In the House, majority rules – except, of course, when members fail to show up, like they did on Wednesday, when a contingent of 38 Democrats and 14 dissident Republicans lacked only one vote to send the state budget back to a reckoning.
But in the “deliberative” Senate, the matches more follow the rules of chess, where strategies extend moves ahead and pieces huddled in corners later may prove to be a coup.
Here’s how factions fared this year:
Hail Mary for tea
The Senate’s William Wallace Caucus, a group of rising ultra-conservatives, tried to use the momentum that Republican Gov. Nikki Haley was building to pass ethics law reform as leverage to ensure a vote on their legislative priority – a bill outlawing Obamacare. Nothing less would assuage the fears of the folks back home, the haggis eaters insisted. But, alas, the nullification bill, which had flown through the House despite futile outcries from Democrats, died in the final hours of this year’s session.
But the Senate’s ultra-conservatives did win other victories, including convincing senators to add a private-school choice proposal to the budget after years of trying. And, notes state Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, their ranks are growing.
Dems play “D”
In an odd alliance with Tea Party Republicans, Senate Democrats blocked the ethics bill, denying Haley a feather in her cap after her spokesman, Rob Godfrey, said state Sen. Robert Ford – who the Senate Ethics Committee had just accused of hundreds of violations of campaign finance laws – was an example of why the state needs ethics reform.
Dems, who also said they needed more time to vet the ethics bill, were offended by the comments from the Haley camp, considering she twice was accused and cleared of ethics charges. When it came time to vote, senators on both sides of the aisle used Ford’s case to block the ethics bill, saying the Senate had proven it could police its own just fine.
Guv in the end zone
Next year, when lawmakers again feel the pressure from Haley to pass ethics reforms – heat she’s already promised – she’ll have support from House and Senate leaders and government watchdog groups pushing for success in the second year of the two-year session.
Of course, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, the Camden Democrat who will be running against Haley, also will be vying for political victories on issues he long has supported, including ethics and government restructuring.
“We’ll see who wins the P.R. battle over the break,” said state Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, adding Haley’s true leadership test still lies ahead – as she issues state budget vetoes.
(A budget win in Bright’s book in that arena? Scrap the entire budget.)
First down for the Old Guard
A clear Senate victory was approval of a $500 million borrowing plan to help fix the state’s ailing roadways, pushed by two of the Senate’s old guard: Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, and Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington.
The plan would make a dent in the $29 billion that the state needs over 20 years to repair its roads and bridges without raising taxes. That’s “more than a raindrop on Lake Murray,” Setzler said of the $500 million.
At times, all of the hot air ascending from the S.C. State House may seem, to outsiders, like the prelude to another secession. But the smoke Monday was not the specter of Union Gen. William T. Sherman preparing to set another S.C. State House ablaze. It was just a smoking escalator leading into the State House from the parking garage. After a brief evacuation, staffers were allowed to return to their posts unscathed.
Last week, John Courson – the president pro tempore of the state Senate – appointed two committees to hold public hearings throughout the state during the legislative off season.
One will study an ethics reform bill and another will study a bill nullifying Obamacare.
The Buzz was curious: If ethics and nullification got into a fight, who would win?
Here’s the tale of the tape:
What it does
Ethics: Requires lawmakers to be more accountable to the public.
Nullification: Refuses to comply with federal law.
Ethics: After a 1991 FBI sting, S.C. enacted some of the nation’s then-toughest ethics laws.
Nullification: After Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860, South Carolina started a war that killed millions of people.
Base Scrabble score
Shooting on target
State Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Horry, might be the state’s gun-making economic-development coordinator.
The Horry County Republican visited five Connecticut firearms manufacturers in May. Now, one is relocating to Aynor with 145 jobs while another is visiting the county next week.
Touting the state’s gun-friendly laws (think about the firearms tax holiday), Clemmons said he told the gun companies’ CEOs that South Carolina never would pass restrictive gun-control laws like those approved in Connecticut after the Newtown school shooting.
Clemmons said he paid for the trip to the Constitution State out of his campaign funds. (He had nearly $169,000 on hand as of March 30.)
Out of his effort to pitch a new home for the gun makers, Clemmons says he has a new moniker to offer his home state – “South Carolina is the 2nd Amendment State.”
Gov. Haley is heading to Greensboro next week to attend a dinner and forum with N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory to benefit a foundation that backs McCrory’s agenda. The two-day retreat on Thursday and Friday at the Grandover Resort costs $10,000, according to The (Raleigh) News and Observer. The minimum ticket for the event featuring Haley is $1,000. Haley campaigned for McCrory in his successful gubernatorial bid last year. ... Don’t adjust your television sets, you did see Sen. Kevin Bryant on the Senate floor showing pictures of a woman sitting on a couch made of dollar bills. The Anderson Republican, co-founder of the William Wallace Caucus, wanted to show what $500 million looks like, the amount the state would borrow to fix the state’s roads.
Reach Self at (803)771-8658. Staff writers Adam Beam and Andrew Shain contributed.