Inside Intervew: House Speaker Bobby Harrell

House District 114 covers a lot of historic ground in the Lowcountry. As the current House Speaker, District 114’s State Rep. Bobby Harrell has the chance to make his own mark on state history. Representing the district since 1992, he worked his way to the top, serving as House Majority Leader and Chairman of Ways and Means before becoming Speaker four years ago when former Rep. David Wilkins decided to accept an ambassadorship to Canada. Recently, he agreed to chat with the Blogland, so we threw a few questions his way.

What got you into politics?

I love South Carolina. I want to make a difference. I told my wife, Cathy, for years that I did not like what I saw happening in our government. One night at dinner, she told me to either stop complaining about it or go do something about it. Shortly after that some friends approached me and asked me to run for the State House. I told Cathy and she said,”I told you so.” She always has been ahead of me on the politics of the moment. We talked about the effect it would have on our family. We prayed about it. We talked to more friends to ask their opinion. Then, we decided to do it.

I say “we” because Cathy and I have always been a team, and she has always been my most important political advisor.

We announced I was going to run and then a funny thing happened. About a week later, we found out that she was pregnant with our daughter. So, we went through our first campaign (which was difficult because neither of us anticipated how negative a campaign can be) and we went through a pregnancy at the same time. Our son, Trey was nine years old.

She allowed us to take a family picture in the nursery at our home four days after Charlotte was born and send that picture out on a brochure to households all over the district. She was sitting and holding Charlotte, and they were both beautiful. Trey and I were standing there as proud brother and daddy. I’m not sure how many wives would allow a picture of themselves to be sent out to thousands of people four days after having a baby. If anyone ever needed proof of what a great wife she is, that pretty much sums it up.

Name three current or former politicians who’ve had major influences upon you, and for each of them, give us a sentence or two to explain.

Ronald Reagan- He showed us that you can be conservative without being mean. Because he had this wonderful trait, he had a huge positive effect on our country. Joe Scarborough explains this best in his book, The Last Best Hope: Restoring Conservatism and America's Promise. I recommend it highly to anyone interested in restoring conservative values to America.

Carroll Campbell- When he was Governor, he understood what South Carolina needed to do to be a dominant force in economic development. Some of his original staff told me that right after his first inauguration, he gathered them all together and told them that his administration would be all about growing South Carolina’s economy. Because of his efforts, that were continued by David Beasley, we got to the point that our unemployment rate became the third best in the country. I miss him terribly. We could use his leadership today.

Strom Thurmond- He was the best at helping people get through the red tape of government that I have ever seen. One of my favorite things about my job is the ability to help people who are not being treated right by some government agency. Senator Thurmond taught me, by his example, that people need their elected representatives to be their advocate in government, not only on the legislative level, but sometimes on a personal level.

A constituent of mine had received a ticket for not having her insurance card with her and even though she could prove she had coverage, she could not get anyone at DMV to listen. Her husband was in the Persian Gulf at the time. She called me one night in tears. The next day, I was able to get someone from DMV to simply listen to her, and after seeing her proof of coverage, they fixed the problem. She was in the right, but no one in authority would listen.

Senator Thurmond was immensely popular because he understood that people needed him to be more than just their Senator in Washington. I think that is something everyone in elected office needs to understand.

What do you see as the top priorities for the State House in the upcoming year?

The economy is the most important issue facing us. We have to get back focused as a state on the recruitment of business and industry to our state. We have to change the Employment Security Commission from a check writing agency to a job placement agency. The economy of our state has changed. Manufacturing, agriculture and tourism are still very important, but the knowledge based economy has shown great potential for growing our economy and per capita income in South Carolina.

Education is incredibly important for us to grow the economy. K-12 education (particularly K-3) needs to focus on the basics, most of all reading. This is the most serious problem facing our secondary education system and leads to dropouts more than anything else. I hope we can do something to deal with this particular problem this year. I don’t believe it’s a money problem, and hopefully, since we don’t have any this year, we can get our schools focused on the problem and make the systemic changes that are needed.

You told the Charleston Post and Courier that “People in this state are taxed enough. We don't need to increase the burden, so we need to prioritize with the money that's available.” What are some budget priorities you’d like to see established?

This question brings us to another important issue facing our state and that is that we must cut the budget where necessary to stay balanced. The pressure to raise taxes to deal with the budget shortfall will be bigger this year than it has ever been. We cut our state budget last year by over a billion dollars. It went from over $7 billion to less than $6 billion. North Carolina raised taxes last year by almost a billion dollars. Raising taxes in a down economy is the worst thing you can do to slow down the recovery. It is crucial that we beat back any efforts to raise taxes, and that government live within its means. The priorities of that budget must be the economy and education.

In addition to being the Speaker of the House of Representatives, you are also the Mayor of Importantville. Isn’t dual office holding forbidden in South Carolina?

From what I have been told, some people believe it is the same office. That would keep it from being dual office holding. Besides, there will likely be other constitutional issues discussed this year that are a lot more important. I want to make sure that from both offices, I do my best to keep us focused on doing the things necessary to move our state forward.

5 Response to "Inside Intervew: House Speaker Bobby Harrell"

  1. Anonymous 27/8/09 21:00
    Thank heaven someone in our state government is focused on the important issues! Go get 'em, Bobby!
  2. Speaker's Mafia 27/8/09 22:36
    Don Bobby shows the Blogland how this thing of ours works.

    You are a wise and considerate young man, Earle, for having the Don on your blog.
  3. Swamp Fox 27/8/09 22:41
    Great post on Palmetto Scoop about the mothership coming for the Gov. I dont always agree with you, but I will give you credit on that one. Nicely Played Sir, Nicley Played!!!
    Now back to business, Bobby is in a bad spot this weekend, lets hope he goes with the nuclear option for the Gov. lets say in Sept.
  4. Anonymous 28/8/09 00:22
    Earl, how much did you get paid to do this? You really earned your RINO stripes on this one.
  5. Clarendon mg 28/8/09 12:55
    I have always supported my Speaker.

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