COLUMBIA, SC — The feud between state Sens. Hugh Leatherman and Shane Massey now is entering its third year and it appears Leatherman is winning.
The feud started two years ago, when the state Budget and Control Board allowed several state agencies to run multi-million dollar deficits. Massey, R-Edgefield, and some other fiscal hawks in the GOP took to the Senate floor almost daily to embarrass fellow Republican Leatherman of Florence, who as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee is also on the Budget and Control Board.
Leatherman waited patiently for an opportunity to exact payback and one came in December. With 10 new senators elected to the Senate, the more senior Massey was up for the chairmanship of the Senate Rules Committee. Its a powerful spot because the committee controls a special order slot on the Senate calendar. In other words: In a legislative body known for its stalling tactics, the Rules Committee can force the Senate to vote on a bill.
Thats a nice power to have, especially if you have a bill you really want passed. And Massey does a government restructuring bill that would abolish the Budget and Control Board and create a Department of Administration that would report directly to the governor.
But several sources tell The Buzz that Leatherman pressured state Sen. Ronnie Cromer, R-Newberry, to turn down the chairmanship of the Fish, Game and Forestry Committee to take the chairmanship of the Rules Committee, shutting Massey out. Cromer could do that because he has been in the Senate longer than Massey.
In return, Leatherman named Cromer the chairman of a powerful budget subcommittee that oversees the budgets of the states constitutional officers.
Cromer told The Buzz that while, yes, Leatherman talked to him it was not the reason he took the Rules Committee chairmanship. Cromer said he did it so that his friend, state Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, could become chairman of the Senate Invitations Committee. (A committee chairman no matter how small the committee gets paid staff and a spacious, private office in the State House complexs Gressette Building.)
Im one of those that will do a lot for friends, Cromer said.
The Leatherman-Massey feud is a classic example of the friction between older, more senior senators and their younger, more junior peers. Junior senators like to talk. When they talk too much, senior senators try to put them in their place.
And Leatherman isnt through with Massey yet.
Masseys restructuring bill made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. But, on Tuesday, Leatherman will try to send it back to the Finance Committee, which he heads.
Its death, Massey said from the Senate floor on Thursday. The intent of that is to kill this bill.
Leatherman responded by reclining in his chair on the front row, not saying a word.
Payback for Curtis Loftis?
Speaking of payback, it appears state Treasurer Curtis Loftis got some from the Retirement System Investment Commission recently.
The commission which manages the states $26 billion retirement fund recently hired Danny Varat as its public information officer. Varat is the former chief of staff of state Sen. Greg Ryberg, the Aiken Republican who retired last year.
Buzz readers might recall the shouting match that Loftis and Ryberg had during a Senate committee meeting last year, just one of several skirmishes in the war between Loftis and the commission.
Loftis is on the commission, but he also is its biggest critic. He says the commission is too heavily invested in alternative investments that cost taxpayers millions of dollars in unnecessary management fees. Ryberg disagreed with Loftis criticisms.
Sources tell The Buzz that Loftis has complained about Varats hiring privately, raising questions about Varats $83,000-a-year salary, which appears to rank among the highest for state agency spokespersons. But Adam Jordan, the commissions interim director of operations, noted the job was posted for two weeks and the commission interviewed several candidates. And Varats salary is the same salary he was making while working for Ryberg.
Commission chairman and Ryberg ally Reynolds Williams, who Loftis tried to forcibly remove as chairman, denies he was involved in the hiring.
I wasnt involved ... at all, Williams said. The politics of it had nothing to do with it.
So is this THE announcement?
The Buzz forgot to wish the guv happy birthday last Sunday.
But if supporters of the now 41-year-old Nikki Haley missed sending their well wishes, her campaign has a suggestion.
The guvs big brother, Mitti Randhawa, emailed a note Tuesday to Haley backers asking: Will you join me in saying Happy Birthday to Nikki by donating $41 to her re-election campaign?
Buzz has to ask: What re-election campaign? Haleys office keeps saying she has not decided whether she will run for a second term.
The Buzz hopes to get exclusive confirmation from the guv that she is running anytime now. Were waiting with notepad in hand. You know the number.
Lets crown Miss S.C. Budget
The Buzz has an early front-runner for this years budget pizzazz award: S.C. State University.
Trying to make a good impression after years of struggles (deficits, declining enrollment, a trustee facing criminal charges), the colleges new leadership brought a contingent of administrators and students from Orangeburg to talk to lawmakers about the schools budget request including reigning Miss S.C. State University Kara McCullough.
The senior professional chemistry major didnt talk to lawmakers. But McCullough certainly was an unlikely bit player in the states sometimes arcane budget process.
(And no, she did not wear her tiara or give a pageant wave to legislators. But, come to think of it, that couldnt have hurt.)
Is the State Museum on life support?
The Buzz came away from a recent House budget meeting thinking the S.C. State Museum is about to close.
We know, we know. Were exaggerating. But the picture that museum leaders presented to a House budget panel last week goes beyond the making-do mantra that is characteristic of government agencys asking for more money in tough economic times.
Educational materials purchased in 1988 literally are falling apart, Tom Falvey, director of education, told the lawmakers, adding theres no money to replace them and new science standards are coming soon.
The museum also has gained new artifacts but they are old, and the museum cant make a dent in conserving them for its collection. For example, a Revolutionary War cannon, now sitting in the conservation room, desperately needs a tank, Falvey said.
And on and on.
Security is no longer full time.
A corps of volunteers has no one dedicated to directing them.
The museum has missed out on federal grants because it does not have staff to carry out the proposals.
Were doing a great job operating. Were bringing in people and attendance, said William Calloway, the museums executive director. But our core of what we do collecting, conserving artifacts, education is starting to go away because we just dont have the staff to do it.
Staff writers Andrew Shain and Jamie Self contributed.