S.C. primary provided answers, more questions
JUNE 11, 2010 - - Anyone who says they understood what led to Tuesday’s surprising state GOP gubernatorial primary results and what they will mean to the future of state politics, probably has one of two things in their garage: a time machine or a crystal ball. That gubernatorial candidate state Rep. Nikki Haley (R-Lexington) garnered the most votes in the GOP primary came as little surprise to most, as she had been consistently polling at the top of the Republican field for the past month. Cast as the “outsider,” Haley surprised many by falling only a few thousand votes short of winning the four-way primary outright over three other “establishment” GOP candidates - - Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer (12.5 percent), state Attorney Henry McMaster (16.9 percent), and U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett (21.8 percent). As a result of her strong showing (48.9 percent), many watchers are now labeling Haley as the presumptive winner of the Republican race. Considering her momentum, a defeat of Barrett , who received less than half the number of votes as Haley,may be a foregone conclusion in the GOP primary run-off one and a half weeks away from now. From bottom to topHow did Haley go from worst to first, and with a massive lead at that? Was it, as academics have claimed, voter anger originating at the federal level and trickling down to the state level? Was it a Tea Party insurrection? Voter anger at incumbents? Would a Gov. Nikki Haley have worse relations with the legislature than does Gov. Mark Sanford? What about looming tax increases? These and other questions abound. Winthrop University’s Scott Huffmon, one of the state’s leading political scientists, said Haley was a “fresh face” that voters fed up with national and state woes would find attractive. If Haley does defeat the more moderate Barrett, she could face stiff competition against state Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D-Kershaw) in November to replace Gov. Mark Sanford, according to pundits, academics, politicos and some state politicians speaking on background.Sheheen, who won his three-way race handily with nearly 59 percent of the vote, is known as a moderate with a strong understanding of government and deep family roots in state government. Sheheen is, in many ways, the antithesis of Sanford.Interesting challenges for HaleyAnd that may set up an interesting battlefront for Haley, who has walked in lock-step with the governor on most issues, but has since tried to distance herself from the man since news last year of his affair with a South American woman became an international joke.Haley’s facing a tough balancing act, according to USC political scientist Mark Tompkins. On one hand, she will need to keep near their shared ideals - - limited government, tight-fisted budgeting - - that got her Tea Party support and Sanford reelected in 2006. At the same time, she will have avoid coming off as the heir to Sanford’s failures - - statewide jobs and economy drops, lost ground in the fight to restructure state government, and others.In a sense, Haley will have to run as an anti-incumbent incumbent. And that could be trouble as anti-incumbency attitudes were rife throughout this primary. Witness the sending home of three GOP House members, Treasurer Converse Chellis, and a near miss for House Ways and Means chairman Rep. Dan Cooper (R-Piedmont), who won by 130 votes over a college student.“I don’t think it was the Tea Party. Those people have always been here,” said S.C. Democratic Party Chair Carol Fowler. “That is just what they’re calling themselves this year.”Bob Jones University political science professor Linda Abrams said it was a “frightful” thought that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s recent endorsement could have been the “catalyst” to Haley’s rise. “What that says about our state,” worried Abrams, who said she was calmed by the knowledge that third-party efforts don’t last more than one election cycle.Frostier days ahead?A Haley victory over Sheheen could mean for frostier relations with the legislature where most agree she is already disliked and distrusted by House leadership. Additionally with a populist surge, Haley could continue Sanford’s efforts at replacing moderate Republicans in the General Assembly with more Libertarian-minded allies.Haley’s initial success has already upset some apple carts within the legislature. One Statehouse denizen, speaking on background, confirmed this week that work has already begun on state government restructuring bills that would increase the work of the governor, though not necessarily his or her powers. At the same time, the bills would also increase legislative oversight of state agencies, as well as split up the duties of the Budget and Control Board, a constant target of Sanford’s. The latter could be the most important, politically, according to Tompkins.With the wing of the Budget and Control Board that oversees redistricting in the hands of the legislature, Tompkins said House Speaker Bobby Harrell (R-Charleston) and Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell (R-Charleston) would have an easier time maintaining control and power.Should that redistricting wing of the Budget and Control Board slip into a governor’s hands, Tompkins said that legislative brass would have a harder time asserting leverage over their underlings, because they would not be able to use re-drawing an incumbent’s district as an incentive “to play ball” on bills they wanted pushed through or disappeared.Haley’s success so far poses the biggest threat to Harrell’s lock on power, according to Huffmon, who said House members, already miffed about his perceived faults this session, could become further restless if they blame him for their former colleagues not surviving the primary, especially Speaker Pro Tempore Harry Cato (R-Travelers Rest).Crystal ball: Regardless of who wins the June 22 GOP run-off, down-ballot Republican candidates will likely be forced to tack hard to the right, due to fears aroused by Haley’s strong primary showing. Legislators also may be more likely to postpone a called-for tax increase next year to cover looming state revenue shortfalls until the following year when the cuts will really be felt.
Back on TuesdayThe General Assembly will reconvene Tuesday at noon as part of its session-extending sine die resolution to deal with roughly $300 million in gubernatorial vetoes within the proposed 2010-11 fiscal year General Fund budget, as well as other pending conference committee reports. The extra session is expected to take two days.
In related meetings, a workgroup of the Taxation Realignment Committee (TRAC) will meet Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. in 105 Gressette. More.
On June 22, the state primary run-offs will be held for both parties. For full primary results, refer to SCVotes.org’s helpful Web site.
Mop possibly neededNext week’s budget veto fight in the General Assembly will be a barometer of the level of fighting the next two years in the legislature. If the Dems vote to sustain Sanford’s 107 vetoes, then get a mop. No, get two.
Sanford wins! Sanford wins!In the dusky hours of his eight-year tenure, Gov. Mark Sanford issued a series of budget vetoes that can only be described with one word. Smart.
Sanford issued vetoes for 107 line items and provisos, which can be broken down into two lump sums. His biggest individual zap was a $214 million line-item for state health care spending that was dependent on an equal sum being sent down from the federal government that is expected to pass but hasn’t yet. The second lump was about $100 million and cut a wide swath through the budget, like doing away with the board for the state’s tech school system, the arts council, critical ETV funding, DHEC’s administration, extension services for black farmers, the state film office and provisos dealing with non-recurring funding.
By going after specific programs he’s always railed against, like the $25 million he wants cut from the Budget and Control Board, and by limiting the total dollar amount of his vetoes, Sanford may be guaranteeing himself a series of overwhelming victories, finally, observers say. This will likely be a far cry from the time early on when he vetoed the entire budget in one fell swoop, only to see his political drama stolen by a single up/down override vote in the legislature.
By focusing his vetoes this go-round, Sanford may have dealt a death blow to the Budget and Control Board, as well as forcing his foes in the GOP and Democratic parties to turn on themselves. Because of the fractious nature of the Republican Party’ s tenuous hold on the House and with Tea Party supporters emboldened and Democrats furious, there’s a real possibility that the vast majority of his vetoes will be sustained, insiders say. Those overrides with the “best” chance of being killed may be the ones further cutting state support of Clemson, reducing Senate and House staffs, doing away with a chunk of state dollars sent to local election commissions to help run elections, and a series of vetoes where Sanford may have overstepped the legal bounds of veto power, according to one Senate staffer.
What are the House Dems gonna do?
This is the first June in eight years where Gov. Mark Sanford and Democrats in the House will be major players, agreed House Minority Leader Harry Ott (D-St. Matthews) this week.
With leverage in the budget veto override/sustain fight next week, the Democrats find themselves in an interesting spot. If they vote to sustain Sanford’s vetoes, they create a crisis that their candidate for governor, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D-Kershaw), could take advantage of against the presumptive GOP gubernatorial candidate, Rep. Nikki Haley of Lexington. But if they do that, they could see cuts to programs they hold dear, cuts that could affect directly their constituents.
Having overplayed their hand earlier this session by opposing a budget scramble to fund the state courts and been severely spanked by vengeful Republicans, what will they do now with the lever in hand?
“We’re not going to say right now what we’re going to do next week,” Ott said. “Democrats want some things; Republicans want some things. We’re going to get together next week and work it out.”
One argument would be that voting to sustain the vetoes, while initially damaging to constituents, could be the most prudent move to take because it would move up to this year the debate in the legislature of how to handle next year’s projected $1 billion shortfall. That could force Republicans, loath to raise or create taxes in this state, to deal more directly with the looming crisis.
The question within the GOP may be when, not if, to raise taxes. If party members allow increases in next year’s session, which comes before the projected shortfall hits, they could take a beating from voters in 2012 who would not have felt the effects of the shortfall. If they wait until 2012 when crafting the 2012-13 fiscal year budget, they might not be able to control the angry backlash of voters who finally realize what it means to do without state services or pay more. Smart money is on a deal or two getting cut behind closed door.
On top of a GOP voter backlash against Republican incumbents and votes for the “anti-establishment” gubernatorial candidate Rep. Nikki Haley (R-Lexington), you’d think the mainline wing of the state GOP had the worst primary results on Tuesday. Think again.
Even losing three incumbents in the House -- Speaker Pro Tem Harry Cato of Travelers Rest, Keith Kelly of Woodruff and Jim Stewart of Aiken -- GOP losses paled in comparison to the gaffe within their counter-party. The Democrats selected an unknown, Alvin Greene, as its candidate to contend with incumbent U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint (R) in the upcoming election.
What’s the problem? Greene, according to media reports, is facing felony obscenity charges. He is unemployed and ran no observable campaign to defeat Vic Rawl, a former judge, state representative, and current county councilman who’d run a professional campaign.
Some contended that Greene’s race – he is black -- played a major role, and that his name came first on the down-ticket ballot. U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) has called for an official investigation into Greene’s campaign, which he said could have been the result of Republican “shenanigans.”
If it was a case or dirty politics, it wouldn’t be the first time, not in South Carolina. In 1990, in an attempt to get out the Republican vote, GOP political operative Rod Shealy put up the money for the campaign of a black fisherman, posing him for campaign shots in front of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant.
The state Democratic Party has asked Greene to step down, due to his legal issues, and he has refused. Two years ago, state Democrats were up in arms over the candidacy of Bob Conley, a former Republican who switched parties and won a primary race to face U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in the General Election. State Democratic Party Chair Carol Fowler said at the time she couldn’t control who ran for office in her party. After the Greene debacle this week, she made a similar statement.
Scent of kerosene shows enormity of spill
By Andy Brack, editor and publisherJUNE 11, 2010 -- The hint of kerosene in the air of Mobile Bay lingered, replacing expected salty sea breezes as a reminder of the massive size and impact of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
It wasn't an overpowering scent we found during a trip earlier this month, but a faint fragrance similar to what you might smell a few minutes after spraying WD-40 on a squeaky door.
This mess in the Gulf is impacting people’s lives across the country. It’s on the tips of people’s tongues at meetings, churches, coffee shops and office water coolers from the Gulf states to California and beyond.
People feel helpless. Yes, they can send money to an aid group or conservation organization. But someone sitting in Sumter or Atlanta or Raleigh can’t actually DO much of anything else. They’re told not to volunteer because clean-up crews need specialized training.
People are frustrated that things are moving so slowly. They don’t know how to get out of the Groundhog Day-like water torture of oil - - the slow, constant landfall of everything from tarballs and goo-covered detritus to oily seaweed and occasional globs of muck.
On the trip to the Alabama and Florida coasts, I didn't see a bunch of goo on any of the white sandy beaches that are as typical of the Gulf coast as sugar is in sweet tea. But what I did see was disturbing. Some observations:
- People are very worried about what the oil is going to do to the tourism and fisheries businesses along the coast. And they're more worried about the impact of the spill for wildlife.
- But they're apparently not worried enough yet not to swim in the water. It was surprising how people would bathe in the clear, green waters as crews periodically combed beaches for pea-sized tarballs.
- Contract crews were spotted in makeshift haz-mat suits – yellow plastic boots that were duct-taped to their pants. The stuff they picked up seemed small – no larger than a silver dollar, one observer said. It wasn't hard to wonder whether these crews were on beaches more for public relations purposes than for significant clean-up work.
- The red and yellow strings of boom around parts of the shoreline seemed pretty flimsy, making us wonder just how much oil they can keep out.
Along Mobile Bay, 77-year-old Peck Thompson, a retired sheet rock worker, fished for croaker. He said he wasn't too sure how much longer he'd be able to fish like he'd been doing for the last 60 years.
“It's a disaster right now,” said Thompson, who lives over a bait shop near Dauphin Island, Ala. “It's going to shut a lot of businesses down – bait shops and stuff and the people who make their business fishing.”
Moments later at a beach in Gulf Islands National Seashore, 36-year-old Larry Femrite of Pensacola was walking off the beach with a camera. He explained he had just left an overnight shift at a nearby WalMart and was on his way home. In recent days, he had started to stop to check to see what he could see of the spill on the beaches. On Saturday, he said he saw oily specks washing ashore. On Sunday, he didn't see much of anything, other than a goo-covered empty Gatorade bottle that washed ashore.
“It should be a wake-up call to the oil companies and government,” Femrite said. “They should have better procedures in place in case something happens. I don't know if the ecosystem will ever recover.”
A couple of miles away, National Park Service Ranger Mark Whipps dug into the sand near the tide line to see if any oil detritus had been buried in the white sand. “I'm extremely ecstatic that it's not deep,” said Whipps, normally stationed at the Natchez Trace national park in Tupelo, Miss.
As about 20 contract workers prepared to look for oil pollution on the beach, he noted, “One of the good things since I've been here is the crews have gotten here right away. It's kind of an ongoing process.”
If you'd like to see more pictures of the trip, visit a new photo blog that will chronicle what's happening along the Gulf. Go to: www.BetterGulf.org.
Electric Cooperatives of South CarolinaThe public spiritedness of our underwriters allows us to bring SC Statehouse Report to you at no cost. This week's spotlighted underwriter is the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina. More South Carolinians use power from electric cooperatives than from any other power source. South Carolina’s 20 independent, consumer-owned cooperatives deliver electricity in all 46 counties to more than 1.5 million citizens. As member-owned organizations, cooperatives recognize their responsibility to provide power that is affordable, reliably delivered and responsibly produced. More at www.ecsc.org or www.livinginsc.coop.
Worry about efficient government instead
To Statehouse Report,
First let me state that I would like think that I am independent in my political leanings. I'll listen to Rush and Chris Mathews and take what each says with a grain of salt.
But the Statehouse Report article by Andy Brack (Commentary, 6/4) in Sunday’s paper was a quite deceiving. Basically he stated that in order to have "effective government" we should be paying more in taxes. That since South Carolina is ranked 37th nationwide in tax burden we shouldn't complain about paying higher taxes in order to have this so called "effective government".
As though just throwing money at our problems will solve them. Sorry Mr. Brack, this has been tried and it doesn't work. What he failed to mention was that, New Jersey, New York and California were ranked 1st, 2nd and 6th on this same tax burden list. I don't think any of these states could ever be considered good examples of "effective government" in any form or fashion. In fact South Carolina's budget problems pale in comparison to these three states. He also fails to mention that according to the 2007 United States Census Bureau South Carolina ranked 47th in personal income, where as New Jersey, New York, and California are ranked 2nd,4th,and 7th respectively.
From this data, my simple mind tells me we are already paying our fair share in taxes. I think Mr. Brack needs to learn a new term. How about a more "efficient government" or maybe a more "responsible government."
South Carolinians don't need to be taxed more, We just need the state to be more efficient in its operation and more responsible in the spending of our tax dollars. Sometimes I think them good ole boys in Columbia forget just who is footing the bill. In the meantime if Mr. Brack feels guilty about the amount of tax he pays, he could always voluntarily pay more. But for me enough is enough.
-- Pat Rush, Florence, S.C.
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Up, down and in the middleSanford. If you had vetoed the entire budget, you would have thrown the process into a death spiral. Instead, you come off more like a statesman and still get close to killing-off a foe, the Budget and Control Board. More.
Turnout. Only 25 percent of registered voters showed up for the primary, but one of them was 101-year-old Minnie Wilson Bivens of Columbia, who was alive with the 19th Amendment passed. More.
Alvin Greene. What’s sadder? That Mr. Greene doesn’t appear capable of completely explaining his candidacy for U.S. Senate? Or that his candidacy could be the result of GOP trickery? Or that the milquetoast S.C. Democratic Party can’t control who runs for office? Answer: All of the above. More.
Pundits. Did any of us really see Nikki Haley coming? Or for that matter, what about Alvin Greene?
Up in the air
Step into the wayback machine to pick out the Upstate congressman in this photo, who is on an official trip in 1960 to Antarctica. Click the photo to learn more.
From The Vault is a partnership between Statehouse Report and the South Carolina Political Collections at USC Libraries. To learn more about the Collection's holdings, click here. You also might want to check out its blog: A Capital Blog. Let us know what you think about our new feature: Email Statehouse Report.