COLUMBIA, SC — As 2013’s political clouds pass, The Buzz takes a look back at who won and lost last year’s political skirmishes.
“I’m leeeav-ing on a state plane…”
The day state Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, left the state Senate chambers riffing on John Denver’s famous lyrics, the state-owned airplanes had become a repeated source of ethics troubles for Gov. Nikki Haley, Clemson University athletic recruiters and state Rep. Bill Chumley, R-Spartanburg.
Now, months later, it is clear some of the state plane’s frequent fliers fared better than others.
Winner: Chumley, a Tea Party Republican who nearly reached martyrdom after the House Ethics Committee said he likely broke state law by spending $6,390 of taxpayer money to fly a conservative pundit to Columbia to testify on a bill that would nullify Obamacare. Tea Party supporters overflowed a December public hearing in a show of support for Chumley. While the ethics panel said using the state plane as a shuttle service for legislative meetings was not “an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars and resources,” the committee unanimously dismissed the ethics complaint against Chumley, saying he did not knowingly misuse the plane. Chumley said he would authorize the trip again if it would change public policy favorably. “I don’t feel like it was wrong to start with.”
Losers: Lawmakers, who voted to sell the state planes; and Haley, who considered supporting the idea herself after reimbursing the state almost $10,000 in 2012 for using state-owned planes to travel to bill signings and news events – uses her office said it was unaware were banned. It’s unlikely that state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, whose idea it was to ban those uses, will let Haley forget about her reimbursements as the November governor’s race heats up.
South Carolina is one of 23 states that rejected money from the feds to expand Medicaid, the federal health-care program for the poor, under the Affordable Care Act.
Winners: Gov. Nikki Haley and the General Assembly’s Republican majority, who formed a united front to oppose Obamacare and refused, successfully, to expand Medicaid, despite big lobbying by the S.C. Hospital Association. The Buzz lost count of the number of news releases announcing “(insert lawmaker name here) voted to stop Obamacare!”
Losers: Democrats who advocated for the expansion, the Hospital Association and the more than 300,000 uninsured who would have been eligible for Medicaid under the expansion.
Ethics complaints and legal troubles for lawmakers abounded in 2013. But not everyone’s story ended the same way.
The S.C. Attorney General’s office has yet to say whether allegations that House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, illegally misused his campaign account and position for his benefit are justified.
State Rep. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Georgetown, has been charged with a federal crime for mislabeling stem cells for sale, a charge tied to his former stem-cell harvesting and distribution business. But Goldfinch, who expects probation for the misdemeanor, will keep his legislative job if convicted.
Winner: Bakari Sellers. The Bamberg Democrat dodged a drunken-driving charge after he refused a breathalyzer test when he was pulled over in 2012. Prosecutors decided not to pursue the DUI charge, and Sellers last year pleaded guilty instead to reckless driving, paying a $445 fine.
Loser: Robert Ford. The Charleston Democrat resigned from the state Senate, ending his 20-year legislative career after the Senate Ethics Committee accused him of using campaign money on personal expenses – including a car payment and items purchased in an adult store. SLED continues to investigate.
Runner up: State Rep. Ted Vick. The Chesterfield Democrat has two drunken driving charges pending against him: One from Five Points in 2012, which led to him dropping out of the 7th District congressional race, and another from the State House parking garage in 2013, where his defense is that he had a pebble in his shoe. Trials for both charges were postponed for various reasons in 2013.
On the campaign trail
Winner: Mark Sanford. The Charleston Republican went from being the governor best known for lying about taking a hike on the Appalachian Trail, when he really was in Argentina visiting his lover, to staging the 2013 political comeback of the year. Sanford’s dark cloud of infidelity seemed more like a raindrop when voters elected him to the 1st District congressional seat, which he held before becoming governor.
Loser: Seattle-transplant Jay Stamper’s campaign against U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham seemed to fizzle out before it even started when The State wrote about his felony convictions related to an online investment company that Washington state regulators shut down. But in a state where unknown, unemployed Army veteran Alvin Greene won the 2010 Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, Stamper’s past may not stop him from cruising to his party’s nomination, especially if no other Democrats run.
Winner: Gov. Nikki Haley, who advanced her political tough-gal persona by celebrating on Facebook the Beretta Px4 Storm pistol that “Santa” gave her for Christmas. Haley has made national headlines shooting firearms and breaking wood boards as well as getting locked out of the mansion in her bath robe.
Losers: Licensed concealed weapons holders, who want to pack heat in restaurants and bars. The momentum they built for a bill that would allow just that stalled in the Senate as the clock on the legislative session ran out.
Winners: State Sens. Vincent Sheheen and Larry Grooms. Sheheen, the likely Democratic candidate for governor, successfully expanded the state’s kindergarten program for at-risk 4-year-olds, letting 3,000 more children into the program. Grooms, R-Berkeley, passed the state’s first private school-choice program. The state now is offering tax credits as an incentive to donate to organizations that give private-school scholarships to students with disabilities.
Losers: Kids riding school buses and state Superintendent Mick Zais. Zais requested $34 million to help buy new school buses, an amount that only begins to renew the nation’s aging school bus fleet. However, the General Assembly voted to spend only $23 million. How far will that money go? Last year, Zais announced the purchase of 342 new school buses at $82,000 a piece, totaling $28 million. Those new buses replaced 6.8 percent of the buses in the state fleet, some almost 30 years old.
Winners: Credit-monitoring companies Experian and CSID, which scored up to $20 million in state contracts awarded in 2012-13 to protect S.C. taxpayers from identify theft and fraud after their personal information was stolen by thieves who hacked the S.C. Department of Revenue.
Losers: 6.4 million S.C. consumers – including children – and businesses – whose personal information was stolen. Voters will decide whether Haley pays at the polls for the hacking, which occurred on her watch.
In the State House
Winner: Boeing. The General Assembly agreed to borrow $120 million to give to the aircraft manufacturer as an incentive for a promised $1 billion expansion. The bill that authorized the incentives was introduced, passed and signed into law in exactly two weeks.
Losers: Reformers. Efforts to strengthen laws governing public officials’ behavior, improve the public’s access to public records and reorganize state government to make the governor more accountable for the state’s management failed to pass in 2013, despite what appeared to be broad support.
Staff reporters Adam Beam and Andrew Shain contributed. Reach Self at (803) 771-8658