The Buzz: Sen. Massey goes to Columbia and rebels; new Senate leader asks: ‘What is power?’

06/21/2014 8:17 PM

06/21/2014 8:18 PM

State Sen. Shane Massey says he knows the consequences of bucking authority.

But on Wednesday – interrupting a series of congratulatory speeches ushering in a string of historic leadership swaps – the Edgefield Republican rose to speak in the Senate, speaking of a “coup” and warning that one lawmaker, sitting nearby, was about to acquire a dangerous amount of power.

“If you’re looking for strong leadership, you’re about to get it,” Massey said before the Senate elected Hugh Leatherman as its next president pro tempore. Only two senators – Massey and Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort – voted against Leatherman.

Electing Leatherman as the Senate’s agenda-setting president pro tempore would further concentrate the Florence Republican’s already expansive power, which includes controlling the state’s $7 billion general fund budget, Massey said.

Other senators felt the same way but never would say so publicly, Massey said, calling on his colleagues to step out from behind the veil.

Massey said his opposition to Leatherman’s coronation was not personal. But, then, he accused the Senate’s most senior member of participating in a “well-orchestrated coup” to force John Courson, the previous president pro tempore, to give up his leadership position after Courson blocked a College of Charleston bill that Leatherman and then-Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell really wanted passed.

Massey said he and his colleagues were “accessories to a hit” politically – an accusation some of his colleagues and Leatherman said was off base.

“Sen. Massey crossed a line with his comments,” Leatherman told The Buzz, adding Courson stepped down on his own. “Our rules prohibit one senator from maligning another senator. I would hate to see that at any time from any senator.”

So what’s next for Massey, the Senate Republican Caucus’ vote-counting whip gone rogue?

“There will probably be some attempt to come after me in some way,” Massey told The Buzz. “There’s retribution if you say something like that publicly.”

While Senate rules and Massey’s seniority should protect him from being banished to some powerless committee, retribution could come through the budget process, Leatherman’s purview, senators said.

“Will he get a project funded in his district if he asks for it? Probably not,” said Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Larry Martin, R-Pickens, who planned to run against Leatherman for Senate leader before realizing he did not have the votes to win.

“Oh, come on,” Leatherman responded, calling claims that he would tighten purse strings in retaliation against a senator “far out.”

“I’m not sure what power is. To me, getting things done is working with people,” he added. “I would challenge anyone to come up with something that shows I’ve abused power.”

Massey said he never asks for money for his district in the budget anyway.

And his speech certainly increased his “cool” quotient, based on responses on Twitter.

From State Rep. Phyllis Henderson, R-Greenville: “@shanemassey is my new hero. #tellitlikeitis”

S.C. Policy Council President Ashley Landess: “Never heard more powerful, courageous speech in SC legislature than the one @shanemassey gave today. About time! #sctweets”

All you need is YouTube

Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, asked twice to have Massey’s words printed in the Senate journal. Both times, senators objected. One said he would have been fine with printing Massey’s words until he got to the “conspiracy, hit and coup” talk.

Now, the only traces of Massey’s rebellion in the Senate’s record are the two “no” votes against Leatherman and six words: “Senator Massey spoke on the election.”

Massey said he did not mind. He did not want someone to be forced to transcribe it all anyway.

And, as GOP consultant Wesley Donahue noted on Twitter: “We don’t need @shanemassey’s comments in the journal. We have YouTube.”

Nevermind on the raises

As recorded in the Senate journal, senators voted overwhelmingly, 32-10, to reject a $12,000 pay raise for themselves, sustaining Gov. Haley’s veto of the pay hike.

Not printed in the Senate’s record, as Rick Brundrett of the online website The Nerve reported, were the votes that 12 senators first cast in favor of giving themselves raises and then switched to “no” votes before the final tally.

Who switched their votes? According to The Nerve: Thomas Alexander, R-Oconee; Karl Allen, D-Greenville; Paul Campbell, R-Berkeley; Creighton Coleman, D-Fairfield; Tom Corbin, R-Greenville; Mike Fair, R-Greenville; Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley; Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg; Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington; Billy O’Dell, R-Abbeville; Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington; and Danny Verdin, R-Laurens.

Why those senators switched their votes likely had nothing to do with a sudden attack of conscience.

Instead, when they realized the Senate was nowhere near the two-thirds vote needed to override Haley’s veto and get the money, they likely jumped ship to go on the record as opposing the pay raises.

Report: S.C. activism mostly in the ballot box

S.C. voters are among the most active in the nation, but tend to disengage after leaving the voting booth, according to a new report.

The University of South Carolina Upstate and the National Conference on Citizenship released the South Carolina Civic Health Index, showing just how active, or apathetic, S.C. residents are when it comes to community involvement and activism.

S.C. voters shined in some areas compared with other states, ranking 13th for voter registration, 14th for participation in the 2010 mid-term elections, and 19th for participation in the 2012 presidential election.

But the state needs improvement in some areas, the study showed. South Carolina ranked 44th for attending public meetings or school events and 48th for contacting public officials.

Most of the data came from a 2012 U.S. Census Bureau survey on voting, volunteering and civic engagement.

Buzz Bites

“Received as information.”

— Then-Lt. Gov. McConnell’s final official utterance Wednesday after the Senate reading clerk read his resignation letter for the record

“If he’s having trouble with his doohickey, can I move?”

— State Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, asking permission to make a motion when Sen. Tom Corbin, R-Greenville, announced he was having trouble with his “doohickey,” otherwise known as a microphone

“(W)hen you have a coup, you have dead bodies. There are no dead bodies involved. I’m still breathing.”

Sen. Courson, R-Richland, who recently stepped down as Senate president pro tempore, on whether he thought he was the victim of a coup, as alleged by fellow Sen. Massey

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