THE BUZZ

The Buzz: Lt. Gov. Courson? Teacher raises killed by politics?

thebuzz@ thestate.comJanuary 11, 2014 

Sen. John Courson

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John Courson seems destined to be lieutenant governor.

The Republican state senator from Richland County first was floated as a possible lieutenant governor when lawmakers were discussing how to replace former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard, who resigned to enter a guilty plea to ethics charges.

At the time, Courson offered to finish Ard’s term and not run for re-election, giving political cover to his friend, fellow state Sen. Glenn McConnell.

But McConnell, the president pro tempore of the Senate at the time, ended up taking the lieutenant governor’s job when Ard resigned – as the state’s Constitution said he should. Now, it could be McConnell’s turn to resign as he courts the College of Charleston’s board of trustees to become that school’s next president.

The board says it will pick a president in March. McConnell already has announced he will not run for lieutenant governor, a signal, political observers say, that he has the votes to get the College of Charleston job. But taking that job most likely would mean McConnell would resign, leaving the lieutenant governor’s job open for the second time in two years.

Now that Courson has McConnell’s old job as president pro tempore that means Courson would have to give up his Senate seat to become lieutenant governor.

Or does it?

It wouldn’t surprise people if Courson gave up his Senate seat. He has held the seat since 1985, representing a district that, even Courson acknowledges, will one day belong to a Democrat. What better way to bid farewell to a career of public service than by going out as the state’s second-highest official?

But Courson told The Buzz last week that he has started raising money for his 2016 Senate re-election campaign.

“My intent would be to run for re-election,” he said. “But gosh, that is three years away.”

Courson said he did not want to speculate on whether McConnell would resign, forcing him to become lieutenant governor. But he did leave himself an out, saying he would not automatically become lieutenant governor.

There is precedent for leaving the office vacant. The job was open for nearly two years in the mid-1960s when then Senate president pro tem Edgar Brown declined the job.

Courson could do the same, until November – when S.C. voters will elect a new lieutenant governor.

Politics of teacher salaries

State Sen. Vincent Sheheen proposed last week to give S.C. public school teachers a nearly 10 percent raise. But the idea could be dead before he even files a bill.

The Camden Democrat’s plan would bring the state’s teacher salaries up to the national average. Sources tell The Buzz that Republicans were lining up to co-sponsor a teacher pay-raise bill – until Sheheen put his name on it.

“Our goal on the first day of session was to have nice bipartisan bill and just drop it in there for sake of the teachers. Now, it has become a political football,” one Democratic source told The Buzz. “The sad commentary is teachers, in all likelihood, now won’t get it.”

That may be an overreaction.

Last year, Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, who will face off against Sheheen again in November to be South Carolina’s next governor, signed into law Sheheen’s $26 million expansion of the state’s 4-year-old kindergarten program. Also, the General Assembly most likely will pass a Department of Administration bill this year. True, Haley wants the bill. But Sheheen is its primary sponsor and a member of the conference committee charged with finishing it. And Haley and Sheheen both support H. 3945, the ethics reform bill.

However, Haley’s much-ballyhooed education reform plan – released last week – included $160 million in new spending on K-12 education but no money for higher teacher salaries. And Haley vetoed $10 million for teacher raises in the 2012-13 budget because she said the state should not spend one-time money for recurring expenses.

“I don’t think either side wants to necessarily give the other side victories or a perceived victory,” said state Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York, adding he already had decided not to support the teacher salary bill because, he said, the state does not have the money to pay for it. “If the candidates can find agreement, the parties may allow those things to move forward.

“But, otherwise, it could be a lot of stalemate.”

Bullying Chris Christie

Is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie a bully? U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham thinks so.

The Seneca Republican – running for re-election in November – told NBC News that the controversy surrounding the use of road closings as political retribution by Christie’s staff “reinforces a narrative that’s troublesome for the guy. He’s kind of a bully.”

Gov. Nikki Haley disagrees.

According to her Facebook page, the Republican governor spent Thursday morning telling students at Scranton Elementary School “Why Cool Kids Don’t Bully!” By Thursday afternoon, however, Haley was calling Christie “my friend” and saying “he did the right thing” by taking responsibility for the fiasco, adding, “That’s the kind of leadership that earned him the huge level of trust he has in New Jersey.”

Graham later walked back his bullying comment, calling Christie a “breath of fresh air.”

The senator said he changed his view after watching Christie’s news conference. Or, perhaps, Graham was told it was time for some traffic jams in Seneca.

Grading Christie’s apology

Joel Sawyer knows a thing or two about crisis management.

Sawyer was communications director for Mark Sanford when the then-governor’s hike on the Appalachian Trial turned out to be a trip to Argentina to see his mistress.

Now with the Push Digital firm in Columbia, Sawyer offered a critique of New Jersey Gov. Christie’s news conference Thursday, after Christie fired an aide who engineered a traffic jam for political retribution.

Sawyer liked that Christie offered an apology while staying on message. But he did not like how Christie left open the actions he would take next concerning the fiasco, opening himself up to “two to three days of ‘no action yet from Christie’ stories.”

Overall, Sawyer gave Christie an A-, deducting points for the length of his news conference, evoking memories of Sanford’s rambling 2009 confessional.

Another Sanford aide, former chief of staff Scott English, tweeted he could have “helped Gov. Christie keep his meandering presser to a slim 20 minutes. #beentheredonethat.”

Buzz bites

Former Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges is the chairman of state Rep. Bakari Sellers’ campaign for lieutenant governor. ... The Conservation Voters of South Carolina gave Gov. Haley a “D” on environmental issues. ... Former state Rep. Thad Viers is going to jail – on the weekends – on charges he harassed his former girlfriend. ... State Reps. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, and Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, said they support “decriminalizing” marijuana in South Carolina. (Good luck with that, Dems.)

Exchange of the week

“Money is not going to fall from the sky.”

House Ways and Means chairman Brian White , R-Anderson, discussing the state’s spending limitations

“If it did, we wouldn’t take it.”

State Sen. Brad Hutto , D-Orangeburg, referring to the state’s refusal to accept hundreds of millions in federal money to expand the state’s Medicaid program

Staff writer Andrew Shain contributed

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