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ISSUE 11.43
Oct. 26, 2012

RECENT ISSUES:
11/14 | 11/07 | 10/31 | 10/24

Index

News :
Minding the store
Legislative Agenda :
Ethics, voting and money
Radar Screen :
Bastion of populism
Palmetto Politics :
We're No. 2!
Commentary :
“Reform” is becoming overused word
My Turn :
Tinubu to be S.C.’s newest member of Congress?
Feedback :
Send in your thoughts
Scorecard :
Great state parks, fewer power plants
Stegelin :
Just turn it off
Number of the Week :
$5,000,000.00
Megaphone :
Fingers on a chalkboard
Tally Sheet :
Find legislative bills
Encyclopedia :
Pee Dee River

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EDITOR'S NOTE

Revenue Department hacked

ALERT
Protect yourself from identity theft

News reports Friday after our regular publication time indicate that a foreign hacker attacked the state Department of Revenue database to expose 3.6 million taxpayer Social Security numbers and almost 400,000 credit card numbers.  State officials, who reportedly learned of the hack on Oct. 10 (yes, more than two weeks ago) are offering a monitoring service for anyone whose information has been compromised.  But calls to the service were jammed and not available when we tried this afternoon.

When we couldn't get through the service, we contacted LifeLock.com to protect our information.  With the hacked data apparently available to the hacker since late August, we don't know if this action is too little, too late, but it might be something you want to look into since the state's solution apparently isn't available now.
Welcome, Upstate!

We're welcoming the to our group of newspapers across the state that publish Andy Brack's weekly commentary.  We're happy to broaden our printed reach into the Upstate and thank the folks at the
Journal for their interest in what we're doing with Statehouse Report. 
 
Other newspapers that publish Brack's column include The (Columbia) Free-Times, The (Florence) Morning News, The (Hartsville) Messenger, James Island Messenger, The (Sumter) Item,The (Walterboro) Press and Standard and West Of in the West Ashley part of Charleston.  Support your local newspapers!

NUMBER OF THE WEEK

$5,000,000.00

That’s how much billionaire Anita Zucker has pledged to the University of South Carolina for aerospace research and workforce development in honor of her late husband Jerry. More.

MEGAPHONE

Fingers on a chalkboard

“I cringe. It’s like fingers on a chalkboard every time I hear men talk about women’s health issues.”
 
-- Former GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, who campaigned throughout South Carolina late last year and early this year.  Huntsman was criticizing comments about rape and abortion by a GOP Senate candidate in Indiana and for GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney not disavowing the Senate campaign.  See Huffington Post.

TALLY SHEET

Find legislative bills

This year's legislative session may be over, but you can still find information about bills and new laws online through the links below.

ENCYCLOPEDIA

Pee Dee River

The Pee Dee is a river system that drains northeastern South Carolina and central North Carolina. It is properly called the Great Pee Dee or more commonly the Big Pee Dee to distinguish it from one of its tributaries, the Little Pee Dee River.

One of the Carolinas’ principal rivers, the Pee Dee begins its journey in the mountains of North Carolina, where it is known as the Yadkin River, and travels 197 miles in South Carolina to meet the Atlantic Ocean in Georgetown’s Winyah Bay. Along the way, the Pee Dee receives the outflow of several smaller streams, including the Black, Little Pee Dee, Lynches, and Waccamaw Rivers, and discharges about fifteen thousand cubic feet of water per second into Winyah Bay. The Pee Dee River was named for a Native American people of the same name who inhabited the region.

For thousands of years people lived along the Pee Dee, and the river provided generously of fish, game, and waterfowl. The Native American kingdom of Cofitachiqui extended into the Pee Dee region and thrived for centuries before Europeans arrived. Spanish conquistadors entered the Pee Dee region during the 1540s–1560s, and Englishmen arrived in the early eighteenth century. By the 1730s the English had settled around Winyah Bay, and soon they were moving up the Pee Dee, establishing a village upstream at Cheraw.

The Pee Dee’s first cash crop was naval stores: the tar, pitch, and turpentine produced by the region’s pine trees and used on sailing vessels as wood preservatives and caulking. The Pee Dee backcountry was covered with ancient pine forests, and the naval-stores business thrived as thousands of barrels per year were rafted down the river bound for Europe.

By the 1730s rice was replacing naval stores as the region’s principal crop. Rice thrived in the swampy areas along the Pee Dee, and soon hundreds of fields were cleared and thousands of enslaved Africans were imported to work in them. By the 1740s blacks outnumbered whites in much of the region.

The coming of cotton about 1800 transformed the Pee Dee yet again. Thanks to cotton’s low startup costs, the Pee Dee backcountry boomed, as large flatboats propelled by African slaves carried cotton bales to Georgetown and merchandise back to eager consumers at every landing along the way.

The maturation of the cotton economy and the advent of steamboats marked a golden age of the river. By the 1820s steam-powered barges were plowing the dark waters of the Pee Dee, and river towns such as Cheraw, Georgetown, and Society Hill flourished. Steamboats soon received fierce competition from railroads, which diverted freight from Georgetown to Charleston and Wilmington, North Carolina.

Railroad expansion in the late nineteenth century and the advent of automobiles in the early twentieth century gradually replaced river transport altogether, but the Pee Dee’s importance as a water and power source increased. Population growth and industrial expansion made increasing demands on the river, and development polluted the Pee Dee with silt, chemicals, and sewage. By the 1970s environmental legislation was in place, and by century’s end the Pee Dee was much cleaner.

-- Excerpted from the entry by Eldred E. Prince Jr. 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

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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News

Minding the store

Little-known commission oversees utilities

By Bill Davis, senior editor

OCT. 26, 2012 -- In the next 10 days, the window will close on applications for one of the most important – and best paying – state jobs, one that affects the lives of nearly every South Carolinian.

And it’s one of the least-known jobs in the state. Want to know what it is?

It’s being a member of the state’s Public Service Commission, which sits as judge and jury over everything from how much of a tree a utility company can trim to, more importantly, utility rates.

The PSC’s mission has been described as a “balancing act” as its seven members must weigh the pros and cons between competing interests of rate requests that utility companies need to stay afloat and consumer needs for good, reasonably priced energy and service.

And at $102,000 a year, the job is a bargain for the state, according to state Sen. Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg). The value of each of the PSC’s commissioners’ full-time job far outstrips their pay, said Hutto, one of six legislators and six laymen who review the PSC while sitting on the Public Utilities Review Commission (PURC).

How commissioners are picked

Every two years, the PSC replenishes roughly half of its commissioners through a rigorous review and examination process. Next Friday, the PSC will stop taking applications from citizens for four spots that will be voted on by the legislature next year.

There are seven commissioners – one from each of the state’s seven congressional districts. The four slots up for grabs now were supposed to already be filled, but because of congressional redistricting, the application process was put off for a year – similar to delays in other state boards.

Once the pool of applicants is completed, PURC staffers will vet and test the potential candidates, administering tough written and oral tests and examinations to make sure the candidates have a solid knowledge of the complicated fields and issues that the board tackles.

Once done with the testing and background checks, the PURC staff will issue a report, winnowing the field to a few candidates from each district for the legislature to vote on, in full, in the coming year. PURC staffers said the report would not be completed until after the coming legislative session begins in January. From there, the commissioners each serve four-year terms.

While the Office of Regulatory Staff does investigations into rate requests and other matters, it is the PSC that sits in judgment.

S.C.’s process is different

South Carolina, as is usually the case, has a different form of public service commission than many other states. In 2004, the state reformed its process so that the entire legislature voted on its members, potentially taking out the ogre of moneyed political support.

Currently, Georgia has elected members for its Public Service Commission, and election-year politics have mired current discussions over a rate-hike request.

Michael Couick, president and CEO of The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, praised the current set-up and said that it was designed for mediation to rule the day, not politics-tinged myopia.

Couick argued that the PSC allowed the state to not be shackled to narrowing “case-by-case” decisions, but to establish broader statewide energy policy through both sides – in his case, consumer and generator – coming to the table as equals.

If it weren’t for the support of greenies like Ann Timberlake, executive director of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina, Couick’s comments could seem self-serving.

But Timberlake said she has “no stones” to throw at the PSC, but said she is worried that the public doesn’t know enough about its selection process and hearings. “There’s no conspiracy here; it’s just not very well understood,” said Timberlake.

If it were better known, then, she said there could be a bigger pool of applicants, especially from her green friends, across the state. “Up until now, it’s been a kind of ‘inside baseball’ position,” she said. 

But, she pointed out, because legislators are blocked from applying for a spot on the commission for four years after they leave the General Assembly, it hasn’t become “ golden parachute” post-retirement job.

Currently, there is only one former legislator on the PSC. Also, candidates are required to have earned at least a bachelor’s degree. One of the current commissioners only has a two-year, associate degree, but was grandfathered in under the older strictures from before the PSC was reformed.

That being said, only one of the commissioners has an advance degree, and it is in law.

Hutto, fresh from a 55-mile hike along the Appalachian Trail (with his wife – calm down), said that the vetting process and the four-year delay makes sure the PSC is largely insulated from big-money candidates and political gifting from former colleagues.

“The tests they administer make sure whoever does apply has a very large and deep skill set,” he said.

Crystal ball: Considering how complicated South Carolina’s energy future is likely to be, with fights over and between nuclear and coal and renewable energy, it better be a deep skill set.

Bill Davis is editor of Statehouse Report.  He can be reached at:  bill@statehousereport.com.

Legislative Agenda

Ethics, voting and money

  • Ethics. Gov. Nikki Haley’s blue-ribbon S.C. Commission on Ethics Reform will meet for the first time Monday at 10 a.m. in room 252 of the Edgar A. Brown Building, located at 1205 Pendleton St. Columbia.

  • Vote. The General Election is Nov. 6. Get out and vote … or else.

  • BEA. The next meeting of the state Board of Economic Advisers will be Nov. 9 at 2 p.m. in the third floor conference room of the Dennis Rembert Building in Columbia.
Radar Screen

Bastion of populism

South Carolina’s reputation as a politically ornery state may be further cemented in the upcoming General Election. With “secret” money being used to assail seated, veteran incumbents senators by tea party-related foes, it shows that no one is safe. Especially not Sen. Jake Knotts, who is being challenged by a write-in candidate, Katrina Shealy.

Palmetto Politics

We're No. 2!

A national niche business magazine, Area Development, anointed South Carolina as the second-best state in the country for business, tied with North Carolina

The magazine cited several areas of its excitement for the Palmetto State that included expansion investment from major companies like Bridgestone, BMW and Michelin. It also pointed out that the state has a cheap, ready labor force. This is an enormous turnaround from then-Gov. Mark Sanford’s tenure, when he was constantly derided for his lackluster business recruitment and job creation records. The magazine also rated South Carolina near the top in several other rankings, like economic recovery, infrastructure, and business climate. In the past, the magazine has lauded the state for similar efforts and results.

Sanders to narrate film about his baseball short story

Former U.S. Senate candidate Alex Sanders, current chairman of the Charleston School of Law, offers insights into the golden age of baseball at 9 p.m. Thursday during the broadcast of “Cards Against A Wall.”

The 25-minute film, which will be aired on SCETV’s “Southern Lens” series, takes a look at stories of three storied South Carolina baseball players -- Shoeless Joe Jackson, Van Lingle Mungo and Bobo Newsom. Of particular interest -- and where the film got its title from -- was a card trick that Sanders saw as a boy when meeting Jackson in is Greenville liquor store.

Commentary

“Reform” is becoming overused word

OCT. 26, 2012 -- “Reform.” It’s a word that used to mean something in politics.

But now, it’s so overused as a part of politicians’ daily vocabularies that it has lost a lot of its zing. It’s unclear what reform often really means.

Take “tax reform.” For Republicans, such reform really means tax cuts with little quarter to anything else. For others, it might mean tax hikes. Or it might mean putting everything on the table and overhauling the way an entity uses taxes to generate revenue.

Or “education reform.” For some, it means changing the education system to provide more choices, such as adding more charter schools, letting home-schooled children take part in sporting activities at public schools or injecting vouchers into the mix. In other words, this kind of education reform fiddles with what exists at the expense of current public schools.

But for others, “education reform” means improving what exists, in part, by strengthening current programs while resisting changes to them at the same time. In other words, some public education proponents don’t want public schools weakened by conservative change because schools are already underfunded. Instead, their “reform” is for more resources dedicated to existing schools to make them better so all children get a better chance.

Or look at “ethics reform,” a new hot topic after a few years of scandals. For some, using the rhetoric of “ethics reform” sounds good on the stump or bully pulpit, but politicians have been talking about changes to ethics laws (particularly around elections) since approving big changes 20 years ago after the Operation Lost Trust scandal that zapped more than two dozen careers.

Others say they’re serious about “ethics reform.” Gov. Nikki Haley, under the microscope twice this year on ethics allegations from her days of being a House member, has proposed a special commission led by two former attorneys general -- Republican Henry McMaster and Democrat Travis Medlock. This commission offers promise, unless it ends up like another recent reform effort -- the work of the Republican-packed Taxation Realignment Commission, which took a serious look at “sales tax reform” in 2010 but whose compelling report collects dust on bookshelves around the Statehouse.

Bottom line: Listen carefully when you hear the word “reform” and make sure you understand whether the speaker is talking fluff or real stuff.

* * *

ALSO ON OUR RADAR this week is a news report that highlights South Carolina as the country’s second best place for business.   Location consultants with Area Development magazine rated the state second for its overall business environment and overall labor climate “because of its competitive labor costs and leading work force development programs,” such as ReadySC, which has trained more than 250,000 workers for almost 2,000 companies.

The magazine noted nearly $5 billion in investment and 13,190 new manufacturing jobs in 2011, including more than 4,700 automotive-related jobs and $2.7 billion in capital investment in that sector. It mentioned Bridgestone America’s $1.2 billion manufacturing investment and expansion, BMW’s $900 million expansion and Michelin’s almost $1 billion expansion in S.C. operations.

For policymakers, all of this success begs the question: If our state is so attractive for business, why do you keep trying to cut taxes on corporations, a move that would continue to cut state coffers strapped for much of the last decade? Businesses obviously find South Carolina attractive now despite its corporate tax code. So why mess with it?

Instead of fixing problems that don’t exist, we encourage state lawmakers to take a serious look at changing the whole tax code -- reforming it, if you would -- so it cuts taxes in some places and, if necessary, raises them in others to even the burden on all people across the state. 

Look at the TRAC report on ways to cut sales taxes and reduce rates. Reconsider income tax brackets to modernize them for today’s knowledge economy. Review property tax laws and how schools are funded. 

Taking a systemic, thoughtful look at taxation will serve the state well in the future to make it more competitive in the long run.

Andy Brack is publisher of Statehouse Report.  You can reach Brack at: brack@statehousereport.com.

Spotlight

AARP

The public spiritedness of our underwriters allows us to bring Statehouse Report to you at no cost.  In today's issue, we shine the spotlight on  AARP,  a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with a membership that helps people 50+ have independence, choice and control in ways that are beneficial and affordable to them and society as a whole. AARP does not endorse candidates for public office or make contributions to either political campaigns or candidates. We have staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Learn more about AARP's work in South Carolina by visiting this Web site.
My Turn

Tinubu to be S.C.’s newest member of Congress?

By Kevin Alexander Gray
Special to Statehouse Report

OCT. 26, 2012 -- No woman has served in Congress from South Carolina since Liz Patterson left office in 1992. Voters will have the opportunity to change that on Nov. 6 should Coastal Carolina University professor and Democrat Gloria Tinubu defeat Republican Horry County Council Chairman Tom Rice.

For years I thought that the only way that South Carolina might have three African American congressional reps was if a cumulative voting system were put in place. Sixth District Democratic Congressman Jim Clyburn also once supported such a proportional electoral arrangement. The reason was that the state’s 4.6 million population is one-third black and representation should reflect that fact.

Like many, I also thought that if the Palmetto State ever had three African American representatives they would all be Democrats. Republican tea party darling First District Congressman Tim Scott knocked that theory on its ear.

Even so, Clyburn’s primary support of state Rep. Ted Vick over Tinubu until he was forced out of the race by scandal -- and then Preston Brittain, a Myrtle Beach attorney and desperation candidate who also had the backing of the Democratic Party establishment -- wasn’t so surprising. Both Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian and former gubernatorial nominee Vincent Sheheen were against her.

So, for Clyburn, being an establishment leader trumped racial solidarity. In handily besting Brittain, Tinubu beat the establishment in a primary race and runoff that Marion County Democratic Party Chairman Lee Walter Jenkins said was “elitist and stink[ed] of undercover racism.”

It’s also fair to say that Tinubu, who had moved back to her home state six months prior to running, was an unknown factor. So that some saw her as a “carpetbagger” of sorts was to be expected.

Yet even if she weren’t a Georgetown native, she would not have been the first person to run in a state or district that she had just moved to. Robert Kennedy and Hillary Clinton moved to New York to run for the U.S. Senate. Both had the backing of the Democratic establishment when they changed their addresses.

Another rap against Tinubu is that she’s too “liberal” if not too “radical” for South Carolina with her Green Party history, progressive leanings, support of “Obamacare” and close relationship with organized labor. The latter scored her an early endorsement from the South Carolina AFL-CIO. Tinubu was the first candidate in at least 16 years to hold a news conference touting a labor endorsement according to former state president Donna DeWitt. Tinubu argues that “S.C. became a right-to-work state decades ago and still ranks worst nationally in many economic measures.”

But that’s how politics works. One first organizes their base. Obviously, Tinubu’s primary opponents didn’t have much of a base to build onto when one gets right down to it. In addition, white Democrats in the South often campaign as conservatives or “Republican-lite” to appeal to white voters.

The racism on the part of the Democratic establishment wasn’t so “undercover.” They operated under the “presumption” that a district with a black voting population somewhere around 32 percent overall or, a Democratic primary where a disproportionally high number of voters are African Americans, would simply dismiss a woman whose political, work and academic credential are top-notch by branding her as a flake or someone unable to compete with any white man – Democrat or Republican.

As Columbia activist Brett Bursey said of the Democratic establishment prior to Tinubu’s runoff victory against Brittain: “I would say that part of their strategy may be based on some presumption that a black woman can’t win in 7th District.”

Presently, Rice and the Republicans seem to have the same unspoken “presumption” to go along with the “too liberal for S.C.” rap that’s tossed at any Democrat.

Can Tinubu win? Well, that remains to be seen. In most polling, she’s a double-digit underdog. Yet in a presidential election year with expected higher than normal black turnout for Barack Obama, she may just benefit from his short coattails.

Tinubu has also performed well in local debates challenging “Project Blue,” an economic development deal championed by Rice and others on Horry County Council. She accused the chairman of “pushing for the project to benefit of his friends, business partners and campaign contributors through the sale of the land and other costs at the expense of taxpayers.” Rice also doesn’t have the energy of the tea party movement behind him, although he has traditional Republican backing in his corner.

The new 7th District takes in Florence, Darlington, Chesterfield, Horry, Marlboro, Georgetown, Williamsburg, Dillon and Marion counties. In 2008, Obama beat John McCain in the smaller counties of Marion, Dillon and Williamsburg by significant margins. Darlington was a virtual tie at 49.58 percent for McCain to 49.45 percent for Obama. McCain won Florence, Chesterfield and Georgetown by margins that ranged from two to six points. Horry and Marlboro are the most Republican counties in the district. Horry is the most populous and has the most registered voters of any county in the district.

So a few points here or there from an energized black electorate, the women’s vote and an increased white Democratic or crossover vote could yield a November surprise.

And what a good surprise it would be. A Tinubu victory would bring gender and ideological diversity to a South Carolina delegation that has an overabundance of right-wing ideologues and an often overly-cautious Democrat.

Kevin Alexander Gray is a Columbia writer and community organizer.  On Facebook.

Feedback

Send in your thoughts

PUBLISHER'S NOTE:  Let me thank everyone who wrote kind notes and made calls after reading last week's column on the passing of Peatsy Hollings, wife of former U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings.  Most of those notes were private so we decided to keep them all private.  But thanks.  -- ACB

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We generally publish all comments about South Carolina politics or policy issues, unless they are libelous or unnecessarily inflammatory. One submission is allowed per month. Submission of a comment grants permission to us to reprint. Comments are limited to 250 words or less.  Please include your name and contact information.

Scorecard

Great state parks, fewer power plants

State parks. A banner year leads officials to speculate that state parks may become self-sufficient within two years. More.

Environment. Utilities across the state are going forward with plans to close in the near future at least 17 different electricity-generating plants that rely on coal and oil. More.

Joblessness. The state’s unemployment rate dropped by a half-percent in September, the second steepest drop in state history, to 9.1 percent – which is still too high and 8th highest in the nation. More.

Lost pay. The cost of restoring lost public school teacher pay across the state from years of salary freezes would cost $67 million. More.

‘Secret’ money. Political groups with unnamed members are affecting state races. More.

Medicaid. Tony Keck, the director of the state Department of Health and Human Services, told senators this week that state Medicaid program may exceed its budget in the coming year. More.

Stegelin

Just turn it off


Also from Stegelin: 10/19 | 10/12 | 10/5 | 9/28
credits

Statehouse Report

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

Phone: 843.670.3996

© 2002 - 2014 , Statehouse Report LLC. Statehouse Report is published every Friday by Statehouse Report LLC, PO Box 22261, Charleston, SC 29413.
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 http://www.statehousereport.com/.