S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, May 7, 2006
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/06.0507.politics.htm


How South Carolina might get more conservative
By Andy Brack
Publisher
SC Statehouse Report

MAY 7, 2006 - - Simmering just below the surface of South Carolina politics is a pretty amazing struggle for leadership of the state's agenda.

On one side are the traditional Statehouse leaders, all Republicans - - the House speaker, Senate president pro tempore and a bevy of committee chairmen.

On another side are Republicans who are frustrated - - social conservatives and outsiders who have special-interest agendas, such as school vouchers, and mavericks, such as Gov. Mark Sanford, who has seen little movement in his agenda even though his party controls the legislature.

Meanwhile, increasingly organized national and state Democrats lay in wait as voters become more frustrated with rising gas prices, the lingering war in Iraq, immigration conflicts and high unemployment.

"There are a number of factors, mostly on the national level, causing a lot of dissatisfaction," said Presbyterian College political scientist Jonathan C. Smith.

Evidence of the growing Republican fissure in state politics can be seen in the candidate list in the coming June primaries, now just a few weeks away.

Of the 23 contested Republican S.C. House races, 13 pit challengers against GOP incumbents, some of whom are big-name leaders tied closely to the leadership: Assistant Majority Leader Adam Taylor, R-Laurens; six-term veteran Rep. Bill Cotty, R-Richland; popular insider Rep. Skipper Perry, R-Aiken; and Horry Rep. Alan Clemmons. In 18 Democratic contested House races, nine challengers are threatening incumbents.

But while the Democratic contests seem to be standard political fare, the fact that incumbent Republican leaders are being challenged is of enough concern that House Speaker Bobby Harrell fired a broadside in late April.

"We have members of the House of Representatives who are running for re-election who are being attacked by out-of-state special interest groups," Harrell said April 20 at a Columbia news conference. (It's common knowledge the groups he's referring to are South Carolinians for Responsible Government, which gets a lot of out-of-state money to support school vouchers, and a new organization called SC Club for Growth, which seems to want to push the Sanford agenda.)

According to the Associated Press, Harrell also said the group had "misleading names and they want you to think that they represent South Carolina's values. The reality is that these organizations come from places like New York and Washington, D.C."

Even a space cadet can read the writing on the wall: the old guard is being threatened.

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University of South Carolina political scientist Mark Tompkins sees the struggle as a battle between legislative and executive control of the state's political agenda

In one corner is the "legislative party" - - mostly Republicans and a smattering of Democrats who ensure the legislature controls where the state is going. With South Carolina's political structure favoring a strong legislature, this is the status quo. A legislative party in control generally tries to keep things the same - - control of the agenda, no messy floor fights, no big controversy. And when members want to make news, they want it to be big, splashy and favorable.

The downsides of a legislative party are they keep a lot of folks out of the decision-making process and force the process toward the middle. In a legislative state, Tompkins said, change doesn't come fast.

In the other corner are more maverick efforts. At a national level, it would be called a "presidential party" with the president setting the agenda. Here, it's probably better called an "executive party" with a governor setting the agenda.

Under Sanford, this executive party has been hit and miss. There haven't been lots of big victories for the governor and his supporters. But there have been a lot of public squabbles between him and the Republican leadership in the General Assembly. So instead of working with leaders to accomplish things, as Republican Gov. Carroll Campbell did with a Democratic legislature, this executive party seems to play guerrilla politics. Tactics include public displays of populism, using outside groups to try to influence the agenda and finding wealthy supporters to run for office.

So what does this all mean? Mostly that guerrilla tactics will have some impact. Republican incumbents who may not have had to watch how they voted over the past few years now will have to pay more attention to political consequences. In an already conservative state, South Carolina may get more conservative.

Veteran political observer Andy Brack, publisher of SC Statehouse Report, has a new book of columns called "Bugging the Palmettos."


lighter side

5/5: For the love of country

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:


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feedback
5/4: Smaller areas need help

The people in our county of Union are taxed to the limit. It is not fair for a person who owns a $200,000 home on the seashore to receive more that those who live in the middle and Upstate. We here in Union have suffered when it comes to the loss of jobs. We pay our taxes just like those in Spartanburg and Greenville and other surrounding counties who now are moving forward with new road constructions and other progress.

Union continues to sit in the middle of that progress, yet has yet to receive any of the Interstate connections and any roads to pave our county to pave our way to posterity. With the dividing line that allows us less representation,we will continue as we are. [Rep. Mike] Anthony has done a great job as our Representative, and [Sen. Linda] Ms Short is also there to represent us but I, as a life-long Union County citizen, will continue to beseech you for our fair share, for we are a part of South Carolina and deserve to be treated as such.

-- Linda S. Treadway, Union, SC

Recent feedback

scorecard

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

Thumbs up

Rutherford.
Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, does not golf very much, but he drives to and from the Statehouse in a golf cart customized for limited secondary road transportation. His cart, parked in the underground garage for legislators near the escalator, is drawing print and television media since he began driving it this spring as an alternative to using high-priced gasoline. He bought it after Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi began to drive up prices.

Grooms. Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, cannot be accused of pouting when his first effort to attempt to persuade other senators to his property tax relief amendment, failed. He tried and tried again, one time after another, to make the money fit the benefit. He never did succeed, but he never quit trying either.

In the middle

Sanford. The governor did the right thing in vetoing a bill that would, in part, have allowed Lexington Medical Center to ignore state regulations and build its own approved heart center. The bill was, however, a good one in the main, in modernizing administrative law hearings and procedures, but it became entwined with the Lexington add-on. The governor refused to allow Lexington to get around state regulations on certificates of need for medical facilities, noting that two heart centers already operate in nearby Columbia. However, because time is short before the June 1 adjournment, the good legislation goes down with the bad.

Thumbs down

Merrill. Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Daniel Island, had security personnel rushing to the back rail this past week when he got in a heated exchange with Rep. Ken Kennedy, D-Williamsburg, that threatened to get out of hand. The two disagreed over whether the state was being overrun with out-of-state residents and private lobbyists. The matter was settled by Rep. Doug Smith, R-Spartanburg, then presiding, when he firmly admonished both for their outburst. This was the second incident this session for Merrill, the House majority leader.

Sanford. The governor, on the list for an encore in a different category, had to stretch his excuse for vetoing a bill that would have raised the fine for not securing children in safe car seats. He said he thought all children should be correctly belted in, but the extra fine ($150, instead of the current $25) wouldn't work. Besides, he said, the state cannot force residents to do what they should do, and the bill, he said, didn't allow non-use of seat belts to be used in civil court suits. The governor should add a seat belt to his office chair to keep him from signing such vetoes.


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AVAILABLE NOW: "Bugging the Palmettos," a new book of commentaries from Statehouse Report's Andy Brack, is now available for just $15.00. Click here to learn more and buy the book.

Just a quick note to let you know how you missed out this week. If you were a subscriber to the paid edition of Statehouse Report, you would have received the information below on Friday AND you would have gotten other special features:

  • NUMBER OF THE WEEK: 604
  • JERRY AUSBAND: Republicans more comfortable
  • LEGISLATIVE AGENDA: Vetoes ahead
  • RADAR SCREEN: A look at what didn't make it
  • TALLY SHEET: Newly-filed legislation
  • BLOGROLL: Dueling times?
  • MEGAPHONE: Strong stuff

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