The Buzz

The Buzz: Off to see the Wizard, Haley seeks approval (and money), Harpo (shockingly) agrees to keep quiet

jself@ thestate.comSeptember 28, 2013 

— Leaving South Carolina on a divided state highway, Republican state Rep. Tommy Stringer said the median “was full of tall weeds.”

Then the cracked asphalt and weed-choked vistas gave way to a smooth ride and a median full of wildflowers – starting at the North Carolina line.

“It’s like the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy leaves Kansas and goes to Oz, the movie goes from black-and-white to color,” the Greenville Republican said.

Stringer painted that picture at the S.C. Alliance to Fix our Roads’ annual meeting, which featured a Q&A with state lawmakers about what the state should do next to address its $29 billion road problem.

Stringer and a few allies say a magical Wizard isn’t necessary. (Nevermind, the Wizard of Oz couldn’t grant wishes anyway). Instead, they want to raise the gas tax – the most direct and fair way, Stringer says, to get the people who use the road system to pay for its upkeep. The state hasn’t raised its gas tax since 1987.

But members of the roads alliance are aware “political realities” make pushing for anything with “tax” in the title impossible in an election year, said Bill Ross, the group’s executive director.

Earlier this year, however, the alliance celebrated a victory when the state approved a plan to borrow $500 million for roads and use another $90 million or so from vehicle sales taxes and surplus money on repairs as well. Now, the group wants to keep moving.

The road forward includes educating the public so it understands the need for fixing roads, and its political will wins Gov. Nikki Haley’s support and drives policy, said state Rep. Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington, and other lawmakers at the meeting.

Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, noted lawmakers’ “subtle innuendo” in their ideas for fixing the roads.

“(State Sen.) Tom Alexander says, ‘We have a tough road ahead.’ (State Sen.) Paul Campbell says, ‘We’re trying to bridge the gap by funding.’ Kenny Bingham says, ‘We’re going to move the ball down the road.’ ” What Stringer meant to say but didn’t, Lourie added, was “ Follow the yellow brick road.”

Haley: Do you approve of me?

Gov. Haley – the subject of many polls that usually highlight her less-than-stellar approval numbers – now is doing a survey of her own.

Haley’s campaign website posted a survey last week asking folks what they think about the performance of Democratic President Barack Obama, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Republican House Speaker John Boehner, the GOP-majority S.C. General Assembly – and the Republican governor.

An online poll is not the way to get a scientific sample of voters. But that’s not the point, said S.C. political scientists who run polls.

“It is a clever way for her to build messages that will keep the GOP faithful interested and primed to turn out for her,” Winthrop political scientist Scott Huffmon said.

Clemson political scientist Dave Woodard, who released a poll last week showing Haley’s rising popularity among Republicans, said her campaign’s online poll suggests Haley is trying to set herself apart from state and federal politicians.

“The approval rating for state and national legislatures is just about the same as trial lawyers, hookers and used-car salesmen,” Woodard said.

Speaking of wizards

Thanks to Gov. Haley’s Original Six Foundation, children in seven rural counties will have 20,000 books to read.

What will they be reading? Books like: “Getting Elected: A Look at Running for Office,” which features a smiling Nikki Haley on the cover waving to the crowd after she was elected governor.

The Buzz saw at least three copies of the book among those contributed to Haley’s charity. Volunteers were sorting the books last week at Christ Central Ministries before they were distributed to local libraries. The book is co-written by Robin Nelson, whose previous books include “Globes” and “Rectangle,” and Sandra Donovan, whose works include “Bob the Alien Discovers the Dewey Decimal System” and “Triple H: At the Top of his Game.”

Buzz took the liberty of flipping through this book and noticed the book is not about Haley at all. Instead, it is about the election process in general. In fact, it includes photos of Hillary Clinton, a presumed Democratic candidate for president in 2016.

So how did Haley get on the cover? The book was published by the Minneapolis-based Lerner Publishing, whose founder and chairman, Harry Lerner, is the uncle of Jon Lerner, Haley’s pollster and general consultant. Calls to Lerner Publishing about the book were not returned.

Harpo’s secret roast

Congrats to Amanda Loveday, executive director of the S.C. Democratic Party, for convincing the S.C. Democratic Party to keep Dick Harpootlian’s roast off-the-record.

“We run a tight ship,” Loveday said, when The Buzz came snooping for stories about the former party chairman from the Democrats’ fundraiser Tuesday.

The Buzz knew intel would be tough to get when the party’s third vice-chairman, Tyler Jones, tweeted he was turning off his cell phone as the party began.

What came after?

“I’m not talking,” former S.C. Gov. Jim Hodges, one of Harpo’s roasters, told The Buzz.

Sources say the roast included jokes about inmates at the governor’s mansion and something about Armenian goats. (Buzz shudders to think.)

Harpo, from whose maw a gentle word seldom escapes, would not “go there” for The Buzz when asked to recount his roasting, citing the gag order.

“The other thing is, it was an R-rated evening,” Harpo said. “Things were put in very explicit terms. Even to make those stories funny, I would have to use language that you couldn’t put in print.”

(In other words, the roasters used short words that they were sure Harpo could understand.)

•  Haley spent the early part of last week in New York and Philadelphia on campaign fundraisers and meetings. She did not have a public event in South Carolina until Thursday.

•  Ben Sorensen Andrew Sorensen Inez Tenenbaum

Staff writers Adam Beam and Andrew Shain contributed.

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