The court’s unanimous ruling in the Harrell/Wilson matter

Dave Crockett points out that we haven’t discussed the SC Supreme Court’s unanimous smackdown of Judge Manning’s bizarre ruling in the matter of Bobby Harrell, and Alan Wilson’s power to investigate him.

Maybe I’ve just been avoiding it, subconsciously, out of petulance over being scooped by that upstart Bryan Caskey:

Bryan didn’t just scoop ME. I happened to read that Tweet while attending the awards ceremony at The State Wednesday afternoon. I followed his link, and passed my phone first to Cindi Scoppe, then to John Monk — two people who have done more than anyone to keep us informed on this case — to give them the heads-up. (To John’s credit, he had told me before we sat down that the ruling was sort of expected, “Even as we stand here.” Fortunately, another reporter from the paper was covering that base while he was occupied.)

What to make of the ruling?

Well, to start with, it affirms what remaining faith we have in the rule of law. The justices unanimously rejected the absurd argument that the trial judge had constructed of whole cloth.

On the other hand, Manning could still rule unfavorably on Wilson’s ability to continue to handle the investigation, as the judge was instructed by the court to consider Harrell’s original motion seeking to remove the attorney general from the case.

So justice is still not out of the woods.

And I’m still a bit worried by that footnote to the ruling: “Due to the secrecy afforded state grand jury proceedings, future arguments regarding jurisdiction, or any other ancillary matter, should be held in camera.” I’m not sure what that means, in terms of what will be cloaked in secrecy and what will not. You’ll recall that our awareness of this power struggle began with John’s story about how the attempt by Harrell to have the court consider whether to toss Wilson off the case secretly.

On that point, I await further elucidation.

There seems little doubt, though, that the justices have been distressed from the start by the splash this case has made on the front pages.

But how could it be otherwise — a struggle between the highest levels of two branches of our government, with the third branch caught uncomfortably between?

Open Thread for Thursday, July 10, 2014

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I’m going to be kind of tied up the rest of the day, so here are some things to discuss amongst yourselves:

  1. Boehner splits with Palin on call for Obama impeachment – You know, things have come to a pretty bad point when all you have to do to look like a statesman is not want to impeach the president.
  2. Germans Order Expulsion of Top U.S. Spy in Espionage Case – So much for that big World Cup win putting the Germans in a good mood so that they forget about this.
  3. Iraq insurgents seize nuclear material – First, AP tells us they’ve found chemical weapons in Iraq (“Iraq says Islamic State militants have control of facility holding 2,500 rockets filled with chemical weapons, then backtracks (“CORRECTION: Iraq: Facility held by extremists holds remnants of degraded chemical rockets (not active weapons)“). Now this. Listen, folks, it doesn’t do us any good to find the WMD now
  4. The girl who has everything — I noticed that Haley ex-Chief of Staff Tim Pearson is rather exercised at The State for having referred to the governor as a “girl.” Or rather, he’s upset with the Post and Courier for not standing up for the governor, since they got so worked up about the “little girl” thing a while back. Below you see the headline as it appeared in the paper; it appeared as “woman” online. Thoughts?

Girl

 

The unofficial Sammy Fretwell ‘Fan Club’

Had a nice time attending the awards ceremony at The State yesterday afternoon. Aside from recognizing the staff that almost won the Pulitzer for Hugo coverage, we saw three former colleagues inducted into the paper’s Hall of Fame, and honored two current staffers with the annual Hampton and Gonzales awards.

Sammy Fretwell received the Gonzales award, which is given each year for superlative reporting. It was an excellent choice. In keeping with theme that was running through a lot of the event about noting ways things have changed in the business, Sammy mentioned that something he’s had to get used to is the flurry of critical Tweets that follow everything he does these days.

When he said it, I thought, well, yeah — that’s something you have to expect today. Goes with the territory.

But when I Tweeted an innocuous picture of Sammy and me together after the reception, I saw what he meant. There does seem to be a rapid-response team on a hair trigger, ready to fire at any mention of Sammy Fretwell in the Twitterverse. Note the following:

If POTUS is uninterested in photo ops, that’s a move in the right direction, whatever his reasons

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I continue to make my way through “The West Wing” as I work out each night. The most recent episode was night before last (I got home too late to work out last night) — “Disaster Relief,” episode number 6 in the 5th season.

This was the one when a tornado ripped through Oklahoma, and the president flew to the scene to show his concern. Originally, he wasn’t going to do this, but Press Secretary C.J. Cregg insisted. Once he is there, he gets way too much into it, just exuding compassion all over the place, and extending his stay to the point that even C.J. expresses her disappointment in him that he hasn’t headed back to Washington, where things are falling apart, to do his actual job.

(A side note: This is the 6th episode in the first season not written by Aaron Sorkin, and there has indeed been a dropoff in quality, as I had feared. C.J.’s change of mind isn’t portrayed convincingly. There’s a rather ham-handed slide toward disillusionment on her part over the last few episodes, and I’m getting tired of it. Worse, the nature of my favorite character, the gruff-but-lovable Leo, has changed. The gruffness is there, but the “lovable” part has gone AWOL. Sure, the Leo I know would let Josh know he was displeased, that he had screwed up. But he wouldn’t cold-bloodedly undermine him the way this new Leo did in this episode.)

But that’s not what I wanted to tell you about. What I wanted to talk about was this:

 President Obama on Wednesday forcefully defended his decision not to visit the Texas border with Mexico to view a burgeoning humanitarian crisis, saying he’s “not interested in photo ops” and challenging Congress to give him new authority to respond to the situation.

“Nothing has taken place down there that I’m not intimately aware of,” Obama said during a hastily arranged news conference here, where he began a two-day visit to the state for Democratic fundraising and an economic event. “This is not theater.”…

To which I say, “Amen, Mr. President!” Sometime during the Clinton administration, I got completely fed up with this new role we’ve invented for POTUS, that of Emoter in Chief. I’ve had it up to here with staged demonstrations of concern, or with the nation waiting breathlessly for the president to strike the appropriate tone in a statement about something that has little or nothing to do with his job.

Yes, there is a such a thing as a leadership function, as military officers understand. You walk around checking on your people, making sure they’re fed and bedded down, on the night before the battle. Show that you care.

But folks, we have taken this to an extreme in this country. The president has enough enumerated duties, enough things he really needs to do, without constantly posing for the cameras. Unfortunately, too much of the presidency has become theater, and I like seeing POTUS push back on it a bit.

Yeah, it made him sound cold. And maybe little kids in desperate circumstances on the border isn’t the best place to draw the line. But I’m glad he felt motivated to draw it somewhere — if only out of defensive pique because the Republicans were landing some telling blows on him, which is what seems to have happened.

 

Doug Ross claims title of ‘highest commenter’ on blog

Photo by Doug Ross

Photo by Doug Ross

Yesterday, our own Doug Ross texted me the above photo, saying:

Fyi, my last post on your blog came from the top of a mountain in squaw valley… 8900 feet… which makes me your highest commenter

It is the official position of this blog to assume he meant “highest” in terms of physical altitude — even though he is a libertarian, vacationing out West, where smoking dope is legal…

When he gets back, we’ll have to ask him whether there are plans to change the name of the valley…

Ben Hoover’s account of what happened at WIS

For those of you following this ongoing story, Ben Hoover posted this on Facebook last night:

Here’s what I want you to know.

Right now, I don’t have a new job and I need to make sure future employers and my community know why I was led to believe that my place at WIS was secure.

I’ve worked in TV 15 years. I understand and accept that stations have the right to not renew contracts. Especially in situations when ratings might be down or the employee did something wrong, or both sides couldn’t reach a salary agreement. None of those issues applied to me. In fact when I asked why my contract wasn’t being renewed station management assured me I had “done nothing wrong.”brgnP616_400x400

Please allow me to explain what I meant when I said that I was caught off guard. News management had recently slated me to do a follow up to “Hope in Hard Times” this coming November, after my current contract would have expired. They also planned to have a co-anchor with me in the field at Oliver Gospel Mission. The week before I learned my contract would not be renewed I taped station promotions that historically have run for several months. We were far along in the search for a new house. My children were enrolled in school for the fall. That’s why I walked in with a folder with long-term contract options for management to consider. But, I never had the opportunity to open that folder. There were no negotiations. It was made clear that management did not wish to renew early on in that discussion and that I had “done nothing wrong.”

My first contract with WIS was 5 years. My latest contract was one year in length. In both cases, both sides had to agree to terms. Some anchors choose longer contracts. Some choose for even shorter than one year. It’s a personal decision. Never was I told that a one year contract would pave the way for my exit. In fact, we agreed to come back together and discuss longer term options. If I entertained potential advancement within the company, never did management indicate or communicate that it would mean I would not be renewed. I have documented on multiple occasions my happiness with my co-anchors at WIS and my openness to calling Columbia my forever home. And, never in discussions did they indicate that my future at WIS was not an option. In fact, I got a very different response.

I truly appreciate the support from the community. It helps tremendously to keep me going in this short amount of time I have to find a new job. So, from where I sit today, I cannot afford to let vague comments, including those by others outside of the situation and not privy to the details, leave an impression that what happened was something that I did or it was just a parting of ways. That’s simply not true.

My announcement last Thursday was in line with how I was trained, my high standards of journalism, and with what’s been a big part of my career – doing the right thing. Viewers don’t deserve to be caught off guard or wonder for weeks where someone they’ve seen for 6 years has gone. And, nobody deserves to get half of the truth. I’ve always put the viewer first. That’s what I will continue to do. And, it is possible to do that while still being a loyal employee.

I don’t know where my next job will take my family and me. I’ve been put in a position to consider anything and everything. Right now, Columbia is home. And, in order to move on both professionally and personally I needed to fill in some blanks so that there would not be any questions that could negatively impact my family or my pursuit to find another job.

An act of God kept The State from winning that Pulitzer

TIM DOMINICK TDOMINICK@THESTATE

TIM DOMINICK TDOMINICK@THESTATE

That is to say, a second act of God, less than four weeks after the first.

You may have read in the paper that those of us who were on the newsroom staff that nearly won the Pulitzer for our coverage of Hurricane Hugo in 1989 are being honored with a reception at The State today.

We should have won it. We did a bang-up job in those days and weeks before and after the landfall on Sept. 21, not only covering every possible angle of the damage and its impact across the state, but providing lots of “news you can use,” telling people where and how to get help or give it, updated daily.

It was a heady time, characterized by strong teamwork. A couple of my fellow editors got to go down to the ravaged coast with the reporters and photographers, and I was envious of them. I was stuck at the office, helping supervise and coordinate coverage and get it into the paper.

But then, on Oct. 17, the second act of God — or the fickle finger of fate, if you prefer — struck. A 6.9-magnitude earthquake hit San Francisco during the World Series. The fact that it was the first earthquake captured live on television — because of the Series — riveted national attention on that disaster in an unprecedented manner. The San Jose Mercury News, our Knight Ridder sister paper, also did a bang-up job. Remember the quake beginning as my wife’s cousin Tim McCarver was narrating highlights from the previous game? Remember the images of the pancaked overpass? Yeah, everybody else did, too. They got the Pulitzer for General News Reporting, leaving us as one of the two finalists.

Since then, The State has only come close to a Pulitzer twice. Both times, the finalist was Robert Ariail, during the years that I was his editor. So I was close to the situation all three times that The State was close to a Pulitzer. But that one in 1989 was particularly bittersweet, because it would have been a win for all of us, Robert included. We wanted to win for The State as an institution, and for Tom McLean, as that was his last year as executive editor.

We didn’t make it, but we went down swinging. And we remember what we did together fondly. Not that we’re ghouls, fondly recalling a disaster. It’s the camaraderie, the Band of Brothers aspect that generates the positive feeling.

Here’s the list of people being credited with that finalist showing:

Hugo Alumni include:
Jeff Amberg
Susan Ardis
Robert Ariail
Dottie Ashley
Perry Baker
Pat Berman
Warren Bolton
Lee Bouknight
Margaret Bouknight
Claudia Brinson
Rosie Brooks
Bobby Bryant
Clint Bryson
Pat Butler
Bob Cole
John Collins
Betty Lynn Compton
Jeffrey Day
Tim Dominick
Carol Farmington
Thom Fladung
Holly Gatling
Bob Gillespie
Doug Gilmore
Kay Gordon
Richard Greer
Frank Heflin
Bill HIggins
Dawn Hinshaw
Gordon Hirsch
Bobby Hitt
Deborah Lynn Hook
Bhakti Larry Hough
Bill Hughes
Page Ivey
Joe Jackson
Bill Kelly III
Lou Kinard
Michael Kozma
Dawn Kujawa
Clif LeBlanc
Michael Lewis
Mike Livingston
Diane Lore
Salley McInerney
Norma McLean
Tom McLean
Jim McLaurin
Jeff Miller
Michael Miller
Bill Mitchell
Dave Moniz
Will Moredock
Fred Monk
Loretta Neal
David Newton
Jennifer Nicholson
Margaret O’Shea
Paul Osmundson
Levona Page
Charles Paschal
Lezlie Patterson
Beverly Phillips
Ginger Pinson
Charles Pope
Bertram Rantin
Dargan Richards
Bunny Richardson
Maxie Roberts
Bill Robinson
Pat Robertson
Cindi Ross Scoppe
Michael Sponhour
Bob Stuart
Beverly Shelley
Steve Smith
Bob Spear
Bill Starr
Linda Stelter
Clark Surratt
Rick Temple
Rob Thompson
Ernie Trubiano
Jan Tuten
Helene Vickers
Nancy Wall
Brad Warthen
Neil White

I wonder how many of us will be there this afternoon…

pulitzer

Open Thread for Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Some possible topics:

  1. Smallpox vials found in NIH storage closet – Which gets me to thinking… I was vaccinated against smallpox either two or three times as a child (when we lived in South America, we were required to get boosters on top of the one I’d gotten before starting kindergarten back in SC). So… if this gets loose, am I covered? Or has it been far, far too long?
  2. Germany Gives Brazil Das Boot With 7-1 Win; Enters World Cup Final — This morning at breakfast, my friend Wolfgang Buchmaier urged me not to forget to cheer for Germany today. Well, I forgot, but they obviously didn’t need me. Wow. With a score like that, it’s almost like they were playing American football. Oh, and to the NPR headline writer who tried to be cute: “Das Boot” means, “the boat.” I don’t see how that makes sense here.
  3. Israel pounds Gaza Strip with air and naval strikes – That was the headline in The Guardian. The New York Times reported, “Exchanging Attacks, Hamas and Israel Step Up Air War,” acknowledging that both sides were escalating. Israel said Hamas fired 160 rockets into its territory, so Israel responded with 160 air strikes. An eye for an eye, I suppose. Although I’m gathering that the Israeli strikes were more effective, meaning more deadly.
  4. Ben Hoover gratified by fan support – Yesterday, Bryan emailed me to let me know some Hoover fans were picketing WIS. Unfortunately, I was already at home when I got the message. The State got some pictures, though.
  5. Defiant Abdullah claims Afghan win – There are reports he may be setting up a “parallel government.”

Or, whatever interests you, within reason…

ICYMI: The Thomas Ravenel announcement

FILE PHOTO: Ravenel during 2006 interview.

FILE PHOTO: Ravenel during 2006 interview.

Still catching up on stuff I saw over the long weekend, and was too lazy to comment on then.

Did you take note of Thomas Ravenel’s formal announcement of his independent candidacy for U.S. Senate? Here it is:

THOMAS RAVENEL ANNOUNCES U.S. SENATE CANDIDACY

“Southern Charm” Star To Challenge Two-Party Status Quo in South Carolina

Businessman, reality television star and former South Carolina State Treasurer Thomas Ravenel will run as an independent for the United States Senate seat currently held by liberal “Republican” Lindsey Graham.  Ravenel made his Senate candidacy official prior to attending a Fourth of July rally in Greenville, S.C.

“It’s time for voters across our state and this country to declare their independence from a failed two-party system – one that no longer represents their interests or the interests of Americans to come,” the star of Bravo’s ‘Southern Charm’ said.  “Election after election of choosing the lesser of two evils has our economy and our freedoms on a downward slide – but there’s still time to change the road we’re on.  To do that, though, we need a real debate and a real choice – candidates who are offering real ideas to turn things around.”

Ravenel, 51, said his campaign would offer specific policies aimed at redefining the relationship between citizens and their government – something neither major party is willing or able to do.

“Government doesn’t belong in your boardroom, your bedroom or your email inbox,” he said.  “But its presence in every aspect of our lives continues to grow.  Democrats keep dictating choices in our marketplaces and Republicans keep telling us who we can and cannot love.  And both parties want to keep spending like there’s notomorrow while they spy on us to make sure we don’t step out of line.  All of this leads to less prosperity and liberty – and more dependency and fear.”

In declaring his candidacy, Ravenel spoke frankly about his past – including the ten months he spent in a federal prison following a 2007 drug arrest.  He said he expected to be attacked over the issue – and was ready to defend himself.

“I’m an imperfect messenger, I know that – but somebody’s got to stand up for the message,” Ravenel said.   “Also, the last time I checked there are plenty of ‘perfect’ messengers out there who are bankrupting our Treasury, destroying our economy, and sending our sons and daughters off to die and be disfigured in places we have no business fighting.”

Ravenel said crafting a new foreign policy would be a centerpiece of his campaign.

“Ill-conceived interventions and this constant flip-flopping of allegiances between terrorist organizations does not make us safer – it only makes another attack on our homeland more likely,” Ravenel said.  “We absolutely must have the world’s strongest military to protect our borders and secure our national interests – but our national defense is weakened by politically motivated pork projects, failed attempts at nation-building and picking up the tab for wealthy countries that won’t defend themselves.”

Ravenel will submit his signatures to appear on the November 2014 ballot to the S.C. Election Commission (SCEC) next week.

-###-

Several observations…

  • He certainly isn’t shying away from his negatives. In fact, in at least one instance he’s embracing them. Note that the release identifies him as a “reality television star,” both in the subhed and in the lede, before mentioning that he was state treasurer — and then reiterates it in the next graf. In fact, it emphasizes this to such an extent that I wondered whether the TV production company is somehow involved in this campaign, perhaps even helping with drafting releases. Bravo is certainly promoting the idea of his candidacy.
  • This probably won’t mean much to anyone who doesn’t write for a living, but the release is slightly unusual in that it is written as a mock news story, even making observations about the manner of his announcement, as though it were written by a neutral third party: “In declaring his candidacy, Ravenel spoke frankly about his past…” That’s a slightly odd voice. It’s not unique; I’ve seen the device used before. But it struck me.
  • If one were inclined to take this candidacy seriously, that would be undermined by this, in the first graf: “liberal ‘Republican’ Lindsey Graham.” One thing Lindsey Graham most certainly is not is a liberal. And it takes the kind of gall that few besides Thomas Ravenel can muster to refer to the actual nominee of the Republican Party — a distinction that Ravenel did not seek — as a “Republican,” in quotes.
  • He calls himself “an imperfect messenger,” but he may be the perfect messenger for the message he bears. He may be the most Randian figure in South Carolina. He is self-admiring (watch this video to get a sense of the Ravenel ego, or this one), self-centered, self-indulgent, and presents it all boldly as a philosophy instead of as evidence of a flawed character. Mark Sanford has always been about Mark Sanford, but even he would not dare to flaunt his egomania the way Thomas Ravenel does.
  • Speaking as the founder of the UnParty, why is it that any time someone does run as an independent in South Carolina, it’s someone who’s too extreme, too ideological, for the UnParty? OK, so maybe Tom Ervin is a bit of a centrist (too soon to tell). But the rest of the time, independents seem to be people who are, to use one of my favorite early-19th-century expressions, not quite the thing.
  • Finally, whom is Ravenel helping, and whom is he hurting by running? I was chatting with a former Graham staffer recently who thought Ravenel would take votes from Brad Hutto, who can ill afford to lose them. I’ve assumed the opposite from the first rumors of this ego trip. Ravenel is likely to appeal to the less discriminating Paulistas, and other elements from the libertarian segments of the Republican coalition, ranging from the elitist Club for Growth/Wall Street Journal crowd to the far more populist Tea Party (although more from the former than from the latter). He doesn’t fit perfectly with any of those groups, but he overlaps enough with them to pull some of the folks who voted for Graham’s opponents in the primary.

Anyway, those were my first thoughts. What were yours?

Open Thread for Monday, July 7, 2014

Some quick possibilities:

  1. Benjamin leaves law firm – Which I suppose means his only jobby-job right now is the part-time one as mayor.
  2. Pope Is Contrite in First Meeting With Victims of Abuse – It sounds like this meeting was pretty intense. “Before God and his people, I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you,” said the pope. “And I humbly ask forgiveness. I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves.” He said the abuses had had “a toxic effect on faith and hope in God.”
  3. More Than 50 People Were Shot In Chicago Over The Holiday Weekend — That statistic just kind of startled me. You? (Originally, I wrote, “That statistic just kind of blew me away,” but then I realized that was not the best phrasing.)
  4. Israeli police arrest six over Mohamed Abu Khdeir killing — As the six Jewish suspects were arrested, Netanyahu denounced the act with which they are charged as “terrorism,” and added “We do not distinguish terror from terror.” No doubt a similar statement will be forthcoming from Hamas regarding the murders of the three Israeli boys. Right? Right?

Or… whatever you want to talk about, within the bounds of civility…

The Ben Hoover reaction

Suddenly, Donita Todd, general manager of WIS-TV, seems to be the least popular woman in town.

As you’ve probably heard or read, she’s bearing the brunt of viewer rage over the sudden departure of anchorman Ben Hoover.

Hoover announced the move thusly:

After 6 years of anchoring and reporting at WIS, this Friday, July the 4th will be my last day on the air. Recently, I was informed by station managers that they did not wish to renew my contract. Like so many other anchors and reporters in the past, I wish I was in a position to announce the next opportunity for my family and me. But, to be honest, I didn’t see this one coming. So, as we like to say on the news, you’ll have to stay tuned. And, maybe say a little prayer for my family and me.brgnP616_400x400

One of my closest friends shared this with me in the last few days: “If it’s not fatal, it’s not final…and, if it’s not final, it can be fruitful.” That friend is Judi Gatson. Working side by side with “JG” has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career and life. Judi, Dawndy, Papa Joe, John, Ben, Rick and my core group of “news hounds” here will forever be like family to me. I will miss them like crazy.

Some of the stories I’ve covered over the years have been very heavy and hard to tell. A dad living on the streets after every corner of his life crumbled. The young parents in a fight and race to save their precious little girl. A military mom smiling through raw pain to ensure her son’s legacy (and dimples) aren’t forgotten. All of them, and others, facing down some of life’s greatest challenges. But, what’s always stood out to me is the one common thread that ties them all together – hope.

So, in the name of the dig deep, do good, work hard, “never give up” spirit so many of our viewers have shown me over the years, I say — HOPE is a pretty doggone good thing.

After Friday, you won’t see me on WIS anymore but please stay connected on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and email hoov11@hotmail.com. I promise to do the same. Judi Gatson Dawndy Mercer Plank WIS TV John Farley Ben Tanner

After two or three days of protest, the station put out this statement yesterday:

During the last several days much has been posted on social media about Ben Hoover’s departure from WIS news, much of it erroneous.

However, we simply cannot engage in a public conversation regarding details of Ben’s departure from WIS TV. It is a private personnel matter.

We sincerely thank Ben for his service to the station and the community and wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavors.

We also want to thank our viewers for their concerns and comments regarding this matter.

We can assure you that WIS remains fully committed to the excellence you have come to expect from this television station over the last 60 years.

Based on the response to the statement on Facebook, that oil has done little to calm the troubled waters. Some examples:

  • “You got rid of the wrong person. Donita Todd needed to go.”
  • “What part of the comments were “erroneous”? The part that the viewers want him back? That he and Judi were good together? That he put his heart into his work – walking to work in the snow, living with the homeless? Again what part was erroneous?”
  • “I don’t own a Bull. I never have. But I do know what a bull does several times a day. And this smells just like it.”
  • “Excellence is not a word to be used in any way by WIS. You did not allow him OR Judi to anchor the final broadcast. There is NOTHING excellent about that. Rest assured your other employees are planning an exit, because the station has lost it’s moral compass.”
  • “WOW!! I have read through many many discussion forums in my life…NEVER have I read through one where all the comments from the public voicing their opinion are all in agreement!!! The viewers have really spoken and come together on this one! WIS really should re-think their decisions on this one!!!!”

As always, I hate to see a guy lose his job, but there’s an emotional core to this protest that I’m having trouble understanding. Was there this kind of outpouring when David Stanton left? Maybe there was, I don’t recall — I was sort of busy with my own stuff at about that time. Maybe y’all can enlighten me.

Anyway, it must be some comfort to Ben to know he was so appreciated. I hope so.

Thoughts? Observations?

Another long and winding road to infrastructure funding

Several days ago now, Rep. Bakari Sellers responded to our discussion of funding for road construction and maintenance thusly:

I told him I’d take a look at it. Which I just now did. Here’s the summary of the bill:

TO AMEND SECTION 11-11-220, CODE OF LAWS OF SOUTH CAROLINA, 1976, RELATING TO THE CONTINGENCY RESERVE FUND, SO AS TO REESTABLISH THIS FUND AS THE SPECIAL PURPOSES REVENUE FUND (SPRF), TO PROVIDE THAT THERE MUST BE CREDITED TO SPRF ALL YEAR-END SURPLUS STATE GENERAL FUND REVENUES NOT OTHERWISE REQUIRED TO REPLENISH THE GENERAL RESERVE FUND, REVENUES DERIVED FROM ELIMINATING VARIOUS SALES TAX EXEMPTIONS AND SAVINGS ACHIEVED FROM THE IMPLEMENTATION OF STATE GOVERNMENT RESTRUCTURING, AND TO PROVIDE THAT SPRF REVENUES MUST BE APPROPRIATED OR USED AS REVENUE OFFSETS IN THE ANNUAL GENERAL APPROPRIATIONS ACT WITH ONE-THIRD EACH FOR ROAD MAINTENANCE AND CONSTRUCTION, A STATE INDIVIDUAL INCOME TAX CREDIT, AND FOR ADDITIONAL FUNDING FOR SCHOOL BASE STUDENT COSTS; AND TO AMEND SECTION 12-36-2120, RELATING TO SALES TAX EXEMPTIONS, SO AS TO DELETE EXEMPTIONS CURRENTLY ALLOWED FOR TECHNICAL EQUIPMENT SOLD TO TELEVISION AND RADIO STATIONS AND CABLE TELEVISION SYSTEMS, MOTION PICTURE FILM SOLD OR RENTED TO MOVIE THEATERS, SOUTH CAROLINA EDUCATION LOTTERY TICKETS, THE EXEMPT PORTION OF PORTABLE TOILET RENTAL PROCEEDS, AND AMUSEMENT PARK RIDES INSTALLED IN QUALIFIED AMUSEMENT AND THEME PARKS.

You can read the whole bill here.

My immediate reaction is that this is yet another instance of going the long way around to accomplish something, instead of just going ahead an raising our absurdly low gasoline tax, which after all, is intended for this very purpose.

But at least Mr. Sellers will tell you what his plan is. Which is more than some will do…

Today’s Sarah Palin eruption on Twitter

There are two or three things that you might not know about Sarah Palin, even at this late date:

  1. She still has a lot of fans. Passionate ones.
  2. They don’t have what most of us would call a “sense of humor.”
  3. They really don’t hesitate to leap to conclusions.

It all started when I saw this Tweet:

The title of the show, which I assure you I have never seen, immediately brought to mind Tina Fey’s hilarious sendup of the ex-governor (possibly because I watched several episodes of “30 Rock” on Netflix over the weekend).

So I reTweeted the item with the following addendum:

As in, I can see Russia from my house!

Which I thought might give someone out there a small — very small — laugh.

The first person who responded was very literal-minded, but reasonable:


He was right, of course — it was neither here nor there. It was a joke about a joke. But wishing to be polite I wrote back,


Then, the floodgates opened.


Wow. Anyway, for any of you who’d like to get a kick out of the original skit — the funniest thing Tina Fey has ever done — once again, here it is…

France isn’t anti-Muslim, just anti-religion. Feel better?

Oh, I miss my Economist subscription, which the newspaper used to pay for.

But fortunately, the magazine did allow me today to read the piece promoted by this Tweet:


And here, basically, is the answer to the question:

France adheres to a strict form of secularism, known as laïcité, which is designed to keep religion out of public life. This principle was entrenched by law in 1905, after fierce anti-clerical struggles with the Roman Catholic church. Today, the lines are in some ways blurred. The French maintain, for instance, certain Catholic public holidays, such as Ascension. But secular rules on the whole prevail. It would be unthinkable in France, for example, to hold a nativity play in a state primary school, or for a president to be sworn in on a Bible.

Over the past 30 years, in response to a growing assertiveness among the country’s 5m-6m Muslims, the focus of this effort to balance religious and secular needs has shifted to Islam. After a decade of legal uncertainty over the wearing of the headscarf in state schools, the French government in 2004 banned all “conspicuous” religious symbols, including the Muslim headscarf, from public institutions such as state schools or town halls. This was followed in 2010 by what the French call the “burqa ban”, outlawing the full face covering in public. Critics accuse France of illiberalism, of curbing freedom of religious expression, and of imposing a Western interpretation of female oppression. Amnesty International, for example, called the recent European court ruling “a profound retreat for the right to freedom of expression and religion”. For the French, however, it is part of an unapologetic effort to keep religious expression private, and to uphold the country’s republican secular identity. Interestingly, many moderate Muslim leaders also back the ban as a bulwark against hard-line Islam….

So now you see. The French aren’t anti-Muslim. Just anti-religion. Sorta.

That will make some of you feel better, and some worse…

Post and Courier on infrastructure funding

The Charleston paper had a commonsense editorial Sunday on road funding. The thrust, basically, is that pols need to stop tiptoeing around what needs to be done, and what needs to be done is to raise the gas tax. Excerpts:

Gov. Nikki Haley has a plan for highway funding that is long on promise and short on details. So far, the only known fact about the plan itself is that it won’t include a tax hike.

And the road funding plan won’t be announced until January, after the November election. Why not provide all the details now and have the highway issue become a meaningful part of the debate between Gov. Haley and her Democratic challenger, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen?…

So many legislators have signed the “no-tax pledge” that road advocates have been pitching a badly needed gas tax hike as a user fee increase. So far the hardheads in the Legislature haven’t been willing to recognize the dire need for road and bridge improvements….

But calls for SIB reform, or further improvements to DOT governance, shouldn’t obscure the general need for additional road funding. Or the fact that a gas tax increase is the best way for South Carolina to provide it.

If the governor has a better plan, we shouldn’t have to wait until January to hear about it.

All of that said, let me say one thing in the incumbent governor’s defense — maybe, sorta, kinda: Maybe the reason she won’t say what her plan is before the election is that she actually wants to do the responsible thing — raise the gas tax.

Oh, but wait — she said it won’t include a tax increase. So, never mind… I was just reaching here for something to be hopeful about…

First the snakebite, now this: CVSC endorses McCulloch

This just isn’t Kirkman Finlay‘s week. First he gets bitten by a snake, now the CVSC backs his opponent:

Conservation Voters of South Carolina Endorses Joe McCulloch for Election to House 75

COLUMBIA, S.C. (July 3, 2014– The Board of Directors of Conservation Voters of South Carolina (CVSC) has announced the endorsement of Joe McCulloch for election to House District 75.10438919_551578684954322_776524793762138046_n

“We were delighted to learn of Joe McCulloch’s decision to run again for elected office. We know he will stand up to polluters and protect South Carolina from the special interests who would turn our state into a dumping ground,” said Ann Timberlake, Executive Director of CVSC.

“I am honored to accept the endorsement of CVSC. They have been an outspoken and effective leader in holding elected officials accountable for their votes on conservation issues,” McCulloch said. “I will continue to be a strong advocate for the protection of our state’s s natural resources. I am proud to stand with CVSC.”

McCulloch will challenge incumbent Kirkman Finlay in a rematch of their 2012 race which was decided by just 308 votes.

Conservation Voters of South Carolina is coming off a primary election season which saw all 13 of its endorsed candidates earn victories.

About Conservation Voters of South Carolina

Conservation Voters of South Carolina is the only nonpartisan, nonprofit statewide organization holding elected leaders directly accountable for a safe, clean and healthy South Carolina.

CVSC on Facebook and Twitter

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It will be interesting to see how the CVSC’s won-lost record holds up through the general election. If this is part of a pattern of endorsing Democrats, that 13-0 record seems unlikely to hold up in the fall.

Tom Ervin won’t say how HE’D pay for roads, either

Well, we know that Nikki Haley wants to fix SC roads, but doesn’t want to say how she’d pay for it — at least, not until after the election.

Vincent Sheheen at least says he’d issue bonds for pay for part of our infrastructure needs. Beyond that, he’s vague. From his website:

South Carolina is too dependent on the “gas tax” and needs to diversify how it pays for roads and bridges. In addition to the $1 billion Vincent helped secure for road reconstruction in 2013, he believes we should continue using South Carolina’s bonding authority to make long-term infrastructure investments, dedicate more General Fund revenue from surpluses to roads, and look at new revenue sources to help make our roads safe again. All options must be on the table for discussion.

What I’d like to see from Sheheen an elaboration on what he means when he says SC is “too dependent on the ‘gas tax’,” and therefore must go on some grail-like quest for mysterious “new revenue sources.” I suspect what he means is that SC is simply unwilling, politically, to raise our extremely low gas tax. He certainly can’t mean that he thinks it’s too high.

Meanwhile, independent candidate Tom Ervin takes the governor to task for not saying how she’d pay for roads, and then declines to say how he would do it:

Greenville: Independent Republican candidate Tom Ervin issued the following statement:

Governor Haley’s “secret plan” to fund improvements for our roads and bridges is nothing more than a “secret tax increase” and another blatant example of her lack of transparency and accountability.20140525_0138-300x300

Call Governor Haley now at (803) 734-2100 and demand that she disclose the details of her secret funding plan.  When Nikki Haley hides the ball on funding, that’s her political speak for taxpayer’s having to foot the bill.  Haley’s secret plan shouldn’t surprise anyone.  It’s Haley’s lack of leadership that has forced a county-by-county sales tax increase to make up for her failed leadership.  This has resulted in a back door sales tax increase on top of her “secret plan” to raise taxes next year.

And I’m shocked about Governor Haley’s stated approach.  We are a legislative state.  For Haley to say she will “show the General Assembly how to do it” confirms just how irresponsible Haley’s approach is to our serious infrastructure needs.

If South Carolinians want to maintain or roads and bridges and invest in our infrastructure, it’s going to require a change in leadership.  When I am governor, I will work with our elected representatives to build a consensus for long term funding for our crumbling roads and bridges. And I’ll be honest with you up front that all suggested solutions are on the table for debate.  The legislative process is a deliberative process.  We already have a dictator in Washington, D.C.  We don’t need another one in Columbia.

Tell, me — in what way is the governor’s promise to come out with something after the election different, practically speaking, from “When I am governor, I will work with our elected representatives to build a consensus for long term funding?” Yeah, I get that he’s saying he’d respect lawmakers more than the incumbent does. But beyond that, he’s doing the same thing she is — declining to say what he would propose until after the election.

Are we supposed to read “And I’ll be honest with you up front that all suggested solutions are on the table for debate” as some sort of code that the one responsible plan, raising the gas tax, will be part of his plan? Maybe. But why not come out and say it? It’s not like he’d be endangering his chance of getting elected, because that chance does not exist. (When one is tilting at windmills, why not go for broke and propose the right thing, rather than being cagey?)

So, having surveyed the field, one thing I must say in Todd Rutherford’s behalf is that at least he’s proposing something, even though it’s a really bad idea.

We don’t need casinos to fund our roads

This came in today from the SC House Democratic Caucus:

Rutherford to propose legislation allowing casinos in Myrtle Beach to fix roads
Columbia, SC – House Democratic Leader Todd Rutherford announced today that he plans to introduce legislation next year to allow well-regulated, upscale casinos in the Myrtle Beach area and use the new tax revenue to fix South Carolina’s ailing roads and bridges. On the June 10th primary ballot, 80% of Democratic voters supported the idea of modernizing our state’s gaming laws to fund road repairs instead of raising taxes. Rutherford said Governor Nikki Haley is being disingenuous by promising to tackle our roads without proposing a funding strategy.todd-rutherford
“Governor Haley doesn’t have a plan to fix our roads. She’s against everything and for nothing. That kind of stubbornness won’t fill our potholes, widen I-26, or create I-73. It’s time to get serious about how we’re going to pay for these repairs and Governor Haley’s mystical “money tree” is not a serious plan.
Allowing well regulated, upscale casinos in the Myrtle Beach area would create a new annual multi-billion dollar revenue stream that will allow us to fix our state’s crumbling roads, create thousands of good jobs, and keep taxes low. House Democrats will continue to push for innovative solutions to the problems Governor Haley and her Tea Party allies have created and now refuse to address.”
Rutherford says voters are taxed enough already and this proposal provides an alternative to a gas tax increase, which has no chance of passing the legislature.
“The people support this. Businesses support this. Many Republicans in the legislature are open to casinos. Anyone who loves individual freedom, personal liberty, and lower taxes should get behind this issue 110%.”
Rutherford also challenged those who may oppose casinos in Myrtle Beach to offer up an alternative plan that accomplishes the goal of repairing our roads.
“For those who oppose this idea, I challenge you to come up with another way to fund our road repairs without raising taxes. It’s time for fresh ideas and Governor Haley continues to offer up nothing but rhetoric and policies that are as broken as our roads.”
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Folks, you really need to stop straining so hard for ways to fund road construction and maintenance in SC. We have a way — the gasoline tax. It hasn’t been raised in ages, and absurdly, it’s set as a per-gallon amount, instead of being set as a percentage, the way a sales tax would be.

It’s a pretty straightforward way of taxing those who are using the roads — both residents and out-of-staters. It makes sense, and it’s currently artificially low.

So stop straining to find an alternative. The answer is right in front of you.

Rep. Finlay bitten by a snake!

And even though he says he expects people to make jokes about it, I’m going to resist the temptation to speculate that he’s been walking too close to the Tea Party.

Because to me, there’s nothing funny about snakes:

 Rep. Kirkman Finlay, R-Richland, has been bitten by a snake but is doing fine and is recovering.

“My ankle is swollen up the size of a pumpkin, or more like an eggplant,” said Finlay, who was bitten Sunday evening around dusk while he was out walking with his wife, Kathleen, near their house in the Hampton Hill neighborhood.

Finlay did what people are supposed to do when they are bitten by a snake — he went promptly to a hospital emergency room, where he was hooked up to heart monitor and other measures were quickly taken to be ready to counter any adverse reaction….

The snake attack happened very suddenly, he said.

“All I saw was a flash out of the bottom of my eye, and I felt like I’d been stung by about 10 wasps.”…

It was either a copperhead, or some kind of rat snake — we call them chicken snakes,” he said. “It was a small snake and only got one fang in.”…

I wouldn’t think a rat snake would cause a reaction like that. I mean, the difference between that and a copperhead is kind of like night and day — isn’t it?

Anyway, I hope he recovers quickly…