The Bloggers - Righteous Dudes of the Year, 2008

This year's winner of the year award goes to a varied group of individuals who did much to shake up the landscape of South Carolina politicals - the electronic motley crew known as bloggers.

For a long time, the process of deciding winners and losers in state government has been a largely controlled process, where well-heeled special interests, powerful politicians and mainstream news media picked who would wield power and those who wouldn't. But in 2008, that grip was challenged by bloggers, who used their electronic talents, some creativity, perspectives outside of the Columbia insider realm, and more than a little gutsiness, to shake things up in Columbia.

Will Folks showed plenty of guts when he took on GOP State Senator Randy Scott, publicizing his DUI arrest, including jailhouse records which were ordered muzzled by a judge. Those content of those tapes, which crossed over into mainstream media, did much to create unflattering public impressions of the Senator, which did much to undo any potential political gain from his acquittal.

We did our share to contribute to the process. Our coverage of several judicial races helped push one candidate considered a longshot to an easy victory and shined the spotlight on two other candidates, who later withdrew. We helped push Representative Shannon Erickson's Lauren Gentry Act through the State Senate, where it flew through in just three weeks, and then with the help of other blogs, brought out her Democratic opponent's arrest record.

Bloggers from across the political spectrum shined the spotlight on the power play between House Speaker Bobby Harrell and Midlands State Represenatives Nathan Ballentine and Nikki Haley, and then rallied in support of Haley's legislation requiring recorded voting on legislation.

Increasingly, political bloggers are building trans-partisan alliances based upon specific issues, as well as other factors such as personalities and non-political interests. As the influence of bloggers rises, it will be interesting to see how these new approaches influence the overall political picture.

Newspapers regularly picked up our discussions (and amazing they even started giving us credit) in their own news coverage. Ian Leslie at the Beaufort Gazette (who has since moved on) and Jason Spencer at the Spartanburg Herald-Journal stand out as those who have given us the most respect, but there are a lot of other outlets who have been doing a good job as well.

We're not just influencing what goes on in the insular world of state politics. Many bloggers, including Folks, Ross Shealy, and ourselves, regularly speak to interested groups and lecture at schools and colleges around the state. In doing so, we're shaping how politics works on the inside as well as how people view it from the outside.

Probably the single biggest sign of the rising influence and credibility of bloggers is the Monday editorial content of The State, which has a section which quotes bloggers on current state issues.

In the year 2008, bloggers have come a long way in contributing and influencing the political process in South Carolina. In doing so, they've clearly earned the Righteous Dudes of the Year title.

Looking back at 2008

Here in the Blogland, it's been a hell of a year, and we'd like to thank all of you who've come along for the ride through the chaos and carnage. It's been, without a doubt, a very active year as we've continued to run our mouth, and if you don't mind, we'd like to take a look back at some of the damage we've caused in this year's 420 postings ...

We started out the year jumping into a couple of judicial elections in which we endorsed Kristi "Handcuffs" Harrington, also known as Wonder Woman, for a seat on the 9th Circuit Court and Ronnie Norton for a seat on the 15th Circuit Family Court. We also set off a lot of fireworks when we talked about another candidate for the 15th Circuit seat. Both Harrington and Norton are on the bench, and we've received a lot of good reports about their service.

In February, we blew the whistle on efforts by the heavy-handed GOP leadership in Berkeley County to squash that which they could not control. Later that month, we went to Washington for the annual National Workforce Boards Conference. Meeting Newt Gingrich, who addressed the conference, was definitely the highlight of the event.

Our Inside Interview series chugged along, giving you more looks on the inside of government in the Palmetto State. We talked with State Reps Nathan Ballentine, Shannon Erickson,
Nikki Haley, Phillip Lowe, 9th Circuit Judge Roger Young, Charleston County RMC Charlie Lybrand, elder abuse legal consultant Erin Gaddy, two of the state's foremost political operatives: Democrat Phil Bailey and Republican Wes Donehue, and the two candidates for the 9th Circuit Solicitor's office - Blair Jennings and Scarlett Wilson. Our series wrapped up the year with an interview with our first Democratic legislator, Senator Joel Lourie.

The 2008 GOP national convention was very much on our minds. We endorsed delegates, followed them to the convention, and also endorsed Glenn McCall, the state's new national committeeman.

Our first Legislative Awards recognize two outstanding retiring legislators:
Senator John Drummond and Representative Bill Cotty, and two great freshmen legislators: Senator Shane Massey and Representative Shannon Erickson.

We also followed Erickson's Lauren Gentry bill and strongly pushed for its passage until it finally became law. Later on, we signed onto Rep. Nikki Haley's legislative transparency initiative. In 2009, we'll continue pushing for Haley's bill, as well as other legislation that catches our eye.

We also called new media types, such as bloggers, the real winners of the 2008 elections.

On the spritual side, we talked about the
Sunday of Orthodoxy, the Akathist Hymn, Pope Benedict's praise of Melkite Catholics in "A thriving future for the Melkite Church", Orthros once and Orthros again. Prayer of Saint John Chrysostom, and the Psalms,

On a lighter note, a round of William Shatner regurgitations erupted, starting with "
William Shatner raps Julius Caesar?". It got even sicker with William Shatner redoes "Rocket Man" and culminated with "Shatner serenades George Lucas". Reportedly some people won't even turn on their computers after that one.

Eight years of college at night - four for my BA and four more for my MA - reached the finish line when I passed my comprehensive exam, defended my thesis, walking across the stage, and then
having a great graduation party, complete with free beer and a roast of yours truly that went on for about 40 minutes (click to watch some highlights). Finally, printed and bound copies of my thesis arrived.

With graduation past, it was time to hit the road for some kick ass concerts: in Atlanta with Sebastian Bach and Dokken, and
DC with Black Sabbath and Judas Priest.

There were certainly a lot of other moments that have gone by over the last year where we enlightened our readers a little, probably motivated them a little, and probably pissed them off quite a bit. But for whatever reason, some of you still love us - or at least haven't found the time to track us down and shoot us. For your time, friendship, and patience, we thank you all and look forward to a great 2009.

South Carolina's 7th District?

There's been a lot of recent speculation about South Carolina getting a 7th Congressional District. This is big news for a state that once had nine districts, but has only had six since Reconstruction.

Relative to a much smaller House of Represenatives, nine seats was several times the congressional voting power than the state's delegation wields today, where six seats is about 1.5% of the total membership of 435.

Where will the 7th District go? We think the driving consideration will center around representing large population centers. The four that don't have a representative are Aiken, Florence, Horry and Spartanburg. Since Florence and Horry are interconnected, and the Pee Dee and Grand Strand don't have resident members of Congress, a district could be drawn quickly without upsetting incumbents and give this region the ability to seat a congressman.

As Florence is also the only county Clyburn usually loses, we think he'd be ok with losing those voters. Pair Florence with Horry and some of the stray rural counties in that part of the state, and you should get a seat that favors a GOP candidate.

Swing the 1st back to Beaufort, restoring it's historic alignment, pull the 2nd out of the Lowcounty entirely to keep the district's partisan balance from changing much. Nor does the 1st District's change much. Considering Joe Wilson's stronger challengers come from Beaufort County and the rural Lowcountry offsets the votes he gets from the coast, we think Joe would be ok with it.

The 5th loses some population to the new 7th, but the overall political balance, as with the 1st and 2nd, changes very little.

We played around with a rough map of how the 7th could fit in, with some minor other adjustments to the map to speculate about other adjustments that would be required:

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.

Christmas news flash

Since Ozzy Osbourne did not bite the head off Rudolph, there will be a Christmas today, and we hope all of our readers are off enjoying it with their families.

But if you've got nothing better to do, allow us to share a collection of some of our favorite holiday tunes:

Twisted Sister - Oh Come All Ye Faithful

Dokken - Santa Claus is coming to town

Skid Row - Jingle Bells

Twisted Sister - Heavy Metal Christmas

Giving thanks

In this holiday season, it seems appropriate to reflect upon the gifts that have been received here in the Blogland.

The Blogland is not just a rheotrical platform upon which to run my mouth - it has also been a learning experience by which yours truly has learned a lot and made a lot of new friends. I continue to be amazed by how so many of you have given so generously of your time and effort to present your ideas, views, and concerns to help the Blogland become what it has been.

Those experiences are the treasured "gifts" that I have received so abundantly, and for those gifts, I am truly and eternally grateful.

Thank you and may you and your family have a safe, happy, and joyous holiday season.

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.

Help the Manning HS band play the Presidential inauguration

The Manning High School marching band has been chosen to play in next month's Presidential inauguration. Having been to events in DC, we know it's expensive for just one person or a small group, but according to the Charleston Post and Courier, it can be pretty darn expensive for a group as big as a high school marching band:

Thirty hotel rooms for four nights cost about $19,000; two charter buses for five days run $12,600. And then there are the uniforms.

"You guys are going to have to pay $80 for your clothes," Francis says.

Throw in another $8,500, $20 per student per day for food, and all of a sudden you are talking about real money.

That's $40,000 or more to take the Manning High School Golden Pride Marching Band to Washington in January — and the kids don't have it. So far they have raised $13,000. If they can't come up with another $27,000 in the next few weeks, they could miss out on their place in history.

We're asking our readers to give them a helping hand by donating to help cover the $27,000 shortfall for this event. You can send your donation to:

Manning High School Band
2155 Paxville Highway
Manning, S.C., 29102

Christmaas is a time for giving and making dreams come true. You can do both for this bunch of students by simply sparing next weekend's bar money or a couple of nights' dinner out.

More proof that news media bias exists

We've all heard that news media shows a bias, so this story shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, but yet it did, as we just never thought we'd hear it about the Weather Channel ...

The Dutch Fork reform team

The newest rising stars on the South Carolina political landscape didn’t win an election, nor did they run a major campaign (at least not yet) … heck, most of them aren’t even old enough to vote or run for office.

We’re talking about the students of Mrs. Kelly Payne’s civics class at Dutch Fork High School.

In the last few days, this bunch has gotten attention in the blogging world after they got a visit from our friends Representatives Nathan Ballentine and Nikki Haley. We decided to check them out after they got praise from Richard Eckstrom when he spoke down in the Lowcountry last week.

Every call we made confirmed this bunch is the real deal – they're fired up about the need for reform, doing their homework on the issues, and ready to get to work to shake things up. Their current focus is upon helping pass one of the most-needed legislative reforms – 100% roll call voting. They're written legislators and even talked about having “Transparency Day” at the State House to press the case for this important reform initative. As this issue is one near and dear to the Blogland, we appreciate their support.

What we see in this bunch of students kind of reminds us of this radical rabble-rouser who stirred the pot at James Island High School back in the mid-80s - a Mohawked half-nuts headbanger with a spray-painted army jacket and an intense attitude who spoke out about a state filled with corruption and inept leaders - and got involved in politics to help make a difference. Twenty years later, that nutcase is now running things in the Blogland (but the hair is a little longer these days).

We see that same fighting spirit in this bunch and we’re excited to see that they're ready to play a role in working for a better South Carolina. Our hats are definitely off to them and we hope to see a lot of them in the months and years ahead.

Shaken, not stirred

That's the news in the Lowcountry today. At about 7.40 a.m., while getting ready for work, the house was shaken for about 4 seconds and a rumble was heard, which was initially thought to a clandestine meeting between Governor Sanford, Speaker Harell, Nikki Haley, Nathan Ballentine and Ashley Landess. Or maybe a Marine fighter pilot getting a little fast during the morning flight time.

But it turn out to be a geniune real live earthquake and was felt from Summerville to Goose Creek to Moncks Corner, possibly caused by the same fault line which caused the great earthquake of 1888 (which is about a half mile from the home of yours truly). The official Richter Scale reports rated it a mere 3.6, which is far stronger than the half dozen or so 2 point something tremors that hit the Dorchester Road side of Summerville every year, but still pretty minor.

There were no reports of damage, but we've gotten a flurry of calls and emails from everyone wanting to know what went down and if all is well -it is, but thanks for checking in with us!

So that's the news. Go back to work everyone.

Richard Eckstrom brings transparency crusade to the Lowcountry

Last Saturday, State Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom, called it like he saw it in Summerville at the December meeting of the Lowcountry GOP breakfast club, where he talked about his ongoing efforts to increase transparency in state governmental finances ... and the Blogland was there for the show.

Concerned that "government's never been that open", he talked about his latest initiative, the state's Spending Transparency website, where monthly and annual spending reports for state agencies are posted on the web. He also talked about his efforts to make this program available for local-level governments, working with banks to help local governments make their transaction data available online.

Eckstrom also passed out copies of this much-easier to read "Citizens Report", giving the highlights of state government finances for 2008.

We've been
big fans of his contined calls for increased transparency in state government, which is part of his mission to promote fiscal accountability. It's just the right thing to do and we're glad this guy is leading the charge for real fiscal reform in state government.

By the way – the group meets there every second Saturday at 9am sharp. It’s always a good show, so if you’re in that neck of the woods, don’t miss it!

On a final note ... While the Grim Reaper endorsed his opponent in 2002, he did tell us that he felt that might have a better chance at getting that crucial endorsement next time, saying “I should because I’m working my staff to death these days.”

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.

Son of Rep. Whipper killed in I-95 accident

According to The State's website:

Jasiri Whipper, a reporter for The Post and Courier of Charleston and the son of astate lawmaker, has died.

The newspaper reports the 24-year-old Morehouse University graduate was struck by a car on Interstate 95 in Florence County late Thursday and died early the following day. Family members told The Post and Courier that Whipper crashed and was struck after getting out of his car to investigate.

Whipper covered North Charleston and Berkeley County.

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said Whipper was considered a friend who cared about the community.

Whipper was the son of state Rep. Seth Whipper and Carrie Whipper, and the grandson of Lucille Simmons Whipper, who served for 10 years in the state House. He also is survived by a sister.

Our prayers and condolences go out to the Whipper family.

Showing love for wisdom

Prove your love and zeal for wisdom in actual deeds.

- Quote attributed to St. Callistus Xanthopoulos, Patriarch of Constantinople (14th century, A.D.)

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.