Scoppe: Measuring governor candidates by what they’ve done

Associate EditorSeptember 29, 2010 

JUDGING LEGISLATORS by their records isn’t as easy as it should be since, as Rep. Nikki Haley correctly points out (although with trumped-up numbers), too few legislative votes are recorded. So, many years ago I settled on the alternative of reviewing the bills they have introduced, which tells us a lot about their values, their priorities, their ability to get things done and just how seriously they have taken the job of legislating.

I’ve mentioned some of the highlights for Ms. Haley and Sen. Vincent Sheheen in previous columns, but I think this is so important that I decided to take a day last week to read through all of the bills they have sponsored. Not the ones they’ve signed onto as co-sponsors, or all those congratulatory resolutions, but the substantive bills that they took the initiative to draft or have drafted.

On the links to the left, you will find a complete list of Ms. Haley’s bills. I left out about a third of Mr. Sheheen’s bills in the list that was published in the newspaper because 1) the list is too long for most readers even without them and 2) as is the case with any prolific legislator, many of them are just too boring or technical for words; I have, however, included a separate posting of the complete list, also to the left and at thestate.com/opextra.

The easiest, though not necessarily most useful, way to compare the lists: Ms. Haley has introduced 15 substantive bills, of which one has become law and one has been adopted as a House rule. Mr. Sheheen has introduced 119 substantive bills (98 when you weed out the ones that he has re-introduced in multiple sessions), of which 18 have become statewide law and four have become local law.

It’s hard to discern a pattern to Ms. Haley’s bills until the past couple of years, when they have centered on the issues she launched her bid for governor on: requiring more roll-call voting, clamping down on legislators’ conflicts of interest and imposing limits on state spending and legislative service.

In previous elections, Ms. Haley has made the point that she doesn’t feel the need to file a bill someone else already has filed. But this hasn’t been a hard-and-fast rule: Bills to require zero-based budgeting and limit spending are introduced year in and year out by far more powerful legislators, yet she introduced her own bills.

It’s to her credit that she is not one of those copy-cat legislators who rush to file a bill with their own name on it as soon as someone else introduces one they like. (Neither is Mr. Sheheen.) Neither, though, has she been someone who saw very many problems that needed solving or seemed particularly driven to accomplish much of anything, until she hit upon the recorded voting issue.

I agree with some of Ms. Haley’s bills, disagree with some and don’t care one way or the other about others. The same is true with Mr. Sheheen, although the sheer volume means there are many more that I don’t care about, but there also are a lot of bills that I like a lot (primarily in the good government section, but not limited to that) and only three that are at odds with positions I’ve taken over the years.

What’s most striking about Mr. Sheheen’s list is its sweep, and the extent to which it reflects initiatives that either know no partisan boundaries or that easily cross them. Although his focus has been on giving governors more power to run the executive branch of government and overhauling our tax system, his bills touch on far more — from exempting small churches from some state architectural requirements and prohibiting kids from taking pagers to school to giving tuition breaks to the children of veterans and eliminating loopholes in the state campaign finance law.

This is the body of work of someone who understands what the government does and is interested in working on not just the broad structural and philosophical issues that politicians like to make speeches about but also the real-world problems that arise, from figuring out how to move police from paper to electronic traffic tickets without causing problems to writing a legal definition for “joint custody” so parents will know what to expect when they go to court.

One thing that’s notable in relation to this campaign: Ms. Haley attacks Mr. Sheheen as being anti-business because he does some workers compensation work (although his firm represents both businesses and employees), but he has written only one bill regarding workers compensation — and that was a “pro-business” bill that said employees of horse trainers didn’t have to be covered.

Ms. Scoppe can be reached at cscoppe@thestate.com or at (803) 771-8571.

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