Category Archives: South Carolina

Yes, if ‘Downton Abbey’ were set in the US, it would be in SC


Soon after I moved back to S.C., I was struck by how much my home state was like the England of a couple of generations back — or at least, how its ruling class was like that of the older England. I’d read in books how when one member of the public school set met another, they could usually find a personal connection in one of three ways — family, school or military unit.

On one of my first visits to the State House, I either participated in or overheard conversations in which connections were made in each of those three ways. The Citadel or Wofford may not be Oxford, but the interpersonal dynamics were the same.

(Before I came home to SC, I had never in my work life — in Tennessee and Kansas — met strangers who could make personal connections to me, which gave me a comforting sense of professional distance from sources that I took for granted. Then, one of the first people I met at the State House — Joe Wilson, as it happened — heard my name and said, “Yes, I’ve met your father; he’s doing a great job.” It was bit of a shock. My father at the time was running the junior ROTC program at Brookland-Cayce High School after retiring from the Navy.)

All that was brought back to mind when I was reading a feature in The Washington Post this morning about the origins of the surnames of presidential candidates, and I got to this:


Possible national origins: Scottish or English
Meaning: Have you ever seen the show “Downton Abbey”? It’s a good show (or, at least, has had its good moments). It centers on an expansive British estate at which there are strict social norms and a reliance on maintaining the boundaries of proper manners. If it were in America, it would be set in South Carolina.

“Graham,” as it turns out, is a name identifying residents of Grantham in Lincolnshire. And Lord Grantham is the main character in “Downton Abbey.”

As for “Grantham,” it’s apparently a combination of “homestead” — -ham — and either the Old English word for gravel — grand — or a reference to the name “Granta,” which means “snarler.” Making Lindsey Graham actually Lindsey Guy-who-lives-near-a-gravelly-home-or-near-where-the-snarler-lives….

Yes. An American Downton would likely be in South Carolina. In the Lowcountry, I would expect. Think Hobcaw Barony or something like that…

That’s right. In SC, who the governor is matters more than who the U.S. senator is

The Washington Post was musing about why David Vitter’s prostitute problem didn’t keep him from being re-elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010, but did keep him from being elected governor of Louisiana this year.

And I was surprised and pleased to see that the Post, despite its Beltway perspective, had the insight to list this reason first:

1.  Louisianans care much more about who their governor is than who their senator is. It might be hard for many in Washington to grasp, but Louisiana is far from alone in caring more about who its governor is than who goes to the Senate from the state. (New Jersey, California and Texas are three others that jump to mind.) “Voters have a higher standard for governor than someone they send off to Washington,” said Bob Mann, a professor of mass communication at Louisiana State University who was a top aide to former senator John Breaux (D).

Added Curt Anderson, a Republican consultant who advises outgoing Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal: “In Louisiana, they take the governor’s race seriously. They feel like they are voting for the head man for the state. They do not take Senate races very seriously. The job of a senator from Louisiana is to go to Washington and try to stop the madness in D.C. and oppose [President Obama] Obama. That’s it. If you can do that, fine.”  

Simply put: The bar that Vitter needed to clear was MUCH higher in the governor’s race than in his 2010 Senate bid.  And he never really understood that or came close to clearing it.

Indeed. That’s a point I’ve made many times over the years here in South Carolina. In fact, back when the news first broke that Inez Tenenbaum was going to run for the U.S. Senate in 2004, I called her to ask why she wanted to waste time doing that; South Carolina needed a good governor far more than it needed to send its talent to Washington to engage in the eternal, pointless, partisan wars.

Yet time and again in this state and others, you’ve seen governors use their posts as stepping-stones to the Senate, sometimes even appointing themselves when a Senate vacancy occurs. I can’t speak for other states, but if talented, smart politicos really care about South Carolina, we can use them here a whole lot more than we can up there.

Of course, some people are more suited for the Washington stage than for the State House. Lindsey Graham comes to mind. And the country (not the state, but the nation) needs good senators — better ones than we have now. But here in SC, if someone has what it takes to be a good governor, I’d rather they stay here and run for that. Too few people who could make a difference do…

Bennettsville boy makes good

And no, I’m not talking about Hugh McColl, or even yours truly, who was considered to have done fairly well in the wider world until I got laid off. (You doubt my celebrity in the place of my birth? Consider that I was once invited to address the Rotary at Bennettsville’s now-defunct Farron’s Restaurant — which was not defunct at the time. Of course, the invitation did come from my uncle.)

No, I’m talking about Aziz Ansari, whose celebrity now exceeds Hugh’s, and even mine.

The above moment in the pilot of “Parks and Recreation” was a sort of milestone for our hometown. It was, I believe, the first time a recurring character on a prime-time network show said to the world, “I am from Bennettsville, South Carolina.” The fact that he followed it up with “I am what you might call a redneck” hardly takes away from that proud declaration. We Marlboro Countians have a great appreciation for irony.

The irony goes deeper, however, than the assertion that the Indian-American is from Bennettsville and not, as Amy Poehler’s character had guessed, a Libyan.

The fact is that Aziz — since he’s a homeboy, I feel free to call him “Aziz” — has greater claim to Bennettsville than I do. Sure, I was born there (while he was born in faraway Columbia), but only because my mother went home to have me while my father, a newly minted Naval officer, was attending a school in San Diego. I grew up thinking of it as home because it was the place I returned to each summer to visit my uncle and grandparents between new postings to places where I would live for a year or so and never return to.

The one time I lived in Bennettsville almost year-round was the 1967-68 school year, when I was in the 9th grade at (also now defunct) Bennettsville High School. So if you walk down Main Street, you may not be able to find anyone who knows me, although you may run into an older person who will remember me as the boy who yelled right out at the preacher in church, completely cracking up the congregation, in the middle of an otherwise stultifyingly boring sermon in 1957. No, I’m not making this up. I have it on good authority that when my name comes up in B’ville, if it does come up, the conversation inevitably moves to the yelling-in-church incident. I’m quite the local legend for that. It probably surprised no one that I became a writer of opinion; I am after all The Boy Who Didn’t Know When to Shut Up.

But Aziz actually grew up there, and attended Marlboro Academy, which (irony again) is where most of the white kids went after BHS was finally completely integrated at the start of the 1970s. (When I was there I had black classmates in homeroom and P.E., but we were then under the “Freedom of Choice” system in which everyone declared which school they wanted to go to each year, and only the very bravest African-Americans dared to say that they wanted to go to the “white” school — something I didn’t really appreciate at the time; I actually thought the school was integrated.)

So his Bennettsville credentials may be more solid than mine, but at least I can say I was a Green Gremlin (possibly the quirkiest, coolest school mascot ever), and he was not.

So there.

Anyway, have any of y’all seen his new show on Netflix, “Master of None?” It’s pretty funny. Not something you want to turn on until after the kids have gone to bed, but funny. Check it out and we’ll discuss it here…

Jaime Harrison talking to Rachel Maddow about SC Democratic Party

This clip, brought to my attention today by the state Democratic Party, features MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow talking to SC Democratic chair Jaime Harrison during her visit to SC for the debate Friday night.

This is interesting because you see how the state party chair opens up about his challenges when he has a sympathetic ear who nevertheless knows how to ask pointed questions.ATT_b1_Bradwarthen_233x233_011515_d2

As long as he’s got that ear, he makes his pitch through Maddow to the national party for what he terms a Democratic Southern Strategy. He’d like to see the national party get as serious about winning back the South as Harry Dent et al. were about taking it away from them in the 1960s.

He also talks about his biggest challenge — the lack of a bench here in SC. It’s hard to win back anything when you have a scarcity of strong candidates.

Oh, and about that Democratic debate the other night — did you watch it? I confess I didn’t even try. Maybe it’s wrong of me, but I sort of lost interest when Biden said he wouldn’t run, and Hillary just stomped all over her opposition in the previous debate — and the GOP failed to lay a glove on her in the Benghazi hearing. If she gets in serious trouble again (like, email-server trouble or worse), I might get interested again. Until then, we know whom the Democrats are going to nominate…

SC Democrats are becoming what SC Republicans once were

This news from The Hill:

… is hardly news to us in South Carolina. We knew that since Joe Biden (who had a lot of support among party regulars here) said definitively that he would not run, Hillary has had our primary pretty much sewn up.

But it made me realize something.

For a generation, South Carolina Republicans were known for always choosing their party’s eventual nominee in their presidential preference primaries. It’s one reason why the nation paid so much attention to what happened here.

Then, in 2012, they went nuts and chose Newt Gingrich over the guy everyone knew would be the eventual nominee. This year, they’re gaga over Donald Trump and Ben Carson, and if either of those guys is the eventual nominee, the national Republican Party might as well have a going-out-of-business sale.

But the Democrats in South Carolina are showing the centrist conservatism for which their rivals were once known, lining up dutifully behind the establishment candidate who is ordained to pull the sword from the stone.

Maybe in the future, the nation’s pundits will watch our endangered Democrats as closely as they have watched the GOP here in the past…

Steve Spurrier’s just like me, except for all that money

I found this item today interesting:

Steve Spurrier has been to Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., since resigning as South Carolina’s head coach, but he won’t be at Williams-Brice Stadium this weekend or any weekend the rest of this season.

“I don’t think that’s my place,” Spurrier told The State on Monday….

Hey, what a coincidence — I don’t feel like it’s my place, either, so I won’t be going to the game. Either.

Increasingly, Steve Spurrier is just like me — except that he’s paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to ignore the Gamecocks, whereas I do it faithfully, year after year, for free.

Now I ask you, is that fair?

Why not ask SLED to investigate deputy’s actions?

UPDATE: Sheriff Lott called me this afternoon, and he has a pretty good explanation for why he went with the feds first. Later tonight, I’ll write a new post about it…

I said this in a comment earlier, but I think it’s worth a separate post…

So Sheriff Lott has fired the deputy involved in the Spring Valley incident.

But here’s something I want to know, and would have asked Leon had I been at the presser: Why go straight to the FBI? Why not invite SLED in? Or, I don’t know, the statewide grand jury.

Yeah, I know, even though he’s my twin and all, Leon may not be as enamored of subsidiarity as I am. But why immediately buy into the cliche that NO ONE in SC can be fair and objective about this; we have to bring in the feds?

As Harry Harris said in a comment yesterday: “SC seems to be the one state that has reacted to most of the police excessive force revelations in a sound manner – prosecuting and disciplining the officers involved.” Leon’s immediate firing of this deputy demonstrates that — unless it just demonstrates a Pilatesque desire to wash his hands, and I don’t think that’s the case.

I would have given the SC system a chance to work. If the feds wanted to do a civil rights investigation on a parallel track, nobody’s stopping them.

But I just don’t get why, in this case and previous ones, Leon doesn’t want to turn to SLED…

The most amazing thing about Trump is that his supporters think he can WIN next fall

You may have seen that Donald Trump’s support in South Carolina has now reached the dizzying height of 40 percent of respondents who identify themselves as likely GOP primary voters.

No, the bubble hasn’t popped yet, even though everything we’ve seen in past elections would suggest it would have happened a couple of months back.

Do you wonder why? I certain do. Well, here’s why:

The conventional wisdom among Donald Trump’s detractors is that his current surge in the polls won’t last because as we get closer to actual voting, Republicans excited by his political incorrectness will start factoring in “electability.” When GOP voters realize that he can’t beat Hillary Clinton, the theory goes, they will switch their support to other more electable candidates.

One problem with that theory: Right now, GOP voters believe Trump is the most electable candidate.

A new Post/ABC News poll asked GOP-leaning voters which candidate “has the best chance of getting elected president in November 2016?” The winner was Trump by a landslide. An incredible 43 percent of GOP voters say that Trump is the most electable GOP candidate. In a distant second place, Ben Carson trails Trump on electability by 27 points, while Jeb Bush — whose entire rationale for his campaign is electability — trails Trump on electability by 30 points. Since the same poll found Trump with 32 percent support, that means even GOP voters who do not support Trump still believe he is most likely to beat the Democrats in 2016. A new Associated Press-GfK pollconfirms this, finding that “Seven in 10 Republicans and Republican-leaning registered voters say they think Trump could win in November 2016 if he were nominated; that’s the most of any Republican candidate.”…

That may be the single most amazing thing that I’ve read or heard about the continuing popularity of this guy.

I suppose there’s a sort of cognitive block that prevents Trump supporters from imagining how non-Trump supporters see things. So they imagine a majority will agree with them.

I suppose all of us are susceptible to such lacks of insight. I, for one, find it very difficult to understand how anyone could imagine Donald Trump winning the presidency next November. This is perhaps a defense mechanism on my part: If I could imagine it, I wouldn’t sleep nights…

The deputy and the student: That violent Spring Valley video

Again, South Carolina makes national news, and again, it’s in a bad way.

It’s early in the discernment process, and we lack any context (whatever the context may be), but the extremely brief video is a kick in the gut, especially the instant when the desk flips backward in a way that almost seems to defy physical laws. It’s amazing that the student wasn’t injured, a fact we can only chalk up to the resilience of youth.

Here, from The State, are the skimpy facts, which tell us next to nothing:

The Richland County Sheriff’s Department is investigating an incident between a school resource officer and a female student at Spring Valley High School on Monday, after a video showing a confrontation was posted online.

The female student and a male student were arrested for disturbing the peace, said Richland County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Lt. Curtis Wilson. The resource officer, Senior Deputy Ben Fields, has been placed on administrative duties with pay pending the investigation’s results, according to Wilson.

While Fields will work at the Sheriff’s Department, he won’t be performing any duties at area schools. In a statement, the Richland 2 school district said it had “directed the school resource officer not return to any school in the district.”

The video shows Fields approach the female student seated in a desk. The resource officer proceeds to place his left hand on the female student’s left arm, before putting his right arm around her neck. Fields then flips the desk over, with the student still seated, before spinning it around and forcibly removing the student and trying to restrain her at the front of the classroom.

Wilson said no one was injured in the incident – neither the students nor Fields.

Wilson said prior to what is shown in the video, the female student was asked to leave the classroom and refused. Wilson said that was when the resource officer was called in….

The official response to the incident seems appropriately cautious so far. The sheriff is out of town. The mayor wants an independent investigation. The school district’s one response, saying it doesn’t want that officer back in the classroom, seems appropriate under the circumstances.

All we have now is a video that shocks the viewer as much as it seems to have shocked the bystanders, who react not at all — their stillness is almost eerie — except for the one who shot these 15 seconds.




Really, Trey? THAT’s the look you’re going with?

gowdy_surfs_up  download (3) 596-trey-gowdy-610 FILE - This file June 28, 2013 file photo shows House Oversight Committee member Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. House Speaker John Boehner on Friday declared he’d schedule a vote to create a select committee to investigate the Benghazi attack, escalating a political battle that has raged since the final days of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. A senior Republican aide said Boehner was considering Gowdy to chair the select committee. The aide wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity. It’s unclear when Boehner will schedule the vote.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

I was out of pocket yesterday playing in a charity golf tournament (to benefit Healthy Learners) out at Fort Jackson, which means I probably had a better time than you did. (How did I do? Well, the official score was 70, which sounds great until you learn that it was captain’s choice — which, for the uninitiated, means that we had four tries at every shot — and that was the team score. When I left, the leading team had come in with a 56, and we were tied for last place. But it was a beautiful day, and we had a good time.)

But while I didn’t blog exactly, I did mini-blog and bit, and this was my most popular Tweet of the day, garnering a number of reTweets and favorites:

You may have noticed that South Carolina’s own Rep. Gowdy has made almost as many attempts to do different things with his hair as Eric Clapton, only with less success. I am not the only one to compare the above look to Oswald Cobblepot, a.k.a. The Penquin, on “Gotham:”

Others have mentioned Draco Malfoy, possibly after seeing this particular do.

You might be tempted to say that he’d look better if he just grew it out some, particularly on the sides. But then you would take that back upon seeing this. And let’s not even get started on this one

The most normal he has ever looked was when he went with the neoclassical Brutus cut, as they called it when it came into fashion in the early 19th century. Or perhaps we should call it the Cassius look, as in:

Let me have men about me that are fat,
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep a-nights.
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look.
He thinks too much. Such men are dangerous.

Maybe that’s why he abandoned it. He didn’t want Kevin McCarthy talking about how “yond Trey hath dim’d the star of Hillary Macbeth…”

But when the big day came, what did he do? He whipped out the Butch Wax and went with the kewpie doll look:

Gowdy look

Crazy SC GOP is throwing it all away

Jeb Bush -- the guy who would normally win in South Carolina -- at a campaign event in Columbia in August.

Jeb Bush — the guy who would normally win in South Carolina — at a campaign event in Columbia in August.

South Carolinians who are not Republicans know their vote in the general election for president doesn’t count for much; our state’s electoral votes will go to the Republican.

But at least, thanks to our open primaries, we all get a say in which Republican is on the ballot in November. And since 1980, South Carolina has always picked the eventual winner, nudging the party toward a candidate who might get some of us independents, and maybe even a few Democrats, to vote for him.

That is, we always did until 2012. But that was a one-time fit of craziness, right?

Apparently not. And as much as I have dreaded saying it, The Washington Post has no such qualms. This story on today’s front page paints a portrait of a state that is throwing its national influence away:

Much like in Washington, where the abrupt withdrawal from the speaker’s race of Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) signaled total party chaos, the view is fading that, eventually, this presidential contest will get back to normal.

Support for former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who recently called South Carolina a “lock,” is at 5.7 percent here, according to theRealClearPolitics average. That’s good enough for only fifth place, 28 points behind front-runner Donald Trump and 12 behind former neurosurgeon Ben Carson. Four years ago, on his way to losing the state’s primary, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney never polled lower than 13 percent. Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), another establishment favorite who is ahead of Bush nationally and rising in recent polls, is currently even further behind in South Carolina, with a RealClearPolitics average of just 5 percent.

“The pattern of crowning the nominee has been broken,” said Barry Wynn, a former South Carolina GOP chairman whose office is festooned with Bush memorabilia, down to a “I Miss W” coffee mug….

A big part of the problem is the lack of GOP leadership to pull the party together around a candidate who can win. Once, that sort of leadership was provided by Carroll Campbell. Now, Nikki Haley seems uninterested, and Lindsey Graham is muddying the waters with his own quixotic campaign, which has sucked up name support that might have automatically gone to someone like Jeb Bush.

Meanwhile, when it comes to tearing the party apart, most of the state’s congressional delegation is a big part of the problem, and it’s hard to imagine them ever being part of a solution.

After the 1988 primary, when my reporter was having trouble coming up with a lede for a story summing up the results, I suggested he write, “Now we know what it feels like to be an Iowan.” It was plain that we, too, had become a state with outsized influence on the GOP nomination process.

We may not be feeling that feeling much longer, if this trend continues. And I, for one, will miss getting that early close look at the candidates.

front Wash

The Saluda River is now back to within its banks!


At least, it is at Quail Hollow, which is all I can testify to for sure. (The Congaree, which I crossed a couple of times today, still looked fairly high — no doubt thanks to the Broad.)

The above photo was taken at 5:31 p.m. today from approximately the same angle as the one below, taken at 10:41 a.m. Monday.

See? I told you there were tennis courts under there…

full flood


Tenenbaums find refuge at hotel in Lexington

File photo: Samuel Tenenbaum at the HQ of Columbia's operation to help Katrina evacuees in 2005.

File photo: Samuel Tenenbaum at the HQ of Columbia’s operation to help Katrina evacuees in 2005.

Concerned about this Facebook message from Inez Tenenbaum, as of Monday evening:

Our home on the Saluda River is flooded and the renovations will probably take six weeks or more. If any of my Facebook friends know of a place we can rent (with two dogs and four cats) please let me know! Thanks so much.

I called and talked with Samuel. I knew how close their house was to the river. You know those pictures I keep showing of the pool and tennis courts at Quail Hollow? They’re like that close — although the house is on stilts.

Samuel says they’re doing OK. They’re in a Quality Inn Suites in Lexington that takes pets, which I found amazing. There are plenty of other flooded-out folks with pets staying there. The dogs are with them. The cats, who as we know fend for themselves, are back at the house with plenty of food — and Samuel is anxious to get back to check on them.

They evacuated on Sunday, just minutes before the Lake Murray floodgates were opened. Good call, since they are very close to the dam — they live in a rural area off Corley Mill Road.

There was already five feet of water in their driveway — not from the river, but from nearby creeks feeding into it. The water was moving too swiftly for a boat to come alongside to pick them up, so Samuel put Inez and the dogs into a kayak and pulled them, wading through the water himself. He told himself while doing so that any snakes in the water had already had the sense to abandon the area.

“Now I know what it’s like to be homeless,” he said — if only temporarily.

This is especially ironic because Samuel ran Columbia’s response to Hurricane Katrina 10 years back, heading up the operation to accommodate refugees from that disaster.

As he sees it, he’s following that protocol: “We established the plan 10 years ago. We put people in motels.” And that’s where he, Inez and the dogs are.

“It’s a bummer, it’s emotional. Here you are, 72 years old” and you have to deal with this. But he’s dealing with it with typical aplomb: “It’s a bummer, it’s emotional. “My name is Noah T-baum,” he’s telling everyone.

As for longer-term rental accommodations, the Tenenbaums have a line on a couple of places, although nothing is set in stone. So pass on any tips you have…

Trey Gowdy for majority leader? Of the U.S. House? Really?

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot…

Trey Gowdy

Trey Gowdy

I almost ran off the road this morning when I heard someone on NPR saying that the crazies who ran John Boehner out of the House were wanting Trey Gowdy to be majority leader. Of the Unites States House of Representatives. And I don’t think they were joking.

Oh, I’m sure Mr. Gowdy is a fine fella, kind to children and dogs and so forth, but No. 2 man in the House?

Apparently, Boehner himself was also promoting this

This is a guy who:

  • Hasn’t even been in the House five years.
  • Was elected over Bob Inglis, one of the finest, most principled people to be elected from South Carolina in a generation, and one of the most sincerely and ostentatiously conservative, because Inglis wasn’t right-wing enough in the Year of the Tea Party.
  • Owes whatever national reputation he does possess entirely to chairing the House’s Benghazi sideshow. True, he’s in good company, in that Lindsey Graham also has a Benghazi obsession — but at least Graham is known for other stuff as well.
  • Is not, lest you be confused, Curt Gowdy. That would be pretty cool. But wrong Gowdy.

And don’t even get me started on the haircut, which makes him look like a cross between Stan Laurel. and Oswald Cobblepot on “Gotham.” Not that that sort of thing should matter.

Anyway, to put it more mildly, I was surprised…

SC public backs leaders’ decision to bring down Confederate flag

THE moment -- the flag starts coming down.

THE moment — the flag starts coming down.

In case you had a creeping feeling at the back of your mind that were it not for the fact that we are, thank God, a republic instead of a direct democracy, the Confederate flag would still be flying…

I offer this reassuring news:

Two-thirds of South Carolinians agreed with the General Assembly’s decision in removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds this summer after the Charleston church shootings, a Winthrop University poll released Wednesday found.

Less than a year ago, just one-third of South Carolinians thought the Civil War icon should come down after flying at the state’s most prominent public building for five decades.

That was before an African-American pastor, who also was a state senator, and eight of his parishioners were gunned down at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in June. Authorities brought hate crime charges against the accused killer, who is white.

Slightly more than half of white respondents thought lawmakers made the right decision in taking down the Confederate flag, the Winthrop survey found. More than nine in 10 African-Americans backed the decision….

At least, I find it reassuring to know that, while I still praise our elected officials (starting with Nikki Haley) for courage and leadership in bringing the flag down without waiting around for polls, even if they had, the result would have been the same.

So South Carolina really has grown up, finally, and put the flag behind it.

That is wonderful news.

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

I find myself in an unusual position.

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

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

No, worse than nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will receive testimony and valuable input from education leaders

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

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

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

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

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

That was a couple of weeks ago.

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

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

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

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


Fiorina won the JV debate last time. This time, it was Graham

JV debate

Yeah, Santorum — we caught you smiling…

Actually, I have only partial knowledge of how he did, because all I’ve seen is a few clips from the not-ready-for-prime-time debate.

What I’m talking about is how it played, which is of course of tremendous importance in politics. And it played like this:

And then there was this:

Lindsey Graham tops the undercard debate, but Donald Trump dominates

The most memorable performance in the undercard Republican presidential debate came from Sen. Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina.

Serving his third term in the Senate and now one of the party’s leading lights on foreign policy, Graham still found himself at the trailers’ table Wednesday night. But he was easily the funniest of the four early-evening debaters and offered something of a split-personality vision: half gloom and war, half cornball humor.

In an otherwise humorless foursome, Graham delivered the jokes that were the night’s most repeated lines. In explaining his call for more bipartisan cooperation, for instance, he harkened back to deals that President Ronald Reagan and Democrats struck over a drink: “That’s the first thing I’m gonna do as president. We’re gonna drink more.”

In explaining his position that more legal immigrants were needed to pay into the retirement system as baby boomers retire, Graham used a one-liner about a famous — and infamous — senator from his home state.

“Strom Thurmond had four kids after he was 67. If you’re not willing to do that, maybe we need a better legal immigration system,” Graham said….

So go ahead. Heap the usual pile of scorn, abuse and calumny on our senior senator. It’s what y’all always do. I expect you’ll start with something like, “Maybe he should run for court jester instead of president. He’s already the biggest joke on the national stage.”

It’s easy to be scornful. It’s hard to put yourself out there and do your best, especially when all you get is ridicule and abuse…

Growing South Carolina’s car-manufacturing industry

It occurs to me that I should make myself do more short contact-report-type posts, whenever I run into a newsmaker and pick up a tidbit.

So here’s one….

Yesterday, I ran into Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt (my long-ago managing editor) getting on the elevator heading up to his office. I expressed surprise that he wasn’t on his way to Germany with the governor.

He said he wasn’t needed on this trip. Anyway, he figures he’s done the trek to Germany enough, what with his years with BMW after he left the paper.

Noting that the trip is about building relationships with automobile manufacturing suppliers, he gave me his elevator speech on that topic before he got out on the 16th floor: South Carolina is now home to 250 such suppliers — 80 of them added since he’s been at Commerce.

I stuck out my hand and congratulated him on that. After all, one wants to encourage that kind of success.

One revolution at a time: Let’s reform redistricting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Obviously, the failure to welcome refugees is NOT just a European problem

Samuel Tenenbaum (who led our community’s admirable operation to welcome refugees from Katrina 10 years ago) shared this piece from the NYT with me and others over the weekend:

The Refugee Crisis Isn’t a ‘European Problem’

THOSE of us outside Europe are watching the unbelievable images of the Keleti train station in Budapest, the corpse of a toddler washed up on a Turkish beach, the desperate Syrian families chancing their lives on the night trip to the Greek islands — and we keep being told this is a European problem….

It’s not just the United States that keeps pretending the refugee catastrophe is a European problem. Look at countries that pride themselves on being havens for the homeless. Canada, where I come from? As few as 1,074 Syrians, as of August. Australia? No more than 2,200. Brazil? Fewer than 2,000, as of May….

The brunt of the crisis has fallen on the Turks, the Egyptians, the Jordanians, the Iraqis and the Lebanese. Funding appeals by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have failed to meet their targets. The squalor in the refugee camps has become unendurable. Now the refugees have decided, en masse, that if the international community won’t help them, if neither Russia nor the United States is going to force the war to an end, they won’t wait any longer. They are coming our way. And we are surprised?

Blaming the Europeans is an alibi and the rest of our excuses — like the refugees don’t have the right papers — are sickening….

But I didn’t need to read that to bring the problem home, because by the time I saw his email, I had already read this in The State:

A Duncan resident is seeking a court order to stop refugees from resettling in Spartanburg County.

The action comes about a week after U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Anne Richard visited Spartanburg to answer questions about the refugee resettlement program. Lauren Martel, a Hilton Head-based attorney, sent Richard a letter demanding a halt to the program in its entirety.

Martel is representing Michelle Wiles, of Duncan, who has “already suffered potential damages as a result of this unilateral premature action,” Martel states in the letter.

Wiles said the refugee program is an unnecessary burden on the Spartanburg County taxpayers and believes the refugees who are resettling in Spartanburg have not been properly vetted.

“People are being brought here and we have no database to know even who they are,” Wiles said. “We’re supposed to just trust that their story checks out.”…

From the terrible moment years ago when Cayce said “no” to the Somali Bantu to this, we have plenty of evidence that whatever it is in people that causes them to turn refugees away, we are afflicted with it here in South Carolina.