Let’s change business-as-usual on Tuesday

Six years ago this Tuesday, Nikki Haley shocked the good-ole-boy establishment of SC politics and upset the longest serving legislator in Columbia. Besting him in the primary and forcing a runoff two weeks later. She went on to win that runoff and thus began her career as a public servant working to change business as usual in Columbia.

History has a chance to repeat itself this month by turning “Nikki Who?” into Republican Nominee for Governor, Nikki Haley.

Her hard work and understanding of the issues were apparent from day one. My House colleagues saw the potential Representative Haley offered our state. We elected her Chairman of our Freshman Caucus. She soon was named a Majority Whip. Later, she was named Banking Subcommittee Chairman. Nikki was also appointed to important House/Senate conference committees to tackle the complex issues of Workers Compensation and also Coastal Insurance Reform.

She was more than qualified for every task and worked effectively towards achieving the best goal for her constituency – the people of South Carolina.

As she has always done, she studies the issues, listens to her constituents and fights for what is right. Always focusing on the task at hand and working towards the betterment of our state, regardless what distractions are thrown her way.

It’s well documented the courage she showed in bucking the system with her push for On-The-Record Voting two years ago. That’s courage we need more of in state government. That’s courage that led to her House colleagues overwhelmingly passing the bill last month. That’s courage to change business-as-usual in Columbia.

She’s been a fighter – who gets results – since day one! That’s why I know she is the people’s choice this Tuesday in the Republican Primary.

I hope you’ll join me and thousands throughout the state on Tuesday and vote Nikki Haley for Governor in the Republican Primary. Join the movement!

Cigarette Tax “soars” to 42nd in nation

I guess there goes my Friend of the Taxpayer Award for 6 years running. This week I voted to override the Governor’s veto on the cigarette tax. The House and Senate agreed and, starting in July, the tax that has stayed at 7 cents since 1977 (when a pack of cigarettes cost 40 cents) will increase to 57 cents.

While many have spoken over the past few years during this debate, Rep. Joey Millwood gave some of the more compelling arguments against the tax increase this week from the House floor: “big government”.

“When did it become government’s role to tax you so you don’t do something? That’s the most ludicrous, insane thing I’ve heard in my life,” asked Millwood, R-Landrum. “That’s called big government. We’re hurting businesses. This is crazy.”

In the end, I listened to my voters over my colleagues though.

Instead of being 51st in the country , we now “soar” to tied for 42nd. US Median is $1.18. The following states are lower than us starting this summer: WVirginia, North Dakota, North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Virginia and Missouri.

House Vote to override (2/3 required override veto) Yeas 90; Nays 29

Those who voted in the affirmative are:
Agnew Alexander Allen Anderson Anthony Bales Ballentine Bannister Bingham Bowers Brady Branham
Brantley G. A. Brown H. B. Brown R. L. Brown Chalk Clemmons Clyburn Cobb-Hunter Cole Crawford Daning Delleney Dillard Erickson Forrester Frye Funderburk Gilliard Govan Gunn Harrell Harrison Hart Harvin Hayes Hearn Herbkersman Hiott Hodges Horne Hosey Howard Huggins Hutto Jefferson Jennings
Kelly King Knight Limehouse Littlejohn Long Lucas Mack McEachern McLeod Merrill Miller Mitchell
V. S. Moss J. H. Neal J. M. Neal Neilson Ott Owens Parks Pinson Rice Rutherford Sellers
Skelton D. C. Smith G. M. Smith J. E. Smith J. R. Smith Sottile Spires Stavrinakis Umphlett Vick Weeks Whipper Whitmire Williams Willis Wylie A. D. Young T. R. Young
Total–90

Those who voted in the negative are:
Allison Barfield Battle Bedingfield Cato Cooper Edge Gambrell Haley Hamilton Hardwick Kennedy
Loftis Lowe Millwood D. C. Moss Nanney Norman Parker M. A. Pitts Sandifer Scott Simrill G. R. Smith
Stewart Stringer Thompson Viers White
Total–29

So, the Veto of the Governor was overridden and a message was ordered sent to the Senate accordingly.

Senate vote to override (2/3 required to override veto)

YEAS
Alexander Anderson Campbell Campsen Cleary Coleman Cromer Elliott Fair Ford Hayes Hutto
Jackson Land Leatherman Leventis Lourie Malloy Martin, Larry Massey Matthews
McConnell McGill Nicholson O’Dell Pinckney Rankin Reese Rose Scott Setzler Sheheen Williams
Total–33

NAYS
Bright Bryant Courson Davis Grooms Knotts Martin, Shane Mulvaney Peeler Ryberg Shoopman Thomas Verdin
Total–13
The necessary two-thirds vote having been received, the veto of the Governor was overridden, and a message was sent to the House accordingly.

H.3066 Campaign Disclosure Reform heads to the Senate

As I mentioned earlier this year, reform wasn’t built in a day . Manuevering legislation through the political process takes time and hard work. Yesterday, after more than a year since I pre-filed the bill, my colleagues finally had a chance to vote on more transparency in our political process. This time dealing with campaign finances .

The vote was 108-1 and the bill now heads to the Senate after a customary third-reading this morning.

Many in our state probably do not know (or might not really care) that a few years ago, House and Senate members (and candidates) were required to file campaign reports on-line for the first time. In the past, paper reports were filed and could only be reviewed by someone coming to Columbia or requesting/paying for the copies. This transition to on-line disclosures was a giant step for our state’s political process and actually earned us high ranks across the country (something SC usually is not known for in most areas). Before House and Senate members filed on-line, it was only statewide office holders and, of course, national candiates.

This bill now requires all elected officials and candidates for those office (mayors, county council, school boards, etc are now included) to file on-line so that their reports can be easily viewed by voters too. In addition to this, an amendment put lobbyists and lobbyists principals on-line as well.

Another improvement to our current systems is that the bill addresses the so-called “black out” period that exists between the time we file our last pre-election report and the day voters go to the polls.

Simply put, I wanted to change this and match our openess with those on the national level who must report contributions during that time within 48 hours after receipt .

When this bill becomes law (by the way, call your Senator and ask him to support and get to the floor for debate so that it can pass before we adjourn in a few months), voters will have more immediate access to candidates reports and contributions than ever before.

During the debate, a few drifted from my focus on transparency to instead targeting one individual who has often been mentioned in South Carolina elections over the past few years.

Arguments can be made regarding contributors circumventing the intent of the law; however, my colleagues ultimately decided against restricting who can and who cannot contribute and instead voted to present a straight-forward, common-sense, reform bill to the Senate for their immediate consideration.

H.3066 shows that, by working together, a group can do something positive to help restore confidence in public servants and the political process. My bill did not come out of the House Judiciary committee as I originally filed it; and that was ok. Instead of a “my way or highway” approach, I am always willing to let others participate in crafting the final bill. The committee made changes and we had a few additional changes from the floor. Even with an approximate hour of debate on the floor, Republicans and Democrats ultimately worked together to craft a bill that passed our house almost unamiously and accomplished what I had intended many months earlier.

Common Sense

While I will always fight for the same common-sense reforms that the Governor has believed for several years, there comes a time when a new champion must emerge to lead the movement. If not already, that time will soon be upon us. Over the past few election cycles, South Carolinians have sent reform-minded
leaders to Columbia and it will be our duty to ensure that our state’s future will be one with more efficient government and low taxes. One focused on improving education and creating economic prosperity. One where people, not politics, will be the priority.

COMMUNITY UPDATE: May 2009

Hopefully you’ve been reading my regular columns (every other week) in The New Irmo News and/or following Nathan’s News closely. There’s been much going on lately and I try to keep you as informed as possible. Below is May’s Community Update for you!

STATE HOUSE

Once again, the House is on furlough this week and with as much time away as we’ve spent this year (and all the partisan bickering when we actually are in session), you’re not alone in asking “What did y’all actually accomplish this year?”

Folks, in my five years in office, THIS year seems to be the most contentious . Obviously with budget cuts things get a little testy; however, I’ve never seen the acrimony at this level; both internally within the Republican Caucus and between the Democrats/Republicans on the House floor.

This is no way to lead and effectively run the legislative branch of government. This summer, I’m looking forward to several of us figuring out a way to make this next session one that SC can be proud of with real accomplishments for real people! Of course, with 2010 being an election year for all 124 House Members and our Statewide Constitutional Offices, it might just be worse than ever!

This past Friday was the “crossover” deadline (May 1st) which means that any bill that had not yet passed one chamber (House or Senate) will now need a 2/3 vote from the other chamber (instead of usual majority vote) to become law. As you can imagine there are SEVERAL BILLS that have not cleared either chamber this year so we’ll have to work this summer/fall to get them ready to move along when we return in January.

Speaking of returning, the House passed our “Sine Die” resolution this week which will send us home on May 21 pending any budget vetoes and/or stimulus drama. And plenty of drama there has been already….

YOUR MONEY

Tired of the stimulus/state budget debate yet? Whether you agree or disagree with one’s position (for/against), it was good to see one of our own local students exercising her right in democracy with the recent lawsuit filed. I constantly tell my colleagues that our community is one of the most active – if not THE most active – in our state! (See SCHOOLS section below for more information on that).

One thing to remember in politics, sadly the extremes play their sides well. Reality is oftentimes in the middle.

Campaign Finance Disclosure Bill Update (H.3066): Many have asked “What’s going on with this no-brainer?” All I can say is that I was able to get TWO hearings and finally get it in front of the full House Judiciary Committee; however, the committee ran out of time on the last possible day to pass it to the floor so that it had a good chance of passing this year. Bottom line: won’t pass this year. Might not even get to the House Floor unless the committee meets again before we adjourn sine-dine on May 21st. Yes, it’s frustrating. The bill simply requires more officials and candidates to file their Campaign Reports on-line (transparency) and also matches us with the federal reporting standards by requiring us to report “late contributions” within 48 hours of receipt. Current law does not require this and thus, the name “blackout period” is given to the weeks before an election where no one knows where money is coming and where it’s going. [Read more…]

Saying "NO" is never easy

Ask any elected official what one of the toughest parts of our job is and I’m willing to bet you they would answer “Having to say ‘no'”. If they don’t say that or admit to that during a conversation, they might not be saying “no” enough.

Seriously, if all I did was try to make everyone in the world happy and be a “Yes Man”; being an elected official would be a much more enjoyable job than it sometimes is.

I’m not gonna rehash the whole stimulus battle, if you’ve been reading Nathans News you can see what I’m talking about. Saying “no” isn’t easy. Most people think you’re crazy. Most politicians think the same thing.

Why not say “yes” and worry about it later? Sometimes, you gotta say no in life.

Ask volunteers who are always helping with every cause/organization that comes their way – because they can’t say “no”. Those folks get burned out easy and something gets sacrificed. Ask any parent. Is it easier not having to tell your children “no”? Sure. But where would that get you? Where would that get them?

What got me thinking about this tonight was a bill we adjourned today. At first glance it doesn’t seem like that big a deal, H3254. Simply put, the bill would provide bonuses to certain speech-language pathologists for the job they do and certification they carry. Kinda like National Board Certification but on a much smaller scale.

The thing is – why are we even introducing this bill at a time when our state budget is in a huge mess?

I imagine it’s because members may say “no biggie…we can’t fund it now….it’ll only get funded WHEN we have money.” At first glance that was my initial thought until questions were asked. Questions like “How much will this cost? How many will be effected? etc.” Debate was adjourned because we were told we don’t have all those answers. We did hear “maybe 400 people” and, reading the bill it appears $3,000 bonus, so I’d imagine we’re looking at $120,000 every year once the bill becomes law. (UPDATE: Thanks, Paul…..it’s more like $1.2 Million)

Folks, it’s bills like this that (when added up) put us in tough spots in state government.

It’s bills like this that require on-the-record voting so that elected officials can pause, deliberate, and question “Do I want to be on record for this?” Without our new rule changes, bills like these often aren’t even given consideration they should (rightly or wrongly) and often would pass on voice votes.

Now, I’m not saying the idea is terrible or that certain speech-language pathologists don’t deserve more pay and that they don’t perform a valuable role in our state. What I am saying is that elected officials have to sometimes say “no”.

In doing so, we make people upset. In doing so, we don’t have fun. In doing so, we’re sometimes thinking of the bigger picture and trying to avoid unintended consequences instead of just living for the day and making people happy.

2009 Constituent Survey – let me hear from you

I hope you’ll again take time to complete this year’s survey (click here for it to appear) – my fourth annual survey since I’ve been in office.

Elected officials that stay in touch regularly (instead of just at election time) have a much better chance of doing the job they were sent to do!

Instead of asking your opinion AFTER a vote is taken, I like to hear from you BEFORE the votes so that I can hear from all sides of the debate. Many of you work or have expertise with these issues that I do not have. I want to hear from you instead of just hearing the same ol’ information around the State House Grounds from the same ol’ folks.

I want to continue to hear from the folks that sent me to Columbia!

These surveys help me set priorities and policy that not only affect our community but our entire state as well. Thanks for your time (and your stamp/envelope) this year!

NOTE: If you are not a resident of House District 71, I still encourage you to complete and return your survey. While you may not have a chance to directly vote for me, your voice still matters too! Elected officials (statesman) should try to represent our entire state with their decisions. Please put your home address and email on the survey you mail back to me. Thanks!

sctweets.com

This weekend, a new website appeared that I believe truly puts our state and several elected officials at the forefront of political communications in the 21st century.

sctweets.com

From the site….

“…a simple site really. SC’s elected officials do all the work. We just combine all the feeds and publish them in one place.

This site was thought up by SC Representative Dan Hamilton and political operative Wesley Donehue when trying to find a creative way to showcase SC’s tech-savvy elected officials . Specifically, we expect the Statehouse crew to be twittering a lot from the floor and we thought it would be cool to see what they were saying. That goal somehow expanded and we decided to showcase all South Carolina politicos with our directory. We then gave them a way to interact through #sctweets.”

Last summer, I noticed Representative Hamilton was using a tool called “Twitter” and I decided to quickly join as well (it’s free, by the way). Then, shortly after that, I made the leap to “Facebook”.

Tonight alone these social-networking tools have allowed me to hear (within minutes) from constituents about the “one thing” they’d like to see from state government this year.

Paige Tillman Cooper posted the following reply to my Facebook status this evening: “I don’t really think this is something on the legislative agenda but I’d love to see everyday citizens becoming more involved with their state government. .Not all South Carolinians are political junkies like me but they need to be aware of what’s going on at their State House.”

I couldn’t have said it better, Paige.

That’s what a group of us have been trying to do through our push for roll-call voting, campaign finance reform, online registries for local governments, and…..social-networking sites.

Representative Hamilton says “(the site) was designed to give South Carolinian’s a play-by-play, real time look at what is happening inside South Carolina politics from the State House to the newsroom.”

When I asked Wes his thoughts on the internet and its importance to the democratic process, he told me “(Barack) Obama changed the direction of political communications. It’s amazing to me that South Carolina’s Republicans are implementing his strategies much faster than the Democrats.”

I imagine over the next few weeks, you’ll see more elected officials joining sctweets.com and that can only be a good thing for our state and you, the folks we were sent to represent in Columbia.

To see who all is sharing on Sctweets.com, visit the directory here .

As I have always said, elected officials that stay in touch regularly with their voters (and not just at election-time) have a much better chance of doing the job they were sent to do!

Get involved, South Carolina, and stay involved!

Term Limits : Your thoughts?

Surfing the net the past few days and reading the prefiled bills in the House and Senate, I saw a friend of mine in the “Upper Chamber” (Senator Ray Cleary) has prefiled a bill to limit SC officials’ terms in office .

Senator Cleary and I have worked together in the past (successfully) with companion bills for the senior citizens of our state as well as autism treatment for our state’s children.

Should we join together with this cause as well?

I”m considering filing his bill in the House and would like to know your thoughts – here at Nathan’s News or email me directly at Ballentinen@scstatehouse.net if you’d like.

In the past, I’ve heard from many of you about the need to keep elected officials from becoming “career politicians”. Granted, every election is a chance to “term limit” officials out of office if you disapprove of their actions; but I believe everyone would agree that ousting an incumbent is no small feat for a challenger. So, should we limit the number of years a person may serve in each chamber?

Is there a downside to this? Do we indeed get “wiser in office” or do some folks lose touch on what they were sent to do and who they represent?

After all, we do have term limits on our Governor (Executive Branch). Why not on us, (Legislative branch)? Aren’t we supposed to be part-time, citizen-legislators?

Information on other state’s limits can be found here at TermLimits.org

Let's see how far we've come

I don’t get to listen to music too much anymore (usually it’s Radio Disney or some DVD in the car that JC and Emma are watching) but I thought this Matchbox 20 song was pretty cool.

For those that follow me on Twitter and have learned more about me, you know I’m a “Child of the 80’s”. When I heard this song though, it made me think…how far have we come in South Carolina politics?

We’ve seen government spending grow a lot in the past few years, will this year be different?

We’ve seen officials tossed out of office for not listening to their constituents, will this year be different?

We’ve seen a growing distrust among people and their officials, will this year be different?

We’ve seen Republicans forgetting what being a Republican is about, will this year be different?

We’ve seen the House/Senate/Governor constantly point fingers, will this year be different?

We’ve seen those that speak up against the “status-quo” always face retribution, will this year be different?

We’ve seen freshman officials come to Columbia on promises they start forgetting, will this year be different?

We’ve seen SC unemployment reach a 25 year high, will this year be different?

We’ve seen School-Choice debates (public AND private) defeated, will this year be different?

We’ve seen Cigarette Tax plans continually defeated, will this year be different?

We’ve seen companies choose other states over SC, will this year be different?

I could go on but basically, WILL THIS YEAR BE DIFFERENT? The video (to me) shows how much has been accomplished in the past. It shows the fight for democracy and how “people not politics” should ultimately prevail…and usually does, in the end..but not without a group pushing for change.

While my role is to help this year be different in SC, it’s gonna take YOU to make that happen. If you have issues on your mind and (better yet) ideas, suggestions, and solutions – please let your elected officials know.

Email us. Write us. Call us. Write letters to the editors. Ask us to come listen to your group. Find out why and how we vote on the bills we do.

After all, it is your government. It is your statehouse. It is YOUR seat that we currently sit in. Too many elected officials forget it’s not OUR seat….it’s yours.

Take back your seat. Hold your officials accountable and this year can be different. Let’s see how far we’ve come.