Settling for Setzler?
New Democratic leader brings new style to Senate
By Bill Davis, senior editorNOV. 16, 2012 -- Democratic senators pulled a mildly surprising about-face this week in Columbia when their caucus voted Sen. Nikki Setzler (D-West Columbia) as their next leader in the Senate.
The soft-spoken Setzler, a 36-year veteran Democrat in the Senate, replaces the retired bombastic rhetorician John C. Calhoun Land III (D-Manning), in a unanimous vote.
Setzler’s style and political record left some surprised by the vote, which was held with little fanfare or advance notice on Veterans Day when Senate offices were closed.
State GOP chairman Chad Connelly, Setzler’s enemy on paper, said he and his colleagues were left “scratching our heads, asking, ‘Why Setzler?’”
Connelly said Setzler wasn’t “quite what Democrats stood for,” having run as a “caring conservative, never using the word ‘Democrat,’” and refused to align himself with “President Obama’s leftist policies.”
Rhetoric aside, Setzler describes himself as both a “caring conservative” and “pro-growth conservative” on his campaign Web site.
Setzler has also had a mixed voting record of late, voting to stop a state tax break for Amazon.com, voting for and against different immigration reform bills, and not voting on the state’s contentious voter I.D. bill, according to Project Vote Smart.
On the surface, Setzler’s ascension to become the new Democratic leader makes sense. He’s the ranking Democrat in the chamber. Earlier this year, Land’s heir apparent seemed poised to be one of the Democrats’ polemic pit bulls, Sen. Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg).
Hutto sprang to his new leader’s defense.
“[Sen. Setzler] will be able to bring together consensus in our caucus, as well as be able to work across the aisle to bring important bills to a resolution,” said Hutto.
Sen. Gerald Malloy (D-Darlington), on the short list to become the next minority leader, said Setzler has proved his Democratic bona fides by remaining “true to the party” for the past 36 years in one of the most conservative districts in the state.”
“In the country,” laughed Setzler, reshaping Malloy’s description. Setzler was elected by acclamation as the only name considered when Sen. John Matthews (D-Orangeburg), the ranking black senator in the caucus, declined a nomination.
Setzler said he was honored by the nomination and his election, and said they showed that “our caucus is diverse and works together for the common good of the people of this state.”
Currently with three new senators, the Senate Democratic Caucus contains 10 black senators and eight white members -- all men. Republicans have 28 state senators.
Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D-Camden) said Setzler’s victory in a district “purposefully butchered” by Republicans during reapportionment sent the message that Democrats can win in any part of the state with any demographic.
Setzler conceded there was a style difference between him and other prominent Democratic operatives in the state, including state party head Dick Harpootlian.
“My job will be to a bipartisan leader who can work with all groups in the Senate,” said Setzler.
Democrats may see their political clout rise in that chamber as mainstream Republican senators may seek alliances in certain issues with Democrats to override the growing group of ultra-conservative senators who refer to themselves as the “William Wallace Caucus.”
Winthrop political scientist Scott Huffmon saw wisdom in Setzler’s selection.
“When you are in the distinct minority, your tactics need to be different from when you’re in a near-minority, and certainly when you are the majority,” said Huffmon.
Huffmon added that Setzler’s longtime knowledge of not only the back hallways of power in Columbia, but also their “secret passages,” could be invaluable for a caucus at such a distinct numerical advantage.
Crystal ball: Setzler’s ascension brings stability to the caucus. Hutto will still be Hutto, kept on a long chain to string together rhetorical attacks on Republicans. Matthews’ stepping aside continued his legacy of statesmanship in the Senate. Going forward with redistricting potentially redlining white Democrats out of office in the future, Setzler may be the last non-white minority leader in the Senate for quite some time.
On tap next week
- Education. The Education Oversight Committee’s EIA and Improvement Mechanisms Subcommittee will meet on Monday at 10 a.m. in 433 Blatt, at which time the state Department of Education budget will be discussed. Agenda.
- LAC. The board of the state Legislative Audit Council will meet Nov. 26 at 2 p.m. in Charleston at Majestic Square, 211 King St. in the Beach Company’s 3rd floor suite. Agenda.
- Alka Seltzer? See this.
A preview of the coming legislative session will be on display Tuesday, Dec. 4 at 11 a.m. when the House begins a two-day a special organization session. The following two Tuesdays will allow House members to pre-file legislation. To see what is being pre-filed, go to http://www.scstatehouse.gov/prefil13.php, after Dec. 11.
Big surprise, governorGov. Nikki Haley surprised no one this week when she informed the federal government by official letter that South Carolina has decided to “opt out” of federal health care reform.
The reform, brought on by the Affordable Care Act, nicknamed “Obamacare” by its enemies, would have required states to create and maintain health care exchanges where private citizens could compare and shop for health care insurance coverage.
Haley has been solidly against the state creating an exchange and won a political battle earlier in showing that states could choose not to take part in the federal program. As a result, the federal government will run the state’s health care exchange.
Haley tipped her hand early in the process when she informed a study committee, fueled by a $1 million federal grant to aid in the transition, that she actually wanted the project scuttled. Haley’s recent letter came in advance of what had been the cutoff date for states’ decisions; the Obama administration has since pushed that deadline back another month. Few expect Haley to change her position.
More early childhood education will pay off
By Andy Brack, editor and publisher
NOV. 16, 2012 -- Education. Education. Education. It’s the mantra you hear from just about anybody who talks about the key to South Carolina’s future success. They suggest more, that it be better and that it be innovative.
And despite wags who say you can’t throw money at our education system to fix it, there’s a pretty good business case to be made that investing more in early childhood education will pay off big in the future.
According to a groundbreaking 2007 study by researcher Robert G. Lynch, if South Carolina started a high-quality pre-kindergarten program for 3- and 4-year-olds, the annual cost would be $442 million in 2008 dollars.
But before you get your britches in a knot, look at the benefits: First, we already pay a lot of money that would be included in the total amount. Second, the program would start paying for itself in just nine years, the study says. Total benefits by 2050 would be $9.2 billion with an overall cost of $1.2 billion. Savings to the state’s budget over the years would be more than $2.3 billion plus another $1.8 billion in savings to individuals from reduction in crime. Increased wages and benefits would be $5.2 billion.
Bottom line: The benefit to cost ratio of investing in early childhood education would be 7.5 to 1. That’s an outstanding return! A study for the Partnership for America’s Economic Success says early childhood education produces a ten-fold return.
Fancy research, however, isn’t the only thing that touts more early childhood education programs. The S.C. Chamber of Commerce has a goal of 80 percent of the state’s at-risk children completing pre-K programs by 2020. Successful programs in Hawaii, Arkansas, Texas and Pennsylvania highlight how early childhood education closes achievement gaps and gives more kids the tools that they need to succeed.
South Carolina’s pre-K education structure currently is a mish-mash of programs split between public 4K in some places funded by Education Improvement Act and Title One dollars to Head Start to ABC Child Care vouchers to private kindergarten. All totaled, an estimated 41,000 of South Carolina’s 4-year-olds have some kind of pre-K education. But about half that number don’t get anything.
South Carolina should consider following the model of sister state Georgia, which has reached more than a million 4-year-olds through a voluntary pre-K program the state started in the early 1990s. Last year, some 82,000 students participated at a cost of about $3,500 per student. The total annual cost was just over $300 million.
WHAT'S INTERESTING about the Georgia program is how it blends participation by public and private organizations. Some 912 private companies in 1,844 locations provided 2,111 classes that educated 44,732 children in 2011-12. Public school systems provided 1,726 classrooms where 37,283 students received pre-K instruction.
Instead of embarking on expensive building programs, South Carolina’s “educracy” could partner with public school districts and private companies to deliver pre-K instruction to the 20,000 kids not being served now. The estimated cost -- $70 million to $85 million -- ain’t peanuts, but it could be funded through sales tax reform of the billions of exemptions given away for years to special interests.
An alternative source of funding? Lottery dollars. The way that the statewide lottery law currently is written, the lion’s share of proceeds go to college scholarships. But there’s a mechanism in current law that could provide scholarships to pre-K students to attend public or private classes.
Many South Carolinians who voted for the statewide lottery did so on the incorrect assumption that the millions in new funds would help the primary and secondary education system. But the way it works now, the current system rewards those who get through school with college, but fails to invest on the front end to give all kids a better chance of succeeding.
So it kind of makes sense to rethink how lottery proceeds are used. Instead of investing only at the end of the process, why not invest some in the beginning and give kids a better chance to be ready for first grade?
Early childhood education makes economic and business sense. More importantly, as one executive said this summer, “It’s the right thing to do” now in South Carolina.
Andy Brack is publisher of Statehouse Report. You can reach Brack at: email@example.com.
S.C. Coalition for Healthy Families
The public spiritedness of our underwriters allows us to bring Statehouse Report to you at no cost. This week, we’re happy to shine our spotlight on the S.C. Coalition for Healthy Families. Amidst the highly political debates over reproductive health, the Coalition takes a non-partisan position. It advocates for equal access to affordable, high-quality reproductive health care, medically accurate, age-appropriate family planning education, freedom to make informed and responsible life decisions, and privacy in matters of personal health.
Start preparing now for your retirementBy Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell
Republished with permission
NOTE: This article appears in this month's issue of South Carolina Living, a publication of The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, which is one of our underwriters. We appreciate their permission to provide it to you in Statehouse Report. NOV. 16, 2012 -- One thing is for certain in this life: We begin aging the moment we are born. Whether we like it or not, there’s no escape. We are dependent on our parents when we are small children, and at the end of our lives, most of us become dependent on our families, caregivers or strangers employed by long-term care facilities.
In between, most of us spend our time living—becoming educated, planning our careers, finding a suitable spouse, buying a home, having children, planning for our children’s education. More often than not, we spend the time between our youth and our retirement years not thinking much about that time when we will once again become dependent on others for our daily survival.
You might think it strange that as your lieutenant governor I am writing about aging and what occurs at the end of one’s life. However, as head of the Lieutenant Governor’s Office on Aging and the state’s chief advocate for seniors, I have committed myself to learning about these issues so I can ensure that elderly and vulnerable adults maintain the quality of life and dignity they deserve.
If we are to be successful in meeting the needs of seniors in the 21st century, we must first look at the facts. According to U.S. census data and statistics from the National Association of States United for Aging and Disabilities:
What these facts tell me is that our society is aging more rapidly than anyone ever anticipated or cared to admit. More importantly, as a society, we are not prepared. Government programs once relied upon as a safety net may no longer exist when we need them. We have allowed our government leaders (on the state and federal levels) to ignore the signs, borrow money from trust funds designated for senior benefits and offer no stable plan to provide adequate care for seniors at a time in their lives when they are most vulnerable. They have continued to kick the proverbial “can” down the road to the next legislative session or past the next presidential election.
- More than half of Americans (51 percent) age 55 or older have less than $50,000 saved for retirement.
- South Carolina has 912,429 seniors age 60 and over, and 11.5 percent of them live in poverty. More than one-third of seniors in South Carolina live on Social Security income alone. One in 11 South Carolina seniors are at risk for hunger.
- South Carolina has nearly 1.3 million baby boomers set to retire soon. Nationally, 10,000 boomers retire every day.
- More than 25 percent of seniors 85 years or older require institutional care.
- South Carolina’s senior population is projected to double by 2030 to at least 1.8 million people.
- The federal government recently reported that the Medicare Trust Fund will run out of money by 2033.
We can no longer wait for government to act. I encourage you to start planning for your retirement as early as possible. It is also important to have discussions with your parents to make sure they are adequately prepared with proper documents and have made decisions about the care they want if and when they become ill or incapacitated.
I urge you to check with credible experts who deal with retirement and related issues—an accountant, attorney or insurance agent—before making important decisions that may impact your rights or your assets. Another valuable resource for you or your parents in planning a smooth transition into the next stage of life is the Lieutenant Governor’s Office on Aging. Our website offers a wide range of information related to a variety of aging issues and adults with disabilities. Visit aging.sc.gov or call 1-800-868-9095.
One of the mottos featured on our state seal is “Animis opibusque parati,” which, in English, translates to “prepared in mind and resources.” None of us knows what our future holds, but I ask each of you to incorporate the motto into your own lives and always make an attempt to prepare for what situations may lie ahead.
Glenn McConnell, a longtime member of the Senate who took over as lieutenant governor this year, is from Charleston.
Hollings is right
I am not a Republican, nor am I a Democrat, but what Senator Hollings wrote was 100 percent correct [Hollings, 11/9: Critical needs of U.S. ignored].
But there is no one serving in Congress that is willing to take this issue on.
-- David Luttrell, Cowpens, S.C.
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From Haley to foreclosure, insurance
Haley. Acting gubernatorial, Gov. Nikki Haley skipped a national GOP governor’s convention to implement new cyber-safety protocols and programs. More.
Immigration. A federal judge this week upheld parts of the state’s controversial law. More.
Foreclosure rates. While still too high, the state’s property foreclosure rate dropped to its lowest in over a year. More.
Insurance. After a year, Gov. Nikki Haley this week finally named someone to take the empty position as director of the state’s Department of Insurance. That she nominated an “industry” man instead of a consumer advocate is a downer for some. More.