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ISSUE 8.43
Oct. 23, 2009

RECENT ISSUES:
12/04 | 11/27 | 11/20 | 11/13

Index

News :
Job, not well done
Legislative Agenda :
Back in the saddle again
Radar Screen :
Impeachment delay
Commentary :
No place in today’s politics for prejudice
Spotlight :
SC Senate Democratic Caucus
Feedback :
Wanna vent a little?
Scorecard :
Ups, downs and in between
Stegelin :
Pay attention
Megaphone :
Revelations
In our blog :
In the blogs
Encyclopedia :
Mepkin Abbey

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NUMBER OF THE WEEK

11.6%

STILL TOO HIGH:  11.6 percent.  The state’s September unemployment rate rose two-tenths of a point from August, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

MEGAPHONE

Revelations

“We don't think it's laughable at all to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.”
 
-- Gubernatorial spokesperson Ben Fox, responding to criticism from Winthrop University President Anthony DiGiorgio, that the governor’s budgeting process, which included a 15 percent cut in state funding to the school, was “laughable.” DiGiorgio went on to say in an e-mail that Sanford's budget recommendations won’t be taken seriously by the General Assembly, “which prefers to develop its own approach to budgeting.”  More.

IN OUR BLOG

In the blogs

Dropping anchor. FITS News welcomed the news that shipping line Maersk, the S.C. State Ports Authority’s biggest customer decided this week to stick it out in Charleston, but noted there had already been a big drop in Maersk traffic:
 
“Obviously, something’s better than nothing – particularly seeing as Maersk had announced back in December that it was pulling out of Charleston completely after failing to reach an agreement with the SPA and the International Longshoremen’s Association.
 
Defending. Right-wing blogger Adam Fogle at The Palmetto Scoop cast about until he found a state-level Jewish politician from Florida, who defended the two GOP operatives from South Carolina who wrote in an opinion piece that the federal government needed to keep its eye on the pennies so the dollars will take care of themselves, like “Jews” do.
 
“But critics point out that anyone can be frugal, and describing that person as Jewish only sought to play on a long-held ethnic stereotype.”

ENCYCLOPEDIA

Mepkin Abbey

Located on the Cooper River, Mepkin Abbey a diverse history. In its early life the property served as the seven-thousand-acre rice plantation and family home of the eighteenth-century statesman Henry Laurens. Surviving traces of the plantation include a family cemetery and a large oak avenue.

In 1936 the noted publisher Henry Luce, who established both Time and Life magazines, purchased the property. While living at Mepkin, Luce and his wife, Claire Booth, hired the architect Edward Durell Stone to construct several buildings on the site, including a forester's lodge, a laundry building, a pump house, and a farm manager's house, made mostly of brick. Stone received his training at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and spent his early career designing houses in the international style. The buildings at Mepkin reflect his modernist sensibility.

The Luces also hired the landscape architect Loutrel Briggs, designer of many important gardens in South Carolina, to create a formal composition of camellias and azaleas overlooking the Cooper River. In 1949 the property was donated to a religious community in keeping with Mrs. Luce's wishes. By the 1960s the property had become a monastery that housed the Trappist monks of the Cistercian Order. … The site includes an austere Cistercian church in the shape of a cross. In its transition from a rice plantation to a monastery and farm, Mepkin Abbey reflects an unusual blending of tradition, modern aesthetics, and spiritual transcendence, making it one of the most unique places in South Carolina.

-- Excerpted from the entry by Lindsey Gertz. 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.)
More:  SC EncyclopediaMepkin Abbey

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

Job, not well done

Legislature to return over bungled jobless provision

By Bill Davis, senior editor

OCT. 23, 2009 -- Jimmy Breslin's famous novel, "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight," showcased inept mobsters, not South Carolina politicians.

But when the General Assembly returns to Columbia for an unexpected session next week, South Carolina’s political "gangsters" will be back in town to clean up an unemployment benefits mess they could have dealt with during the regular session. Gov. Mark Sanford and the state Employment Security Commission, with its half billion-dollar deficit, will be waiting.
               
And just in time, too, as the state’s unemployment rate rose two-tenths of a point in September to 11.6 percent.
               
A little background
 
This entire mess began to gain momentum 10 years ago when, flush with cash reserves and riding high on an artificially surging economy, the state legislature decided to change the formula on how much money to extract from businesses to fund the ESC-run state unemployment insurance trust fund.
               
It seemed like a good idea at the time, to some, according to Washington, who served in the Senate then. But dropping the amount collected also meant the state could be headed for a crisis in an economic downturn.
               
In January of 2008, it was an open secret in and around the Statehouse that the trust fund was in freefall and that it wouldn’t have enough money to cover its looming unemployment check demands. And, it seemed, nobody did anything to correct it. Who wanted to take more money out of people’s paychecks in a bad times? Nobody, especially if they wanted to get re-elected in South Carolina.
               
The ESC claimed it informed some members of the legislature and the executive branch. But, it wasn’t like commissioners yelled from the rafters about the foreseeable crash, legislative sources said.
               
In the fall of 2008 with the state and national economies tanking, and with criticism over his arguably poor record on job creation still ringing in his ears, Gov. Mark Sanford went on the warpath against the ESC.
               
Clamoring for the agency to be added to his cabinet, the governor took the grandstand and refused to sign off on a federal loan request to bolster the agency’s bottom line.  It wasn’t until deep into the Christmas season that Sanford relented and signed off on the loan application, relieving many across the state that they would continue to get unemployment benefits in a tough season of giving.

-- Bill Davis
The legislature is reconvening to clean up a state law blocking nearly 7,000 out-of-work South Carolinians from receiving extended federal unemployment benefits.
               
Under federal guidelines changed this year, the state needed to change how it handled a small part of its unemployment policy. If it had done so during the regular session, South Carolina could have received federal dollars to extend unemployment benefits by as much as an additional 20 weeks to allow some jobless residents to receive benefits for up to one and a half years.
               
Now if the General Assembly corrects the oversight and the governor doesn’t veto it, ESC officials said $1.6 million in extra weekly federal unemployment benefits would quickly flow again, but would not be paid retroactively.
               
Last week, close to 7,000 unemployed South Carolinians lost extended benefits because the legislature was unable to tweak the unemployment law in the final days of this year’s legislative session.
               
So, who is to blame for this mess? Apparently, the other guy.
               
ESC Chairman McKinley Washington Jr., one of three former state legislators overseeing the state’s unemployment office, blamed the governor, the legislature and the economy. The governor has faulted the ESC and the legislature. Legislators  pointed the finger at the ESC and the governor.  And, no surprise, Republicans zinged Democrats, and vice versus.

Back-biting harms chance for change
 
In late 2008, Sanford, then still considered a possible presidential candidate, started raising Cain over federal stimulus money and said he wouldn’t allow the state to take a much-needed loan to help fund unemployment benefits. 
 
Had Sanford not grandstanded over the ESC loan application at holiday time, most believe everyone would have come to the table in January to fix historical problems at the commission. Today, they say the governor’s holdout ended up polarizing the situation. The ESC, tired of being treated like a political football and being blamed for unemployment, clammed up.
               
Several sources said the ESC was tired of getting picked on for the state’s rising unemployment rate, when they were just the guys writing the checks.
               
As a result, communication between the beleaguered agency, the Sanford administration and the cabinet-level Department of Commerce dried up, according to state Rep Kenny Bingham (R-Cayce). At the time, the Sanford Administration said the lack of information from the agency might have led to even more unemployment, a claim denied by the ESC.
               
Bingham had a unique perspective on the slow-moving train wreck. Not only had he been elected this year as majority leader in the House, but he’d also been handed the chairmanship of the Ways and Means subcommittee looking into the matter.
               
Late in the 2009 session, Bingham offered an amendment that, if it had been passed, would have altered state law so that the General Assembly wouldn’t have to return this coming week.
               
Bingham complained the ESC brass did little to educate the public about the problem, which would have helped him and House Speaker Bobby Harrell (R-Charleston), whose name was second on the amendment, gin up enough political will to get the amendment through.
               
But Bingham was playing politics too, according to the ESC’s Washington, who pointed out that he attached the amendment to a controversial ESC restructuring bill. That bill, which failed 52-54 in the House, included a major provision that would move the agency into Sanford’s cabinet, and have the brass working at the pleasure of the governor, instead of being an independent commission. Attaching the amendment to a less controversial bill might have allowed it to go through, many say. 
 
Back-stabbing scuttles change
 
Giving Sanford the bone of having another cabinet-level agency was the last thing the House was interested in doing at the time -- and this was well before his trips to Argentina and impeachment talk became the rage. House Minority Leader Harry Ott (D-St. Matthews), told the press then that he saw no reason to reward what he saw as Sanford’s actions with a restructuring gift.
               
With the amendment dead, Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg) put forward a stand-alone bill that would have corrected the problem. And what did the House do with that bill? It referred it to committee, a move that, so late in the session, doomed it.
               
So it was the legislature’s fault, right?
               
Ah … no.
               
Bingham, House Speaker Bobby Harrell’s office, and even state Sen. Greg Ryberg (R-Aiken), chair of the Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee, and Sanford’s right-hand man in the Senate, all agreed on one point:
               
They all first heard of the needed change from a lobbyist at the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center, and not from anyone at ESC.
               
“In that way, I believe the ESC failed utterly in its mission,” said Bingham. He blamed Washington and others at the ESC for wanting to maintain the status quo, commissioners’  jobs, and for not having been forthcoming on the matter.
               
One Statehouse insider said this week that his office still hadn’t heard directly on the matter from the agency.
               
ESC’s Washington remained unrepentant, saying he had e-mails proving his agency had informed who it needed to inform
               
“And after Gilda’s bill and Bingham’s amendment, who else did we need to tell?” said Washington.
               
Regardless, ESC executive director Ted Halley accelerated his announced retirement timetable from the end of the year, to sometime this fall, to this week, and stepped down.
               
Washington said that because of the state of ailing economy, nothing different would have happened if anyone else had been in Halley’s office at the time.
 
Not seeing the forest for the trees
 
Ironically, about the only person, or body, willing to point the finger of blame at themselves this week was the Appleseed Center.
 
Director Sue Berkowitz, whose lobbyist first informed the legislature about the need for the small alteration to keep the extended benefits flowing, said Friday she regretted her office “not having done enough” to educate the legislature and the public about the small, initial alteration needed.
               
Berkowitz said the extended benefits bungle was the classic situation where everyone didn’t see the forest for the trees.
               
But she said, the General Assembly returning on Tuesday was only a small part of the solution. Berkowitz said the governor was right -- something has to be done at or to the ESC, but not at the expense of the unemployed.
               
Next week and beyond
 
Sanford spokesman Ben Fox this week said Sanford looked forward to all parties coming together to solve the dilemma, but that the governor would continue to press for restructuring.
               
Ryberg, whose chamber approved a bill during the session that would have slowly altered the status quo at the agency, agreed.
               
Ryberg said how much gets paid out, to whom and under what circumstances would be scrutinized closely when the legislature returned in January.
               
“Three percent of those paying into unemployment consume 30 percent of the benefits,” said Ryberg, critical of the current policies that allow larger companies, like manufacturing concerns, to basically take advantage of the state’s unemployment fund while they temporarily lay off workers to respond to seasonal demands or re-tooling machines.
 
Crystal ball: After the legislature makes the quickie alteration next week, the ESC will certainly be restructured next year. And “taxes” -- in the form of increased amounts subtracted from businesses and paychecks -- will go up to cover the mounting debt at the agency. The bigger question will become whether the legislature will take on the sticky problem of scrapping the oversight of the ESC altogether, or if enmity toward the governor will hamstring efforts to put it in the governor’s cabinet.

RECENTLY IN NEWS

10/16:  Legislative audit on Corrections roils waters
10/9:  State mulls leasing its digital spectrum
10/2:  More women on college campuses
9/25:  The race is on for lieutenant governor

Legislative Agenda

Back in the saddle again

Who says legislators don’t do anything when they’re out of session? Not only is the legislature returning Tuesday for a potential three-day session to deal with a snafu in unemployment law, but two very hard-working committees will meet several times next week to work on two important, pressing issues.
  • On Wednesday. the S.C. Taxation Realignment Commission will meet at 10 a.m. in 207 and 209 Gressette.
     
  • Later that day at 2 p.m., the Sentencing Reform Commission will meet in 308 Gressette, before reconvening the following day, Thursday at 10 a.m. in 209 Gressette.
Members from both chambers will attend all three commission meetings. Legislators will not receive pay for attending the session, but will receive travel expenses.
 
In related agendas, the Young Democrats of South Carolina and the College Democrats of Furman University will host Fall Summit '09 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on October 24 at Furman University.

Radar Screen

Impeachment delay

Calls to impeach Gov. Mark Sanford in the House next week will be heard but will go unheeded.
 
Under the sine die resolution that closed the session this summer, the General Assembly could return to discuss a short list of issues, like altering state law to correct an unemployment law oversight that’s stemming the flow of millions of dollars every week into the state.  
 
But, it can’t take up new business under the resolution. As a result, any bills filed for impeaching the governor for actions ranging from adultery to abandoning the state will be redirected to committee, where they will be tackled once the General Assembly returns in January. Additionally, House brass have stood firm on not returning to session on the matter of impeachment until a Legislative Audit Council investigation into the governor’s various alleged actions is completed sometime in December or early January.

Palmetto Politics

Backup plan

The word out of Columbia has been for months was that if impeachment moves forward out of the House when the General Assembly reconvenes in January, and the Senate votes for Gov. Mark Sanford’s removal, Senate President Pro Glenn McConnell (R-Charleston) would step down rather than take over as lieutenant governor as Andre Bauer ascended to the governor’s mansion.
 
This week, the word was that state Sen. David Thomas (R-Greenville) would be named president pro tem, so he could take over Bauer’s current position and McConnell could return to his place of power. The plan, it seemed, would also help Thomas in his current campaign for a seat in Congress.
 
Cash for clunker fridges
 
Federal pass-through dollars will mean South Carolinians will be able to receive an immediate discount, ranging from $50 to $500, when purchasing Energy Star-approved household appliances, starting this spring. The rebates/discounts on washers, solar hot water heaters and other gizmos are the result of $300 million in federal stimulus funds. For more information on amounts, and updates, go to www.energy,sc.gov.
 
In arrears
 
State Treasurer Converse Chellis this week released the names of 25 South Carolina towns that are delinquent in providing their annual 2008 financial audits to the State of South Carolina. The audits were due by July 31, 2009.
 
The mostly smaller towns range from Andrews to Windsor. Chellis’ office also announced it would begin to withhold state funds beginning this Friday, Oct. 23. The highest amount to be withheld from the towns listed is $89,000 for St. Stephens and the lowest amount is $380 for Peak. Seven towns are still delinquent, according to Chellis, from 2007: Atlantic Beach, Cross Hill, Gaston, Lincolnville, Sellers, St. Stephens and Ulmer.

Commentary

No place in today’s politics for prejudice

By Andy Brack, editor and publisher

OCT. 23, 2009 – Maybe something is in South Carolina’s water. What else could explain how some South Carolina Republicans recently seem to have come down with the political equivalent of Tourette’s syndrome, the odd disorder characterized by exclamations of bizarre or inappropriate remarks?
 
In June, former state Election Commission Chairman Rusty DePass posted a comment on a social networking site that likened First Lady Michelle Obama to a gorilla. He later apologized.
 
Then on Sept. 9, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, a South Carolina backbencher with not much of a record of accomplishment, yelled “You lie” to President Barack Obama during an address to Congress. Wilson quickly apologized for his “inappropriate and regrettable” comments, but as he soared into the nation’s consciousness, he rode the wave to raise more than $2.5 million. 
 
And this past week, two GOP county chairmen disparaged Jews as penny-pinchers in an Orangeburg newspaper commentary that backed U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint’s opposition to congressional earmarks.    They too apologized, after being criticized by everyone from DeMint and SC GOP Chair Karen Floyd to state Sen. Joel Lourie, a Columbia Democrat who is the state’s only Jewish senator. Orangeburg County GOP Chair Jim Ulmer said he didn’t mean anything derogatory in his comments because he thought he was showing how he admired Jews “for a method of bettering one’s lot in life.” 
 
Republican political strategist Chip Felkel of Greenville said he was thankful Ulmer and Bamberg County GOP Chair Edwin O. Merwin Jr. apologized, “but I can’t understand how educated, politically-involved people did not see this as something that would clearly be offensive to others.”
 
So all of this comes just since June, the same month the news, drama and circus started about Gov. Mark Sanford’s philandering in Argentina. Then his scores of apologies started arriving.
 
See something of a pattern? It’s almost as if there’s some kind of radical GOP training program through which some politicos are instructed, “Yeah, just go ahead and say anything you like – try to get one up on Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity if you can – but just be sure to be real sincere when you’re done.”
 
Democrats certainly haven’t been immune to gaffes of all sorts. Just recall some of the things said by everyone from former Sen. Fritz Hollings to now Vice President Joe Biden.
 
But what is all of this going on with the GOP these days in South Carolina? 
 
It’s good for people to admit that some of the recent things they said were wrong. But they really should watch what they say in the first place.
“This is not a case of being politically correct as much as it is of simply not using common sense. We seem to have lost our political acumen here lately,” Felkel said.
 
Earlier this month at a Furman University town hall meeting, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham heard catcalls and irate comments from hecklers who questioned his conservative credentials. To his credit, Graham, who has a strongly conservative voting record, didn’t back down from anti-government zealots. He told them that sometimes, bipartisan compromise was important to the political process. 
 
“If you don’t like it, you can leave,” Graham said, according to media accounts. And some did, but most stayed and heard Graham tell the mostly-white crowd, “We’re not going to be the party of angry, white guys. We're going to be a party of center-right politics.” In another comment, he said. “I’m going to grow this party. I’m not going to let it be hijacked by Ron Paul.”
 
Putting all of these recent incidents aside, prejudice doesn’t raise its ugly head as much these days as it did in the South’s recent past. Just 46 years ago, firehoses and dogs were unleashed on African Americans protesting segregation and seeking better economic opportunities. Just two generations ago, prejudice was institutionalized across government and Southern society. 
 
Now after millions of Southern children have been educated in integrated schools, the old prejudices of the past largely are locked away for most people. And when they periodically rise, the opposition to inappropriate racist and ethnic behavior is so universal that the reaction sends a clear message that prejudice is unacceptable today.
 
It’s good for people to admit that some of the recent things they said were wrong. But they really should watch what they say in the first place.

Spotlight

SC Senate Democratic Caucus

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Scorecard

Ups, downs and in between

Maersk. The huge shipping line this week reversed its decision to leave the Port of Charleston where it is the major customer, thanks to successful recent talks between the company, the State Ports Authority and the unions. More.
 
Jobs. 2,500 jobs were filled across the state last month, thanks to schools coming back in, but overall, unemployment rates still increased.
 
S.C. Supreme Court. It’s a good, contemplative, thing that the S.C. top court wants to take in more info on Gov. Mark Sanford’s suit to seal an ethics investigation into his actions. But this whole thing is dragging on -- and dragging down the state. More.
 
Jobs. Forecasters say a projected flat economy means the state will need the next three years to recover the jobs lost last year. Then again, compared with the past year, flat is good. More.
 
GOP. GOP officers from two counties enraged some across the state and nation when they praised “Jews” for watching pennies so that the dollars could take care of themselves, according to their joint opinion piece.  At least they didn’t liken Michelle Obama to a gorilla … because another state GOP operative had already taken care of that.

Stegelin

Pay attention


Also from Stegelin:  10/16 | 10/9 | 10/2 | 9/25 | 9/18 | 9/11

credits

Statehouse Report

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

Phone: 843.670.3996

© 2002 - 2018 , 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/.