Politics & Government

November 25, 2012

The Buzz: Who wants to be on the House Ethics Committee? Any volunteers?

We know this much: Someone is going to file an ethics complaint against House Speaker Bobby Harrell.

We know this much: Someone is going to file an ethics complaint against House Speaker Bobby Harrell.

What we don’t know is who will investigate the powerful Charleston Republican.

The House Ethics Committee has a vacancy after state Rep. Joan Brady, R-Richland, lost to Democrat Beth Bernstein. And – after the committee’s controversial investigation of Gov. Nikki Haley earlier this year – at least two other committee members are considering not returning to the committee.

“I have not made up my mind yet. But my better judgment tells me not to do it,” said committee member Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, who along with Rep. Mike Gambrell, R-Anderson, is considering leaving the committee. “Do I really want another year of the heartburn that I had last year, and what’s to be gained from it? There is nothing to be gained from sitting on the Ethics Committee.”

So far at least three House members are campaigning for the committee:

•  Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York, is a former prosecutor who is used to handling high-profile investigations. (Anyone remember Susan Smith? That was him.)
•  Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Dorchester, an attorney who is helping write new ethics laws as a member of the House Republican Ethics Study Committee.
•  Rep. John King, D-York, who owns and operates a funeral home and is starting his third term in the House.

The House Ethics Committee is normally a plush assignment. Politicians get to brag about their peers electing them to the committee because of their upstanding ethics. And the committee usually involves little work and even less public scrutiny.

That changed this year, when the House Ethics Committee for the first time launched an investigation of a sitting governor. The committee cleared Haley of all charges that she used her position as a state lawmaker for financial gain. But the decision unleashed a barrage of criticism on the normally low-key committee.

Many blame Brady’s defeat, in part, on her vote to clear Haley in that case, which certainly could spook lawmakers from wanting to replace her.

But Pope said his experience as a prosecutor would help the committee.

“They struggled a lot with that with the stuff with the governor, make sure they were dotting I’s and crossing the T’s. I’ve dealt with that a lot. I think I could help,” Pope said. “But two years from now, when you and I talk again, I might tell you, ‘What the hell was I thinking?’”

Horne said she views a seat on the Ethics Committee as “an honor.”

“You get elected by your colleagues,” she said. “It’s an important function. And, certainly, if my colleagues elect me to serve, I will serve and do the best job that I can.”

For what its worth, both Pope and Horne’s election campaigns received $1,000 contributions from the Palmetto Leadership Council, the political action committee affiliated with Harrell. But so did every other Republican in the State House. King, a Democrat, received no contribution from the committee.

Meanwhile, Rep. Roland Smith, R-Aiken, said he is running for re-election as the chairman of the Ethics Committee.

Buzz bits

Newly elected state Sen. Katrina Shealy learned she was named one of Glamour magazine’s top political women of the year at a not so glamorous place – a state health department meeting on sewerage in Pelion. Shealy said she thought her political consultant was pulling her leg with the news. But she was in New York, a few days later How do S.C. Democrats find highly sought tickets to the presidential inauguration? Try the offices of the state’s Republican congressmen. State Democratic director Amanda Loveday said the party has received 1,000 requests for Obamafest II. She checked with the state’s six GOP reps (gotta count newbie Tom Rice) to see if they had extras. They said they should, so Democrats living in GOP districts have been told to call their local congressional offices to get on the list. Speaking of Loveday, The Buzz learned that her first job was as an assistant producer on Dateline NBC, including editing “To Catch a Predator” segments. She scanned hours of raw tape from the sting operations. “It was a lot of creepy video watching,” Loveday admitted. She also modeled a suit on a “Today” show segment where her fashionista-esque pivots earned a “Work it, Amanda” comment from then-host Katie Couric.

Staff writer Andrew Shain contributed.

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