Is the (tea) party over?
Poll shows anger may be waning
By Bill Davis, EditorDEC. 7, 2012 – Tea party leaders and political scientists around the state agree that the movement that erupted in 2008 after the election of President Barack Obama is now “ebbing” in South Carolina. But, they add, it could make a major political comeback in the 2014 election.
Consider that an April 2011 Winthrop poll showed 28.4 percent of Republican or GOP-leaning respondents identified themselves as tea partiers. But 74 percent of that same set of respondents said they agreed with the movement’s principles.
Fast forward to the Winthrop poll from April 2012 and the numbers dropped. Only 11.2 percent of Republican and GOP-leaning respondents said they were tea party members. And just over 50 percent of them respondents said they agreed with the movement.
Interestingly this month, the Winthrop Poll showed fewer Republican and GOP-leaning respondents were tea partiers – only 8.2 percent – but the percentage of supporters of the movement's message rose to 59 percent. See the Poll.
It’s all academic
Erskine political scientist Ashley Woodiwiss thinks the tea party movement has a “branding” problem – “and the party is a brand no one wants to own.”
Woodiwiss argued that a slightly improving economy might have sapped some of the passion out of the tea party’s base in the state.
Woodiwiss added that the state’s tea party might also be suffering from the defeat the Republican Party suffered in the recent national elections, which he said left the GOP “in a fetal position.”
College of Charleston political scientist Jeri Cabot, who doubles as that institution’s dean of students, disagreed with the supposition that like many past “third parties,” the tea party movement has arrived at its “expiration date.”
Cabot said a scandal, a fiscal crisis, like the “cliff” looming in Washington D.C., or another sparkling personality for the faithful to rally around, like Mark Sanford was supposed to be, could bring the movement back to the fore by the 2014 election.
“I prefer the term ‘ebbing,’” said Cabot, who said the state and the nation’s voters had yet to agree on the debate over the size and scope of governments.
Past Aiken County Tea Party Chairman Colen Lindell agreed that the numbers of people aligning themselves with the movement has dropped off. But, he disputed the most recent poll’s statistics on those not agreeing with its precepts.
Like Cabot, Lindell said that the party could enjoy a resurgence in 2014 when more conservative voters could make their state votes count more than in a General Election.
Lindell, who works in marketing, said that he doesn’t see an “improving” economy, but one that is stagnant and could provide more incentive for voters to join up.
Blogger Will Folks, who made headlines for claiming to have had an affair with Nikki Haley during her gubernatorial campaign, said that the tea party has had its brand “diluted” by politicians like Haley.
Folks led a political organization called Liber-TEA that he claimed spent “six figures” in the last election to unseat several state Republican senators who had strayed from what he called fiscal conservatism. None of those on his not-so “secret attack” list were unseated.
Folks said that so many politicians claimed the tea party mantle and professed to be fiscal conservatives, only to reverse course to “establishment” Republican spending habits once in office, betraying the movement’s ideals.
Crystal ball: If half of all gamblers “always bet on black,” then when it comes to the tea party movement in South Carolina, it’s probably safe to “always bet on ornery.” In a state where sentiment doesn’t always represent reality; the tea party could easily enjoy a second wind.
Education, finance meetings ahead
- Education. The full Education Oversight Committee will meet Monday at 1 p.m. in 433 Blatt to discuss a short agenda that will include coming fiscal year budget recommendations. Agenda.
- Finance. A special Senate Finance higher education study committee will meet Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. in 105 Gressette to discuss institutional planning and maintenance needs by the state’s institutions of higher learning. Agenda.
If Gov. Nikki Haley appoints seated Congressmen Mick Mulvaney or Tim Scott to fill the remaining two years of Jim DeMint’s tenure in the U.S. Senate, there will be a mad scramble in the Statehouse to curry favor with her for a state legislator to take a then-open congressional seat.
DeMint decision creates ripplesWhen, U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint announced Thursday he was stepping down to take a job at the conservative Heritage Foundation four years before his term was to expire, tongues wagged across the state about people who might fill the seat.
Two names have floated to the top: former state attorney general and state GOP boss Henry McMaster, and current Congressman Tim Scott.
Gov. Nikki Haley, who will appoint DeMint’s replacement, has taken herself out of the running as she cannot nominate herself. But hold on -- there is precedent dating back 50 years for doing something like that. Haley could resign, which would allow Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell to ascend to the governorship and then he could nominate her. That's what happened back in 1965 following the death of U.S. Sen. Olin Johnson. Then Gov. Donald Russell resigned, which sent Lt. Gov. Bob McNair to the governorship. McNair then appointed Russell, who lost in 1966 to then former Gov. Fritz Hollings in an election to fill the unexpired term.
But the conventional wisdom is that would never happen, as McConnell and Haley have a long-standing political animosity.
Now you know what would be funny? If Haley and McConnell struck just such a deal, and then he appointed former state senator (and avowed Haley opponent) Jake Knotts to the U.S. Senate.
DeMint likely to become millionaire
One of the more surprising tidbits of information that came out of U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint's resignation announcement Thursday was realization that his net worth is about $65,000, according to The New York Times.
We wondered about that number and discovered on OpenSecrets.org that DeMint's net worth in 2010 ranged from $16,002 to $65,000, the third lowest in the U.S. Senate. See report.
In May 2012, the 61-year-old DeMint updated his annual Senate Financial Disclosure Report (click “financial disclosure” button on this link), but little had changed. Information from that report:
- He and his wife Debbie have two stock fund trust accounts worth $1,000 to $15,000 each.
- They partially sold an IRA that was worth $15,001 to $50,000 in 2011. (This account appears to be one of the ones in the earlier bullet item.)
- He received a $43,755 book advance in 2011 from Hachette Publishing for a forthcoming book. (In 2010, he received a $52,250 advance from another publisher for a different book.)
- The DeMints have two residential mortgages. One ranges from $100,001 to $250,000, and the other ranges from $250,001 to $500,000.
DeMint, who has four married children, is likely to earn more than $1 million as head of the Heritage Foundation. His annual salary as a U.S. senator is $174,000.
Duck, duck, goose
In a special two-day organizational meeting this week, the state House of Representatives unanimously reelected Speaker Bobby Harrell (R-Charleston) to his current position, despite public concerns regarding his campaign financial disclosures over the past few years.
All incumbent committee chairmen were reelected, except for Jim Harrison, who left the legislature to take a well-paid job with the Legislative Council as a state code commissioner. Harrison, former head of the Judiciary Committee, and will be succeeded by Rep. Greg Delleney (R-Chester).
State needs to set priorities to effect change
By Andy Brack, Publisher
DEC. 7, 2012 – Sometimes the truth is bitter to swallow. But after almost 11 years of writing weekly about South Carolina government, the conclusion is undeniable: Many of South Carolina's leaders don't really want good government. They just want cheap government.
How else can one explain the continuing reluctance of the majority in the Legislature to make fundamental changes that will make real differences in South Carolinians' lives? How else can one explain $20 billion in unmet needs for roadways, continuing education challenges and the paucity of investment in common-sense computer security to keep private information of 3.8 million South Carolinians from being hacked?
Instead of focusing on how to make things better, most lawmakers seem obsessed with cutting government. They'll say it's for “waste, fraud and abuse,” but after 10 years of the Mark Sanford-Nikki Haley austerity diet, there's not much waste around.
What there is not a lot of is vision. There's not a statewide plan for what the future can be. There's not a set of legislative priorities that Democrats and Republicans are working to accomplish. Instead, they focus on cuts when less money isn't going to solve the festering problems of South Carolina's institutions.
So we again offer Palmetto Priorities, our updated annual list of policy objectives first outlined four years ago as a map for all legislators to use to make significant changes for a better South Carolina.
ETHICS REFORM (new priority). Overhaul state ethics laws. Otherwise, we will keep having snafus like those that kept hundreds from running for office in 2012. Live transparency and accountability. Don't just talk about it.
JOBS. Develop a Cabinet-level post to add and retain 10,000 small business jobs per year. Unemployment is down and there's been a lot more work to bring in big companies. But there still is no real plan to grow small business jobs, generally cited by politicians as a backbone of the state’s economy.
SAFETY. Cut the state’s violent crime rate by one-third by 2016. The state has jumped to second most violent for women in 2011 and still has one of the highest violent crime rates in the country. Try a new approach.
EDUCATION (updated). Cut the state’s dropout rate in half by 2020. This priority originally was set for 2015, but little progress has been made. The state's graduation rate in 2011 was 73.6 percent, according to press reports.
HEALTH CARE. Ensure affordable and accessible health care that optimizes preventive care for every South Carolinian by 2015. There is real progress with this objective, but not thanks to state government. With President Obama's reelection, a lot of poor South Carolinians will get access to health care through a federal program. The state will not be a player because Gov. Nikki Haley is dead set against having a statewide health exchange.
ENVIRONMENT. Adopt a state energy policy that requires energy producers to generate 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. While there’s little state policy progress, the private sector is making inroads in reducing energy consumption.
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. We had hoped this would be done in 2012, but legislators punted. With $3.1 billion in special interest sales tax breaks being awarded annually by the Legislature, it's time to rein in breaks and make reforms to income and property tax systems.
ELECTIONS. Increase voter registration to 75 percent by 2015. No progress yet. Instead of making voting more open, lawmakers continued efforts in 2012 to chill voter participation. More voters means better democracy, not worse.
CORRECTIONS. Reduce the prison population by 25 percent by 2020 through creative alternative sentencing programs for non-violent offenders. No substantive progress.
ROADS. Strengthen all bridges and upgrade all state roads by 2015. Time is running out on this priority. Best solution: Raise the state's low gas tax to levels of neighboring states, which could add $400 million a year to fix roads and bridges.
POLITICS. Have a vigorous two- or multi-party political system of governance. Voters want leaders to work together, not become more partisan and pull apart. Be nicer at the Statehouse.
Andy Brack is publisher of Statehouse Report. You can reach Brack at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Social Security, Medicare are more than numbersBy Jane Wiley
AARP SC state director
Special to Statehouse Report
DEC. 7, 2012 -- The way some people talk in Washington you could get the idea that Social Security and Medicare are little more than numbers in a budget.
Yet for families in South Carolina and all over America, Social Security and Medicare have a deeper meaning: They are the very foundation of security in retirement.
Social Security and Medicare enable millions of older Americans to survive financially each month, after years of working hard and paying taxes to earn these protections. One day, younger people will count on these same pillars of security for their own independence and dignity in old age.
As lawmakers consider the U.S. budget, here are a couple numbers they should keep in mind: Half of America’s seniors get by on less than $20,000 a year. And here’s another: Typical seniors already spend nearly 20 percent of their incomes on health care, a percentage that continues to rise.
These facts argue against treating Social Security and Medicare as bargaining chips in a year-end political deal. Instead, we should be discussing responsible ways to preserve their vital protections for future generations.
A good place to start is by recognizing the essential role that Social Security and Medicare play in the lives of average Americans:
- Social Security provides more than half the household income for one out of two older Americans. In 2011, Social Security accounted for 69 percent of the typical older South Carolinian’s income with an average yearly benefit of only $14,000.
- Nationally, Social Security benefits keep more than one in three seniors above the poverty line. However in South Carolina that number is higher with 43 percent of older South Carolinians relying on Social Security to remain above the poverty level.
- Medicare enables over 50 million older Americans and people with disabilities to receive affordable health care. In South Carolina that’s more than 600,000 people 65-plus. Still, seniors have to pay $4,600 on average out of their own pockets for care each year. Without Medicare, many would have to spend thousands more for private coverage – if they could afford it at all.
Since early 2012, AARP has been encouraging a conversation about the long-term financial challenges facing Social Security and Medicare, and how to keep these programs effective for the long haul. This effort, which we call You’ve Earned Say, has engaged millions of Americans -- and they’ve made their feelings clear.
In a recent AARP poll, 91 percent of Americans age 50 and over said Social Security was “critical” to the economic security of seniors, and an even higher 95% described Medicare as critical to health security for seniors.
To be sure, older Americans want very much to reduce the budget deficit and put our nation on a more secure fiscal path. But they seek measures that are responsible and fair, not ill-considered “solutions” that would cause more problems than they solve.
The fact is we are living in a time when retirement security has unraveled for many, due to a combination of trends. Private pensions are shrinking. Savings rates remain low. Home values have fallen. The cost of living continues to rise.
These realities make it unwise and even reckless to cut back Social Security and Medicare, just to meet numerical targets in a budget deal. Rather, the economic pressures facing older Americans warrant an open, thoughtful discussion on ways to enhance retirement security and how to strengthen the bedrock programs that provide it.
This focus is critical not only for today’s retirees and working Americans, but for future generations. AARP will continue to remind our elected leaders of the importance of Social Security and Medicare in South Carolina and communities all over the country.
Of course, budgets matter. But we should never forget their impact on the real people behind the numbers.
Jane Wiley is state director of AARP South Carolina.
Fix transportation allocation proceduresTo the editor:
Kudos to Bill Davis and Andy Brack for their articles on transportation issues in our state (11/30 issue of Statehouse Report).
They point to the critical need for reforming the way in which transportation projects are selected. We desperately need more money for maintenance and repair and critical improvements, but increased revenue wouldn't be used that way at present.
The existing pattern would continue. For example, with respect to keeping the proposed 526 money in the Charleston area for other uses, Charleston has received a very disproportionate share of all available S.C. highway construction money for many years. The supposed rationale is the port, but that argument doesn't work when I-26 and I-95 are pot-holed wrecks, as they are.
Companies don't locate here thinking the infrastructure is great when they know they can run on shiny new highways only as long as they stay in the immediate Charleston area. The money has flowed to a few powerful legislators, rather than to the real needs of the state as a whole.
Until we fix transportation allocation procedures, we taxpayers will continue to be saddled with boondoggles like I-73 and the I-526 extension.
-- Barbara Zia, co-president, League of Women Voters of South Carolina, Mount Pleasant, S.C.
Try other ways
To the editor:
Why is it always "RAISE TAXES" when government needs money to carry out its job? Raising the gas tax may be the way to go if all other venues fail.
The SC DOT is not efficient and there is still much waste within the SCDOT. Let’s try other ways to get more from our tax dollars. Perhaps the state could pay the counties to keep up with the road maintenance based on road miles in any county. The state still has areas of wasted tax dollars, so before we cry "raise taxes", let’s at least try to go another route.
-- David Luttrell, Cowpens, S.C.
Publisher’s Note: We also believe in efficient, effective government, Mr. Luttrell. But the gas tax hasn’t been raised in more than 20 years and there’s not enough so-called waste in the state’s $6 billion budget to total the $20 billion in neglected, festering needs for our roadways. It’s convenient to cry “waste, fraud and abuse,” but how about identifying specifics instead of crying a worn mantra?
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Up and down on transparency, more
Ports. The state and the City of North Charleston agreed to a land-swap deal that will allow for a rail yard to be built at the former Charleston Naval Base; the next battle will be getting two different rail lines to play nice. More.
Transparency. The House voted this week in a special session to expand its Ethics Committee. More.
Polling. President Barack Obama has a higher job-approval rating in South Carolina than does its governor, Nikki Haley. More.
Transparency. Gov. Nikki Haley’s administration will not release a full report on the cyber-hacking scandal at the state Department of Revenue. More.
DeMint. Leaving before the job is done? Who do you think you are, Sarah Palin?
Insurance. A major insurer in South Carolina may have manipulated software to keep insurance payouts smaller. Boo. The state’s Department of Insurance had no idea. Double-boo. More.