The Buzz

The Buzz: Who’s running for state schools chief? And who is – or is not – sleeping on Sanford’s congressional futon?

December 21, 2013 

State schools’ chief Mick Zais will not seek a second term, leaving two Democrats alone in the field to replace him: state Rep. Mike Anthony of Union and former Education Department staffer Montrio Belton of Fort Mill.

The Buzz is sure Republicans will not give up the statewide post without a fight. But who is eyeing the GOP nomination?

The “secret” agent: State Rep. Andy Patrick, a first-term Beaufort Republican, has a hankering for a higher office again. (Patrick lost in this year’s GOP primary for the 1st District congressional seat vacated by Tim Scott’s appointment to the U.S. Senate.)

The former U.S. Secret Service agent and security consultant told The Buzz that he is strongly considering running for the superintendent of education post, but he refuses to commit. (Sources, however, tell The Buzz, “He’s in!”)

The Buzz won’t be surprised if Patrick joins the race. The freshman legislator has been laying the groundwork, holding meetings with teachers around the state to get input for legislation, which he unveiled – curiously – in a recent media event, held in a mostly empty State House lobby.

The legislation would create a statewide teacher evaluation system, exactly the kind of splashy reform one would expect from a contender for the state’s highest education office.

The kindergarten specialist: Also from Beaufort, state Rep. Shannon Erickson is considering running for the seat, where she could apply her experience teaching in public schools and, later, starting a private preschool business.

“I understand the classroom teacher. I come from that world,” said Erickson, adding she would make listening to teachers and expanding school choice options her priorities.

But before joining the race, Erickson – whose interest in the post is widely rumored – said she must decide where she will have the most impact. “The General Assembly – with the ability to write legislation and have a vote on it – some would say that’s a better place than sitting in an office in Columbia.”

The Ed Department sleeper: The Buzz asked Republican Zais last week if he was grooming anyone to succeed him in the post. Grinning ear to ear, Zais said he had someone in mind. But, he added, “she” hasn’t decided whether to run.

The Buzz has heard speculation about Charmeka Childs’ interest in the job for weeks. Childs, Zais’ deputy superintendent of school effectiveness, oversees the development of a complicated, data-intensive evaluation system for teachers and principals that has been a chief focus of Zais’ administration. The Duke University graduate taught in a Richland 2 public school and was Gov. Mark Sanford’s education adviser.

Childs told The Buzz last week that she is “80 to 90 percent sure that I don’t want to run.” But she added she will consider the race. Why? Childs said people whom she respects have encouraged her to run, adding, “In much counsel, there is wisdom.”

Strong mayor a ‘shot in the foot?’

Lonnie Randolph, the leader of the S.C. chapter of the NAACP, said the likely Democratic nominee for governor “hurt himself” by getting involved in Columbia’s strong mayor referendum.

State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, recorded a “robo call” to voters the night before the Dec. 3 election asking them to vote “yes” and make Columbia’s mayor a full-time job instead of part time.

The referendum failed, 57 percent to 43 percent.

“He shot himself in the foot with that. I wish he hadn’t done that,” Randolph said. “Politicians have to think all the time, and he didn’t think. He didn’t help himself.”

Andrew Whalen, Sheheen’s campaign manager, said Sheheen’s endorsement did no damage to his campaign.

“Vincent believes in establishing greater accountability at all levels of government, be it federal, state or local,” Whalen said. “He is working right now on the (restructuring) bill to bring greater accountability to state government, and he will continue working to make sure that all levels of government are truly accountable to those they govern.”

Randolph added he still supports Sheheen over Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, who also endorsed the strong mayor referendum.

‘You have no government’

Haley last week praised the efforts of local and state business recruiters, crediting them for a spate of economic-development news during the past two weeks. Deals announced included $300 million in investment and promised 2,575 jobs.

But there was another factor in the rush of job announcements, Haley said.

“The (federal government’s partial) shutdown chilled a lot of that (activity),” she told The Buzz. “We did sense the slowness.”

During the 16-day shutdown in October, Haley said she and S.C. Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt spent 20 minutes trying to convince an executive of an international company that the U.S. still had a functioning government.

“We were knocking through the issues, and I said, ’OK, are we ready to go?’ ” Haley said. “And he said ... ‘I don’t know how we could do this, you have no government. ... How do we come to a place that has no government?’ ”

The shutdown’s end rebooted economic development talks for a number of projects, Haley said, adding she hopes “D.C. realizes that shutdown (affected) more than what was going on among those politicians.”

S.C. Democrats had their own take: “Nikki Haley’s spent the entirety of the Tea Party-driven shutdown giving interviews instead of leading her delegation to find a solution, so it’s surprising that she noticed the devastating impact.”

Buzz Bites

Ed lobbyist takes helm for S.C. House Democrats: Duane Cooper, a former lobbyist for the S.C. School Boards Association, is the new director of the S.C. House Democratic Caucus. The 33-year-old Hemingway native succeeds Michael Thompson of Spartanburg, who is leaving after four years as director to pursue business opportunities. Thompson, who has a consulting firm, said he’s not leaving politics entirely, but it will not be his focus.

A witch hunt? Tea Party supporters of state Rep. Bill Chumley last week sent out an email blasting the House Ethics Committee for holding a “witch hunt” hearing into Chumley. The committee says the Spartanburg Republican may have broken state law when he authorized the use of a state plane – at an estimated cost of $6,390 – to fly a Washington, D.C., pundit to Columbia to testify on Chumley’s Affordable Care Act nullification bill. Chumley requested the hearing, scheduled for Monday.

Prayers for a ‘son.’ U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told The New York Times that he prays Tea Party darling Sarah Palin stays out of U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s June primary race. The Seneca Republican is “like a son” to him, McCain told The New Republic in August. McCain also told The Times that he found it “hard to believe” that Palin, his vice presidential running mate in 2008, would get involved. Palin has signaled she might support Tea Party challengers in South Carolina.

Just like old times. Old habits appear to die hard for comeback kid U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, who is, again, sleeping on a futon in his congressional office. Or so Sanford told The Hilton Head Island Packet last week. This year, Sanford won back the 1st District congressional seat that he first held from 1995 to 2001. But the former S.C. governor likely is sleeping alone on his office futon, which fiancé Maria Belén Chapur of Buenos Aires evidently is not enamored of. Chapur is “not in that program,” Sanford told the Island Packet.

Staff writers Adam Beam and Andrew Shain contributed. Reach Self at (803)771-8658

The State is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service