Race to the top
A look at leadership styles for the next governor
By Andy Brack, editor and publisher
OCT. 24, 2014 -- South Carolina’s next governor will be a civic cheerleader, a consensus-builder or an outsider.
After months of television ads, political intrigue, charges, countercharges and scandals, there’s been little serious consideration about what kind of leader will assume the state’s top governance role.
Will the Palmetto State’s next governor work with a legislature shamed by the fall from grace of its powerful House speaker? Will the state’s top official blaze new trails and hope that people follow? Or will the governor try to shake up things to create a new kind of South Carolina?
Nikki Haley (campaign web site)
Gov. Nikki Haley’s leadership style is the easiest to predict. Under another Haley term, it will continue to be “a great day in South Carolina,” as she has instructed cabinet employees to say.
Viewed as a kind of cheerleader who promotes South Carolina’s economic engines and who focuses like a laser beam on growing more jobs, Haley’s second term would find detailed attention to some narrow priorities, while delegating a lot of responsibility to agency officials -- a trait that got her in trouble in her first term at places like the Department of Social Services.
“She clearly prioritizes and on the issues she prioritizes, she is really all-in,” said Furman University political science professor Danielle Vinson. “She has not been the hands-off governor that Mark Sanford was. On the issues that are at the top of her agenda, she is an all-in kind of leader. But that also means other issues don’t get as much attention from her and are overlooked.”
The College of Charleston’s Gibbs Knotts said Haley likely would have more of a go-it-alone leadership style that doesn’t work too closely with the legislature. Her first term, he observed, was somewhat adversarial with the General Assembly.
“I don’t see her as somebody who is going to sit down and partner with the Republican leadership on a consistent basis,” he said. “She’s somebody who is going to be a public advocate, but not somebody who is going to say let’s sit down and work together.”
Vincent Sheheen (campaign web site)
Democratic challenger Vincent Sheheen, however, is more likely to bring people together to get things done, in part because he would be a Democratic governor with a Republican legislature. But as GOP Gov. Carroll Campbell showed in his eight years in office, significant progress can be made when the General Assembly and governor are in different parties.
“He has the potential to be a consensus-builder,” Knotts said, adding that his party allegiance also could cause gridlock if he didn’t work with the legislature. “He doesn’t seem to have a lot of enemies in the legislature, but he’s got the challenge of governing with a party that he’s not a member of.”
Vinson said she thought Sheheen has outlined the differences between him and Haley, but that he seemed to be underfunded in getting out that message, particularly in the Upstate.
“He fully understands the legislature because he’s been there a while,” she said. “He is someone who will be more likely to confer with them [legislators] and come up with policy together, instead of thinking up policy on his own and trying to get things done.”
Tom Ervin (campaign web site)
Ervin, the independent Republican who is running as a petition candidate, is more of a wild card. A former judge and state legislator, he’s got experience in two branches of government, but his executive style is murky to many.
Knotts said Ervin might be able to bring people together because he wasn’t saddled with partisan baggage. That might cause more coalitions to build on issues like DSS, roads and more. He might be able to bring new ideas to the table and reboot state government.
But he’s untested, in some ways. “Being a judge is very different than being either a legislator or chief executive,” Knotts said.
Vinson added, “I don’t know enough about him. He seems to me like a thoughtful person in terms of policy, but I have no idea what his leadership style is like.”
Fast forward to looking at issues
Haley clearly is the frontrunner in the days leading up to the election. Sheheen and Ervin have ramped up the attacks on DSS, ethics and more.
If Haley does win, something that many will look for is whether she plans to lead the state for the next four years, or will dilly-dally with trying to be part of the national presidential ticket in 2016.
Below is a summary of some major issues to give some indication how each of the major candidates would lead. The information is taken from news reports, speeches and candidate websites.
Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
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Five House meetings ahead
- Education. The First Steps Study Committee will meet 10 a.m. Oct. 28 in 433 Blatt to review committee duties and more. Agenda.
- Oversight. The Senate Labor and Employment Subcommittee will meet 11 a.m. Oct. 29 in 403 Blatt for an oversight update from the state Department of Employment and Workforce.
- Ethics. The Campaign Finance Subcommittee of the House Ethics and Freedom of Information Act Study Committee will meet 9 a.m. Oct. 30 in 511 Blatt. Agenda. The Enforcement and Investigation subcommittee will meet 1 p.m. Oct. 30 in 511 Blatt. Agenda. The FOIA subcommittee will meet 9 a.m. Oct. 31 in 516 Blatt. Agenda.
- Transportation. The House Transportation Infrastructure and Management Ad-Hoc Committee will meet 10:30 a.m. Oct. 30 in 110 Blatt. Agenda.
- House rules. The House Rules and Procedures Ad-Hoc Committee will meet 11 a.m. Oct. 30 in 516 Blatt. Agenda.
Deja vu all over again
News of a plea deal for ex-House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, reminded us of the furtive environment surrounding the General Assembly more than two decades ago in now-famous Operation Lost Trust, the federal sting that led to indictments of 28 people, including 17 lawmakers.
If you forgot to read the newspaper this morning, Harrell pleaded guilty Thursday to six counts of using campaign funds for personal expenses. In return for probation, Harrell agreed to resign from the legislature, not hold or seek office for three years, pay $130,000 in fines and penalties, and cooperate with authorities, including taking lie detector tests.
It’s this last part that brings to mind the famous federal sting. Harrell’s deal to be a government informant sounds eerily similar to deals with key legislators made by federal authorities in Lost Trust. As one former judge has remarked, “It sounds like a federal plea deal.”
And that’s significant because it illustrates that Harrell’s fall is likely the start of a domino effect that will ripple through the legislature. As we suggested two weeks ago, folks have been shaking in their boots about the Harrell deal and whether there’s another big scandal ahead for vote swapping, misuse of campaign funds or something else.
Right now, it’s pretty clear to veteran observers that state and federal authorities have something that is going to break soon. Three big questions are looming:
- Will it happen before the Nov. 4 election?
- How many legislators will it involve?
- And as one former reporter told us, “You wonder, are there tapes -- audiotapes, videotapes?”
Hold on for a wild ride.
The next speaker
The next speaker of the House will be elected during the body’s organizational session on Dec. 2 and 3.
After members are sworn in, the first action that they’ll take is to elect a speaker.
Until then, Speaker Pro Tem Jay Lucas, R-Hartsville, will carry out the speaker’s duties. He is widely viewed as the leading candidate to assume the House’s top job.
Note: As of noon today (Oct. 24), the S.C. House Web site no longer opened with a welcome from ex-House Speaker Bobby Harrell. He was, however, still listed as a member of the chamber here and as an officer.
State plays shell game with local governments
By Andy Brack, editor and publisherOCT. 24, 2014 -- When people in more than half of South Carolina’s counties head to the polls on Nov. 4, they’ll find at least one question seeking voter approval on a local issue, generally seeking more tax money for local needs.
A few referenda ask voters whether Sunday alcohol sale should be allowed. But most seek permission from voters to determine whether they want to pay a penny more in sales taxes or borrow money for capital projects.
And why do they have to ask? Because state government generally isn’t doing part of its job. All of these referenda illustrate how state government is pulling the same trick the federal government has been doing for years -- shifting responsibilities.
This is a contrived ploy by state legislators to look good for re-election. They essentially say, “Look at us, we lowered your taxes.” But in reality, reduced revenue sources cause cuts that lead to the need by strapped counties for local referenda to get things done. And that causes more local taxes, which more than offset any lowered state tax burden dreamed up by state lawmakers.
Yes, it’s a shell game of taxing proportions.
“This has been going on a long time,” said veteran lobbyist Bill Ross, who runs the S.C. Alliance to Fix Our Roads. “The state has been pushing it down to the counties for years. This is not new, but it is just becoming so critical that the counties have to be able to do something at the local level, particularly with roads and schools.”
Just look at Greenville County where residents are being asked for another penny in sales tax to fund $673 million in road and infrastructure needs. One city council member told the local newspaper that if the county doesn’t pass the special tax, “We’re looking at 50, 60, 70 years of not repaving state roads, and we have a tremendous challenge. Truthfully, if we do not [approve it], the chance of us getting a Fortune 500 headquarters or expanding our manufacturing business will be nothing. We will not be able to grow if we do not have infrastructure.”
The story is the same across South Carolina, which has an amazing $42 billion -- yes billion -- in road needs. In Lexington County, officials want a penny for pavement. Berkeley County officials want to extend a penny tax for $141 million in improvements. In Georgetown County, voters are being asked to fund more dredging, roads and capital improvements. Sumter County seeks a penny for progress, including more money for roads. And Lancaster County officials estimate 85 percent of the county’s nearly 900 miles of state-maintained roads need paving improvements. They want an extra penny in sales tax to pay for $41.7 million in improvements, two thirds of which would be to pay for repaving state roads.
Schools demand attention in other places, such as in Aiken County, which seeks an extra penny sales tax to pay for a little property tax relief, but mostly for $234 million in school capital improvements. More money for schools is being sought in Anderson, Cherokee, Dorchester and Kershaw counties.
In Charleston County, funding is so stretched that voters are being asked to approve two major referenda -- one to extend the penny tax for schools for $540 million in construction, maintenance and technology, and another to borrow $108 million to build new libraries and renovate others. Why? Because no significant library capital improvements have been funded since before the Internet became a reality.
Clemson economist Holley Ulbrich says counties often turn to adding another penny in sales taxes because they’re frightened to raise property taxes. “That’s been beaten into them,” she observed.
But continued reliance on more sales taxes eventually will hurt and bite everyone in the behind, she said. It will erode the tax base because tourists won’t visit because of high sales tax rates. Residents who live near a border will cross state lines to get better deals. And others will turn to the Internet for purchases, which will hurt state retailers.
South Carolina legislators need to take a good look soon about how they are taxing so they can meet responsibilities, not just shift them to local governments.
Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Building a foundation for ethics reform in 2015By Lynn Shuler Teague
League of Women Voters of South Carolina
OCT. 24, 2014 -- We have mourned the sad failure of our General Assembly to pass ethics reform in the past two sessions. However, it is time to look toward the new session in 2015, and the House of Representatives is off to a very promising start.
Following on the suspension of Speaker Bobby Harrell, Acting Speaker Jay Lucas (R-Darlington) has pulled House members back to Columbia to begin work on both ethics reform and on the excessive concentration of power in the office of the speaker that has helped to feed ethical problems. There is reason for considerable optimism about this effort. Lucas has given very well-defined charges to all involved in laying the groundwork for 2015.
The House Ad-Hoc Committee on Rules
Two years ago, the League of Women Voters recommended to the S.C. Commission on Ethics Reform that the role of the speaker of the House of Representatives and of the president pro tem of the Senate be reformed, beginning with setting term limits for service in these leadership positions. The long-term concentration of power in the hands of one individual is not a recipe for a healthy governing body. At the time, there was no realistic expectation that we would actually see any response on this issue (perhaps in our lifetimes), and in fact there was none then. Now there is.
Acting Speaker Lucas has laid out an impressive array of goals and concerns for the Ad Hoc Committee on Rules. The Committee is charged with making recommendations for changes in rules that can be adopted when the House convenes for its organizing session on December 2. It seems very likely that the House will set term limits for the Speaker, substantially decentralize power, and insure a more powerful voice for both rank-and-file members of the majority party and for the minority party as a whole. Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, an experienced legislator with a solid knowledge of the rules and the dynamics of the House, chairs that committee.
The new House Ethics Reform Committee is chaired by attorney Rep. Derham Cole. R-Spartanburg, with the goal of having thoroughly vetted reform bills ready to pre-file for the 2015 session. (One of the learning experiences of the past two years has been the danger of moving a bill forward prematurely before both legislators and public have a chance to review and study it.) The task of this committee is so broad that initial study has been turned over to three subcommittees:
- Investigation and Enforcement, Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York chair
- Campaign Finance, Rep. Kirkman Finlay, R-Richland, chair
- Freedom of Information Act, Rep. Weston Newton, R-Beaufort
The subcommittees have met already to take public testimony, getting off to a fast start. The chairs are well qualified for their roles. Newton has an impressive legal background, and has also served on the board of the South Carolina Association of Counties, giving him insight into the concerns of the local governments that must comply with FOIA laws. Pope is an experienced prosecutor who knows what it takes to investigate and prosecute offenses first-hand. He was an active member of the original House Republican Caucus Ethics Reform Committee that met in late 2012 and made recommendations in early 2013. Finlay has worked intensively on ethics reform during his first term in the House. He sponsored bills that addressed significant problems in campaign finance (H.4452 - 4457). He also introduced H. 5368, an excellent bill that is designed to expose potential conflicts of interest without intruding unnecessarily on the privacy of officials.
Overall, those who are involved in reform both inside and outside the General Assembly have learned a lot about the issues, about the concerns of other participants in the process, and about the obstacles to reform. There are other reasons for optimism. There is hope that with the November 2014 elections behind us, there will be less distortion of the debate by partisan considerations.
However, all of this is taking place in the House. What of the Senate? Some senators worked very hard for reform in the last two sessions. Sens. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, Wes Hayes, R-York, and Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, were especially important in trying to find a path forward. However, it is in the Senate that reform failed. Further, the Senate is moving toward greater concentration of power in the office of the president pro tempore, rather than less.
Will opponents of independent oversight in the Senate continue to cling to the belief that their ethics enforcement system is adequate when it has been shown adequate only for dealing with those offenses that can be identified with a campaign finance disclosure report and a bank statement? (There are problems even with that, for example the dual role of advisor and prosecutor held by staff attorneys.)
The leadership of the House is aware that some offenses (for example, solicitation and acceptance of bribes) must go to criminal law enforcement authorities immediately, not after a committee of legislative coworkers of the accused has muddied the waters. We hope that the conversation with the Senate will also move forward, to deal with this issue and others that have come into much sharper focus during the past two years of debate.
- More information on the House committees established by Acting Speaker Lucas is available here.
Lynn Shuler Teague of Columbia is a vice president and director of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina.
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Not such a good week for many
Deerin. Another attention-grabbing campaign stunt this week from Democratic Secretary of State candidate Ginny Deerin -- riding a bike the 90 miles from Spartanburg to Columbia to highlight incumbent Mark Hammond’s commute. More.
Charleston. Hats off to the Holy City for being ranked second favorite travel location in the world by Conde Nast Traveler magazine.
Harrell. While hoisted on his own petard of campaign finance shenanigans, we should remember that ex-House Speaker Bobby Harrell did a lot of good in his years of public service.
S.C. House. The easiest way to go from a thumbs down to a thumbs up is to enact comprehensive ethics reform -- and make the state Senate go along.
Haley. The gun-loving governor didn’t sound too good this week when she didn’t answer whether people convicted of criminal domestic violence should keep their guns. Perhaps that’s what sparked her to reframe her view the day after Tuesday’s debate.
Jobless rate. For the third month in a row, South Carolina’s unemployment rate has gone up. Boo. Hiss. More.