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ISSUE 8.52
Dec. 24, 2009

12/04 | 11/27 | 11/20 | 11/13


News :
State of our state
Legislative Agenda :
Keeping it quiet
Radar Screen :
On tap: health care
Commentary :
Higher education may be key to future prosperity
Spotlight :
Municipal Association of South Carolina
My Turn :
Some recent op-eds
Feedback :
Send us a letter
Scorecard :
Up, down and in the middle
Stegelin :
The year in cartoons
Megaphone :
In our blog :
In the blogs this week

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Happy holidays

Happy holidays
The staff at Statehouse Report extends warm holiday greetings to all of its readers.  Be safe throughout the holidays and have fun.


39 percent

39.  That’s the percentage of South Carolinian registered voters contacted in a recent InsiderAdvantage/Statehouse Report poll that say the state is headed in the “wrong direction.” More coverage below.



“And I've been called a political junkie many times … I take that as a compliment.  But what I love about politics is the politicians who go down in flames.  And, usually, it's the spouters who do it: Eliot Spitzer, Mark Sanford, Blagojevich. Wow. It was a great year for that. “

-- “Julie,” a caller to NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” show dealing with the best moments in year’s political events. More.


In the blogs this week

Whites only. FITS News blogged this week that former state GOP head Katon Dawson has rejoined a whites-only country club after losing his bid to chair the Republican National Committee to a black man, former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele.

“At the time of his resignation from the club, Dawson publicly urged its leaders to rethink their policy of refusing to admit blacks – a position that he has obviously now rethought himself.”  

More government? Sacraments Wholesale took to its bully pulpit this week to blog against “limited government” in South Carolina:

“Since … tax revenue has plummeted, demands for emergency service have increased at gravity-defying rates. But since we don't have any money, we are firing case managers whose job it is to help the newly poor.”


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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Every week in our new My Turn section, we seek guest commentaries on issues of public and policy importance to South Carolina. If you're interested, click here to learn more.


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State of our state

SC voters not pleased, not furious

By Bill Davis, senior editor

DEC. 24. 2009 -- Like layers of an onion being cut by a knife, the opinions of the people of South Carolina are coming into crisper view. Or is it a “crankier” view?

Nearly two of every five of the 770 registered South Carolina voters contacted in a Dec. 15 InsiderAdvantage/Statehouse Report poll said they felt the state was headed in the “wrong direction.”

Not surprisingly, more Democratic respondents, the state’s opposition party, were critical than their counterparts in the Republican Party. Nearly 52 percent of Democrats, compared to 34 percent of Republicans, felt the state was headed in the wrong direction.

Those aged 30 to 44, who still have higher-earning years ahead of them, were the most worried. Nearly 46 percent said they thought the state was headed in wrong direction, regardless of party affiliation.

Ashley Woodiwiss, a political science professor at Erskine College, said considering the state‘s current political and economic context, the poll had some “remarkable” findings, particularly “in the face of the political crisis precipitated by our governor's national scandal and with some of the worst economic conditions in this state since the Great Depression.”

He said for only 39 percent of those polled to say the state was headed in the wrong direction meant 60 percent seemed at least content. 

“A full 60 percent either have no opinion -- 29 percent -- or, more staggeringly, believe South Carolina is actually heading in the right direction -- 32 percent . This is truly remarkable indeed.”

Reading between the poll’s lines, Woodiwiss said public opinion had changed little on major issues -- jobs, education and more.  He said that wouldn‘t have concerned him had 2009 been a “normal“ year.

“And yet all the objective evidence around us -- unemployment, education, even more budget cuts, et cetera -- indicates that these are not normal times,” said Woodiwiss. “Rather, we may well be in a state of political and economic crisis. But apparently for most South Carolinians, despite this evidence, all seems, well, good enough.”

With just over half of self-described Democrats responding that the state is going in the wrong direction, “with even the most generous interpretive allowance given, what this question captures is that for most of our fellow citizens, there is not a great deal of serious disaffection with the state of our state,” he said.

Jeri Cabot, a political scientist at the College of Charleston, said she was amazed that nearly 30 percent of those polled had “no opinion” for the direction of the state.

Cabot said that this portion of the poll might show that South Carolinians are confused about who should be blamed for the state’s current situation, and that many might have settled on the state’s economic woes being the federal government’s fault.

A Haley of a surprise

The biggest winner of the poll seemed to be gubernatorial candidate state Rep. Nikki Haley (R-Lexington) -- if coming in third among GOP candidates can be considered a “win.”

Yes, Haley only received the nod from 13 percent of registered voters who said they would cast ballots in the GOP primary next year. But after the tumultuous fall from grace of Gov. Mark Sanford, with whom she had sided with on House battles and in the tone of her early campaign, 10 points short of the overall lead may be considered impressive. Furthermore, she polled ahead of Congressman Gresham Barrett. His fourth-place  showing is sure to shock some in the business community who have seen him as the best GOP candidate in the race.

That state Attorney General Henry McMaster was tied for the overall lead at 22 percent may not surprise some.  What was surprising was that it took independents and the 65-plus age group of voters to bring him into an overall tie with Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, who, ironically, runs the state’s Office on Aging and has been courting the silver-haired crowd heavily.

Among those polled who identified themselves as Republicans, Bauer beat McMaster 24-21 percent. Bauer also cleaned up with the 18-29 year olds (53 percent), while Barrett’s best showing was tied for second in the 45-64 age group, with 12.5 percent.


Rex, Drake on Democratic side     

Voters for the Democratic primary seemed to be suffering from a bout of indecision or plain lack of information. When asked which candidate they would vote for if the Democratic primary were held today, more said they had “no opinion” -- 44 percent -- than those that said they would vote for the top four party candidates.     

And, considering the poll had a 3.4-percent margin of error, more Democrats seem to be on the fence than have picked a side.        

State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex, perhaps buoyed by statewide name recognition, led the pack with 21 percent overall, and 16.6 percent within self-identified Democrats polled.   In second place was attorney/lobbyist Dwight Drake who was tied with Rex among Dems at 16.6 percent, and second overall with 15 percent. Coming in third was state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, with 8 percent. 

Cabot expressed surprise that more female voters hadn’t abandoned the GOP for the Democratic slate considering Gov. Mark Sanford’s much-reported philandering.


Crystal ball:  Conventional wisdom is that early polling in gubernatorial races is heavily influenced by name recognition -- Bauer, McMaster and Rex all hold statewide offices -- and that the quality of candidate and money are more influential later in the race. Regardless, whoever wins the governor’s race will have a significant chunk of the South Carolinians thinking that the state is headed in the wrong direction. 

Legislative Agenda

Keeping it quiet

There are no scheduled legislative meetings until after the new year.  In related meetings, the South Carolina Deferred Compensation Commission will meet Dec. 29 at 10 a.m. in the second-floor conference room at the South Carolina Retirement Systems Building, 202 Arbor Lake Drive, Columbia.

Radar Screen

On tap: health care

With the U.S. Senate having passed its version of health care reform back to the House, the General Assembly will soon have to tackle how the state funds its health initiatives. The state legislature stalled a cigarette tax increase because it wanted to wait and see what the feds had in store. That picture is becoming clearer:  time to go to work.

Higher education may be key to future prosperity

By Andy Brack, editor and publisher

DEC. 24, 2009 -- For South Carolina to get out of the cellar on several generational problems – low education levels, poverty, high unemployment and more – its leaders need to make a sustained commitment to improving higher education dramatically, two state higher education leaders say.


“You’re really rolling the ball uphill if you have to convince the public about the value of higher education,” said Columbia lawyer Ken Wingate, chair of the state Commission on Higher Education.


Wingate and the CHE’s executive director, Dr. Garrison Walter, have been speaking to civic clubs and the media across the state to highlight an “action plan” that seeks to push South Carolina forward economically. (See the plan online.)


Walter said the Palmetto State needs to focus more on the growing knowledge economy, which means an increased emphasis on higher education. If more South Carolinians have college degrees, they’ll earn more money.  


“We have a lack of public priority focus and a lack of public focus on higher education.” he said. “Our state is far behind economically and we’re not catching up.”


For example, per capita income and the state’s rank in the number of people with bachelor’s degrees is about the same in 2006 as it was in 1990. Additionally, South Carolina’s public colleges and universities rank 15th out of 16 Southern states in the per student average in money that comes from state sources. In the current state budget, funding is down $203 million from two years earlier to $555 million.


Wingate said CHE has a strategy to make higher education a public priority for South Carolina. Three goals include:

  • Raise education levels. About 22 percent of S.C. adults have at least a bachelor’s degree. The goal is to have 30 percent by 2030 – a so-called 30-by-30 goal.

  •  Increase research and innovation. By creating new pathways to learning and technology, the state will create more of a culture of discovery, which should increase personal income.

  • Improve workforce training and educational services. Such a goal would align educational programs with important state clusters and connect adults with higher education in more flexible ways.

Wingate said several of the priority recommendations would cost little or no money. Examples: Enacting “regulatory relief” to allow colleges and universities to cut red tape from hiring, procurement and facility enhancement; strengthening ties between technical colleges and universities; strengthening services to give more value; and creating a cost reduction committee to promote and share best practices among institutions.


Other measures would cost more, particularly increasing state funding and borrowing through the state’s bonding power. Other ideas: compulsory high school attendance through age 18; improving library funding; better marketing of college opportunities; and predictable capital funding streams.


At this point, it’s unclear how much an increased financial commitment to higher education will cost, Walter said.   The Commission is working with college presidents to develop a funding plan. 


But he said it likely will have two characteristics: restoring past budget cuts to increase higher education’s share of state funding and phasing in restorations due to the state’s economic situation. 


“We appreciate that the state has many needs and that many have suffered as a result of the current recession,” Walter said. “On the other hand, if the state doesn't invest in higher education soon, it will fall further behind the rest of the nation and be ever more vulnerable to economic downturns.”


Wingate said that instead of declining state financial support, colleges and universities “have got to find the political mettle to make higher education not only an add-on to the state budget but the key to economic prosperity,” Wingate said.


If higher education can become a state priority, studies show individuals will earn twice as much over their lifetimes, the state will add billions to its gross state product and South Carolina will generate almost 45,000 permanent jobs, Wingate added. 


“If people don’t believe education, including higher education, is important, we can’t possibly make the progress we need.”


So what will it be, Legislature? More of the same on the bottom or a cupful of courage to take a new path that invests in South Carolina’s people? The choice is obvious. Now it’s time to get to work.


Municipal Association of South Carolina

The public spiritedness of our underwriters allows us to bring SC Statehouse Report to you at no cost. This week's spotlighted underwriter is the Municipal Association of South Carolina. Formed in 1939, the association represents and serves the state's 270 incorporated municipalities. The Association is dedicated to the principle of its founding members: to offer the services, programs and products that will give municipal officials the knowledge, experience and tools for enabling the most efficient and effective operation of their municipalities in the complex world of municipal government. Learn more: MASC.

Send us a letter

Want to send us a letter?  We love getting letters to the editor, which are published weekly. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity. 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.

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Up, down and in the middle

Representation. Early Census numbers continue to put South Carolina in line for a new Congressional seat.  More.

Coal.  No new coal plants, like the one planned for the Florence area, broke ground in 2009.  More.

Depleted uranium. The first shipment of depleted uranium sent from the Savannah River Site has arrived in Utah is still radioactive and only stored there temporarily, but at least it’s out of our state.  More

Limehouse. State Transportation Secretary Buck Limehouse has prostate cancer, and will continue on in office while exploring options.   Here’s wishing to his recovery. More.

Dawson. He can’t lose any elections to Michael Steele at Forest Lakes Country Club. 


The year in cartoons

Here's the best of 2009 in cartoons from our talented cartoonist, Steve Stegelin:












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.
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