Newswatch: “Ebony and Ivory”

Brief recap of 2010 Legislative Session, budget, Gubernatorial race.

Stop making sense!

Every election cycle we see a few incumbents replaced by voters and a few politicians calling it quits on their own. Some of these politicians are missed by their constituents and colleagues in Columbia…others, not so much.

Earlier this year Representative Michael Thompson (R-Anderson) decided it would be his last. Like few before him, his on-target, common-sense approach to government will be missed in Columbia.

As will his humor.

After ten years in office he’s calling it quits; but not before filing a handful of bills that, if ever voted upon, would probably pass because they contain sentiments felt by many in (and outside) of Columbia.

Earlier this year, he filed House Resolution 4468 which would call for a study of our study committees often put together by the General Assembly. Obviously, a tongue and cheek statement about a much used practice many of us inside (and outside) the Chamber agree happens too often.

This week, he followed that up with something that could save hours of our time and keep us focused on matters we were sent to focus on. What is it? House Resolution 4754….full text below.

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A CONCURRENT RESOLUTION TO URGE THE MEMBERS OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA TO REFRAIN FROM MEMORIALIZING THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS WITH CONCURRENT RESOLUTIONS SEEKING ARGUABLY UNATTAINABLE RESULTS.

Whereas, on a frequent basis the General Assembly passes concurrent resolutions memorializing the United States Congress to take various actions desired by the General Assembly; and

Whereas, these memorializations occasionally seek arguably unattainable results, and consequently fail to constitute an appropriate use of the limited resources available to the General Assembly, a particularly troublesome practice in these times of economic hardship; and

Whereas, a proliferation of these memorializations might diminish the impact of the voice of this General Assembly when it seeks to speak to the United States Congress on issues of grave importance to the citizens of the Palmetto State, thus endangering the value of this useful legislative tool as a means for securing assistance from the federal government; and

Whereas, the members of the General Assembly express their desire that its members, when contemplating whether to memorialize the United States Congress, give pause to consider whether the memorialization prudently uses the State’s limited resources, demonstrates appropriate respect to the institution of Congress, and does not diminish the value of a memorialization to the point that future memorializations might not be received with the level of attention and serious consideration desired when the General Assembly seeks action by Congress on matters of substance and meaning to the Palmetto State. Now, therefore,

Be it resolved by the House of Representatives, the Senate concurring:

That the members of the General Assembly urge its members to refrain from memorializing the United States Congress with concurrent resolutions seeking arguably unattainable results.
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These “memoralization” resolutions Thompson references are really nothing more than (a) statements of the obvious or (b) partisan statements to try to score points with voters or (c) both. Anyone who thinks they actually DO anything is only fooling himself. As Thompson points out, the overuse of these “memoralizations” can also lead to a “boy that cried wolf” perception in Washington when we “really” need to send them a statement. Not sure WHEN that time would be though.

Instead of these memoralizations, can’t we just pick up the phone or send a letter to our US Senators and Reps? Sometimes they pass unanimously because they’re so obvious, other times, we actually have debate over what words we want to send Washington.

Last, but not least, are his bills that would limit the time we spend on congratulatory introductions everday (a practice which has drawn criticism before) and limit the time for Roll-Call (taking attendance) to fifteen minutes.

Unfortunately, these bills and resolutions won’t make it to the House floor this year and, like hundreds of bills every session, they’ll die…much like common-sense who passed away years ago.

It's not gonna fix itself

Today I joined several of my House/Senate colleagues (from both parties) to learn more about just how much work lies ahead of us to fix unemployment in our state.

Before I was elected, it seemed easy enough. Go recruit business to our state and create jobs. Simple.

Apparently, it ain’t that simple!

While recruiting business is a good start; I’ve since learned that part of the challenge is getting people BACK to work and keeping the unemployment fund solvent (without increasing taxes now up to $567 per employee, which has been mentioned).

You’ve probably heard a lot about the Employment Security Commission and how the issue of our state’s unemployment problem (like every other issue known to man) involves a lot of finger pointing back-and-forth as to who WAS the problem, who IS the problem, and who IS to be blamed and who CAN fix it.

We can keep on finger-pointing or the elected officials in the House/Senate can do the “heavy lifting” and fix it….now….much later than we should have.

We tried reforms last year but those were defeated. We’ve now got more information at our hands and so it’s time to finish (start) fixin’ it. I’m still sorting through information from today and this past session…and let me tell you, I am not the expert here, far from it. We’ve actually had several folks looking into this for some time but “a fix” hasn’t happened yet. That’s gonna change.

Next week we’ve been called back to address a “stimulus problem” dealing with unemployment but it’s my hope we can do more than that. If not now, when?

Problem is, our Sine Die resolution next week limits what we CAN and CANNOT do when called back. So, if we want to do any work “outside of the federal stimulus” (reforms,etc) it will most likely take a 2/3 vote to amend the Sine Die resolution. If we start down that road, will we then get distracted with a possible impeachment resolution that requires 2/3 vote as well to be considered?

I don’t have today’s Commerce presentation ready for you on Nathan’s News but here’s a link that has very similar data (2006-2008) that we saw today. You can see what we’re looking at.

For many, Unemployment is viewed as “You lost your job through no fault of your own, you get help”.

That’s not necessarily the case. There are recipients who “Voluntary Quit”, who are paid with “Employer Filed Claims” (usually temporary layoffs, seasonal) and “Misconduct”. You read that correctly – misconduct.

From the report today, 22.8% of the claims from Jan 2006 – June 2009 were for misconduct. 56% of those claims received pay. (Had SC not paid any misconduct claims, we’d had saved $384 million since 2006) What was the misconduct? That’s what I’m wondering. So are my colleagues.

What about “Voluntary Quit”? 10.1% of claims were those and 19% of those were paid. (That’s a “lesser problem” than others but one that should be addressed).

Some more “highlights” I jotted down from today’s roundtable that makes you wonder….

SC is only 1 of 9 states that allows Employer Filed Claims.

SC also is only 1 of 6 states (soon only 1 of 4) that uses the Federal Minimum Wage Base of $7,000. The national average is $14,302 and the national range is from $7,000 to $35,700.

3% of SC employers account for 30% of the claims.

SC is 11th worst in Exhaustion Rates (meaning, we aren’t getting our people OFF unemployment fast enough).

In a nutshell, we need to be sure Commerce, the Employment Security Commission, the Legislature and Governor are working to recruit jobs (actively and through business climate), to manage unemployment claims, to encourage back-to-work (sooner rather than later), and to be sure there are no incentives for employees or employers to abuse the system.

The Palmetto State is not the only one with a monumental task ahead. Currently 22 states are borrowing Federal money to help with unemployment and estimates for 2010 show that as many as 41 states will need Federal Assistance.

As I wrote on Twitter this afternoon…elected officials need vision; not just short-term election-cycle decisions. We didn’t get into this problem overnight. Unfortunately, we probably won’t get out of it overnight either.

Just another example of how officials must look to the greater good of our state and our people and not just re-election efforts.

Come together

Like most in our state, I was shocked (and disappointed) when listening to the news conference Wednesday afternoon from the State House. I had planned an enjoyable afternoon of golf (first time in months) with a friend. Needless to say, we weren’t that focused on golf but instead on what was ahead for South Carolina.

Sure, we both felt (and continue to feel) for the individuals and families involved, but that is really neither our business nor concern as much as what all this could mean to the rest of the 4 million residents in the Palmetto State.

After all (and sadly), it’s not like this has never happened before in politics.

In recent years we’ve seen that most of America, after the sensationalism has died down from episodes like this, really care more about their wallets and their own lives instead of the actions of politicians, celebrities, and sports personalities.

Just as it was with Brad and Jennifer and “Jon and Kate plus 8” , these stories gain all the attention for awhile but will eventually fade as people begin to go about their daily lives. Mortgage and rent payments, gas prices, doctor visits, car repairs, grocery bills, church, vacations, homework, ball practice.

The question most are starting to ask is what does this all mean to them?

As I shared with our Governor, Jeremiah 29:11 states God’s plan for us is to prosper and not to harm. While we oftentimes can’t see it, it will eventually come to fruition. The Governor has apologized to several folks, most importantly his family. He seems to understand that changes must come and it’s my opinion that the upside to this episode for our state is that our people may ultimately benefit from the political winds of change.

Nathan’s News readers know my feelings about wanting our state leaders to work together . Could this be the time? Could our citizens see the changes they have long wanted ? Better education, more jobs, improved healthcare?

I don’t expect (or wish) the Governor to change his conservative view on these issues or change his goals for our state, but I do expect that from this, we may see less division and more cooperation from both the Executive and Legislative branches.

If not now, when?

(I will be on vacation for the next several days and apologize for my lack of posts as I try to enjoy time away from politics and my paying job at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage)

The Head Ball Coach gets it

I’m with ya’, Coach! It’s frustrating sometimes .

A year ago, you’d have been hard pressed to hear the word “transparency” come out of an elected official’s mouth in our state. Back then, you could count on one hand those leaders pushing for more transparency with voting-on-the-record and also with opening the books on finances at state and local levels . Fortunately a few brave souls got “on record” quickly while many still wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole.

Nathan’s News readers know a lot has happened in the past year regarding transparency; but apparently the American Footbal Coaches Association wasn’t paying attention and wants no part of it.

While some of us push for more accountability and sunshine in politics, this “good ole boy club” of football coaches apparently favors hiding some of the most important votes made by its members.

From Today’s State (Joseph Person)

College football coaches who vote in the USA Today coaches poll will be able to keep their final regular-season ballots secret beginning in 2010, although Steve Spurrier made no secret about what he thinks of the change….”That was surprising. I thought we would stay public with that last vote…I think we ought to stay public. It keeps everybody pretty honest.”

Kentucky’s Rich Brooks, a former voter, appreciated the transparency and believes the changes are a move in the wrong direction. “I just think people should be accountable for what they do”

Bingo!

Granted, I care more about whether my Gamecocks will finally beat Vanderbilt and Clemson this year than I do how the Head Ball Coach votes; but at least it’s good to see he gets it. As do most our state’s voters.

While the House and Senate passed “rule changes” in their respective bodies this year, there’s still the bill sitting in committee waiting to become a LAW.

Just like Spurrier isn’t satisfied with 7 or 8 win seasons, SC voters shouldn’t be satisfied with rule-changes over laws. Some of us in the chamber will keep pushing for more open votes and we’ll need your help to get us to the goal.

Maybe ‘next year’ will be the year for transparency to finally become state law and maybe my Gamecocks will take out the Commodores and Tigers, too. We can hope, right?

Just one time….

William Wallace definitely had it worse; but as a like-minded, freshman colleague told me today when I asked his thoughts before starting the day “I’d just like to win one of these battles for once.”

Today, more of the same.

Nothing major. Just billions of dollars being spent with every House member having PLENTY of time to digest it all (Tongue firmly planted in cheek for those that didn’t read into that). I mean, afterall, we got a couple pages of handouts with numbers on it at lunch. Everyone had a quick bite to eat (Republican Caucus had Chickfila – were they trying to win me over with that one??? Nice call I might add. They almost had me but I stayed strong) and in about 3 hours (including eating) the House passed a budget (with Senate amendments and/or agreements worked out between a few budget writers) that I’m willing to bet not one member (outside of some of the budget writers) could even tell you what it did…other than “spend the stimulus”.

One thing is for sure, we’re heading for a legal battle and….should the SC Supreme Court say the legislature can NOT spend the money and only the Governor can….whew….lookout because that “chaos budget” is much worse for education, corrections, law enforcement and others than the compromise we offered today.

For the record, to be fair to all – we moved to adjourn debate on our amendment for 24 hours just like we did the amendment that passed earlier. Members should have time to digest both proposals before casting their vote on behalf of the 30,000 voters in their community and the 4 million residents of our state. Both motions to adjourn were defeated.

As I said in my floor speech, whether you’re FOR the stimulus or AGAINST it; shouldn’t House members have more than a few hours to figure it out? Remember, the House passed “our version” weeks ago and the Senate changed it “a lot”. So, shouldn’t we get a night to sleep on it and maybe review it so we’d even know what questions to ask? Heck, even Senator McConnell gave the Senate the weekend to mull over the same proposal (presented by Senators Ryberg and Davis).

C’mon, Nathan. That’s just crazy talk to allow ya’ll time to review it. Why should SC members have any more time than the guys/gals in Washington when they voted on it? Just pass it so you can be done with this year’s session next Thursday!

To be fair, I even said most folks probably wouldn’t read the entire thing. Heck, it’s a snoozer for sure but at least review SOME of it and talk with your constituents or find out enough to ask significant questions.

Of course, since the outcome in Columbia is almost always inevitable, maybe members should just keep on taking orders and go-along to get-along?

Awhile back I asked a long-time State House staffer “When do folks get lose their will to fight around here?” He answered “About the third term. They either start going along and playing the game or they decide to get out.”

I can certainly see why that’s the case. Maybe I’m just too stupid and a glutton for punishment?

At least we live for another day in politics and; to be fair, we HAVE won some battle this year. I’ve also seen a “movement” that is growing. More noticeably in the Senate (where Republicans supported the Senate version of proposal we tried today by a vote of 13-11).

Of course, I’m wondering if any of those reforms/safeguards we put in the House Budget when we voted 108-8 to use the stimulus even made it? Wouldn’t know because we couldn’t review in the time we were given today.

(New) Faces of the GOP – Diversity Growing?

So I was up tonight glued to Twitter following Representative Joey Millwood , Spartanburg Herald Reporter Jason Spencer , and SC Politico Adam Piper .

Why?

Apparently, the Spartanburg County Convention was tonight…and as of about 11:00 pm was still going.

What prompted 300 folks to attend the event was a much talked about race for County Chairman between current Chairman Rick Beltram and challenger LaDonna Ryggs. Moments ago, the outcome was overwhelming in LaDonna’s favor and she’ll now join the GOP ranks as Spartanburg’s newest county chairman.

It got me thinking.

Glenn McCall is our National Committeeman.
Karen Floyd appears to be the shoo-in for State Party Chairman.
LaDonna Ryggs is a new chairman of Spartanburg County.
Tim Scott was elected to the SC House last year.

It appears the tent may be getting larger and we’re certainly breaking some glass ceilings.

With a slew of convetions still ahead of us, what are we to expect?

With 2010 Statewide Primaries ahead, who will carry our banner?

Many candidates have already announced, some are still considering, and others are being asked to help build our party again.

Stay tuned….