MORNING BUZZ: Glenn McConnell's portrait unveiling shows his 'fairness' as a senate leader

Posted by ADAM BEAM and ANDREW SHAIN on January 31, 2014 

Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell stands in front of his official portrait. The portrait, by artist John Seibels Walker, shows McConnell in front of a sunset in Charleston, with Palmetto trees and a crescent moon in the background. McConnell is holding Lt. George Dixon's gold coin, found in the wreckage of the confederate submarine H.L. Hunley, whose excavation was one of McConnell's passions.

ADAM BEAM — abeam@thestate.com

When the state Senate unveiled Republican Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell's official state portrait on Thursday, McConnell wanted the speakers to appear in order of seniority.

That meant Democratic Sen. Nikki Setzler got to go first.

It could have been an awkward moment. Setzler, the Senate minority leader, would be the leader of the Senate today if the Senate still followed its old rules.

But in 2000, when the late Sen. Verne Smith switched parties and gave Republicans control for the first time in 124 years, Republicans changed the rules so that all Senate leadership positions were determined not by seniority, but by party.

That rule change allowed McConnell to become the Senate President Pro Tempore, chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee and now, 14 years later, to have his portrait hung in the Senate chamber with the likes of John C. Calhoun, Marion Gressette and Strom Thurmond -- honors that could have belonged to Setzler.

"You are a beneficiary of that transition, which was very difficult," Setzler said in his remarks Thursday. "There were hard feelings. It was a time that was not easy for this body."

But Setzler did not use that "transition," as he called it, to criticize McConnell. He used it to praise him.

"Your legacy from that transition is first fairness. Once you became president pro tempore you sought fairness for every individual who sat in a chair on this chamber floor and participated in the process. You did that in light of a lot of criticism that you would be more partisan than you were," Setzler said. "And for that we are forever thankful to you."

It was also telling the Democrat that McConnell ousted as president pro tempore -- former Sen. John Drummond -- attended Thursday's ceremony to honor his friend.

"I felt like (their attendance) means I accomplished what I set out as pro tem, to settle the chamber down," said McConnell, whose decade-long run as senate president pro tempore ended when he was elevated to lieutenant governor in 2012.

McConnell said whenever he had a tough decision to make -- say, whether to sue the governor -- he liked to look at the portrait of legendary Senate President Pro Tempore Marion Gressette for inspiration.

"Art is different than a photograph. A photograph is nothing more than the moment after. ... A piece of art speaks more than to a moment, and it can speak to you," McConnell said.

"When (senators) look at (my) painting up there, I hope this is what they hear: 'Stay away from confrontation, look for consensus, involve the other side,' " he said. "That’s the secret to good decision making."

Wilson a winner in Harrell case

Whether House Speaker Bobby Harrell is indicted on ethics charges or cleared, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson can say he didn't have to make the final call -- good move for the politician.

But as The State's Jamie Self reports, another politician can rub into problems with the State Grand Jury case:

But other observers say the meaning of the investigation could be starker for Harrell, who has been head of the House since 2005. Three former S.C. attorneys general say a case is not referred to the State Grand Jury without the attorney general having evidence of potential criminal activity.

Checks and balances in place prevent the attorney general from simply deciding to pass off a politically volatile case to the State Grand Jury. Those checks and balance include the requirement that the attorney general, SLED chief and a Circuit Court judge all sign off saying a grand jury investigation is warranted, former Republican Attorney General Henry McMaster has said.

Another former S.C. attorney general says the certification process is designed to ensure allegations are not referred to the State Grand Jury unless the attorney general can identify, in some detail, what crimes may have occurred.

Meanwhile, Wilson spoke to members of the Darlington Kiwanis Club on Thursday about issues his office is addressing such as human trafficking, online security and gang intervention.

Who's getting the most photo IDs to vote

Richland and, surprisingly, Darlington counties have issued the most photo IDs needed for cast ballots starting this year.

The State's Adam Beam looks at what's behind this trend:

Altogether, the State Election Commission says more than 13,000 photo IDs have been given out since December 2012, when the state’s controversial photo ID law went into effect. That is less than 1 percent of the state’s 2.9 million registered voters.

South Carolina will have its first statewide election under the new law in November, when voters will choose a governor, two U.S. senators, seven congressmen and 124 state House members.

Opponents of the photo ID law said they feared it would be used to disenfranchise poor and minority voters.

And, of the Top 5 counties that have given out the most photo IDs, four voted for Democratic President Barack Obama in 2012, before the voter ID law went into effect. Those counties have significant minority populations and sizeable numbers of nonwhite registered voters.

RGA out raises DGA nearly 2-to-1

Could the Republican Governors Association nearly doubling up the Democrats in fundraising last year impact on the 2014 race between S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley and Democratic Sen. Vincent Sheheen?

"We don't know what's in store for either the RGA or the DGA, but in politics it's always better to have more money than less," Haley senior adviser Tim Pearson said. Haley already holds a commanding fundraising lead -- more than double Sheheen, whom she beat in 2010.

South Carolina remains a priority to the DGA, a spokesman said, despite suggestions in a Politico report otherwise.

The DGA gave about $87,000 to the S.C. Democratic Party last year, according to S.C. Ethics Commission filings.

The RGA contributed $52,000 to the S.C. GOP party in 2013 and $50,000 in late 2012.

Buzz Clicks

State trying to get infant tests results faster to labs: South Carolina hospitals had a problem they didn’t recognize until a Wisconsin journalist asked for data on turnaround time for newborn blood test results. Seven months later, health officials in the state know they have been doing a poor job in getting those tests quickly to the state lab, and they have started the process to change that. Full story

Snow's over, get back to work: Gov. Nikki Haley rescinded her state of emergency executive order at noon Thursday as state operations scale back from a winter storm that passed over much of South Carolina, the S.C. Emergency Management Division said. Full story

The frustration over Charleston's icy Ravenel bridge: While there were no schoolchildren sleeping overnight at schools or babies being born in snow-bound cars, there were anecdotes of motorists needing about two hours longer to cross between Charleston and Mount Pleasant, a trip that normally takes 10 minutes. Full story

Patrick seeks gag order on divorce case: A request to unseal state Rep. Andy Patrick's divorce case won't be heard in Beaufort County Family Court until next month, a judge said Thursday. Meanwhile, Patrick's attorney requested a gag order aimed at limiting information that could be aired about the case. Full story

New House candidate: Gary Clary, a retired circuit court judge, plans to run for the Republican nomination for state House seat in Pickens County that is opening with Rep. B.R. Skelton's retirement after his current term. Full story

Longhorn endorsement: State Sen. Lee Bright has picked up an endorsement from a first-term U.S. representative of Texas who walked out of President Barack Obama's State of the Union address and is talking about pushing for Obama's impeachment. Full story

Scott hosts black senators event: U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-North Charleston, is hosting a discussion featuring current and former black senators next month in Washington, his office announced. Full story

New court for first-time domestic abusers: The 13th judicial circuit office in the Upstate has created a court solely for those charged for the first time with criminal domestic violence, a misdemeanor that carries the possibility of 30 days in jail. The first court session was held Thursday. Full story

How dogs are helping SC prisoners: A new program is taking off within South Carolina's prisons to help inmates develop compassion for others — a trait that organizers hope will keep them from returning to the correctional system. Full story

SC company uses Newtown photo in ad: A Taylors company is apologizing for an email advertisement that used a police photo of the shot-out entrance to a Connecticut elementary school where 20 first-graders and six educators were killed. Full story

Boeing bonuses coming: Boeing Co.'s strong financial showing in 2013 will translate into bonuses for its workers. The Chicago-based aerospace giant is expected to announce a pay-for-performance bonus plan for its 6,600 North Charleston workers Friday. Full story

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