Politics & Government

May 17, 2014

The Buzz: When the mud misses

The rule in S.C. politics appears to be keep slinging mud -- even if you miss.

The rule in S.C. politics appears to be keep slinging mud – even if you miss.

The S.C. Republican Party wants voters in this year’s race for governor to think Democratic challenger, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, is soft on criminals. The party’s latest tactic last week was calling Sheheen the lead state Senate sponsor on a bill, vetoed in 2012, that would have expunged the records of some criminals.

Only problem? Sheheen was not a sponsor of a bill, which came from the S.C. House.

Sheheen did chair a panel that made some changes to the proposal when it arrived in that Republican-majority Senate. Senators passed the revised bill unanimously, which the GOP-controlled House approved 98-7. The bill was vetoed later after law enforcement and victim rights’ leaders activists expressed concerns.

S.C. Republican chairman Matt Moore said the GOP made a mistake in calling Sheheen a sponsor of the bill, but he said the senator meddled with the proposal, which a majority of legislators of his own party supported in any event. Moore did not offer specifics of Sheheen’s meddling.

Republicans aren’t alone in mud-shot misfires.

The state Democratic Party accused Republican Gov. Nikki Haley last month of breaking state ethics law by accepting twice the maximum amount allowed from one contributor. Haley’s camp produced two checks proving the contributions were written by two different businesses.

Moore said the S.C. GOP is poring through thousands of court, legislatives and professional records on Sheheen.

Oh good, more mud.

Let’s see if any of it sticks.

Or the candidates and their supporters could talk issues. Nawwwwww.

Pastides’ balancing act

University of South Carolina president Harris Pastides tried to walk a tightrope last week in a message sent school-wide about the recent controversies over assigning a gay-themed book to freshmen and hosting a symposium on gay culture at USC’s Upstate campus.

Pastides assured faculty and staff the state’s flagship university was working behind the scenes with lawmakers to support academic freedom after the S.C. House and state Senate punished Upstate – and the College of Charleston – in next year’s budget for the books.

But he also clearly sent a message to those legislators who have questioned Upstate’s programming decisions.

“The university does not promote any political or social agenda but does offer the opportunity for student, faculty and community groups to assemble and participate in activities that promote individual learning and community engagement,” Pastides wrote.

Pastides then tried to assuage concerns about what he called the “ill-timed announcement” on next month’s closing of Upstate’s Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, which sponsored the symposium. He called the center’s closing an “unfortunate casualty in the ongoing funding challenges” at S.C. public colleges.

Some at Upstate aren’t buying that.

A rally demanding the school reopen the center is scheduled for Wednesday in front of the school’s administration building.

“Students and alumni refuse to let the center be the scapegoat for university administrators to hide behind,” protest organizers wrote on Facebook.

Burnt Wood

The most awkward race of the S.C. primary is earning its reputation.

State Rep. Donna Wood is battling her estranged stepdaughter for a S.C. House seat in the Republican Primary after separating last year from her husband, campaign consultant Kerry Wood. The first-term Spartanburg Republican thanked her fellow GOP representatives last week for their support through what she called a “dirty race. ... I have felt nothing but support and love from all of you guys.”

How dirty?

Her challenger Heather Wood filed a complaint with the S.C. GOP accusing Donna Wood of not using her legal name on the June ballot. In an email, Kerry Wood said Donna Wood now goes by her maiden name. Donna Wood disputes that.

Moore, the state GOP boss, said the party checked with the S.C. Election Commission and found, “She can use whatever name she likes.”

Nick Theodore, the Republican?

Then-Lt. Gov. Nick Theodore, a longtime Upstate Democrat first elected to the State House in 1962, was facing a dilemma ahead of the 1994 gubernatorial election. He wanted South Carolina’s top job, but the state was shifting to red from blue.

GOP financier Barry Wynn made Theodore an offer to switch parties, joining the GOP, where he would have more resources and little primary opposition, Theodore says in his new political memoir, “Trials and Triumphs.”

Theodore was intrigued. He agreed with Wynn’s assessments, including the support from his native Upstate that he could expect if he turned Republican.

But Theodore passed on joining the GOP. He said he did not want to abandon all the folks who supported his runs for the Legislature and lieutenant governor as a Democrat.

“I had a bad case of faithfulness,” Theodore, now 86, told The Buzz last week.

Theodore ran as a Democrat for governor in 1994, losing to Democrat-turned-Republican David Beasley. And Theodore lost to Republican Bob Peeler when he tried to regain his old lieutenant governor’s post in 1998, his last run for office.

Theodore is convinced he could have become governor as a Republican. But he said he has no regrets about staying a Democrat.

“When I look in the mirror, I feel better about myself.”

Graham’s Gosnell grab

Republicans challenging U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in the June 10 GOP primary might feel as though the Seneca incumbent has hijacked their anti-abortion playbook.

For months, state Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, has been screaming about the horrors of Dr. Kermit Gosnell as the reason that abortion clinics should be shuttered and abortions outlawed.

Gosnell, a West Philadelphia doctor, was convicted of murdering babies by snipping their spinal cords after botched, illegal late-term abortions. His clinic was in a run-down space where cats were allowed to defecate and where Gosnell stored fetal remains in bags and jars, according to his indictment.

Bright brings Gosnell up again and again, casting him as the poster-doctor for all abortion providers and rattling reproductive-rights advocates who say the doctor was an anomaly with no regard for the law.

But last week – on the anniversary of Gosnell’s conviction – Graham invoked the doctor’s “chamber of horrors” in a news conference promoting his Pain Capable Unborn Child Act, a proposed ban on abortions after 20 weeks.

While Bright’s outrage toward Gosnell went overlooked, Easley businessman Richard Cash – another Graham challenger in June’s GOP primary for whom ending abortion is a top priority – managed to steal a few rays from the Republican incumbent’s spotlight.

MSNBC ran a few seconds of Cash’s campaign ad touting his 10 arrests at abortion protests before transitioning into a segment about Graham’s proposed 20-week abortion ban.

Buzz bites

•  The semi-regular basketball game pitting South Carolina and North Carolina lawmakers will tip-off Thursday at the Colonial Life Arena. The Fightin’ Palmettos are trying to avenge last year’s 35-27 loss in Raleigh that included an appearance by N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory. (No word on whether Haley will launch bombs from the 3-point line this year.) (UPDATE: North Carolina has asked to postpone the game since they returned into session last week.)
•  Don’t mess with Clemson Day at the State House. An angry Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, chastised his fellow state senators for dragging on the budget debate Tuesday past the time for a reception by his alma mater. “I will remember this,” Peeler said, after mentioning all the attention paid to Clemson’s garnet-and-black garbed archrival. One rub: Peeler joined most other members of the Senate Finance Committee twice in opposing motions to end the day’s session so senators could to try and finish the budget. The Senate finally passed its version of the budget the next day.
•  U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-Spartanburg, has something fellow Republican Graham wants: His own Benghazi panel. Graham, and 36 other U.S. senators, continued their cries for an investigation into the 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last week, asking Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to allow the upper chamber to conduct its own investigation. The House investigation, of course, is led by Spartanburg’s Gowdy.

Staff writer Jamie Self contributed

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