2014 included a shakeup at the State House, an election year, the end to relationships and, most importantly, The Buzz’s annual political awards for the year, including:
Best politician to quote
Winner: State Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee
Whether he is joking, Tweeting, angry or emotional, the senator makes his point in his deep-voiced “Gaffanese.”
Peeler’s Tweet: “My goal: Get people to rush to vote on Election Days like they rush for milk on Snow Days. #manwiththeBIGCOW”
Peeler’s hum: While Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, discussed a bill that would require fishermen to release any great white shark they catch, Peeler hummed the “Jaws” theme into a microphone, casting a suspenseful tone from the 1975 blockbuster across the Senate floor.
Peeler’s quotes: “I’m here to teach third-graders how to read, not to break a third-grader’s heart,” Peeler said, after announcing he was removing his objection to Olivia McConnell’s proposal to recognize the Columbian mammoth as the official state fossil. During the session, Peeler pushed for education reforms including holding back third-graders who are not reading at their grade level. When the Senate passed the bill, Peeler said, “To the thousands of people in South Carolina that don’t read too good – this is for you.”
Runner-up: State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg
Hutto’s most notable quotes came when he filibustered on the Senate floor during a debate about academic freedom. The Senate was deciding whether to punish the University of South Carolina-Upstate and College of Charleston for assigning gay-themed books. Republicans objected to a book that included a drawing of a woman’s nipple, calling it pornographic.
Hutto’s quote: “I don’t need the book to tell you what an exposed nipple looks like.”
Winner: Mark Sanford and Maria Belen Chapur
U.S. Rep. Sanford, R-Charleston, announced on Facebook in September that he had broken off his engagement with his fiancee Chapur amidst more drama with his ex-wife, Jenny.
In 2009, then-Gov. Sanford admitted to an affair with Chapur of Argentina, after disappearing Father’s Day weekend, when staffers said he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.
In 2013, Sanford scored a stunning political comeback, winning election to the 1st District congressional seat he had held previously.
Sanford’s more than 2,000-word Facebook post breaking off their engagement caught Chapur off guard, she told a New York Times reporter.
In the post Sanford said: “No relationship can stand forever this tension of being forced to pick between the one you love and your own son or daughter, and for this reason Belen and I have decided to call off the engagement. Maybe there will be another chapter when waters calm with Jenny, but at this point the environment is not conducive to building anything given no one would want to be caught in the middle of what’s now happening.”
Runner-up: Nikki Haley and Katrina Shealy
Gov. Haley and state Sen. Shealy, longtime Lexington Republican political allies, had a public falling out on social media over then-state Department of Social Services director Lillian Koller in April. The spat began when Haley called out Shealy on her Facebook page, accusing the senator of spreading a rumor that Koller was an atheist. Shealy, who denied she was spreading rumors, angrily said she was due an apology by Haley’s staff.
The two Republicans had been political allies since Haley backed Shealy in her unsuccessful 2008 attempt to oust longtime GOP state Sen. Jake Knotts of Lexington.
Haley, the state’s first female governor, backed Shealy again in 2012, when she won a stunning victory over Knotts. Shealy had to run as a petition candidate after she and scores of other primary candidates were knocked off the primary ballot by a lawsuit filed by a Knotts campaign worker.
Koller resigned as head of Social Services in July, and Haley nominated a successor, Clemson official Susan Alford, in December.
Senators who had been investigating Social Services for more than a year – including Shealy – said they offered to review candidates for Haley and provide feedback, but the governor did not take them up on the offer.
“We’ve worked long and hard over the last 12 months trying to figure out the issues at DSS,” Shealy said after the nomination. “We had hoped (the governor) would reach out to us, but she doesn’t have to do that.”
Best victory in the courtroom
Winner: S.C. schools
It took 20 years for the state Supreme Court to decide the state has failed in its duty to provide a “minimally adequate” education to children in the state’s poorest school districts.
The decision will force the Legislature to rethink the state’s controversial education funding formulas and could lead to the consolidation of some rural districts, whose superintendents joined together years ago to seek more equitable funding.
The impact of the decision will affect hundreds of thousands of future students in S.C. schools.
Runner-up: David Pascoe and Alan Wilson
John Crangle, head of S.C. Common Cause, and Ashley Landess, president of the limited-government S.C. Policy Council think tank, brought allegations about former Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, to state Attorney General Wilson.
In January, Wilson announced he would seek a State Grand Jury investigation of Harrell.
Harrell, who charged that fellow Republican Wilson’s investigation was politically motivated, moved to disqualify the attorney general from the case. In May, Circuit Court Judge Casey Manning ruled Wilson had no authority to investigate Harrell, saying ethics allegations against representatives first had to be vetted by the House Ethics Committee.
Wilson appealed to the state Supreme Court. In July, that court ruled Wilson could investigate lawmakers. But the court also said Manning should decide whether Wilson should be disqualified from the investigation for conflict of interest.
In response, Wilson handed off the case to Democratic 1st District Solicitor Pascoe, a 20-year prosecutor, as an independent special prosecutor.
Weeks later, Pascoe persuaded a Richland County to indict Harrell, who entered into a guilty plea agreeing to resign from office. The deal turned one of the state’s most powerful politicians into a government informant.
Best neglected issue
Winner: Crumbling roads
South Carolina’s interstate system is more than 50 years old.
South Carolina’s 16.75 cent-a-gallon gas tax – much lower than Georgia and North Carolina’s – has not increased in 27 years.
While finding some new money for roads every now and then, the state has failed to come up with a long-term solution to its crumbling roads, filled with cracks and pot holes.
South Carolina has the 4th largest state-maintained highway system in the country with less than 30 percent of traffic riding on good pavement.
Bills to increase the gas tax or other taxes to pay for roads failed this year, and Gov. Nikki Haley, R-Lexington, has said she will veto any tax increase.
Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, formed a special panel chaired by state Rep. Gary Simrill, R-York, to reform the Transportation Department and find a solution to the $43 billion (that’s “billion” with a “b”) deficit the Transportation Department says it has through 2040 to repair and expand the roads.
Simrill has suggested giving some roads and money to maintain them to counties. But county officials oppose that idea, noting the Legislature has not fulfilled other promises to local governments in recent years.
Senators also have pre-filed legislation to deal with the roads.
The last time major ethics reform passed was in the 1990s after “Operation Lost Trust,” when more than a dozen lawmakers became embroiled in a bribery scandal.
Now, with the indictment and guilty plea of` former Speaker Harrell on charges of misusing campaign money, ethics advocates want another revamp of the laws.
Ethics reform proposals have been pre-filed in both the House and Senate. But will they pass?