S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, May 1, 2005
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/05.0501.wilkins.htm


COMMENTARY
House could be vastly different next year
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

MAY 1, 2005 - - The S.C. House of Representatives will be a new place next year.

By next year, Rep. David Wilkins, the third-longest House speaker in the state’s history, will be the new U.S. ambassador to Canada.

By next year, there will be a new Republican speaker in the chamber that has more than 70 Republicans, compared to the 18 members of the GOP when Greenville voters first elected Wilkins to the House in 1981.

After 11 years of stability under Wilkins’ forceful leadership, next year’s House could easily become a more raucous place.


Wilkins

In a day when political parties mean far less to voters, parties likely hold the key to the next speaker’s success.

For years, Wilkins has held the Republican members of the House together as a majority bloc of votes on major issues, which allowed the speaker, his committee chairmen and lieutenants to push through just about any bill they wanted. Republican members rarely have broken with the will of the GOP House Caucus.

To Wilkins’ credit, that has allowed Republicans to push through a conservative agenda with relative ease. To his critics, however, bloc voting rushed legislation that may have benefited from more discussion and time in committees.

Today, there are three strong GOP candidates to replace Wilkins as speaker, assuming he is confirmed by the U.S. Senate over the summer or fall to be the new ambassador to Canada. (Most see Wilkins as a shoe-in, as reflected by recent comments by Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.)

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In the running to be new speaker are Speaker Pro Tem Doug Smith, R-Spartanburg, House Ways and Means Chairman Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, and House Judiciary Chairman Jim Harrison, R-Richland.

At this point, the race appears neck-and-neck to many observers with no clear leading candidate. With each of the candidates from a different part of the state, there may differing parochial interests in the GOP House Caucus.

The key for the successful candidate appears to be whether the House GOP Caucus again will vote as a bloc or whether Harrell, Harrison and Smith will peel off members to vote for them.

If the GOP remains united and stands behind one candidate, it’s less likely there will be sweeping changes next year when House members convene for the 2006 session. By staying together behind one candidate, they essentially will be endorsing the “Wilkins way” of doing things – sticking together on major votes to push a united agenda.

ALSO THIS WEEK

McLEMORE'S WORLD: At the pumps

FEEDBACK: On Altman, Santee Cooper, more

KEEPING TRACK

SCORECARD: Thumbs up and down

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But if the GOP caucus fractures and members vote for various candidates when the Speaker’s race hits the floor, the real deciders of the next speaker might be just those who the GOP doesn’t want to make the decision – Democrats, but only if they can remain together and vote as a bloc (something that seems extremely difficult for Democrats.)

The three speaker candidates reportedly are scurrying behind the scene trying to lock up commitments from House members. If they continue, the House GOP caucus may split, which would help the Democrats. Word on the street is that speaker candidates are wooing Democrats to put together a coalition of GOP and Democratic votes to have the 63 needed to win.

But for a Republican speaker to have to secure a significant number of Democratic votes to win might spell the end of long-time GOP caucus unity. To get those Democratic votes, the speaker candidate would have to make concessions on things like committee chairmanships and putting Democrats on conference committees when the House is trying to make compromises with the Senate on legislation. (Wilkins appointed few Democrats to conference committees over the years.)

Wilkins has left a stamp of strong leadership on the House. He’s respected by members of both parties.

Next year, the House will have a different speaker. And while he’s trying to earn the respect of all members, they’ll likely be cutting up a little and testing their limits under new leadership. And that should make for an interesting session … and more politics.


RECENT COMMENTARY

McLEMORE'S WORLD
5/1: Gas prices always controversial

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:


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FEEDBACK

4/27: Santee Cooper is government socialism

To the editor:

Rep. Denny Neilson and Andy Brack take a swipe at Gov. Sanford for his interest in privatizing Santee Cooper (Commentary, 3/27/05).

The definition of socialism is government ownership of the means of production. Santee Cooper fits this definition like a glove. Democrats in the General Assembly should be asked to explain to their constituents their reasons for preferring socialism over capitalism.

-- Hugh Campbell, Hartsville, S.C.

Editor's note: Mr. Campbell: You are receiving the free version of Statehouse Report online or you are reading it in a local newspaper; if you'd prefer to pay for the full capitalist version, please visit our subscribe section. Statehouse Report is a strong believer in capitalism.)


4/25: Marching against Altman

To the editor:

Although I have never voted for him, as a resident of Charleston, I am saddened to admit that this is my Representative.

On Thursday (4/21), a number of Columbia College women marched to the State
House, in a rally against the tabling of the bill, and against the stupidity that has been exemplified by John Graham Altman. Anyone who ever doubted the purpose or power of a women's college can use that day as one of the many examples of why we are still needed. We as women, and as a college community came together to speak out against this madness, and to let the world know that this will not
be tolerated.

-- Shavone Gadsden, sophomore, Columbia College

4/24: Bravo on Neanderthal column

Bravo re your editorial on that "neanderthal" Altman! (Commentary, 4/24) I saw that interview replayed on a national TV program and was appalled to say the least. The reporter showed a tremendous amount of professionalism and "cool" - he, a fool to say the least. It would be my hope that he be drummed out of the state house as it seemed he would make it a priority to be informed as to the whys and wherefores of human behavior as opposed to those of chickens. Thanks for writing so well.

-- Natalie Mann, Bluffton, S.C.


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

Wilkins. Congratulations to Speaker David Wilkins on being nominated to be the U.S. Ambassador to Canada. He'll serve with grace and distinction.

McConnell, Campsen. Congrats to these two Republican senators for voting against the Senate budget and sending a message about inequitable school funding.

Thumbs down

Rutherford. Thumbs down to Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, who stalled a House bill that would toughen domestic violence penalities. While it's smart to read the fine print, any clean-up could have been done in conference committee.

Altman. Despite a mediocre apology this week to the House for his negative statements that ignited the pushback to pass tougher domestic violence legislation, Altman still seemed to suffer, with The State's Brad Warthen calling him a jerk. (More: The State, 4/26/05).

Sanford. Another bad week. The governor's idea to change the way budgets are written got killed by the Senate. He looked bad in transferring to a new military unit right before the old one got activated. He keeps pushing his income tax reduction plan.


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