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ISSUE 11.06
Feb. 10, 2012

12/12 | 12/05 | 11/28 | 11/21


News :
More bills for the unemployed
Legislative Agenda :
One out, one in
Radar Screen :
Administrative hand-wringing
Palmetto Politics :
House closer on retirement, tax reform
Commentary :
Statesman Leventis will leave a big void
Spotlight :
S.C. Association of Counties
My Turn :
An agenda for change
Feedback :
Drop us a line
Scorecard :
From colleges to Templeton to Zais
Stegelin :
Rubik's cube
Megaphone :
What would The Donald say?
Tally Sheet :
Few new bills

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That’s how many personal and sick days Superintendent of Schools Mick Zais missed in his first 11 months of work, bringing stern criticism from Senate Democrats. Zais missed six days due to illness, and 29 personal days to raise money, attend a stamp collecting conference and other events, like his son’s wedding. More.


What would The Donald say?

“They posted a job description you don’t fit.”

-- State Sen. Brad Hutto (R-Orangeburg), commenting during a Senate panel confirmation hearing on the candidacy of Catherine Templeton to become the next head of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control. Hutto noted that the department advertised for a candidate with a background that included a degree in health or environmental management, among others, and that Templeton, a lawyer heading up the state’s labor agency, had none of the advertised requirements. Templeton defended her people and bureaucratic management skills. More.


Few new bills

Few major bills were introduced this week, but these may be of interest:

Financing. S. 1178 (L. Martin) calls for the end to most governmental financing agreements.

Tuition. S. 1193 (Rose) would limit the authority of college and university boards to increase tuition above a formula, with other provisions.

Exotic critters. S. 1204 (Thomas) calls for the “Exotic Animal and Reptile Control and Deregulation Act,” with several provisions about owning exotic animals.

Compulsory education. H. 4727 (Govan) would require kids to stay in school until they are 18, with provisions.

Religious symbols. H. 4728 (G.R. Smith) would restrict the remedies and damages that are recoverable for someone challenging the public display of a religious symbol on public property, with provisions.

Alimony. H. 4738 (Govan) would change alimony laws to make payments stop on “cohabitation,” rather than “continued cohabitation,” with several provisions.

Freedom of information. H. 4740 (Murphy) would add exceptions to the state’s Freedom of Information law by exempting release of information used in prospective law enforcement actions or criminal prosecutions, including victim and witness information, with several provisions.

Under oath. H. 4741 (Ott) would require people who testify before House subcommittees or committees to do so under oath.

Board limits. H. 4759 (Funderburk) would prohibit a gubernatorial appointee to a board or commission from serving more than 60 days in a holdover capacity after the member’s term has expired.

Quicker divorces. H. 4760 (McLeod) would shorten the period to receive a divorce on the grounds of continuous separation from one year to 150 days. H. 4762 (McLeod) is similar, but would be a constitutional amendment.

Peremptory challenges. H. 4772 (Pope) calls for the number of peremptory challenges in criminal cases to be the same for the state and a defendant.



When the South Carolina legislature created Sumter District in 1800, they also established the crossroads village of Sumterville as the courthouse seat. Named after the area’s most prominent resident, the Revolutionary War general and United States senator Thomas Sumter, Sumterville’s growth was painfully slowly during its early years. Justices held trials in John Gayle’s plantation home until the district erected the first courthouse and jail in 1806. The settlement was still quite small by 1812, with just one store, a tavern, and a few homes.

In the 1820s Sumterville enjoyed a growth spurt that saw the erection of several new buildings, including a courthouse designed by Robert Mills. The town was incorporated in 1845. Five years later Sumterville had ninety homes and a population of 840, including 330 African Americans. Following the arrival of the railroad, town leaders shortened the name to Sumter in 1855. During the Civil War citizens set up hospitals throughout the city for Confederate wounded. Due to the railroad and Sumter’s central location, the Confederate army turned Sumter into a distribution center for military supplies. This led to Union general Edward E. Potter’s raid through Sumter District in April 1865, during which he set up headquarters in Sumter.

Sumter swiftly recovered from the depredations of war, again due in large part to the railroads. The city built the Sumter Opera House in 1872, which quickly became both Town Hall and a cultural center. In the 1880s the city was a busy cotton market and shipping center. At the turn of the twentieth century Sumter was a major cotton and tobacco market and home to several industries, including a textile mill and an ice-manufacturing company. In 1912 the city became the first in the country to use the council-manager form of municipal government, which consisted of four elected officials (a mayor and three councillors) and a professional city manager chosen by the council. By 2001 the city retained the same model but had enlarged the council from three to six members.

As was the case in many rural towns in the second half of the twentieth century, Sumter’s downtown experienced a period of decline. For four decades citizens attempted to revitalize Sumter’s historic Main Street area. Efforts proved ineffective until the creation of the Downtown Sumter Revitalization Committee in 1997, which appointed a downtown manager, sponsored a performing-arts program, and improved parking, landscaping, and building facades. The efforts of Downtown Sumter, the city government, and residents contributed to Sumter’s strong economic and cultural base. Other institutions contributing to the city’s revitalization include the Sumter County Museum, Patriot Hall, and the Sumter Gallery of Art.

Update:  Sumter's population was 40,574 in 2010, according to the U.S. Census.

--Excerpted from the entry by Rickie A. Good. To read more about this or 2,000 other entries about South Carolina, check out The South Carolina Encyclopedia by USC Press. (Information used by permission.)


Palmetto Priorities Statehouse Report encourages state leaders to develop and implement Palmetto Priorities involving several issues to make the state better a better place. Click the link to learn more about our suggestions for bipartisan policy objectives.

Here is a summary of our Palmetto Priorities:

CORRECTIONS: Reduce the prison population by 25 percent by 2020.

EDUCATION: Cut the state's dropout rate in half by 2020.

ELECTIONS: Increase voter registration to 75 percent by 2015.

ENVIRONMENT: Adopt a state energy policy that requires energy producers to generate 20 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2020.

ETHICS: Overhaul state ethics laws.

HEALTH CARE: Ensure affordable and accessible health care.

JOBS: Develop a Cabinet-level post to add, retain 10,000 small business jobs per year.

POLITICS: Have a vigorous two- or multi-party political system of governance.

ROADS: Strengthen all bridges and upgrade state roads by 2015.

SAFETY: Cut the state's violent crime rate by one-third by 2016.

TAX REFORM: Remove outdated special interest sales tax exemptions as part of an overall reform of the state's tax structure to be completed by 2014.


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More bills for the unemployed

Five measures target people out of work

By Bill Davis, senior editor

NOTE: As part of an ongoing series, Statehouse Report will offer a look into policy proposals that would impact the state's most vulnerable citizens.  In this issue, editor Bill Davis focuses on bills related to unemployment benefits.

FEB. 10, 2012 -- A series of Republican-backed bills that could directly affect South Carolinians on the receiving end of state unemployment checks has drawn sharp rebukes from critics who contend that the out-of-work are being asked to shoulder too much of the burden of the state’s weak economy and mistakes already made by state government.

Consider that between April 2008 and January 2011, the state’s unemployment rate more than doubled, from barely under 6 percent to just under 12 percent, according to government data.

The current unemployment rate of 9.5 percent, then, has been hailed as an improvement, despite the number of residents out of work increasing by close to 40,000 in that nearly four-year span.

Setting the stage

Before the unemployment rate went South, legislators cut the amount levied on employers to pay for unemployment benefits. Why? Because they thought the fund had too much money in it. 

But as the economies of the state, nation and world started to spiral down, whispers began that the state’s unemployment fund might be unstable if the state were hit with a wave of the unemployed. Then in a huge failure of alarm when the unemployment rate started rising, the few whispers went unheeded and finger-pointing soon began. Not too long later, the state’s unemployment agency’s debt grew to about $1 billion.

Some legislators claim that the agency, since overhauled and renamed the Department of Education and Workforce (DEW), understated the problem and under-informed the legislature to the scope of the looming deficit.

Other lawmakers say that the reason the agency’s deficit ballooned so much was that politicians at the time were wary of increasing employer contributions to the unemployment insurance trust fund because it was seen as raising taxes, an anathema to political success in South Carolina.

Partly as a result of the tumult, four bills have emerged that seek to right the out-of-work ship. The question, though, is are they righting the ship by using struggling out-of-work families as ballast?

Tightening the noose

Companion bills in the House and Senate would require those receiving unemployment be subject to drug testing, and that those who test positive be removed from the government dole.

Another bill would levy more serious punishments on unemployment check recipients who provide false statements in their applications or weekly updates.

And a third measure would require the unemployed to accept jobs that pay less and less as their time as recipients increases.

Wanting to get in on the act, Gov. Nikki Haley has also ordered DEW to stop unemployment benefits to workers on strike. A companion bill has been introduced.

Sen. Paul Campbell (R-Goose Creek) may have the least criticized bill of the lot. Campbell wants to have unemployment recipients “volunteer” 16 hours a week at local schools, parks and the like.

Campbell argues that such a requirement will get the out-of-work out of the house and into the working world where they will be better able to network. Critics point out that if people are required to do something, they can’t be considered volunteers. 

What critics say

Critics say bills that target the unemployed are bad for the state. Victoria Middleton of the state’s ACLU chapter and Sue Berkowitz of the state’s Johnny Appleseed Legal Justice Center said they worried such bills put the burden on the least culpable for the problems: the workers.

House Minority Leader Harry Ott has joined Middleton's and Berkowitz’s chorus.

“There is no way this state’s governor, or administration, or Republican Party can say they are looking out for the working people of South Carolina,” said Ott.

State Sen. Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) lumps the “assault” on unemployment benefits as election year politics, and says they are clearly “punitive toward the workers.” Hutto foresees a tough floor battle for any of the bills, with Democrats attaching untenable amendments to the bills in an attempt to kill them.

Who is paying for all this?

Not so fast, says Otis Rawl, president and chief operating officer of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce. Rawl said employers and businesses are paying their portion, if not more, of the DEW deficit via changes and increases to the unemployment trust fund.

Rawl said the Chamber was asked to consult on several of the bills being proffered.

House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham (R-Cayce) has big problems with the DEW deficit being laid at the feet of the legislature. “Don’t blame me for something I didn’t know about,” he said referring to the fight as to whether DEW’s predecessor did enough to alert legislators to the mounting problem.

Those looking for blame may want to cast an eye at Democrats, like Ott and Hutto, and ask the question, “What are you guys doing?” Ott agrees that, so far, that no Democrat has filed a single bill in response to the GOP’s slew.

“Could we be doing more?” asks Ott, demurely. “Yes.”

Laughing, Ott said he has been inspired by the story of a Democratic member of the Virginia General Assembly who has proposed a bill that if women are required to view an ultrasound of a fetus before having an abortion, then men should have to subject themselves to a rectal exam prior to receiving a prescription for erectile dysfunction.

Crystal ball: Creating another class of laws for the unemployed won’t be popular on the floor of the Senate or the House. It will make great fodder back home on the campaign trail. The fight to get all the unemployed drug-tested -- versus cheaper and arguably more effective random testing -- brings back memories of the 1986 U.S. Senate debate when then-incumbent Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) responded to a challenge by Republican candidate Henry McMaster to take a drug test with the quip that he’d be happy to do so if McMaster would “take an I.Q. test.”

Bill Davis is editor of Statehouse Report.  He can be reached at:

Legislative Agenda

One out, one in

The House will be on furlough next week, so expect slightly less work than usual. (Cue rimshot).

In the Senate, work is getting closer on a Department of Administration (see Radar below). There has been scheduled a host of subcommittee meetings next week dealing with a wide-range of issues affecting small slivers of the state’s population; if interested, please go to and refer to the scrolling index on the right side.

  • Senate LCI.  A subcommittee will meet Wednesday at 9 a.m. in 308 Gressette to discuss bills that would create an economic crisis study committee, and protect the state’s incandescent light bulb industry. More.

  • Senate Fish, Game, Forestry. The full committee will meet at 10 a.m. Wednesday in 209 Gressette to discuss a bill that would expand the Department of Natural Resources board, as well as a handful of hunting-related bills. More.

Radar Screen

Administrative hand-wringing

Gov. Nikki Haley, pictured at right, this week criticized the state Senate for how much time it was taking coming up with a bill to create her much-desired Department of Administration. Word out of the Statehouse is that once issues surrounding revamping the state’s retirement system are handled, then the Senate can complete its work on where the Budget and Control Board’s duties will be handled, then the Senate will produce their restructuring bill, but not before. (Remember the Senate prides itself as “the more deliberative body.”)

Haley might want to fear what she wishes, as an amendment to the bill, giving her the responsibility of the department but with legislature oversight, has been said to be the working model of what will eventually emerge.

Palmetto Politics

House closer on retirement, tax reform

The House seems to be closer to proffering a bill to revamp the state’s retirement system than the Senate due to the work by its ad hoc retirement panel, chaired by former Majority Leader James Merrill (R-Daniel Island).

Merrill, at right, said to expect a House GOP bill to include increasing the number of years an employee has to work to be fully vested in the system from the current 28 years to 30 years. He also said that there will likely be a provision that retirement benefits won’t be allowed to be accessed until a certain age, despite when the employee retires. Merrill said to also expect a drop in the expected return on investments from 8 percent to 7.5 percent. But, Merrill said, future retirees would be protected by cost of living adjustments tied to five-year economic indices and investment performance.

Rep. Tommy Stringer (R-Greer) said his tax reform panel has turned in recommendations to the House GOP Caucus that could result in as many as seven different bills being put forward. The big one would call for the reduction of two-thirds of the state’s sales tax exemptions. Note: it’s not two-thirds of the total amount of sales tax exemptions, which has been estimated at $2.7 billion annually, but the number of exemptions themselves. He said the total amount added to the state budget from the removals would be in the neighborhood of only $300 million annually. Stringer said that the exemptions would not directly affect any individual, so that exemptions on power generation or gas, or the like, wouldn’t be touched. Stringer said to expect a five-year review period on any exemptions.

House GOP unveils agenda … finally

After weeks of promises, the House GOP this week introduced its legislative agenda for 2012.  It’s short and filled with some issues rehashed year after year: tax reform, strengthening the right to work, a financially-sound retirement system, cementing the first in the South primary and pushing their 14 points from 2011’s reforms through the Senate. Alert the media.

Tilting at windmills over DHEC bill

Gov. Nikki Haley will likely veto a bill from the legislature that would suspend the state Department of Health and Environmental Control’s authority over the Savannah River. The issue a by-product of the ongoing fight between lawmakers and Haley over the agency signing off on a water-use permit that could allow Georgia’s port facilities to begin to outstrip South Carolina’s.

Will it be overturned? Yep. The House and the Senate voted unanimously recently to condemn the permit. So will the legislature’s override of the veto then kick off a political fight -- even before the election filing deadlines in March? Yep again. (Actually, the dredging uproar will kick off Round Two, considering the bashing Haley took last year from lawmakers concerning Amazon’s tax break deal.)

A potential victim of the brouhaha? Catherine Templeton, the head of the state’s labor agency who Haley nominated to head DHEC. Not only has she asked for $30,000 more annually than the previous DHEC director, but she also wants to work from the Charleston area, her home, and not from Columbia.

S.C. can choose to stop being ‘left behind’

South Carolina will soon be able to opt out of certain tough provisions of the federal government’s No Child Left Behind law, if it applies for a waiver from President Obama in the next two weeks.

State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais has long campaigned across the state against the law pushed by GOP President George W. Bush.  The waiver will allow states to have their public school students and their progress measured by more than math and reading tests. The question may be, though, whether Zais, an avowed fan of charter schools and distance learning, plans to use the waiver to create a more holistic measure of a child, or as another brickbat against the traditional method in which education is delivered in this state.


Statesman Leventis will leave a big void

FEB. 10, 2012 -- In a Statehouse filled with hot-air politicians who live inside partisan bubbles and believe their own press releases, our state needs more people like Phil Leventis.

But Leventis, a Sumter state senator for 31 years, has just announced that this legislative session will be his last.

As a result, South Carolinians -- Republicans, Democrats, independents, crotchety-types and those who let it all hang out -- will suffer for not having his kind of thoughtful, mentoring leadership.

Phil Leventis approaches politics and government practically. He fights for what he believes is best and right for the state. He doesn’t hate government, but knows it can’t solve all problems. Yes, he’s a Democrat, but he irritates people in his own party occasionally because he doesn’t follow the party line all of the time -- like the time he endorsed a sitting Republican senator over the Democratic candidate because he thought the GOPer was better for our state. And he certainly sticks in the craw of ideologically-driven Republicans when he exposes their bad ideas for just what they are.

Far from a partisan firebrand, Leventis is courteous, gracious and genteel. After 31 years, maybe he’s learned you get more done with a honeyed approach than to spit venom and invoke Jesus, brimstone, fear and division.

While Leventis is a genuinely nice guy, he’s no liberal pushover. Remember, he was a Desert Storm pilot in 1991 who flew 21 combat missions over Iraq for which he won the Distinguished Flying Cross. Leventis learned in war that the enemy fires bullets. The enemy, he knows, is not someone in the legislature who merely spouts verbal torrents. 

State Sen. Thomas Alexander, an Oconee County Republican, says Leventis will leave a leadership void that probably won’t be filled. Leventis often forces both sides to pause when they need to consider whether a policy is right for the state, Alexander observed.

“I’ve always seen him to be a constructionist, not an obstructionist.” he said. “When we’ve paused and listened, we’ve come up with a better product.

“He’s about results. He’s reasoned in his approach to things. It’s not mean-spirited, not done in a condescending way. It’s about the end product that is going to be good public policy for the citizens of our state. That’s what he’s about.”

State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, says he admires the rational way Leventis approaches public policy.

“I call him the bravest man in the Senate because he absolutely always votes how he thinks is right, regardless of the political consequences, and he is willing to speak his mind.”

Maybe that’s because of how his experience in business -- he ran a beer and wine distributorship for years -- and his military service -- he retired from the S.C. Air National Guard as a brigadier general -- blended with an inquisitive mind to try figure out practical ways of getting things done. 

An outspoken conservationist, he led successful efforts for tough rules for hazardous waste landfills. He fought hog megafarms. And he authored a bill for the Conservation Bank Act to protect environmentally-sensitive areas. 

His record also shows strong support for full-day kindergartens, smaller classrooms, increased teacher pay and better facilities. In fact, just look to November when he flew GOP Rep. Doug Brannon to Kentucky to show him a net-zero-energy green school. Why? So Brannon would learn a new way to build schools that could save money.

That kind of leadership made Brannon become a huge Leventis fan.

“The cool thing about Leventis is I don’t even know if he consciously thinks, ‘I’m going to teach this person something,’” Brannon observed. “He doesn’t preach. He doesn’t twist. He simply lets whatever he wants you to learn just happen in front of you. He puts you in a place to be educated.

“How can you not be a fan of a man who was a serving senator who got up and flew missions in Iraq? What a statesman.”

At 66, Leventis is healthy and full of energy. He’s not about to ride off into the sunset and stop serving the public.  But it’s hard to imagine the state Senate without his special kind of leadership.

Andy Brack, publisher of Statehouse Report, can be reached at: If you have a story about Leventis you’d like to share, send it along today.


S.C. Association of Counties

The public spiritedness of our underwriters allows us to bring Statehouse Report to you at no cost. This week's featured underwriter is the South Carolina Association of Counties. The SCAC was chartered on June 22, 1967, and is the only organization dedicated to statewide representation of county government in South Carolina. Membership includes all 46 counties, which are represented by elected and appointed county officials who are dedicated to improving county government. SCAC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that operates with a full-time staff in its Columbia offices. It is governed by a 29-member Board of Directors composed of county officials from across South Carolina. The Association strives to “Build Stronger Counties for Tomorrow” by working with member counties in the fields of research, information exchange, educational promotion and legislative reporting. More:
My Turn

An agenda for change

S.C. Sen. John C. Land III
Special to Statehouse Report

FEB. 10, 2012 -- South Carolina is stuck in the mud. We are now in the 10th year of one political party domination in this state. Our jobless rate continues to soar above the national average, our schools are neglected and our state government is not accountable to the people. Democrats in the state Senate are offering an agenda to hold government accountable, innovate economic development, support our schools and change the way our government operates.

First and foremost, trust must be restored in state government. We’ve seen story after story of public corruption from state officials – a Republican Agriculture Commissioner indicted for cock fighting, a Republican State Treasure convicted of drug charges, a Republican Governor embarrassing himself and his state with a “hike on the Appalachian trail”. The list of Republican statewide elected officials and their scandals reads like a ‘Law and Order’ script. South Carolinians are tired of their behavior and tired of being embarrassed. It’s time to give the voters the ability to remove corrupt officials from office.

Our statewide leaders need to be held accountable.

Senate Democrats are calling for giving voters the ability to recall statewide elected officials. South Carolina is currently one of 30 states that do not have recall elections. We are calling for the General Assembly to pass legislation to place a proposed amendment on the 2012 ballot to change the state Constitution to allow recall elections.

Critical to holding state government accountable is empowering people with knowledge about how their tax dollars are spent by the Legislature. Senator Vincent Sheheen has offered a simple, common sense proposal. State income tax filers will receive a receipt detailing how their tax dollars are spent. Similar to the chart many counties provide in receipts to property tax payers, Sheheen’s plan gives people a detailed view on just where their money is going.

Jobs and economic development are critical for South Carolina. Senate Democrats are calling for more proactive job recruitment and development efforts from the Department of Commerce – particularly for small businesses. Small businesses account for 97 percent of South Carolina employers and will drive our economic recovery. We are calling for a Small Business and Innovation Division in the Department of Commerce to recruit new small businesses and offer resources to retain existing small businesses.

Education has always been a priority for Democrats. We cannot expect to succeed as a state when we do not value our schools. Our current system leaves too many children behind, often in the state’s poor rural communities. It’s time to make state leaders abide by a higher standard. Senator John Matthews of Orangeburg has introduced a resolution to change the language in the state Constitution to implement a new, higher standard for the state’s support of public schools.  Matthews wants to scrap the current “minimally adequate” standard and replace it with a “high quality” education regardless of where a student lives.

Democrats will continue to hold the state’s Republican leadership accountable. We are offering an agenda to get South Carolina moving again. The majority party is still offering politics as usual and more of the status quo. We will be there to challenge these policies and fight for what’s right for the people of South Carolina. We cannot afford to continue down this path. South Carolina’s future is at stake.

  • UPDATE: A commentary on the Senate Republican agenda, originally scheduled for Feb. 20, has been delayed by the Senate Republican Caucus.

Senator John C. Land, III of Manning is the Senate Democratic Leader. He can be reached at


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From colleges to Templeton to Zais

Cheap smarts. Four South Carolina colleges made The Princeton Review’s latest of Best Value Colleges this year – Clemson, College of Charleston, USC-Columbia and Wofford. Where was the Citadel? They give you clothes! More.

Nukes. The fed just approved the first new power-generating nuclear reactors (in Georgia) in nearly 25 years. That’s good news for enemies of coal-fired energy plants and bad news for the rest of us who will have to pay for overly-expensive power that creates a possible environmental problem with its waste that lasts for millennia. More.

DHEC. A Senate panel voted unanimously, with three Democratic abstentions, to send forward the nomination of Catherine Templeton to head DHEC, despite her having no experience in that field. Supporters praised her independence and management abilities at the  state’s labor agency. More.

Transparency. Thirteen state agencies have made requests to be allowed to keep a total of 65 “secret” bank accounts, which they don’t report to the public for fear of violating citizens’ privacy or harming criminal investigations. For some reason, ahem, state Treasurer Curtis Loftis is fighting this. More.

Football. USC and Clemson’s football teams won’t be required by law to play each other every year. Aren’t there better things to spend time on? More.

Zais. Come on, Mr. Superintendent. Almost six weeks of vacation (29 days) and six sick days over 11 months? Get back to work.


Rubik's cube

Also from Stegelin: 2/3 | 1/27 1/20 | 1/13

Statehouse Report

Editor and Publisher: Andy Brack
Senior Editor: Bill Davis
Contributing Photographer: Michael Kaynard

Phone: 843.670.3996

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Excerpts from The South Carolina Encyclopedia are published with permission and copyrighted 2006 by the Humanities Council SC. Excerpts were edited by Walter Edgar and published by the University of South Carolina Press. Statehouse Report has partnered with USC Press to provide readers with this interesting weekly historical excerpt about the state. Republication is not allowed. For additional information about Statehouse Report, including information on underwriting, go to