The Buzz

August 23, 2014

The Buzz: As SC pols try to avoid ‘macaca’ moments, critics say they violate civil rights

Kate Sarna, a Democratic political operative paid to track and film Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, unexpectedly became the news story when she was kicked out of an Atlantic Beach Town Council meeting that Haley attended last month.

The Buzz

A blog from The State's political team of Cassie Cope, Jamie Self and Andy Shain. Email tips to thebuzz@thestate.com.

Kate Sarna, a Democratic political operative paid to track and film Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, unexpectedly became the news story when she was kicked out of an Atlantic Beach Town Council meeting that Haley attended last month.

Reporter Tom O’Dare with the Myrtle Beach Herald said the July 29 expulsion came at the meeting’s end, when Haley was about to speak with the media.

When Sarna asked police why she was being escorted out of the public building, the police said the governor’s staff wanted her gone. Sarna had done nothing wrong, the officers said. They just were following orders.

Sarna captured audio and video of her conversation with police, mostly of the officers’ feet.

LINK TO AUDIO RECORDING

“The press secretary asked you to leave,” said one officer, who says his name is Abruso. “They were doing a press conference, and they asked you to leave. I’m enforcing what they want.”

“You can take it up with them. You can go down to the governor’s office, and you can file a complaint,” said another officer, identifed by the Horry reporter as Sgt. John Jackson with the Atlantic Beach police. “But we have to do our job. You know why?

“We’re the lowest on the totem pole. So guess what: We’re going to have to do our job, OK?”

Atlantic Beach police chief Eric Lewis would not comment on the incident Friday, but confirmed his department has officers with the same last names as those on the tape.

Sarna says she was prevented from going to another meeting Thursday that Haley also attended. A woman, whom Sarna did not recognize, told her only media with credentials were allowed to enter the meeting.

A Commerce Department spokeswoman said that meeting – of the Small Business Regulatory Review Committee – was open to the public. The meeting also was on Haley’s public schedule.

Haley spokesman Doug Mayer would not answer The Buzz’s questions Friday about whether or why Haley’s staff ordered Sarna’s expulsions.

Instead, in an email response, Mayer said: “These are people who are there for one reason and one reason only – to aggressively disrupt the governor’s events – and they will go to any end to do it, including, a few weeks back, lying to a minister in a church about being a member of the governor’s staff. The governor loves to meet with people across the state, and happily talks to the press almost daily. But we see no reason that people paid by her opponents to disrupt and distract should have unfettered access to the governor.”

The pro-Haley conservative group America Rising also has a tracker, Mike Demkiw, who has been kicked out of several Democratic Party events where Haley’s Democratic opponent in November, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, has appeared.

The meetings that Demkiw’s boss cited as examples of his exclusion were meet-and-greets on private property or a county Democratic Party executive committee meeting, held in a rented room on public property. Unlike Haley’s Atlantic Beach appearance, those events were not open to the public, said Sheheen spokeswoman Kristin Sosanie.

Demkiw also confirmed he was kept out of a Greenville Chamber of Commerce luncheon where Sheheen spoke. The candidate requested no filming, a chamber representative told The Buzz.

(Sheheen’s campaign said Friday it never intended to keep TV cameras out of the event – only the GOP tracker.)

On Saturday, Demkiw tried to follow Sheheen into a Horry County Democratic Party gathering at the Academy for Technology and Academics in Conway but was stopped at the door.

“Ever since George Allen’s ‘macaca’ moment,” campaigns do not want to be caught saying anything that the opposition can use against them, said Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon.

(Republican Allen was running for U.S. Senate in Virginia in 2006 when a tracker recorded him on video calling the Democratic operative “macaca, or whatever his name is.” The videotape contributed to Allen’s loss.)

“If it’s a closed meeting, a party meeting, expelling someone who is not part of the group can be seen as legitimate,” said Huffmon. “But there’s always the question of what are you hiding.”

The law protects the public’s right to attend public meetings and enter public buildings, said media attorney Jay Bender, who sometimes represents The State, calling Sarna’s Atlantic Beach expulsion “absurd.”

The Greenville Chamber of Commerce event also could be considered a public meeting under state law if the group receives, for example, any public money to promote tourism, Bender said.

“The law says, specifically, that any person may attend and any person may record the event,” said the attorney. “There is not question about that. It says flatly.”

Sarna’s forced exit has not gone over well with Atlantic Beach mayor Jake Evans, who said Haley’s staff was “very wrong” to tell an officer to remove Sarna, who was not disturbing the event.

Haley’s staff also was wrong, he said, to make that call without asking him or the town council – the public body conducting the meeting.

“That’s something that we should have had the authority over.”

A Cockaboose ending

Texas Gov. Rick Perry will spend a busy couple of days in South Carolina this week, arriving on Wednesday to help the S.C. Republican Party raise money at a “Victory Tailgate” party at First Citizen’s Cafe on Main Street.

On Thursday, Perry will headline the 2014 Fellowship of Christian Athletes kickoff event at 7:30 a.m. at River Bluff High School’s performing arts center in Lexington. At noon, he’ll attend a fundraiser for state Rep. Kirkman Finlay, R-Richland, at Doc’s Barbecue on Shop Road. And, later that night, Perry will attend the match-up between his Texas A&M Aggies and the University of South Carolina Gamecocks, viewing the game from the comfort of a Cockaboose.

Perry should not have to field any questions from those groups about his recent indictment in Texas, which he contends was politically motivated by Democrats.

Buzz bites

•  In addition to Perry, two other GOP presidential hopefuls are visiting the Palmetto State this week. On Monday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida tops U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan’s “Faith and Freedom BBQ” fundraiser in Anderson. The same day, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky headlines a barbecue fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney in Rock Hill.
•  U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is returning to the Palmetto State to meet with progressive groups and Democrats in Columbia. The self-described socialist, the longest serving independent in Congress, will speak Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Lourie Center, 1650 Park Circle.

Quote of the week: “That’s what it feels like to be married to Mick Mulvaney.”

U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-Spartanburg, in a YouTube video poking fun at his fellow S.C. Republican congressman after having ice-water dumped over his head in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

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