Scoppe: The royal governor

Associate EditorMay 20, 2012 

GOV. NIKKI Haley had the right idea when she argued that something could and should be done to correct the egregious wrong that was committed when the state Supreme Court kicked 180 candidates off the ballot for doing what state and party officials incorrectly told them to do.

“Did the law say they couldn’t run? Yes,” she said. “But we can change the law — we do it every day.”

It would have been a perfectly reasonable thing to say to the Legislature. In fact, it’s essentially what I’ve said since the court correctly ruled that candidates who filed their economic-interest statements online as one law required couldn’t be on the ballot if they didn’t also hand a paper copy of the report to party officials with their statements of intention to run, as another law required.

But of course she wasn’t talking to the Legislature. If she has tried to persuade the Legislature to “change the laws,” she has been uncharacteristically quiet about it. The body she was urging to change the laws was the executive committee of the state Republican Party.

It’s hard to count all the actions that contributed to this fiasco: The Legislature’s typical inattention to detail in creating a confusing legal requirement. The decisions by the state Election and Ethics commissions to present the law as it should be rather than as it is. The Legislature’s failure to find a way to reinstate those candidates who filed economic-interest statements by the end of the election filing period, but filed them with the wrong people.

But all of that pales beside our governor’s behavior.

You remember that cliche your momma drilled into your head, about two wrongs not making a right? The governor missed that lesson. She also missed the high school civics class where we learned that laws are made by the government, not a political party. Not even the one with a stranglehold on the government.

On Wednesday evening, our governor marched into the state Republican Party executive committee meeting and, ignoring that whole rule-of-law thing that Republicans usually embrace, made a purely emotional (i.e., Democratic) appeal to her party to make her “proud.” By ignoring the rule of law. By defying a clear, unambiguous, unanimous Supreme Court ruling.

And her party did that, voting unanimously to reinstate the candidate who had hoped to take on one of the biggest thorns in the governor’s side. Which was outrageous. And yet more proof that the Legislature needs to strip the parties of their governmental role of handling candidate filings. But it was hardly surprising. After all, the Florence County branch of the party had already thumbed its nose at the Supreme Court, certifying candidates who did not meet the strict standard the court said must be followed.

When the State Election Commission recognized that the only body authorized to change the law had refused to do so, reminded us that it would have to violate a court order to add any names after the court’s May 4 deadline, and refused to be a party to the lawlessness, the governor didn’t welcome the opportunity to acknowledge that she had crossed the line. Instead, she sent out her spokesman to denounce the commission. “Under no circumstances should a government bureaucracy stand in the way of a free and fair election in South Carolina,” he said. “The people of our state deserve to have their voices heard.”

If the governor had been the one speaking, she might have added, L’etat, c’est moi.

At least when Louis XIV said it, he had a legal basis to do so. He was, after all, an absolute monarch.

When our founding fathers created this nation, they didn’t just reject the British monarch. They rejected the idea of a monarchy. They rejected imperial rule. And nowhere in the fledgling nation was that concept more thoroughly rejected than here in South Carolina.

The governor of South Carolina isn’t even a real governor. Yet this one fancies herself royalty. An autocrat. With the divine right of queens. L’etat, c’est moi.

She had already demonstrated that she was hypocritical. And careless with the truth. And imperious. Now add lawless. And contemptuous.

Actually, it’s the court that needs to add that last one.

Although the Election Commission blocked the party’s effort to defy a court order, that doesn’t change the fact that the party, at the urging of our governor, acted in a way that was “calculated to obstruct, degrade, and undermine the administration of justice.” That’s the definition of contempt of court, which our Supreme Court has said judges should punish in order to “preserve the authority and dignity of their courts.”

The court cannot ignore such blatant disregard for its orders. It needs to find the governor in contempt. And while it’s at it, it should do the same to the state Republican Party, and the Florence County Republican Party. This is about far more than the candidates who have been mistreated by our state. It’s about the authority of the court itself.

Ms. Scoppe can be reached at cscoppe@thestate.com.

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