Will South Carolina take the yellow brick road?
By Bill Davis, senior editorJULY 25, 2014 -- How far is South Carolina from going down the same road as Kansas? According to MapQuest, there’s more than 1,000 miles separating the two states.
But politically, the two states seem closer, more aligned, with more parallels.
That may become a problem for South Carolina if it follows the example of Kansas GOP Gov. Sam Brownback’s leadership and ultra-conservative promises of growth through Reaganesque trickle-down economic policies that have actually slowed the economic recovery there, according to national observers.
Right now, Brownback’s tax-cutting and blood-letting at state agencies is causing the governor serious problems. Because he hasn’t delivered promised economic gains, close to 100 former and current Republican officials in that state are openly endorsing his Democratic challenger, Paul Davis.
In Kansas -- the place that used to be a New Deal Democratic state that became solid Republican, as outlined in the political classic, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” by Thomas Frank.
Birds of a feather
Consider that Kansas and South Carolina are led by conservative Republican governors with national office aspirations -- Nikki Haley here and Brownback there.
Both states are small, with our population close to 4 million and Kansas’ close to 3 million. Both states’ economies are improving, but still lagging nationally and regionally, according to federal matrices.
Both states have conservative political pasts, but with Kansas being more likely to elect Democrats to the top state office than South Carolina, as evidenced by the two terms that Kathleen Sebelius served before being pulled into the Obama administration to run Health and Human Services for five years.
Both governors have attempted purges in their respective state legislatures, with Brownback being far more successful than Haley. Haley has taken criticism for shrinking cabinet agency staffs, as management problems and crises have begun to pile up.
Both governors have pushed to avoid Medicaid expansion and fought successfully to “opt out” of Obamacare, with Kansas privatizing much of its public health care programs.
Burdette Loomis, a Kansas University political science professor and former Sebelius gubernatorial staffer, said Brownback used the extremely negative reaction toward Obamacare to limit the political choices Republicans have in Kansas.
Thanks to the reception that Obamacare received there, Brownback was able to purge many moderate Republicans from the state legislature, making it more conservative than its actual voters.
A similar shift has taken place in South Carolina, according to Scott Huffmon, a political scientist in charge of the influential polling center at Winthrop University, but via different path.
Huffmon holds that while the constant redrawing of districts has made them safer for incumbents to hold onto office, the primaries also have become de facto elections. This has come to mean, according to Huffmon, that candidates become more beholden to the most entrenched members of their parties.
As a result, politicians have become either more Democratic or more Republican, and thereby more estranged from their districts’ likely political middles.
A horse of a different color
There are differences, too. Beyond not having true mountains or a beach or a discernible tourist industry, Kansas is far less ethnically diverse than South Carolina, according to Gibbs Knotts, chair of the political science department at the College of Charleston.
In South Carolina, Knotts, said, there is a larger black population, which gives the state Democratic Party a base to build from. In Kansas, diversity is more akin to bread choices at a diner: white and wheat.
Politically, Huffmon said Kansans were “upstarts” at being crazy, while South Carolinians “went pro a long time ago.”
KU’s Loomis said regardless of Kansas’s entry onto the political insanity timeline, that “both states seem to be playing from the same book” by relying on discredited tax breaks and cuts to rebound the economy.
As accomplished in recent years in South Carolina, Brownback’s state tax and services cuts have created major stresses down the line at the county and municipal government levels, which have to do the unenviable: raise taxes.
But this may be the biggest difference: While the state’s Local Government Fund has been cut this year yet again, the blood isn’t on Haley’s hands. It’s on legislators’ hands.
In South Carolina, thanks to its 1895 constitution, the legislature can, and does, dominate the office of governor.
And that could be the biggest obstacle for South Carolina going down the road to becoming the next Kansas -- if the legislature doesn’t agree with Haley, its members can shut her down.
Unlike Kansas, Haley’s political allies in the legislature are few, though growing. Considering how much many members of her own party in the legislature dislike her and her policies publicly, privately and politically, it will be a long while before Haley can follow in the steps of Brownback, according to a well-placed Republican operative.
This year, that may be Haley’s saving grace. Unfettered, Brownback is now becoming more and more unpopular, and less and less likely to win reelection. For Haley, polls are tightening, but she’s still ahead -- by a nose.
A vine-covered tobacco barn in the middle of a cotton field signals changing times in agriculture in the South and in the Cedar Swamp community of Williamsburg County, S.C., where this barn is located. Photo by Linda W. Brown. More.
Riley Institute series focuses on working poorNo major meetings were scheduled for the General Assembly at the time of publication.
But take a look at an opportunity to learn more about the struggles of the working poor and the issues they face in a compelling four-week series recently started by the Riley Institute at Furman University.
“Can’t Win for Losing: The Crisis of the Working Poor” highlights a critical issue facing the state and much of the nation. The series focuses on who and where are the working poor, and what issues confront them.
In an email invitation on the discussions, which are held in the Yount Conference Center in Shaw Hall at 6:30 p.m., the Institute noted, “South Carolina politicians proudly report that the state’s unemployment rate is down to the lowest level in six years, and that is great news. Still, are low-wage workers better off? Are those on the bottom rung finding a way to improve their circumstances?” Ahead:
- July 29: “Questioning the American Dream: Families and neighbors living on the brink,” with Furman professor Kyle Longest and Richmond (Va.) deputy health department director Danny Avula.
- Aug. 5: “Chasing the American Dream: What does it take to climb the income ladder?” with Sarah Sattelmeyer of the Pew Charitable Trusts, Tammi Hart of Day and Zimmerman, and Dawn Dowden of Homes of Hope.
- Aug. 12: “Revitalizing the American Dream” with former Spartanburg Mayor Bill Barnet and Carol Naughton of Purpose Built Communities. There also will be a roundtable discussion with several people and hosted by Mark Quinn.
Each session should be available to watch online a few days after it is over, including the July 22 discussion with Furman professor Jessica Hennessey and S.C. Reps. Gilda Cobb Hunter (D-Orangeburg) and Kenny Bingham (R-Lexington).
Also next week:
- Addressing the education needs of rural South Carolina. David Johns, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, will be part of a forum and panel discussion 4:15 p.m. July 30 on education needs of rural South Carolinians. Among those participating in the forum, which will be in the USC School of Law auditorium, are AT&T S.C. president Pam Lackey, former U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission chair Inez Tenenbaum, Lemuel Watson, dean of the USC College of Education, and Bud Ferillo, producer of the “Corridor of Shame” film. More.
You can now easily search expired terms
The list highlighting the hundreds of people serving in unexpired terms on state boards and commissions is down to 52 pages from the 83 pages highlighted last year in Statehouse Report.
And to be fair, the list now also includes folks whose terms will expire over the next year. But there’s still a bunch of people serving in state positions who haven’t been reappointed by the governor, legislature or other group. Look at the list by clicking here.
But there’s a new twist to the whole thing: S.C. Secretary of State Mark Hammond called this week to tell us about how his office has created a neat new database for people to use to figure out where open spots are in their area. (In other words, you won’t have to scan through pages after pages of information to find something; now a computer will do it for you.” Here’s what the entry page of the new searchable database looks like:
Use the database.
Last year, Hammond told us how the list was updated twice a year, but he hoped to get funding to transform the list into an automated transparency and accountability tool. He got the funding and now, after eight months of programming work, the new tool is rolling out for taxpayers (and voters as Hammond is also running for re-election.)
“I just think it is very beneficial to the state,” Hammond said about the new search tool. “I think that people who want to serve on these boards and commissions now have a place to go.” Using the list’s search, you can look up opportunities by position and by name of the current member. The database now is updated daily, Hammond said.
State's poverty areas remind writer of east Africa
By Andy Brack, editor and publisher
JULY 25, 2014 -- Talented, internationally-respected travel writer Paul Theroux has a terrifying verdict for poor, rural places in South Carolina: They remind him of parts of eastern Africa.
In the July issue of Smithsonian magazine, Theroux wrote of a journey through the “other South” -- the parts away from prosperous cities, commercial factories, tourists’ frenzies, classical concerts and golf courses.
“This other Deep South, with the same pride and with deep roots -- rural, struggling, idyllic in places and mostly ignored -- was like a foreign country to me.” He outlined how he decided to travel the region’s rural backroads to discover it, just as he had done all over the world, and to concentrate on the “human architecture, in particular the overlooked: the submerged fifth” of Southerners at the bottom.
About a year ago, Theroux showed up in Allendale County, one of the poorest counties in the country where about four in 10 people live below the federal poverty level. As described in the article, he found decay, ruin and emptiness along U.S. Highway 301, once a bustling north-south artery now dried up thanks to Interstate 95. He described Allendale as “the ghost town on the ghost highway.”
“The presence of Indian shopkeepers, the heat, the tall dusty trees, the sight of plowed fields, the ruined motels and abandoned restaurants, the somnolence hanging over the town like a blight -- and even the intense sunshine was like a sinister aspect of that same blight -- all these features made it seem like a town in Zimbabwe.”
But while Theroux’s first impression of Allendale was dismal, he found hope when talking to people like former state Rep. Wilbur Cave who now runs Allendale County Alive. The nonprofit works to improve housing and the community. Over the years, the organization has helped people purchase better homes. It also has purchased homes and upfitted them to increase the community’s rental properties and develop a sustainable revenue stream to allow the organization to continue. Allendale County Alive also provides microloans to help local residents start businesses successfully and works to engage officials and businesses to try to get more food stores in the area.
In an interview this week, Cave said Theroux didn’t shy away from the community’s challenges in his two visits. What Theroux’s article “The Soul of the South” opened his eyes to, he said, was that it didn’t compare Allendale and its challenges to nearby Bamberg, Barnwell or Hampton counties, or to other areas in the state. It viewed the area through Theroux’s lens as an experienced traveler of the world.
“As bad as some of the facts are, we’d like to think we’re not that bad, but that was the theme he felt.”
In the magazine story, which also featured communities in Mississippi and Alabama, Cave described how the whole area needed help, but if the state is to change, its worst places have to change. Not all of those changes will cost money, but he said money was “the straw that stirs the drink.”
This week, Cave continued to be optimistic about the area pulling itself up by its bootstraps, despite all of its challenges.
“The old adage is how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Cave added, “In spite of all of the negativity, we’re trying to do some positive things here. We know that it’s tough sledding, but we’re going to continue to do what we do.”
To hear such optimism in a place with so many problems is refreshing.
But unless our state starts seriously investing people and resources into our poorest areas, such as the counties around Allendale County and a similar area between Marion and Chesterfield counties, we’ll stay at the bottom, just like we’ve been since the Civil War.
Folks, it’s an election year. Listen closely to politicians who want your vote. You’ll be surprised how many of them blather on about urban economic development, accountability and more. But do you ever hear anything about the poverty that squeezes almost a million of our residents?
We can’t keep ignoring poverty in South Carolina. Or do we just want to remain at the bottom?
Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
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Creating a culture of investing locally
By Frank Knapp Jr.
S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce
Special to Statehouse Report
JULY 25, 0214 -- The unemployment rate in South Carolina is holding steady at 5.3 percent. That’s good news since it was at 11.9 percent five years ago. In fact our state ranks 11th in job creation from June 2009 to June 2014 adding 7.1 percent more jobs in that time.
However, all is not well with our state’s economy. The U.S. Census Bureau has a new report out saying that 35.2 percent of us live in “poverty areas,” communities with at least 20 percent of our neighbors living in poverty. That shocking figure is up from one out of five South Carolinians living in “poverty areas” just 10 years ago. (Read recent Statehouse Report story on poverty areas.)
Obviously we need more jobs but generating them by trying to attract more large manufacturers to the state isn’t the best plan. S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley acknowledged this recently saying that we should now be training our unemployed to work at our existing businesses and the state should be helping these businesses expand.
But the fact is that while recruiting and retaining larger manufacturers has been somewhat successful in South Carolina, we still have ever growing “poverty areas.” Simply adding to the worker rolls of our current manufacturers will not change this trend.
What we need is a new emphasis on job creation, one that increases jobs on every Main Street in our state and that can more easily impact our geographically dispersed “poverty areas.”
Nationwide, most net new jobs, according to the Kaufman Foundation, are created by businesses less than five years of age. Most of these are, naturally, small businesses. These small businesses and start-ups can grow anywhere. They are mobile, entrepreneurial driven, and if technology-based, can be created anywhere in the state.
We have the entrepreneurs who want to start businesses and small business owners who want to grow. But what we don’t have is the access to capital that these job-creators need.
Traditionally start-ups and small business owners bankroll themselves with their own money or money from relatives and friends. Some are fortunate to obtain a loan from a financial institution. But there are many more who cannot generate the funds personally or a loan is not possible due to the lack of personal collateral or the lender is not willing to provide the amount of money needed.
Credit cards, friends, family and financial institutions aren’t sufficient to grow the numbers of small business job-creators that we must have. We need to invigorate and create alternative new funding mechanisms to launch hundreds of start-ups and expand small businesses that are waiting to grow in every county in this state.
So where will the money for these businesses come from?
You and I have always heard that South Carolina is a poor state. But the reality is that we have large sums of money in the hands of private citizens of every income bracket who religiously send their investment money to Wall Street. Tapping into these assets is the key to really growing our economy from the bottom up and raising the per capita income of all South Carolinians.
To do this, we need to create in South Carolina a culture of investing locally. If we encourage and make it easy to keep in our state just 5 percent to 10 percent of private investment funds, we can change the dynamics of our local and state economies. We can create jobs in every county, in every “poverty area” and even in the severely economically depressed I-95 corridor where 80 percent or more of our fellow citizens live in “poverty areas.”
We can turn every South Carolinian into an investor or lender. Some of the vehicles to do this are already legal and available. Others are on the way.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Knapp will write more about “Creating a Culture of Investing Locally” in a coming issue.
Knapp is the president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce and the recipient of the Small Business Administration’s 2014 South Carolina Small Business Financing Advocate of the Year.
Not named “Aurelius”To the editor:
Charles Aurelius Smith was my great-grandfather. My cousin sent us a link to your recent commentary (her father, my uncle, for whom I was named, was another "Charles Aurelius Smith") and my mother asked me to print a copy for her files. Then she asked me, "Aren't you glad we didn't name you 'Aurelius?'"
-- Charles("Chuck") E. Smith, Santa Barbara, Calif.
Right to associate should have been considered
To the editor:
Your article on discrimination has some interesting points. You could have deepened it by addressing the right to associate, which also has the right not to associate. Some organizations by definition discriminate. Must women's colleges be forced to accept men or have their public money withheld until they do? Should the Knights of Columbus be forced to enroll Buddhists and be censored if a Buddist is not allowed to be the top knight? Gnarly issues that need illumination.
-- Frank Leister, Charleston, S.C.
Excellent questions raised by corruption article
To the editor:
I just finished reading Fritz Jonkers’ piece titled, “Corruption: A social issue?” Excellent writing on the part of Mr. Jonkers and excellent questions raised.
It brought to mind a short piece I read some time ago on the subject of Noble Cause Corruption, where the ends are deemed as justifying the means . . . any means necessary depending on the supposed righteousness of the end. Good stuff!
-- Tigerron Wells, Columbia, S.C.
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Not a lot to be proud about
Ervin. Now securely on the November ballot and with polls tightening, independent Republican Tom Ervin is likely to have a serious impact on who will be the next governor. Can you say “Perot effect?” More.
Legislature. A new poll shows half of South Carolinians are dissatisfied with the work of the S.C. General Assembly. Is anybody really surprised? More.
About time. The beleaguered state Department of Social Services, after months of inquiry about the job it is doing protecting children, now says it needs 202 more caseworkers and supervisors. What do you say about that (former) director Lillian Koller? More.
Political reward? After losing the GOP lieutenant governor’s primary, former first son Mike Campbell gets a $116,000 a year job with the state. Again, anybody really surprised in this state? More.
S.C. Supreme Court. It’s not good for accountability and transparency for the state’s highest court to exempt autopsy records from the state Freedom of Information Act. The records are for DEAD people, so where’s the presumption of privacy? More.