Inside Moves: Part One of Three


I’m more of a checkers guy myself, but anyway..

As the 118th regular session of the South Carolina General Assembly approaches, I’m starting to see some story lines develop that might not make the front-pages of your newspaper but are certainly going to have some impact on the House of Representatives.

Tonight is Part One of Three.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll share the other parts of this post: “The battles” and finally “The issues”.

1) Rules are made to be broken?

Recently, there’s been talk of changing the long-standing tradition that says every committee will vote for their chairman. To give you full disclosure, there was a very brief, two-year time when former Speaker of the House David Wilkins changed that rule and was able to then appoint chairmen. He soon changed it back like it had always been though. So, for at least the last 10 years (and roughly 100 years before then) it’s always been committee members voting for chairman. While I (and several others) have our opinions on why the sudden rule-proposal has come to light, there’s no denying it’s some sort of power play inside the chamber. It obviously gives the Speaker position much power but who else? Does it help the majority party (Republicans presently)? What about actually empowering the minority party leader too? As it stands today, the Ds (minority party) have as hard a time as the Rs (majority party) coming together and voting in blocs. If the Speaker position gets the power to appoint all chairmen, the Speaker would have to “check in” with the minority party out of courtesy, right? Thus, enabling the minority leader to wield more power and leverage by pretty much then sharing with his/her party “what the deal will be.” We’ll see how this plays out in a few weeks or possibly early January 2009.

While that rule-proposal has been all the talk recently, look out for the possibility of a “On The Record” Rule change being proposed . The question is will it will be window-dressing pushed by status-quo members wanting to look like they support the concept with a watered-down version (ala Earmark Reform Rule passed last year) or will it will be a legitimate rule change presented by Rep. Nikki Haley (Lexington)? Earlier this year Representative Haley sent all 124 members copies of both her bill and her rule change proposal . Those are the legislation we must pass in order to restore accountability and public trust in elected officials.

2) Committee assignments and Committee Chairmanships

The first week of December, the House will hold our Reorganizational Session. At this time you may see rule changes proposed (like the ones above) but it’s also a time where each member receives his/her committee assignment (usually for the next two years, at least).

It’s safe to say at this point, only the Speaker knows who’s going where. Sure there are a few committee spots that should finally be filled with members who have been passed over in years past (or felt passed over). Inevitably though, some members (or several members) aren’t excited. It’s kinda like when you get that Christmas gift (that you don’t like) from a relative. You’re not gonna say anything but, deep down, you wish you had got something else.

I actually do feel for the Speaker during all this. It’s even more reason why I can’t see why there’s been the rule proposed to have that position (Speaker) appoint all chairmen.

Predictions?

If the committees vote for their chairman, I could give you the names of those winners – today. Tomorrow? Not sure. With all the vacancies and movement of members, again – only the Speaker will determine who wins. Basically, with or without the rule, the chairmen will ultimately be his chosen ones and ones he helped get elected.

If you’re wondering the “hierarchy” of House committees…you’ve got Ways and Means at the top (the budget writers), after that it would be LCI (business committee) and Judiciary (laws). Education is normally next in line but really at this point you could lump them all together. Education, Agriculture, 3M committee (medical, municipal stuff).

Most freshman start on 3M or Agriculture. This year though (with such a large freshman class), I think you’ll see a few land on Education and possibly maybe even LCI or Judiciary.

3) Common-Sense Caucus

Could this finally be the year that conservative values take over the House Republican Caucus?

Whatever label you want to put on us, one that should fit this year is “large” instead of “small”. After recent primary wins this summer , it appears there might be a more “common sense” or conservative push for the body. While the group of freshmen bring more numbers, it also enables many who have been “on the fence” in the body for several years to now break from the “status quo hold”.

It’s about time this happens and many of us have been waiting four or more years for this moment (some members for quite some time). Whether it’s our larger numbers or the fact that “status quo politicians” now see the writing on the wall, I’m counting on seeing some better decisions being made by our Republicans this year.

4) Scarborough or Peterson-Hutto?

Who’s gonna represent James Island next year? Once the ballots were counted, it was the Democrat challenger Peterson-Hutto by roughly 200 votes. Incumbent Scarborough challenged the results due to “voting irregularities” and so it goes to the Election Commission the first week of December. The bigger story may be what happens AFTER that commission makes their decision. Any appeal would go to the House of Representatives (not the courts). Look for a very heated, partisan debate should it get that far.

Also, because of the uncertainty, there will be some vacant spots on committees even after reorganization until all the dust settles. Could there be some post-reorganizational moves regardless if it’s Scarborough or Peterson-Hutto?

5) The Freshman Class – will they redshirt or get on the field early?

While they have been given the usual “don’t speak for two years” marching orders we all have heard before, will they actually be the first group to believe it and follow that old-guard request? Or, will they do what they were sent by their voters to do?

I’m counting on the latter and so is our state. This group (Rs and Ds) are sharp! They know why they were sent and they have backbones. Can they stay true or will they quickly have their arms twisted and deals offered to get them to conform and “get in line”? We’ll soon see. Look for Charleston Rep. Tim Scott to be elected as the Freshman Class Chairman. With so many freshmen from the upstate, I originally thought the Chairman would come from there but I feel Tim will be a good leader. He’ll face pressure from leadership to stay in-line but hopefully he’ll remember why he was elected and what he stands for.

In Part Two, I’ll address “the battles” (Ds v. Rs, Rs v. Rs, Legislature v. Governor, School Choice, Cigarette Tax, 2010 Campaigning)

Stay tuned….