Showing posts with label state legislative updates. Show all posts
Showing posts with label state legislative updates. Show all posts

Representative Erickson takes on state government fee increases

It's no secret that the answer to tough budget times is often found in practicing the not-so-fine art of "revenue enhancement". For small towns, the solution can mean making the cops write a flurry of traffic tickets, but for others, the gap is often closed by seeking to raise fees for everything a governmental agency does.

Representative Shannon Erickson thinks that practice is just plain wrong, and so do we. Her concerns were voiced via one of her grassroots constituent emails which she sent earlier this week:

Last week, the State Fire Marshal’s office submitted new regs with added fees & when Philip Lowe & I asked them to reconsider that, they immediately withdrew the fee increases. Very graciously, I might add!

Unfortunately, DHEC has several reg bills coming before committees that have fee/fine increases in them. Even with opposition voiced by businesses it affects, the agency has decided to move forward on the increases.

This just another way to tax the business sector of our state. You can call it what you want, but right now the business community simply cannot afford ANY raise in fees/taxes/etc.

One of the reasons we're impressed with Erickson is because she doesn't just gripe about problems - she takes action. She's sponsored legislation (House Bill 3576) which would require that:

... no state agency, department, or entity by regulation or otherwise may administratively increase or implement a fee for performing a service or function, or a civil penalty or fine for failure to comply with a requirement or provision of law under its jurisdiction without the specific approval of the increased or new fee, fine, or penalty by the General Assembly by concurrent resolution.

The Blogland is glad to endorse Erickson's legislation, and are pleased at the bi-partisan team of legislatiors who've already signed on to support this measure:

Brantley, Ballentine, Huggins, Bowen, Duncan, Vick, Chalk, Bedingfield, Nanney, Merrill, Haley, Toole, Allison, Anthony, Bannister, Bingham, Forrester, Hamilton, Hardwick, Hearn, Herbkersman, Horne, Limehouse, Long, Millwood, Owens, Parker, Parks, E.H. Pitts, M.A. Pitts, Rice, Sandifer, G.R. Smith, Sottile, Spires, Stringer, Umphlett, Viers, White, Whitmire, Wylie and A.D. Young.

Legislators who are concerned about the impact of the cost of government upon individuals and businesses in these tough times need to get behind this bill and get it passed into law.

Having fun today at the State House

After attending a labor law seminar at the Clarion in downtown Columbia this morning, yours truly stopped by the State House with Ken Privette, my company's HR director, to give him a little meet-and-greet tour of the State House.

We want to thank a few people for their hospitality during our visit and for helping Ken learn a little bit about how things (sometimes) work at the State House:

  • Lt. Governor Andre Bauer and Jim Miles, his Chief of Staff, along with several of their staff members,
  • Trey Walker with the S.C. Attorney General's Office,
  • Sammy Hendrix and Leslie Hope with Carolinas AGC,
  • Former Rep. Shirley Hinson, working for the College of Charleston these days,
  • Representatives Alan Clemmons (who was in a rather jublilant mood), Shannon Erickson, Anton Gunn, Chip Limehouse, David Umphlett and Annette Young.
  • We also want to thank Rep. Patsy Knight for taking a few mintues to chat with us, and Rep. Carl Gullick for giving us a short tour around the House.

Representative Gullick helps level playing field for prosecutors

Representative Carl Gullick has been falsely maligned by shadowy third-party groups who, in their blind ambition, distorted his record on helping fight crime through his service in the General Assembly.

Not surprisingly, they failed to give Gullick credit for being an early and strong supporter of Ninth Circuit Court Judge Kristi "Handcuffs" Harrington. According to our sources inside the legal community, tales of her tough-as-nails approaches to sentencing have led to defense attorneys employing a number of tactics to keep her from hearing contested criminal trials.

Representative Gullick's latest step in burnishing his conservative credentials is House Bill 3020. His bill would erase a long-standing advantage for defense attorneys by allowing prosecutors an equal number of jury strikes as defense attorneys.

Gullick sponsored this legislation out of concern that "the current law gives defense attorneys an uneven playing field. I can't believe an unfair law like this was on the books in the first place."

This legislation came out of a meeting with Maite Murphy, a Summerville attorney and former First Circuit prosecutor, who approached Gullick about this problem and asked him to sponsor the legislation. According to Murphy:

The bill will level the playing field for Solicitors in jury selection, but I don't anticipate the Defense Bar will be too happy about it.

That's ok - we're often not very concerned with what the Defense Bar members think here in the Blogland.

Gullick's jury reform initiative addresses a problem which has been long overlooked. Support for this bill can help illustrate the difference between those legislators who are truly tough on crime, and those who are simply giving the issue lip service.

We hope legislators see the obvious need to enact this legislation and sign onto support Gullick's bill.

2009 Blogland state Judicial endorsements

In the week coming up, legislators will be asked to make decisions about who should fill a number of judicial seats. In the last few weeks, these candidates have worked hard to introduce themselves to legislators and make their cases.

Several of these candidates took the time to talk with us and we appreciate the growing willingness by judges and judicial candidates to shed a little light into the judicial selection process, as well as the need to reach out to new media outlets, such as the Blogland, to help make their cases.

Having met with a number of good candidates, we decided to endorse some of the more outstanding ones:

Judge Jeff Young - At-large Circuit Court, Seat 1

Jeff Young is one of three candidates for this seat. His record of service as a legislator, in the U.S. Air Force, both active duty and reserve, as well as a Family Court judge, shows a well-rounded professional background of public service.

We agree with the screening commission members, who observed that:

Judge Young has an outstanding reputation as a Family Court Judge. They noted he is known for his common sense and his good temperament which would serve him well on the Circuit Court.

We would also like to point out that those looking for a law-and-order judge will likely find it in Young, who was the sponsor of the state's concealed-carry handgun law.

Judge Young's record of service is outstanding and he is the best qualified candidate to fill this seat.

Deborah Brooks Durden - Adminstrative Law Court, Seat 4

Administrative law may not be the most exciting kind of law, but it's crucial to the operation of the state. Someone who holds this seat needs to be able to understand the importance of the decisions this court makes, have a solid resume in the legal field, as well as experience with adminstrative law.

Durden's qualifications stand out above the other two candidates. She was also one of the first judicial candidates to reach out to us, signifying that she values the role new media outlets, such as this one, can play in educating the public about the judicial process.

Based upon what we've seen, we're not surprised that screening commission members found that:

Ms. Durden is enthusiastic and sincere about her desire to serve on the Administrative Law Court. The Commission also noted that Ms. Durden has excellent experience and is a hard worker which would serve her well on the court.

For these and other reasons, Durden has the unique background needed for this judicial seat and is best suited for the job.

Judge Roger Young - Ninth Circuit Court

Judge Young is unopposed, but we've been impressed with his intellect, temperament and willingness to reach out to new media outlets, as well as his great taste in BBQ.

We agree wholeheartedly with the finding of screening commission members that:

Judge Young is a dedicated, hard working, and exceptionally intelligent judge. They noted he has been a valuable asset to the Circuit Court bench for the past five years.

We hope that a vote is called for this seat so this guy can win it in a well-deserved landslide.

State House freshmen demand answers from SC DSS

In recent weeks, the operation of SC DSS has come under fire on this blog, as well as Voting Under The Influence. But it's not just us new media types who are asking questions.

We were tipped off about a meeting which took place the day after we wrote about the problems at SC DSS where Representative Tom Young and other House freshman legislators met with SC DSS Director Kathleen Hayes to discuss concerns with the agency's operations. In the meeting with Hayes and other DSS staff members were Representatives Bruce Bannister, Boyd Brown, Joe Danning, Shannon Erickson, Anton Gunn, George Hearn, Jenny Horne, Tommy Stringer, and Bill Wylie.

Along with Hayes & a host of DSS support staff, the timeline of the numerous problems, the seemingly poor coordination between the Governor's Chief Procurement Office, DSS, and the feds. It was made clear that the mounting cost of fines upon taxpayers was unacceptable.

Dr. Hayes explained that South Carolina was the only state yet to meet this federal mandate. She also said DSS was working with State & Federal officials to petition the feds to forgo additional fines - so long as progress was being made towards compliance.

Legislative commentary in that meeting included:

  • Rep. Tommy Stringer said that he had "no sympathy" for their plight.
  • Rep. Shannon Erickson expounded that if her small business had not met mandates like this it would not have had the endless pockets of the taxpayer funds to keep bailing & did not support requests for fine abatement due to our state's incompetence.
  • Rep. Boyd Brown admonished DSS for using Gov. Sanford & other Republicans to "get attention from the new administration" and promoted Congressman Clyburn as the effective person in SC's delegation.
  • Rep. Anton Gunn commented that he’d been present in DSS system update meetings for many years & that reports were “piece-meal”- and did not give a whole or clear picture of this issue.
  • Several Freshmen House members raised questions about the state’s auditing procedures and plan to look into that area in an effort to improve the state’s use of its fiscal resources.

Those we've spoken with give Dr. Hayes credit for taking responsibility for working to resolve the long-standing situation, which was well underway before she became director two years ago.

A rep from the EDS/Saber Co. said it was taking a lot of extra work to transition to the federally-compliant system from the state's current child support collection system, which reportedly is vastly different than any other states. Several of those in attendance asked if it would be possible to change how payments were being handled to fit an already existing system instead of developing a new system from scratch.

It was admitted that the system is not scheduled to be operational until 2011, and the state will face annual penalties of about $30 million in fines during that time.

Rep. Young confirmed that he was there and had called for the meeting:

Because the failure to install the system timely has cost our state $63.18 Million in penalties (all paid from the general fund) to date with another $30 Million expected to be paid through fiscal year 2011, I wanted to learn more about why this happened; what can be done to fix the current problem if anything; and what can be done to ensure that such waste and mismanagement of resources does not take place again. The meeting was helpful in providing us insight and our Freshmen Caucus plans to work together to address the inefficiencies in state government that caused this so that it does not happen again.

When contacted for comment, Representative Erickson also acknowledged that she'd been in the meeting, as well offering her concerns about the situation:

There was communication breakdown to the ultimate degree and that our procurement code needs attention. Having DSS not comply in this circumstance is negligence to the taxpayers of our state. I own child development centers licensed by DSS, if they mandated changes in our requirements and I didn’t comply for 10 years, or even 2 years, they’d have shut me down. There would have been no negotiations, in fact, absolutely no tolerance for non-compliance. They should practice what they preach and we should help them to develop the tools to do so.

As we've said before, the large size of the House freshman caucus gives them the rare opportunity for freshmen to stand up and be counted. The DSS meeting is a sign that this group isn't afraid to make their presence known in the State House, which we think is a great thing. We hope to see more of them in the future.

Carolinas AGC reception tonight - be there

This is just a friendly reminder to legislators and staff that the annual legislative reception tonight at the Koger Center from 6 to 8 p.m. Leslie, Sammy, Allen and a lot of others have worked really hard to make sure this is a great event for all who attend, so we know you won't be disappointed.

While we think listening to the concerns of business leaders from any industry is important, since the construction industry pays the bills for the Blogland, it's especially important to us that legislators hear our concerns.

As the current economic slump has hit this industry especially hard, with up to half its workforce statewide laid off over the last 18 months, we in the construction industry are understandably concerned about where things are headed.

We hope to see all of you there.

Tort reform efforts move forward

There are many challenges which Southern states must overcome in making themselves more competitive. Among these challenges are addressing education and workforce quality, taxes, infrastructure, and local quality of life.

Another major challenge is reining in the litigious environment in which excessive judgments cost businesses and families, as well as scare the heck out of businesses looking to set up shop here in the Palmetto State. When companies are looking to open up a new plant and research shows that State A has higher potential litigation risks than States B, C, or D, employers will often strike State A off their lists of locations to visit.

While tort reform helps protect our state's competitiveness, it ultimately benefits our state's families by helping keep jobs, attract new ones, and reduce the costs of goods and services. As a businessman, Senator Larry Martin knows the problem businesses face and he's working to meet this challenge head-on with his recently-filed legislation seeking to reform civil litigation.

There's a lot in this legislation, but here are some items that stood out to us as no-brainers:

  • Allowing the non-use of seat belts to be considered in reducing awards when non-use is believed to have contributed to injuries.
  • Limiting appeals bonds to $25 million for businesses and as low as $1 million for small businesses.
  • Limiting non-economic damages to $1.05 million.
  • Creating accountability and standards for the hiring of outside legal counsel by the State of South Carolina.

Martin's legislation is a step in the right direction and it deserves a fair hearing from legislators.

Senator Rose charting a new course on magistrate appointments

Our readers know we've not always agreed with Senator Mike Rose, but on the issue of magisterial appointments, which was blown wide open by the man he ousted from the seat in the June primary, we think he's doing the right thing. Instead of picking relatives or political allies to fill the seats, the Summerville Senator announced that he would take applications from interested parties and appointed a committee to review those applications which were submitted:

Rose has appointed a citizens committee to review the applications, conduct interviews with the candidates and receive any other information from police agencies and citizens who use the Magistrates Court.

S. C. Court of Appeals Judge Daniel F. Piper is heading up the Dorchester County Magistrate Merit Selection Committee. Judge Pieper was elected to the Court of Appeals in May, 2007 .... Judge Pieper is joined on the selection committee by Family Court Judge William Wylie, Jr. who was elected to the position of resident judge for the Family Court for the First Judicial Circuit. He is a former Dorchester County Probate Judge.

Other citizen members are Dr. Tim Huber, a dentist who resides in Kings Grant and a retired 22 year veteran of the United States Navy; Ted French, a Coosaw Creek business man and a retired Colonel from the U.S. Air Force; Ernest Moultrie of Summerville who is in charge of Court Security for Dorchester County; Julie Anderson, a realtor for Horne Realty in Summerville and a former resident of Ridgeville, who chaired sister Jenny Horne’s campaign for the State House of Representatives in the June primary; Jim Emery, a resident of the Bridges of Summerville, an 18 year veteran of the New York State Legislature and a retired Colonel from the USAF; and Pegge Schall, an Ashborough resident who is a member of the Dorchester County Zoning and Planning Board and a former Republican Executive Committeeman and President of the Ashborough Precinct.

This early move by Senator Rose offers a constructive idea on how to address this thorny issue - and we think it shows a lot of promise. We hope others look at this experiment and consider how they can reform how magistrates are appointed in their communities.

Senate GOP sets out a reform agenda

The folks at the Senate GOP caucus are busy these days. Led by Confederate General Glenn McConnell and his trusty sidekick Harvey "the Milk Man" Peeler, they announced an ambitious 2009 agenda for reform, entitled "Sunshine in South Carolina".

This agenda aims to increase accountability, set new standards for transparency, and promote new government, aims to accomplish a number of objectives in this year's session of the General Assembly.

  • Establish spending caps,
  • Enact On the record voting (accomplished),
  • Implement Earmark reform,
  • Online check register,
  • Create a Department of Administration
  • Allow a referendum for joint Gov-Lt. Gov ticket
This agenda certainly challenges the notion that reform ideas have few, if any, friends in the State Senate. It's certainly ambitious, but we like it.

Dems fail to get Twilight Zone host to give State of the State rebuttal

Unconfirmed reports received by the Blogland claim that the first pick to give the Democratic response to Governor Sanford's State of the State address was not Kershaw County State Senator Vincent Sheheen. According to sources, it was believed that Rod Serling, the host of the classic science fiction show "The Twilight Zone" was considered the best selection for the slot.

We tried to conjure up an image of what that would look like. Yeah, it seemed pretty funny when we thought about it.

We tried to fish around to get to the bottom of this rumor, but when contacted for comment, Senate Democratic Caucus Director Phil Bailey was unavailable.

Legislative Freshmen to watch

With the legislative session about to kick off, we took at look at some of the new faces coming to the State House. Of the roughly two dozen new faces in the House, these four freshman Representatives seemed particularly worth watching:

Republican Tim Scott from the Lowcountry comes to the State House with over a decade’s experience on Charleston County Council, where he often served as Chairman. The chair of the Freshman Caucus, he is seen as a Sanford ally. Scott is a smart guy and hard worker with a record of building consensus, which suggests he’ll look before he leaps into fights. Learning the ropes in Columbia while providing leadership for the largest number of freshman legislators will be key challenges if he is to repeat his success in Charleston County politics.

In the House, those elected in special elections are considered freshmen until they complete their first full term. While this defines her as a freshman, we’d argue that what we’ve seen so far proves that Beaufort Representative Shannon Erickson is far from a rookie. Passing her first piece of legislation just months after taking her House seat, she has survived several strong electoral challenges. She balances an eternally-cheerful personality with a strong work ethic and keen eye for picking winnable fights. We think she's about to take off.

Last June, Republican Wendy Nanney ousted fellow Republican Gloria Haskins by a large margin from a Bob Jones area House seat where the Haskins name was once considered an untouchable institution. With long roots in Upstate GOP politics, and a proven ability as a campaigner, she's done well in Greenville. We'll be watching to see if she can do as well in Columbia.

Democrat Anton Gunn from the Midlands is an interesting individual. While he presents himself as a moderate, his political affiliations suggest he’s more liberal than the packaging would suggest. He’s proven himself to be eloquent and ambitious - good traits for any successful politico. In his second attempt at running for the House, he won an open GOP House seat and then sought three of four Freshman Caucus slots, winning none. Those who’ve talked to in Midlands politics peg him as either an overly ambitious or risng star. Stay tuned to see which is really the case.

While the Senate is a place where seniority rules and freshman legislators can spend years in the chamber before developing any serious degree of effectiveness, there are a couple of freshmen Senators who deserve close attention.

Beaufort Senator Tom Davis isn’t your typical new face in the Senate. He served as Chief of Staff to Governor Sanford and then went back home to Beaufort to knock out Senator Catherine Ceips in a hard-charging campaign. Having played key roles in developing initiatives and policies in the Governor’s office, he knows Sanford’s mindsets and priorities well, and can likely argue for them well. But in the Senate, a freshman is rarely able to lead the charge on legislation, so he’ll have to figure out how be an effective player for the reform initiatives that he’s long supported if he wants to do anything other than warm a seat for the next decade or so.

Like Davis, Summerville Senator Mike Rose isn’t a typical freshman Senator. He spent nine years in the chamber and is returning after ousting Senator Randy Scott in a close and high-profile race. Known for his willingness to stand up and be outspoken on issues important to him, Rose has his priorities, knows how the Senate works, and isn’t likely to be quiet for long. The most noted accomplishments as a Senator before was to challenge the legislative delegation system, working to devolve appointment powers from legislators to County Councils and leading efforts to implement weighted voting on legislative delegations. He’s already working to reform how magisterial appointments are handled in Dorchester County, so expect him to hit the ground running.

Rep. Olin Phillips dies

Cherokee County Representative Olin Phillips, one of the few remaining Democratic legislators in the Upstate, died of a heart attack this morning. According to The State:

Authorities say South Carolina Rep. Olin Phillips has died after having a heart attack in his Gaffney home.

Cherokee County Coroner Dennis Fowler says the wife of the 74-year-old Democrat found him unconscious around 12:45 a.m. Saturday. Phillips died less than an hour later at Upstate Carolina Medical Center.

Phillips was a businessman and had served District 30 in Cherokee County since 1979.

South Carolina Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler served the same area as Phillips and said his colleague was a statesman who benefited every family in Cherokee County.

Phillips is survived by his wife and three children. Funeral services have not been announced.

Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, and his long record of service to his community and state is greatly appreciated.

A message to Senator Mike Rose

Maite Murphy is well-known and respected Summerville attorney and former 1st Judicial Circuit prosecutor. She has a strong work ethic and when in consideration for a 1st Circuit judicial seat, she was found qualified by the South Carolina Bar review panel. While she did not make it through the JMSC screening process, we believe her experience and enthusiasm for public service is too valuable to let go to waste.

We understand that Murphy may be seeking a magistrate's appointment in Dorchester County. If so, Murphy is well-qualified to serve and her appointment to such a post would do a great service for the people of Dorchester County.

Looking at Senate pre-filed bills

Friday we looked at the pre-filing at the House. Now we’ll look at what they’ve done over the Senate – and they’ve done a lot of it. Nearly 200 bills were filed, and it looks like a whole lot of them by Senator Robert Ford. From those 200 or so, we picked out a handful that seem like pretty good ideas, and ones that we hope will receive positive action from Senators:

Harvey Peeler is keeping his promise to support fiscal reforms by fulfilling of his pledge to continue pushing the transparency issue forward in the General Assembly. If passed, Bill 11, by Senator Harvey Peeler, known as the “Taxpayer Protection Act”, will require recorded voting on legislation in both Houses.

There are two bills which honor our state’s military veterans that we wholeheartedly support. The first is Bill 16, by Senator Joel Lourie, would allow the state to award high school diplomas to those who have completed military service who served in a time of war. The second is Bill 49 by Senator Ford, which would allow military veterans to qualify to receive free tuition at state colleges and universities.

Making classrooms safer is another major issue in the Senate. Bill 4 by Senator Glenn McConnell, known as the “Teacher Protection Act”, would allow teachers to bring civil actions against students who commit crimes against them, and to classify violent crimes against teachers, with the most serious of the three classes being a felony.

There are a few other bills that we like:

Bill 40 by Senator Ford would allow patients to designate their authorized visitors, regardless of the existence of a blood or legal relationship to the patient.

Bill 44 by Senator Ford would allow offshore drilling for oil and gas resources within the waters under the jurisdiction of the State of South Carolina.

Bill 57 by Senator Ford, would allow the chief administrative judges of a circuit to schedule court dockets. Our inside friends in the legal and judicial community liked this one.

Bill 121 by Senator Knotts, would allow the state to issue Second Amendment license plates, with proceeds from sales designated to go to the state Criminal Justice Academy (where now-retired Sgt. Capps used to teach classes).

Bill 128 by Senator Sheheen, would create a Department of Administration, which would absorb many of the administrative functions currently held by the Budget and Control Board.

Bill 155 by Senator Campsen, would protect visitation and custody rights of divorced military parents by not allowing the change in circumstances caused by military service to be used against them in court.

Bill 168 by Senator Cleary, would protect licensed health care providers from being held liable for civil damages when acting in a voluntary, non-compensated manner, except for acts of gross negligence.

It's pre-filing time in the House

It’s pre-filing time again – that wonderful time of the year where legislators flock to the State House to file the first of thousands, of pieces of legislation that will be sponsored over the next year, hoping to have their ideas become among the four or five percent of bills that make it through the legislative process, across the Governor’s desk and into state law.

We looked through the list of over one hundred bills that were pre-filed by House members. After wading through a list, a quarter or so of which seem to have been sponsored by Rep. Herb Kirsh from Clover, we found some good ideas, and some bad ones as well.

Here were several bills that stood out as good ones:

Bill 3020, by York County Rep. Carl Gullick – this bill would allow prosecutors the same number of jury strikes as are allowed to the defense in criminal cases.

Bill 3028, by York County Rep. Herb Kirsh – this bill would allow the court to order those who bring frivolous charges to pay legal defense costs.

Bill 3047, by Lexington County Rep. Nikki Haley – this is the much-talked about Roll Call voting bill. We’re so in love with this legislation that we sleep with a copy of it every night.

Bill 3064, by Richland County Rep. Chris Hart – this bill requires nursing homes to carry at least $100K in liability insurance (we can’t imagine any that wouldn’t carry far more than this amount).

Bill 3067, by Horry County Rep. Alan Clemmons – this bill would require candidates to file with one party, instead of using multiple-line filings to confuse voters and win third-party votes.

Bill 3075, by Dorchester County Rep. Annette Young – this bill would work to prevent a major problem in fast-growing areas, knowing as “zoning shopping”, where developers annex into property into a municipality to get more favorable zoning. If the county zoning is for lower density, then that zoning requirement must remain in effect for five years after annexation.

Bill 3090, by York County Rep. Herb Kirsh – this bill would address the “bundling” of campaign contributions by requiring a single campaign contribution cap to apply to business entities which are under shared control.

While most of the bills represent well-intentioned efforts to enact good ideas into law, we found one bill that left us scratching our heads – Rep. Gary Simrill’s bill to name the Marsh Tacky the official state horse (Bill 3044). We know this was an effort that was once spearheaded by former Senator Catherine Ceips, but it didn’t make sense to us any more now than it did back then. Perhaps Kirsh’s bill on frivolous prosecution needs to be amended to protect taxpayers from having to pick up the tab for frivolous legislation.

Several of these bills address issues near and dear to the Blogland, so please stay tuned as we focus on those bills. But good government doesn’t happen by leaving all the work up to legislators – it only happens when it’s a team effort between legislators and active, concerned citizens. We encourage our readers to find bills that represent issues of concern, as well as issues which aren’t being addressed, and make your voices heard with your legislators.

House Speaker should show more restraint

News that House Speaker Bobby Harrell yanked Republican House members Nathan Ballentine and Nikki Haley from their previous committee assignments spread quickly today, along with the conspiracy theories.

There are two ways one can look at Harrell's actions: a vindictive House Speaker lashing out, or out-of-line legislators being rightfully disciplined through reassignments. In recent days, we've talked with those who believe one story or the other, and in some cases, some of both.

While it's very tempting to join into the many politicos who have begun to see this as a fight between Harrell and Haley, and there's a lot to suggest that's what this is becoming, doing so would remove the focus upon the issues, where it needs to be. As Speaker, Harrell is supposed to exhibit leadership virtues, which include restraint and tolerance, but one has to wonder if he's doing a very good job at that.

We would ask Harrell to consider the example of Newt Gingrich, whose political rise to power was driven by his combative style and continual challenges of the House Democratic leadership in the 1980s. While Gingrich became a favorite target of Democrats, who went so far as to wipe out his first Congressional seat, those attacks made him a heroic martyr in the eyes of many Republicans. When the smoke cleared, many of his enemies had been toppled and Gingrich was Speaker of the House.

If Harrell chooses to do things which fuel perceptions that he is being heavy-handed or vindictive, no matter how justified those actions may seem, he risks creating an even greater problem. As politics is often driven by perceptions, not realities, we hope he'll consider showing more restraint in the future.

Roll call voting - Mission Incomplete

Here in the Blogland, the recent House rules change which allows limited roll call voting is viewed with some degree of skepticism. While some may interpret it as a sign of progress, there are others who view it as a sell-out. From here, it's hard to tell which is the case.

Now that they have embraced the principle that recorded voting is important, legislators need to finish the job they've started. While fiscal accountability is important, the General Assembly deals with many other issues which have a real impact upon the lives of South Carolinians, including public safety, state government administration, restructuring, education policy, and economic issues. If an issue is important enough for legislators to address, then it's important enough for the people of this state to know where their legislators stood on that issue.

In today's Sun News, Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom shared his thoughts in support of greater transparency, which roll call voting can help address:

Providing better government transparency - giving people more and better information on how government spends our money and knowing how elected officials make decisions that affect all of us - is a cause dear to my heart.

Too many decisions are made behind closed doors, diluting accountability of our elected officials and eroding public confidence in government itself. When elected officials make decisions in secret and without a record of their votes, they sometimes pass things they never would approve in full view of the public.

It is up to legislators to decide if the rules change will be an important first step towards greater accountability, or a compromise with old style backroom politics. The right thing would be for them to finish the work they've started by adopting legislation which requires 100% roll call voting - and to do it as early in the next session as possible.

The Leaders of the Pack

This afternoon, the members of the Freshmen Caucus of the State House's 2009-2010 class elected a decidedly conservative and mostly Upstate leadership, with all four officers seen as staunch conservatives and three hailing from the Greenvile County:
  • Chair: Tim Scott from North Charleston
  • Vice-Chair: Dan Hamilton from Taylors
  • Secretary: Wendy Nanney from Greenville
  • Treasurer: Tommy Stringer from Landrum

"It's a huge honor to facilitate this Freshman Caucus a conduit for the best ideas of others and get them to the leadership of the House," Tim Scott told us this in an interview this evening. He sees his role as their Chairman as a facilitator who would help move good ideas forward and make sure his fellow freshmen would play important roles in the next two years. Given the large number of freshmen, including several who toppled incumbents, he will have his work cut out for him.

Given Scott's highly-visible candidacy and his long record as a leader on Charleston County Council, as well as a number of other Lowcountry organizations, we're confident that of any freshman who has the ability to lead the freshman caucus, he was the right choice. We want to thank those who supported him for making a wise choice.

Anton Gunn, a freshman Democrat who won the seat vacated by Blogland favorite Rep. Bill Cotty, made bids for three of the four freshman offices, including Chair and Vice-Chair, losing each time. That's a whole lot of ambition for a first-week member, and we have to wonder if it's not too much.

These freshmen will face tough challenges: a slumping economy, the likelihood of one or more tight budget years, and a highly-combative relationship between the Governor and the General Assembly. They will be expected to make some tough decisions that may entail more political risk for them than with others with more seniority who have stronger political bonds in their districts. But we're confident
many of them will put their duty as legislators above politics-as-usual.

To the officers of the Freshmen Caucus, we say "congratulations", and wish to extend to Scott and the other freshman our best wishes and prayers for successful two years in the House.

Legislative Republicans at a crossroads?

This sign contains two messages: the first warns of a a turn to the left, and the second of an upcoming crossroads. It seems an appropriate to what is going on in the State House.

Our state finds itself confronted with a budget crisis, which is nothing new. Our state's budget has a history of going from boom to bust, yet while many of our legislators were around during the last budget crash, we saw billions of dollars of recent surpluses squandered with little effort to set aside reserves.

Last fall saw our state's House Speaker upset when a legislator proposed requiring putting votes on the record, which is commonplace in many other states. The excuse of "if we want you to know, we'll let you know, otherwise get lost" smacks of the same kind of good ol' boy leadership that was reminiscent of the old days of South Carolina's Democratic majority rule, where cover-ups, corruption, investigations, and convictions - culminating in Operation Lost Trust - were commonplace.

Now we see the House leadership proposing a rule change that would consolidate power into the hands of the House Speaker, by allowing the Speaker to appoint committee chairs, instead of allowing the committee members to select their own. We've heard excuses that this is intended to protect the power of the GOP majority in the House, but we're skeptical.

We're concerned these changes will make the legislature less accountable to the public and empower those who wish to operate in the shadows, even if that's not what those backing the rules desire. These same kinds of tricks had much to do with the upsetting of the scandal-ridden Republican majority in the U.S. House. Once the now-former Speaker Dennis Hastert and others in the Congressional GOP leadership began changing rules, cutting deals for campaign cash, and spending money like drunken sailors, under the excuse of protecting the Republican majority, it was only a matter of time before it hit the fan.

We find ourselves confronted with eerie parallels with what cost Republicans in control of Congress. This puts us at a crossroads and makes us ask ourselves where we're headed, and how long it will be before voters decide they're ready for a change.

We hope grass-roots Republicans will be asking their leadership the same questions, as well as holding them accountable for what they're doing.

Nikki Haley's roll call voting train rocks and rolls

AC/DC is about to rock fans with a great new album (their new CD is out on the 20th), proving to the world they've still got a lot to say. Likewise, Lexington County Representative Nikki Haley is rocking the State House and proving she's just begun to get down with her roll call voting reform effort.

The train of support for her proposal keeps growing. In recent days, Lt. Governor Andre Bauer and Senate Majority Leader joined Senator McConnell in backing Haley's proposal on the Senate side, giving us hope that this effort is going to roll through the Senate quickly.

But it's not just the folks at the top that are starting to get the message. Yesterday, at a meeting of the state Federation of Republican Women, Haley's proposal was endorsed by the group.

The people of this state deserve honesty and transparency from their government, and it's about time their legislators gave them just that. We want to thank Haley for leading the way, as well as the many Republicans, from top to bottom of their party's hierarchy, who are jumping on the train on this important issue.

When this train comes down the tracks, there's only three options - get on board, get out of the way, or get run over.

While we're yakking, here's the video for the song "Rock and Roll Train" off that upcoming AC/DC album: