S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, April 24, 2005
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/05.0424.neanderthal.htm


COMMENTARY
The cases of the Neanderthal and the Man of Thin Skin
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

APRIL 24, 2005 - - There must have been something in the water Tuesday at the Statehouse. That's the only plausible explanation for two dumb public relations moves that day.

First, thin-skinned Gov. Mark Sanford showed up at a press conference by state Democrats as they criticized his truth-telling over possible privatization of Santee Cooper, the state-owned public utility.

Hours later, foot-in-mouth GOP Rep. John Graham Altman of Charleston verbally attacked and insulted a Columbia television reporter asking questions about two bills dealt with by the House Judiciary Committee.

The committee approved a bill to make cockfighting a felony, but tabled action on another bill that would toughen penalties and boost judicial education on criminal domestic violence. (Current law does classify criminal domestic violence a felony if it is of a "high and aggravated nature" that involves a weapon or results in serious bodily injury. The law, however, provides for the lesser misdemeanor version that is commonly used by law enforcement officials.)


Altman

The fact that the committee voted to make cockfighting a felony while putting off action on a tougher measure for batterers prompted WIS TV reporter Kara Gormley to ask Altman, a member of the committee, about the difference.

Gormley: "Does that show that we are valuing a gamecock's life over a woman's life?"

Altman: "You're really not very bright and I realize you are not accustomed to this, but I'm accustomed to reporters having a better sense of depth of things and you're asking this question to me would indicate you can't understand the answer. To ask the question is to demonstrate an enormous amount of ignorance. I'm not trying to be rude or hostile, I'm telling you."

Gormley: "It's rude when you tell someone they are not very bright."

Altman: "You're not very bright and you'll just have to live with that."

It got worse. Here's one of the Neanderthal comments that outraged women across the state:

Altman: "I mean you women want it one way and not another. Women want to punish the men, and I do not understand why women continue to go back around men who abuse them."

Gov. Mark Sanford rightly spoke out against what Altman said to WIS TV:

"To put the life of a chicken ahead of the life of a woman. That just doesn't make any common sense. And to be insensitive about, certainly there are nuances in any piece of legislation, but to be insensitive about, the importance, the gravity of that issue, I think causes people to have doubts about the legislative process in South Carolina, about certain legislators."

For Sanford, Altman's shenanigans turned the media spotlight away from what may become longer-term, serious political trouble over what the governor said and didn't say about Santee Cooper.

As the State Democratic Party had a press conference complaining about Sanford's "secret plans" to privatize the state-owned utility, the governor rushed from his office to attend the conference, reportedly standing just a few feet from a podium as Democrats spoke.

ALSO THIS WEEK

McLEMORE'S WORLD: Pope-ular food at the Vatican

FEEDBACK: On Altman, cigarettes, more

KEEPING TRACK

SCORECARD: Thumbs up and down

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If it was a move to intimidate Democratic leaders, it didn't work. It made the story even bigger. State Democratic Chairman Joe Erwin thanked the governor for coming because it saved him the price of a stamp. He handed a Freedom of Information request to Sanford about what's going on with the utility.

After the press conference, Sanford denied having a secret plan to sell Santee Cooper, according to The Post and Courier. Instead, he said he commissioned a $100,000 study to assess the utility's capacity to return more money over to state coffers to fund government.

But according to the newspaper, documents obtained under a different FOI request showed that a Sanford staffer "contacted at least four investment banks in the fall, asking them to submit bids for a confidential study on the sale of Santee Cooper."

In his years of public service, people haven't always agreed with Sanford's positions on policy issues, but his veracity has rarely, if ever, been questioned. The governor's locked-jaw zeal, however, over Santee Cooper has given opponents a real political issue that will come back to haunt him in his 2006 re-election campaign.

Sanford needs to drop privatization efforts and tell the whole truth about what's going on. Meanwhile, Altman just needs to drop out of politics for good.


RECENT COMMENTARY

McLEMORE'S WORLD
4/24: Pope-ular food at the Vatican

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:


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FEEDBACK

4/21: Is Altman brain-dead?

To the editor:

How is it that this man is still in office...can you impeach someone on a state legislature? Or can we just declare that he is in fact "BRAIN DEAD" and elect someone WITH A BRAIN to the legislature.....How long will he embarrass our state?

-- Tony Martin, Mount Pleasant, S.C.

4/20: Keep focus on issues

To the editor:

In your April 10 commentary you pointed out that the General Assembly was wasting time with wedge issues while "thousands of South Carolina's children go to school hungry, tens of thousands of families live in poverty, the state's education system is at the bottom, infant mortality rates are among the nation's highest and the state has the third highest unemployment rate in America." Then you joined them on April 17 by suggesting these important issues be sidetracked in favor of developing a "state policy" on smoking. We need to keep the focus on the issues you so accurately stated on the 10th.

-- Laura Morris, Mount Pleasant, SC

4/19: Doing crime without the time

It was with disbelief that I watched the WIS news interview with John Graham Altman (Dist. No. 119, Charleston Co) on 04/20/05. I am absolutely appalled that someone with so little understanding of current issues is even allowed to participate in the creation of laws for the citizens of this state.

John Graham Altman has publicly demonstrated his ignorance of domestic violence when he stated “there ought not to be a second time” and “women should not return to a man who abuses them” Okay, what about the man who beats his wife, who then subsequently leaves him. He then begins dating another woman, who has no knowledge of his previous history of abuse. He then beats her; she was unaware of his prior arrest on domestic violence charges, is she somehow at fault for being with a man with a previous CDV arrest? Should she have somehow “known” about his prior arrests? The ignorance and insensitivity displayed by Rep. Altman is astonishing.

I suppose it also escaped his notice that half of his constituents are women …wonder if he expects to be re-elected after his shameful comments and behavior? South Carolina ranks 1st in the nation in the Rate of Women Murdered by Men…when is the legislator going to wake up and do something about this shameful statistic? The numbers put South Carolina’s homicide rate for women at more than TWICE the national average!

How many more women have to die before the legislator decides to make domestic violence a felony offense, punishable with jail time? This as a disgrace to our state and our citizens. Honestly, it makes us look like a backwards, inept state that is incapable of dealing with spousal abuse.

It is past time that tougher laws were out on the books and every effort made to stop this shameful practice, yet our legislative body seems more concerned with the rights of chickens than the rights of victims of domestic violence! Why don’t we just advertise to the entire criminal element: “Come to South Carolina where you can do the crime without doing the time”

-- Teresa Carrigan, Cassatt, SC

4/19: Shocked at smoking usage

To the editor:

I was excited to learn that there is some legislation pending re smoking. (Commentary, 4/17). If every locality had the choice, then it would be possible to start lobbying to get smokers out of public places on Hilton Head Island. As excited as I was, I was also shocked to learn of the high percentage of young smokers in SC. Well, I guess it's nice to be able to claim leadership in something!

It is fascinating to see how many things down here are driven by the politics of "personal liberty." ... We come here seasonally from New York State, and we spend a portion of each Winter in California. So we are starting to forget what it is to be inside a restaurant that reeks of cigarettes, and we are increasingly jarred by this each year when we come down. I am sure many other visitors quietly suffer as we do, and they file it somewhere in their frontal lobe as a minus for the area.

Upstate New York (our home) isn't all that much different from here in that when the anti-smoking law passed a few years ago there were all sorts of dire predictions -- lost revenue in bars, people getting frostbite going outside, general civil unrest, etc. That all died down within a few months, and everybody is happier. It seems not to cross legislator's minds during the debates on this issue that only 25% of the public smoke so that smoking doesn't really have much of a contingency.

Legislation to let smoking continue in bars is insufficient. The smoke always wafts throughout the restaurants, and many people (my wife and I included) prefer to dine casually at the bar when there is no smoke to contend with. We tilt our dining experiences to places that are non-smoking.

-- Bruce Maston, M.D., J.D., Hilton Head Island, SC

4/18: Primary seat belt law needed

To the editor:

I work for Milliken and we sponsor a program in the high schools of Abbeville County called "Seat Belts for Life". We began this program in 2004 because the prior year we had 3 teenagers killed in our county. We have 3 high schools and 1 teenager was killed from each school. There were also 17 other fatalities that year and none were wearing seat belts. We do random seat belt audits in the high schools and have seen our percentages increase from 40% to 90%. We have offered incentives to the teens who were buckled up ranging from gifts (such as gift card, gift certificates to restaurants to Carowinds tickets) to having stickers made with school logos to a competition between schools with the school with the best results getting a pizza party for the entire school. The biggest problem that we are seeing is with parents bringing children to school and not being buckled up and none of the children in the cars buckled up. We have also seen a problem with black teenage boys not buckling up.

We need a primary seat belt law in South Carolina--it is important! If anyone from the Legislature would like to join us when we do a seat belt audit, we would welcome them. Another problem we are seeing here is that some of the local law enforcement do not wear their seat belts and the comment is that they are exempt. I try to use law enforcement in our audits but I have refused to allow any officer to
help if they do not wear their seat belts. I need people who are examples to the teenagers--because they learn from our example. We do use county deputies and we also work with the South Carolina Highway Patrol.

-- Judy P. White, Calhoun Falls, SC


KEEPING TRACK

In this new section, we will keep track of Statehouse Report's record of forecasting what goes on in the legislature. For example, at the beginning of the year, a commentary called for no roads to be named for living officials. Sixteen days later, House Speaker David Wilkins introduced such a measure. Latest example:

In Statehouse Report:

3/27/05: More disclosure needed to highlight influence peddlers: "Voters deserve to know the people and money behind efforts to influence lawmakers' votes because policies that are passed will impact people across the state. Similarly, state lawmakers deserve to know who is behind efforts to persuade them to vote. More accountability is called for. State lawmakers should consider beefing up campaign disclosure laws to cover efforts to influence legislation." More.

In other outlets:

4/18/05: Lawmakers may consider changes to disclosure rules: "Some lawmakers say they want to know who is behind it all and think it is time for a change in the disclosure laws. 'This thing has the potential for costing billions of dollars out of the state treasury, and we as legislators should know who’s trying to influence our state,' said Rep. Ted Vick, D-Chesterfield. Legislative leaders, including House Speaker David Wilkins, R-Greenville, say they might be willing to consider the idea.

3/20/05: "Siphoning public money for private education could lead to school resegregation, says the Rev. Joseph A. Darby, the much-respected African American minister at Morris Brown A.M.E. Church in Charleston." More. 4/2/05: "Now opponents say that tuition tax credits would in effect re-segregate the state's schools, with whites fleeing to private schools and public schools becoming increasingly black." The Economist magazine.
10/17/04: Radar Screen: Changes ahead in House leadership? 4/1/05: Wilkins may be appointed ambassador, successors lining up, Post and Courier


SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD

Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political events from the past week:

Thumbs up

Taylor. Hats off to Rep. Adam Taylor for derailing the statewide impact of the governor's voucher bill. Making it a test project makes more sense than anything else (other than killing it outright).

Thumbs down

Where do we start this week?

Sanford. It's time to tell the whole truth about your involvement with the wrong-minded idea to privatize Santee Cooper.

Altman. It's time to step down from politics. Just in the last few weeks, Altman has called for Charleston County to secede for tax purposes, tried to shut down ETV and now offended women nationwide with knuckle-dragging opinions on domestic violence.


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