The Buzz

The Buzz: End of an era at the Blatt Building; Haley fund-raising in Texas; state to get lottery windfall?

abeam@ thestate.comSeptember 21, 2013 

Ann B. Martin will retire in November after more than three decades as manager of the Blatt Building, the office building for the state House of Representatives.

ADAM BEAM/ABEAM@THESTATE.COM

Before Ann B. Martin began her three-decade reign as the manager of the office building for members of the S.C. House of Representatives, she was one of the building’s first female security officers, looking after some of the state’s first female legislators.

“If I ever have a problem with any of the members, I tell them, ‘You do remember I wore a gun when I first came here.’”

It’s that kind of playful yet no-nonsense attitude that has earned Martin a sterling reputation among the 124 members of the state House, as evidenced by a sign on her desk that reads: “Ann Martin’s House Rules: 1. Ann is always right. 2. If Ann is wrong, see rule #1.”

As manager of the Blatt Building, “Mrs. Ann” has assigned legislative offices, parking spaces and meeting rooms. But Martin, 77, plans to retire in November so she can visit her three great-grandchildren more often.

“It is hard to please 124 (people),” Martin said. “I learned how to sidestep pretty good.”

The Buzz saw this in action last week, when The Buzz interviewed Martin and tried to get her to spill the dirt on state lawmakers. For example, Martin worked in the building when Democrats were in power, under House Speakers Ramon Schwartz and Bob Sheheen, and when Republicans took control of the House in the mid-’90s, under Speakers David Wilkins and Bobby Harrell.

So, who ran the place better?

“Both parties have the interest of the state in their best interest,” Martin replied.

When former state Rep. Boyd Brown, D-Fairfield, was elected to the House, he said he was told to get on the good side of two people: The House speaker and Ann Martin.

“I didn’t always stay on the speaker’s good side,” Boyd said, leading The Buzz to wonder: Was Boyd ever on the speaker’s good side? “But I made sure to stay on Ann’s good side.”

Case in point, Brown sent Martin a bouquet of flowers after he was elected.

Martin subsequently assigned newcomer Boyd an office on the building’s fifth floor, a location normally reserved for members with more seniority.

“Boyd just happened to get an office up here, and that was a big joke with me,” Martin said with a chuckle.

Martin said one of the toughest challenges that she has faced over the years has been assigning lawmakers’ parking spaces. One of Martin’s co-workers, Lem Harper, tells the story of how some House members complained about Martin having a prime parking spot.

“He said, ‘If you want her spot, you go ask her if she will give you that spot,’ ” Martin recalled. “And, you know, no one has ever asked me for that spot.”

How much would $15 million buy?

When news broke that someone had purchased a $400 million winning lottery ticket at a Lexington gas station, The Buzz could see dollar signs dancing through lawmakers’ heads.

That’s because the unidentified winner, most likely an S.C. resident, will owe the state between $12 million and $15 million in taxes – depending on how much the person can deduct from his or her taxes due for things like donations to charity.

State economist Frank Rainwater was not so excited, pointing out $15 million is just 0.2 percent of the state’s nearly $7 billion general fund budget.

Still, $15 million can buy a lot of stuff.

How much? The Buzz combed through the 2013-14 budget to make a list.

With $15 million, lawmakers could pay for:

•  7,139 public school students at a base student cost of $2.101 per student.

•  Nearly a 1 percent raise for most state workers, costing $15.8 million

•  2,347 round-trip flights for Walter Williams from Washington to Columbia on the state plane at $6,390 per trip. (The use of the state plane to transport Williams to testify before the Legislature earlier this year – authorized by state Rep. William Chumley, R-Spartanburg – angered many legislators as wasteful.)

•  The state Senate’s entire operating budget for a year, costing $13.3 million

•  The entire operating budgets for 11 state agencies for one year – the secretary of state’s office, Human Affairs Commission, Education Oversight Committee, Jobs-Economic Development Authority, Commission on Minority Affairs, Legislative Audit Council, governor’s office, governor’s office-mansion and grounds, inspector general, State Ethics Commission, Procurement Review Panel.

•  335 state troopers

•  297 Department of Natural Resource officers

Buzz bites

•  S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley has campaigned for fellow Republican Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina, but the gloves come off when it comes to economic development. “I told Nikki Haley, ‘We’re taking you down in South Carolina for jobs,’ ” McCrory told a tech gathering last week, according to the Triangle Business Journal. “She said, ‘Let the best woman win.’ ”

•  Haley was scheduled to attend a $250-a-person re-election fundraiser Saturday in Texas at the India House Houston, according to KTRK-TV. Closer to home, Haley is slated to speak to the Columbia Rotary Club Sept. 30.

Staff writer Andrew Shain contributed.

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