THE BUZZ: Reforming S.C. ethics laws, psst, in secret

abeam@thestate.comJanuary 20, 2013 

Gov. Nikki Haley thanks her special guests in the gallery as she prepares to deliver her State of the State speech inside the House Chamber of the State House.

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com Buy Photo

— Lawmakers disagree a lot. But in a democracy, at least we get to see them do it.

Sometimes.

Senate Democrats and Republicans disagreed Wednesday on a bill that would have changed how people file for political office. The bill is important because last year more than 250 candidates were removed from the ballot because they filed their paperwork incorrectly.

The only candidates affected were challengers. Incumbents were exempt.

The Senate bill – sponsored by Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens – would make the penalty for not filing a candidate’s Statement of Economic Interest form a fine, instead of disqualification. But Democrats, namely Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, oppose that. Filing the form is an important part of public disclosure, Setzler contends, not wanting to create a loophole for rich candidates to use to evade disclosure.

But instead of Martin and Setzler hashing out their differences on the Senate floor in view of the public, they took a recess and retreated into the Senate president pro tem’s office to work out a compromise. After about an hour, they came back and announced they had reached a deal and would be more than happy to tell you about it.

Tomorrow.

President Pro Tem John Courson, R-Richland, said when lawmakers disagree they often need to talk with Senate staff and attorneys and, he added, they can’t do that on the Senate floor.

“You have to get in a self-contained area that you can really talk about it without there being any other distractions going on,” Courson said. “The main purpose is not to avoid public discussion, but it is to get them to draft the amendments.”

“There wasn’t anything decided that bound us or bound the respective caucuses we were representing,” Martin said, noting the Senate debated the bill in public for an hour the next day.

“That’s just the way the Senate operates. We can sit down, take a little break ... and talk among ourselves as to what the possibilities might be,” Martin said. “Everything we do, as we did (Thursday), is very open to the public. And how we finally resolve it is very open to the public.”

The Buzz would disagree respectfully.

The irony here is that all of those candidates getting kicked off the ballot has launched a political crusade to reform South Carolina’s ethics laws. At least four legislative committees are meeting now to draft legislation. And two of those committees – the Republican and Democratic caucus committees – have held private meetings.

If lawmakers are serious about ethics reform, shouldn’t they meet and write the reforms in public?

Haley silent on school-safety bills

Gov. Nikki Haley said during her State of the State address that she wants to “start a conversation” about education.

Well, there’s one happening now, and Haley is not in it.

School safety is something everyone is talking about, and it was missing from her State of the State address. Yes, Haley asked for a moment of silence to remember the victims in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. And she asked several key lawmakers to join her in “a conversation” about education.

But the governor has remained silent on several school-safety bills filed at the State House. One would let school districts decide whether teachers could carry guns in schools. Another would place a police officer in every school.

Republicans and Democrats have endorsed the latter plan. And SLED Chief Mark Keel, whom Haley appointed, also has endorsed it.

Asked Wednesday whether the state should pay for the police officers, Haley was unavailable to comment. (Understandable, she had a big speech to prepare.) Her spokesman said she will “be happy to weigh in” when a bill arrives on her desk.

Asked again on Thursday, a spokesman said Haley would support districts if they decided they needed officers but did not elaborate on how to pay for them.

A week after the shooting, Haley also sidestepped questions about a House Republican bill that would let teachers carry guns in schools, saying she would talk about it once the bill made it out of committee.

Haley has been more than happy to give her opinion on other legislation that hasn’t made it out of committee. For example, during her State of the State address Wednesday, she pressed for government restructuring, a bill that, at the time, had not made it out of a Senate subcommittee.

Jake Knotts thinks it’s time for the governor to move on

During her State of the State address last week, Gov. Haley took a dig at former Republican state Sen. Jake Knotts – the ringleader in stopping her signature Department of Administration bill last year on the legislative session’s final day.

“I wish a warm welcome to all the newly elected members of the House and Senate, but I want to extend a special welcome to the new senator from Lexington County, Katrina Shealy,” Haley said of her ally, who defeated Knotts in November. “Sen. Shealy represents one less excuse for those who don’t want to change the wasteful and inefficient way state government operates.”

Knotts, who clashed with Haley – a fellow Lexington County Republican – on a number of issues, says the governor should concentrate on other issues, like the massive data breach at the S.C. Department of Revenue.

“It doesn’t bother me what she said,” Knotts told The Buzz last week. “She needs to worry about running the state and stop worry about the past. She does everything for political reasons.”

Knotts, 68, said he is enjoying retirement. “My blood pressure is down to normal,” he said. “I love playing with my grandkids.”

We see what you did there, NBC

NBC’s new comedy “1600 Penn” Thursday night featured an aging, cantankerous, frisky U.S. senator with a Southern accent. The character’s name was Froam Thorogood.

OK, The Buzz gets it. Ha ha. It’s a parody of Strom Thurmond, the late South Carolinian who served in the Senate 48 years.

In the episode, the (fictional) president and first lady were attempting to pass a (fictional) education bill. The only thing standing in the way was Sen. Thorogood. Here’s what Hollywood thinks of S.C. politics, as represented by some of Sen. Thorogood’s lines:

• “Algebra – you know that word has Arabic roots.”

• “Sorry I’m late, my aide drives like a Hawaiian.”

• (Speaking to the first lady) – “Well don’t get hysterical, men are talking.”

• (Speaking to the president) – “Say some flowery words written by your best Jew.”

• “Women are so gullible. It’s a consequence of your skull size.”

Typically, TV shows include a disclaimer in the credits saying something like “anything resembling actual events is purely coincidental.”

South Carolinians can only hope so.

Staff writers Andrew Shain and Jamie Self contributed.

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