestly and without the cloud of suspicion and distrust that always accompanies allegations of corruption.

Stepping aside to defend themselves isn’t an admission of guilt.  It is simply a way to step out of the spotlight so that we can put it back where it belongs… on the children and communities that this Commission serves. That’s how we begin to heal and move forward.

It doesn’t matter who signs letters of inquiry. What matters is whether the Commission answers those questions. I implore the Commission to fully and truthfully respond to the FOIA request that my delegation colleagues have submitted. Those answers are due this week and although important, won’t change the way the public views this agency or those who hold positions of public trust within it.

What matters most now is our leadership and how we collectively address the challenges before us. I think we begin to do that through legislation that facilitates accountability.

Just a few months ago, I was proud to sign on as a co-sponsor of Representative Beth Bernstein’s bill, H.5293, which would remove County Legislative Delegations’ authority to appoint Recreation Commissioners and transfer the Commission’s powers to the County.

One of our biggest challenges is that our County Delegation, basically has the statutory authority to appoint County Commissioners, but lacks that same authority to evaluate or remove those Commissioners for cause, when the need arises.

But we can change that.

That’s why I plan to prefile legislation that will allow us to suspend or remove county commissioners we appoint.  Whether there are allegations of criminal misconduct or malfeasance, those who are appointed to serve the public cannot do the jobs for which they’ve been appointed, if the public no longer trusts them or the process. While this bill may not prevent wrongdoing, it’ll go a long way towards accountability and transparency.  That’s a first, but very important step towards restoring the public’s trust and confidence.

The people of Richland County deserve a Recreation Commission that serves the community in a transparent, responsible and responsive way.

Whether true or not, the perception is that this Commission recklessly disregards the public’s interest and concerns and wreaks havoc on employees who are simply trying to do their jobs free from threats, harassment, intimidation and retaliation.  And the fact that that perception has become our reality…is utterly reprehensible.

In the meantime, delegation members can send letters and recommendations all day long—but Recreation Commissioners aren’t bound by law to respond or comply.   Until we fix that, we’ll continue to operate the Recreation and other Commissions under an antiquated, failed system of governance that perpetually insulates public officials, to the detriment of the people they purport to serve.

Although our delegation may appear to be divided and some may argue, complicit with what has been happening, I’m encouraged and extremely hopeful that we will come together on this issue…that we will find common ground and continue to work together for the good of all of the people of Richland County.”

An exchange involving the Recreation Commission

Joel Lourie shared this with me, received from a member of the Richland County Recreation Commission:


Thomas Clark

Good morning delegation members, my name is Thomas Clark Commissioner with Richland County Recreation Commission. I was appointed to the commission on April 17, 2016 thru February 27, 2021. I was appointed months or even year’s prior to any formal allegations against the current agency director James Brown. Since the boards 5-2 vote in support of the current director I’ve sensed a disconnect with current Board Chairwoman J. Marie Green due to the way I voted. On August 24, 2016 we held an emergency meeting to address a legal matter with agency or board legal team. During this closed session in the presence of Weston A. Furgess,Jr., Wilbert Lewis, George D. Martin, Jr., Joseph Weeks and Richard Morgan (attorney), Ms. Green was very disrespectful in tone as I tried to hand her a legal document that was given for the board to view. Ms. Green went on to slander me by stating that “You’re the reason that the FBI is investigating us.” Not only is this statement not true, but was slanderous to my character/has tarnished my position with my fellow board member’s. As I stated earlier all these allegations against Mr. Brown and said board members took place prior to my appointment to this board and nor would I sit back and have my name or character tarnished by the actions of other’s. I will not be intimidated or feel that I’ve done something wrong for taking a stand for the employees of this agency and the citizens of Richland County. With Ms. Green unprofessional conduct/character she should not be on or in leadership of this board and I will await your immediate response to this matter, Thanking you in advance for your time & attention.

Thomas Clark


Here’s how Joel responded:

Commissioner Clark –


Thank you for your email and more importantly, your willingness to serve on the Recreation Commission.  I know this is a very difficult time to be in this position and we need good people who are willing to do the right thing.  I am of the opinion that there are serious problems at the Commission which include not only the criminal allegations, but concerns over potential board malfeasance, nepotism, employee treatment and relations, compensation, and the overall delivery of services to the people of Richland County in a cost-efficient way.  These are problems that have existed long before your service and seem to have culminated in the last year or two.  I certainly do not speak for all the members of this delegation, but I can tell you that there are many that share my view and that we are taking all steps possible to bring about a positive change within the agency.


Hang in there, work hard for what is right for the employees and for the people of Richland County.

Best regards,

Could we finally get comprehensive tax reform?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaker Lucas Appoints House Tax Policy Review Committee

Member panel tasked with offering suggestions to reform outdated tax code

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

Speaker Jay Lucas

Speaker Jay Lucas

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

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

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

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

Wrap your head around this: 1,300 more USC student beds

Peter Ustinov (on the right) in "Logan's Run."

Peter Ustinov (on the right) in “Logan’s Run.”

I was struck by this yesterday, but didn’t get around to sharing it until now:

The University of South Carolina will add around 1,300 new beds in privately owned student housing properties in time for the fall 2016 semester, seventh-most in the country.

A study by student housing and apartment market data provider Axiometrics found seven of the 10 university markets expecting the most new beds were in the Southeast or the Southwest. Arkansas led the way with an anticipated 2,319 new beds.

Several new student-oriented apartment complexes have recently opened in Columbia, including: Park Place, located at Blossom and Huger streets, with 640 beds; Station at Five Points, located at Gervais and Harden streets, with 660 beds; and 650 Lincoln Phase Two, with 297 beds.

Nationwide, a total of 47,700 new beds are scheduled for come to market in time for the fall semester….

Everybody else in "Logan's Run" Jenny Agutter, anyway...

Everybody else in “Logan’s Run.” Or Jenny Agutter, anyway…

Hey, I don’t care about nationwide. I care about the fact that, as many additional students as we’ve absorbed downtown in recent years, 1,300 more are moving in right now!

And that does count hundreds or thousands more that we can see under construction!

Already, walking down Main Street makes me feel like Peter Ustinov in “Logan’s Run.” This is bizarre.

Where are they all coming from?

Allegations against this Sheriff Arpaio guy

Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Wikipedia.

Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Wikipedia.

Speaking of Trump supporters… I don’t know this Sheriff Arpaio guy from Adam’s off ox, but this release from the state Democratic Party at least lets me know what is allegedly wrong with him.

Consider the source all you like, but it’s quite a list:

Columbia, SC – The South Carolina Democratic Party released the following statement today on the announcement by Rep. Jeff Duncan that racist Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio will be a “special guest,” alongside Rep. Mick Mulvaney, at Duncan’s Faith & Freedom BBQ next Monday in Anderson:
“The fact that Jeff Duncan and Mick Mulvaney would honor a racist and sexist bigot like Joe Arpaio is disgusting, but given their support of a racist and sexist bigot like Donald Trump for president, it is not surprising.
“Pasted below is a list of 10 of Joe Arpaio’s policies, taken from a 2012 article by Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress based on a U.S. Department of Justice legal complaint.  We are interested in hearing which of these policies Jeff Duncan and Mick Mulvaney believe are appropriate.”
1. Forcing Women To Sleep In Their Own Menstrual Blood: In Arpaio’s jails, “female Latino LEP prisoners have been denied basic sanitary items. In some instances, female Latino LEP prisoners have been forced to remain with sheets or pants soiled from menstruation because of MCSO’s failure to ensure that detention officers provide language assistance in such circumstances.”

2. Assaulting Pregnant Women: “[A]n MCSO officer stopped a Latina woman – a citizen of the United States and five months pregnant at the time – as she pulled into her driveway. After she exited her car, the officer then insisted that she sit on the hood of the car. When she refused, the officer grabbed her arms, pulled them behind her back, and slammed her, stomach first, into the vehicle three times. He then dragged her to the patrol car and shoved her into the backseat. He left her in the patrol car for approximately 30 minutes without air conditioning. The MCSO officer ultimately issued a citation for failure to provide identification.”

3. Stalking Latino Women: “In another instance, during a crime suppression operation, two MCSO officers followed a Latina woman, a citizen of the United States, for a quarter of a mile to her home. The officers did not turn on their emergency lights, but insisted that the woman remain in her car when she attempted to exit the car and enter her home. The officers’ stated reasons for approaching the woman was a non-functioning license plate light. When the woman attempted to enter her home, the officers used force to take her to the ground, kneed her in the back, and handcuffed her. The woman was then taken to an MCSO substation, cited for ‘disorderly conduct,’ and returned home. The disorderly conduct citation was subsequently dismissed.”

4. Criminalizing Being A Latino: “During raids, [Arpaio’s Criminal Enforcement Squad] typically seizes all Latinos present, whether they are listed on the warrant or not. For example, in one raid CES had a search warrant for 67 people, yet 109 people were detained. Fifty-nine people were arrested and 50 held for several hours before they were released. Those detained, but not on the warrant, were seized because they were Latino and present at the time of the raid. No legal justification existed for their detention.”

5. Criminalizing Living Next To The Wrong People: “[D]uring a raid of a house suspected of containing human smugglers and their victims . . . officers went to an adjacent house, which was occupied by a Latino family. The officers entered the adjacent house and searched it, without a warrant and without the residents’ knowing consent. Although they found no evidence of criminal activity, after the search was over, the officers zip-tied the residents, a Latino man, a legal permanent resident of the United States, and his 12-year-old Latino son, a citizen of the United States, and required them to sit on the sidewalk for more than one hour, along with approximately 10 persons who had been seized from the target house, before being released”

6. Ignoring Rape: Because of Arpaio’s obsessive focus on “low-level immigration offenses” his officers failed “to adequately respond to reports of sexual violence, including allegations of rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse of girls.”

7. Widespread Use Of Racial Slurs: “MCSO personnel responsible for prisoners held in MCSO jails routinely direct racial slurs toward Latino prisoners, including calling Latino prisoners ‘paisas,’ ‘wetbacks,’ ‘Mexican bitches,’ ‘fucking Mexicans,’ and ‘stupid Mexicans.’”

8. Widespread Racial Profiling: “[I]n the southwest portion of the County, the study found that Latino drivers are almost four times more likely to be stopped by MCSO officers than non-Latino drivers engaged in similar conduct. . . . In the northwest portion of the County, the study found that Latino drivers are over seven times more likely to be stopped by MCSO officers than non-Latino drivers engaged in similar conduct. . . . Most strikingly, in the northeast portion of the County, the study found that Latino drivers are nearly nine times more likely to be stopped by MCSO officers than non-Latino drivers engaged in similar conduct.”

9. Random, Unlawful Detention Of Latinos: “MCSO officers stopped a car carrying four Latino men, although the car was not violating any traffic laws. The MCSO officers ordered the men out of the car, zip-tied them, and made them sit on the curb for an hour before releasing all of them. The only reason given for the stop was that the men’s car ‘was a little low,’ which is not a criminal or traffic violation.”

10. Group Punishments For Latinos: “In some instances, when a Latino [Low English Proficiency] prisoner has been unable to understand commands given in English, MCSO detention officers have put an entire area of the jail in lockdown—effectively preventing all the prisoners in that area from accessing a number of privileges because of the Latino LEP prisoner’s inability to understand English, inciting hostility toward the LEP prisoner, and potentially placing MCSO officers and other prisoners in harm’s way.”