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The Freak Show that is SC Politics

Phil Noble

Phil Noble

by Phil Noble

One of the things about the fall that was most exciting to me growing up was the coming of the local fair. I vividly remember all the wonderful sights, sounds and smells of the neon Ferris wheel, the carnival barkers and the frying corn dogs. They all still live in my memory – it is a warm and special place.

But in those days, before the whole fair business was given a family-friendly makeover, there was always the freak show as well. There was the disgustingly fat woman that was advertised as the “bearded lady.” The beard was fake and she was not a lady – at least by any definition of a lady I knew. There was the “two headed sheep,” which you expected to see walking around in a pen, but after you paid your 25 cents, you discovered that it was some grossly disfigured something in a vat of formaldehyde. And on and on it went.

The freak shows were always disgusting and disappointing and more than a little shame-inducing. Much like this year’s election season here in South Carolina.

In writing this column a few days before Election Day, I don’t know the precise numerical results but there is little doubt about the outcome – we Democrats, at least in state elections, will get slaughtered (again) maybe even humiliated (again).

And as bad as the whooping will be for Democrats, what’s worse for all of us is how the whole thing has degenerated into a freak show that reflects so badly on us as a state.

Let’s start with the governor’s race: after implying that Gov. Nikki Haley was somehow responsible for essentially killing children in the DSS scandal, Vincent Sheheen ended on a high note by accidentally calling Haley a whore and then reluctantly apologizing after it became a national news story, with even the likes of Ann Romney weighing in. For her part, Haley tried to tie Sheheen as a lawyer to wife beaters, child molesters, killers and other assorted criminal types – all from a woman who has hired a whole flock of lawyers to deal with all her ethical issues.

In the Lt. Governor race we had Henry McMaster running TV ads devoid of substance but featuring his bulldog as a way to get attention. And in their one and only sound bite swap (or what we call “TV debates” these days), his opponent will most be remembered for comparing McMaster to a welfare queen. The ironic part is that due to scandals and insider political maneuverings, whoever wins will be our fourth Lt. Governor in four years – and we have yet to hear any of them talk about anything of real substance.

Lindsay Graham’s senate race is interesting only in that there has been so much sound and fury with so little real impact – Graham has been cruising to victory right from the start. In the Republican primary, Lindsay had six opponents and he easily crushed them all with 57%.

The general election has been a tawdry spectacle starring Thomas Ravenel who has become the poster boy for spoiled rich kids with over-active libidos and an under-developed sense of basic decency. The real freak show embarrassment is that Ravenel had chosen to exhibit his failings on cable TV before a national audience instead of in front of only a few folks under the carny tent.

Next, we have Democratic State Sen. Brad Hutto, who has taken on the thankless task of trying to unseat our state’s senior senator, Lindsey Graham. Brad is a genuinely good guy who would make a fine US senator. But, his best hope was that Ravenel and Graham would savage each other in a negative TV ad war and provide Hutto with an opening. Instead, Ravenel’s antics have simply allowed Graham to solidify his once-shaky Republican base. And if the polls are to be believed, in South Carolina’s version of the Great Political Freak Show of 2014, the Elephant Man is going to beat the guy riding the Democratic donkey.

And then there is Mark Sanford. We can always count on Mark for the occasional, self-indulgent narcissistic stunt, usually involving women and some act of humiliation – either to himself, his former wife or his children – or sometimes to all at once. The latest episode of the continuing Sanford freak show was when he announced to his fiancé (and the world) via a 2,000 word self-pitying gush on Facebook that he was dropping her like yesterday’s garbage. Ironically, Thomas Ravenel used the same sensitive Facebook strategy a few weeks later to dump his fiancé and mother of his infant daughter.

Such it is in the freak show that we call South Carolina politics – and these are just the headliners, as we haven’t delved at all into the antics of the down ballot candidates.

What is so sad about all of this is that it has totally supplanted any discussion of anything that is important or meaningful for our state and its people. There have been no serious discussions of the issues, no big ideas put forward, no competing visions of our state’s future and the important choices that lie before us.

And as with the freak show at the fair of my youth, the whole thing leaves me feeling disappointed, cheated and having the vague sensation that I need a bath.

Who gets how many votes on Election Day is unclear. But it is crystal clear who the losers are – we, the people of South Carolina, are.

It doesn’t have to be this way. While I breathe I hope.

Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and President of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group started by former Gov. Richard Riley to bring big change and real reform. phil@philnoble.com   www.SCNewDemocrats.org

“Full Disclosure” from The Times and Democrat

"Full Disclosure" from The Times and Democrat

“Full Disclosure” from The Times and Democrat

“Set Back” from The Times and Democrat

"Set Back" from The Times and Democrat

“Set Back” from The Times and Democrat

“Flu Too” from The Times and Democrat

"Flu Too" from The Times and Democrat

“Flu Too” from The Times and Democrat

“Income Equality” from The Times and Democrat

"Income Equality" from The Times and Democrat

“Income Equality” from The Times and Democrat

Clemson/Syracuse

Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables. Pete Cochran/Union County News

Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables. Pete Cochran/Union County News

Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables. Pete Cochran/Union County News

Clemson/Syracuse

Ervin Philips of Syracuse. Pete Cochran/Union County News

Ervin Philips of Syracuse. Pete Cochran/Union County News

Ervin Philips of Syracuse. Pete Cochran/Union County News

Clemson/Syracuse

Clemson’s Mike Williams battles for a first down. Pete Cochran/Union County News

Clemson's Mike Williams battles for a first down. Pete Cochran/Union County News

Clemson’s Mike Williams battles for a first down. Pete Cochran/Union County News

Clemson/Syracuse

Tavaris Barnes sacks A.J. Long, causing him to lose the ball. Pete Cochran/Union County News

Clemson's Tavaris Barnes sacks Syracuse quarterback A.J. Long, causing him to lose the ball. Pete Cochran/Union County News

Clemson’s Tavaris Barnes sacks Syracuse quarterback A.J. Long, causing him to lose the ball. Pete Cochran/Union County News

Clemson/Syracuse

Clemson’s Cole Stoudt. Pete Cochran/Union County News

Clemson's Cole Stoudt. Pete Cochran/Union County News

Clemson’s Cole Stoudt. Pete Cochran/Union County News

Clemson/Syracuse

Syracuse QB A.J. Long on a long run with Tiger DE Cory Crawford after. Pete Cochran/Union County News

Syracuse QB A.J. Long on a long run with Tiger DE Cory Crawford after. Pete Cochran/Union County News

Syracuse QB A.J.Long on a long run with Tiger DE Cory Crawford after
him. Pete Cochran/Union County News

The Rise and Fall of Bobby Harrell

Phil Noble

Phil Noble

by Phil Noble

There is a New Testament admonition that we should hate the sin and love the sinner.

So, first the sinner. I’m sure that if I lived in Bobby Harrell’s West Ashely neighborhood, he’d be a good neighbor and I’d probably like him. He’s the kind of guy that has everyone over to watch the big ball game on his supersized TV in the basement, puts out a great spread with lots of cold beer and never asks others to chip in.

I don’t personally know Harrell and I’ve never really had any significant direct dealings with him. I’ve met him a few times, we passed a few polite comments back and forth and that was about it. Years ago, his father was the agent for my car insurance and he held the House seat that Bobby first won back in the early 90’s. I have a vague memory of a conversation with Dad about how proud he was when Bobby was first elected and how his young son was so idealistic about going to Columbia to do good things for our state. I’m sure it was the case.

But along the way, things began to change. As Bobby shimmied up the greasy pole of political power in Columbia, the all too familiar story began to play out – “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” By the time of his fall, Harrell’s power in the House was essentially absolute. He was in charge and nothing of consequence – literally nothing – happened without his approval.

And then the sin begins to fester and grow. “The rules don’t apply to me… he crossed me and I’ll punish him until he begs for mercy… we can ignore that law… he’s a supporter and he needs money.” And on and on it goes.

As predictable and in some senses as ordinary as Harrell’s corruption is, there are several aspects of his case that are important to consider.

First, as the Post and Courier headline suggests, it’s the tip of the iceberg. Anyone who pays even casual attention to goings-on in Columbia knows that there is a pervasive culture of corruption. It’s literally everywhere – the House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, the executive and judicial branches as well as the legislative, the system of lobbyist and campaign contributions, law makers routinely using political influence for personal gain. It’s called “politics as usual.”

In another ironic twist of the politics-as-usual system, Harrell’s attorney is none other than Bart Daniel who was the prosecutor in Lost Trust, the last big ethics scandal we had back in the 90’s that sent about 10% of the SC Legislature to jail.

For way too many, politics has simply become a personal profit center at the expense of the people they are supposed to serve.

And, as the press accounts make clear, Harrell’s deal to stay out of jail is that he has to cooperate fully with future prosecutions, i.e. spill his guts about what he knows about other corruption – and he knows a lot. Harrell is just the beginning.

Second, the corruption in Columbia is banal; the amounts of money involved are laughably small. Harrell’s charges involved a few hundred dollars at best and in reality much was just penny ante stuff. That’s not to diminish the seriousness of what he did, but it is ironic that in the same week, Mike Hubbard, the Speaker of the House in Alabama was indicted on 23 felony ethics violations that potentially involved as much as $10 million dollars. One keen Alabama political observer said of Harrell compared to Hubbard “…he’s a piker compared with the Alabama crowd that has stolen everything in sight.”

And it has been this way for years. During the Lost Trust scandal, one legislator regularly sold his votes “for a few shirts.” Not long ago, I overheard a prominent lobbyist in Columbia brag after several large glasses of brown liquor, “I buy these guys out of the petty cash account.”

Third, it’s ironic that Harrell was brought down largely as a result of the relentless and courageous persistence of Ashley Landess of the SC Policy Council. The Policy Council is a very conservative and very Republican oriented organization, but if it had not been for Landess, Harrell would still be flying high today – literally at the taxpayers’ expense. She has done our state a great service on this issue and she is to be commended – and that’s coming from a committed Democrat.

Fourth, the corruption in Columbia is a bipartisan venture. The silence from the Democrats about Harrell and ethics violations in general has been deafening. Given the lopsided Republican majorities, many Democrats have long since given up on trying to win anything and have simply decided that public service can be profitable pillage. As the future indictments begin to come down, folks from both parties will regularly be seen on the evening news.

There is at least the possibility of some good to come from all this. Over the next year or two, as the scandal grows, hopefully – and it’s no sure thing – the people of this state will be up in arms and demand real ethics reform. Anyone who has read this space knows that I’ve been banging the drum about the need for ethics reform for years…and for the first time in a long while I believe it may actually be possible.

Maybe – but only if “we the people” don’t get cynical about all this and throw up our hands in disgust. We can do better, and we will if we demand real reform.

While I breathe I hope.

Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and President of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group founded by former Gov. Richard Riley to bring big change and real reform. phil@scnewdemocrats.org   www.SCNewDemocrats.org

Agency Mum on $6 Million Contract for Consulting Firm

By Rick Brundrett for TheNerve.org
October 24, 2014

A consulting firm hired by ex-state Department of Social Services Director Lillian Koller when she earlier headed Hawaii’s social services agency received more than $10 million while in the Aloha State, and obtained a $6 million contract in South Carolina after Koller transferred here, records show.

And the South Carolina contract is on top of a $719,000 “emergency” procurement that DSS obtained for Benton & Associates Ltd. of Ellicott City, Md., which the S.C. Legislative Audit Council described as “improper” in a critical audit of the agency released earlier this month.

The audit found that a contract between DSS and Winthrop University for $20 million and two other contracts between DSS and the University of South Carolina for $50.8 million were the “result of non-competitive procurement methods.” That reduces the “probability that the vendors selected were the best combination of quality and price,” and also can “create the perception that contract awards are based on favoritism,” the audit noted. Read the rest of this entry »

University of South Carolina #3 Nick Jones WR blocks against Furman #3 Andrej Suttles

University of South Carolina #3 Nick Jones WR blocks against Furman #3 Andrej Suttles~Photo by William Thornley

University of South Carolina #3 Nick Jones WR blocks against Furman #3 Andrej Suttles~Photo by William Thornley

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University of South Carolina #28 Mike Davis TB dives for TD against Furman

University of South Carolina #28 Mike Davis TB dives for TD against Furman ~Photo by William Thornley

University of South Carolina #28 Mike Davis TB dives for TD against Furman ~Photo by William Thornley

Please remember to include the writer’s name and the name of the newspaper.

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“Suit Up” from The Times and Democrat

"Suit Up" from The Times and Democrat

“Suit Up” from The Times and Democrat

“Jobless Doc” from The Times and Democrat

" Jobless Doc" from The Times and Democrat

“Jobless Doc” from The Times and Democrat

“Even If” from The Times and Democrat

"Even If" from The Times and Democrat

“Even If” from The Times and Democrat

“Ebola” by Stuart Neiman

"Ebola" by Stuart Neiman

“Ebola” by Stuart Neiman

USC red shirt freshman running back David Williams carries the ball in Saturday's game with Furman. Photo Jerry E. Halmon, The Advertizer Herald Newspaper

USC red shirt freshman running back David Williams carries the ball in Saturday’s game with Furman. Photo Jerry E. Halmon, The Advertizer Herald Newspaper

Please remember to include the writer’s name and the name of the newspaper.