Politics & Government

McMaster to remain in all-white country club as SC governor

S.C. Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster will take his membership in the all-white Forest Lake Club with him to the Governor’s Mansion.

A pair of Democrats say the state’s next Republican governor must quit that membership to truly represent all of South Carolina.

However, a Republican in the state’s GOP-controlled Legislature says the membership is a non-issue.

McMaster, a member of the exclusive club for more than three decades, has no plans to quit the country club, his spokesman told The State.

McMaster also declined to renounce his membership in 2014, when then-Democratic state Rep. Bakari Sellers, now a CNN commentator, brought the issue up in their race for lieutenant governor. S.C. voters seemingly didn’t care. McMaster crushed Sellers by 19 points in that election.

Sellers said Friday that McMaster’s association with the club makes him a symbol of the past, like the Confederate flag.

“Henry McMaster is a good ol’ boy who is emblematic of where we’ve come from in South Carolina,” Sellers said. “For the next two years in South Carolina, maybe six, we will be stuck in the status quo.”

S.C. Democratic Party chair Jaime Harrison credited outgoing GOP Gov. Nikki Haley with removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds before urging McMaster to quit the country club.

“Our incoming governor, to his shame, if he continues to be a member of a whites-only country club, will perpetuate the legacy of white supremacy in the state’s networks of power and privilege,” Harrison said.

McMaster spokesman Mark Plowden declined to comment further when asked about McMaster’s country club membership.

Forest Lake Club did not return a request for comment.

However, state Sen. John Courson, R-Richland, also a member of the club, said McMaster’s membership is not a problem.

Plenty of Republicans and Democrats have memberships in the country club, located in Forest Acres, Courson said, adding he uses his membership entirely to play tennis.

“I just don’t perceive it to be an issue,” said Courson. “It has not been perceived to be an issue in any of my nine Senate campaigns.”

Bobby Donaldson, a civil rights historian and history professor at the University of South Carolina, said the future governor’s membership again highlights the remnants of segregation that remain, decades after the civil rights movement.

Racial segregation still is evident in churches, neighborhoods and schools, he said.

“It’s ironic because McMaster is a serious student of history,” Donaldson said. “He understands the real challenge that his membership in this organization poses. He’s gone on record saying he will not resign.

“He is in the best position as a leader in this state and as a student of history to call for a change publicly.”

Richland legislators begin overhaul of Rec Commission

A biracial, bipartisan panel of Richland County legislators Thursday will vet some 67 applicants for the six vacancies on the local Recreation Commission board, according to state Rep. James Smith, D-Richland.

Those spots came open after allegations of nepotism, corruption and other improper conduct threw the board into turmoil last year.

Four board members voluntarily resigned after S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley threatened to fire them. The Republican governor fired two others.

Just one member remains on the rec board, which has not met since the December purge.

The panel will cross out applicants with serious problems and recommend six for the vacancies. The full Richland County State House delegation is expected to meet a week later to review all of the choices and make its nominations, said Smith, the county delegation’s chair.

Smith said he is impressed by the applicants, who include business and community leaders.

“It’s going to be a hard decision,” Smith said. “There are a lot of really good people who have stepped up to serve.”

Meanwhile, following GOP state Sen. John Courson’s lead, several other Richland County legislators have filed bills that could shake up how members of county boards are hired and fired.

Democratic state Sen. Mia McLeod has filed a bill giving legislative delegations the power to remove anyone they nominate, which would include the rec board.

“If our legislative delegation had had this authority before, it may not have prevented what happened at these commissions,” the Richland Democrat said in her emailed legislative update, “but it sure would’ve given us an opportunity to hold those who were responsible, accountable.”

A bipartisan coalition of Richland House members – Democrats Beth Bernstein, James Smith and Joe McEachern, plus Republicans Nathan Ballentine and Kirkman Finlay – also has offered three proposed changes.

One, H. 3445, would give a county delegation the power to abolish a commission entirely and transfer its powers to the county government.

H. 3446 would give delegations the power to fire board members with cause, after giving them a chance for a hearing.

And H. 3447 would allow delegations to transfer the power to appoint board members to a county council.

Smith said the preferred option is to give control of the boards to counties, who currently fund the boards but are not empowered to oversee them. “We just think it’s better governance.”

An uncomfortable position

A former S.C. political director for President Donald Trump’s campaign found himself in an uncomfortable position recently as a Trump company sought state permission to conduct a limited pollution cleanup at a North Charleston site.

Jeff Taillon, now paid $56,947 a year as a spokesman for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, was interviewed by The New York Times last month about the DB Pace company’s cleanup plans for the former Titan Atlas site.

Taillon told the newspaper that DHEC was waiting on the company to return a final version of a cleanup agreement. It was not disclosed in the story that Taillon had worked for the Trump campaign.

DHEC officials say they subsequently replaced Taillon as a spokesman on the DB Pace cleanup after he and others realized the company was owned by Trump. The still-to-be-completed agreement allows DB Pace to conduct a limited cleanup that could be cheaper than conducting a full-scale cleanup.

DHEC, the state’s chief environmental protection agency, did not make Taillon available for comment but issued a statement Friday night.

“After we learned of the connection between this applicant and the president, Jeff was removed as a spokesperson for this topic and another public information officer took over fielding all inquiries related to this matter,’’ agency spokeswoman Jennifer Read said in an email. “To clarify, no DHEC employee has received any contact from President Donald Trump or any of his associates about the proposed voluntary cleanup contract.’’

Staff writer Sammy Fretwell contributed. Avery G. Wilks: 803-771-8362, @averygwilks