Politics & Government

Powerful House GOP Caucus ejects fellow Republican for ‘erroneous and hostile attacks’

Rep. Jonathon Hill, R-Anderson
Rep. Jonathon Hill, R-Anderson File/Anderson Independent Mail

In an unusual move, the powerful S.C. House GOP Caucus has indefinitely kicked out one of its own members, accusing Anderson Republican Jonathon Hill of making “erroneous and hostile attacks” on fellow Republicans that “have gone too far.”

In a closed-door meeting Tuesday, Hill was jettisoned by an overwhelming majority of his colleagues who had grown tired of his penchant for criticizing them, disseminating their cell phone numbers to angry constituents and publicly sharing details of private strategy meetings.

“Rep. Hill’s actions are against everything our body stands for,” House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R-York, wrote in a statement to The State. “His actions are unbecoming of a member of the State House as well as a member of the House Republican Caucus.”

Hill is arguably the least popular of the S.C. House’s 124 members. He’s known as a libertarian firebrand whose “no” votes and critical Facebook posts and blogs vex House Republicans and Democrats alike.

Hill told The State Tuesday he wasn’t surprised, noting members of the caucus have hinted since last fall he was on thin ice.

“My desire has been to let the people of South Carolina know what goes on in the backrooms and back halls of this place, especially when it affects their liberties, their taxes, their lives in some way,” Hill said.

Hill regularly takes to Facebook, his blog and the House floor to publicly criticize his colleagues, including House Republican leaders, saying they don’t do enough to advance pro-life or gun rights legislation.

But House Republicans have told The State that Hill has crossed the line in recent weeks by publicly sharing details of private GOP Caucus discussions, often mischaracterizing his colleagues’ statements and policy positions to make them look bad.

House Republicans use the closed-door meetings to discuss proposed legislation, getting their questions answered and concerns addressed before the debate on the House floor.

The caucus is a dues-paying organization that the courts have declared exempt from the state’s open-records laws. But it also serves as a private forum where the Republicans who dominate the House build consensus before passing legislation overwhelmingly.

“People didn’t feel like they could speak freely and confidentially in the meetings,” Hill said Tuesday. “They want to be able to know that what goes on behind closed doors stays behind closed doors. There’s a time and place for private discussions, but I also think that privacy is for private citizens and openness and transparency is for government.”

House Republicans were especially frustrated with Hill during the budget debate in March, when Hill said on the House floor that the Republican Caucus had conspired to vote down every Democratic amendment to the $9.3 billion state budget.

In reality, House GOP leaders have told The State, they had agreed not to approve any changes to only a small piece of the budget. House Republicans had worked with Gov. Henry McMaster to spend the $61 million Mega Millions tax windfall on one-time refunds to S.C. taxpayers, and they resolved to reject any proposals to spend that money on something else.

“At best, he is an obstructionist,” Simrill said. “At worst, an anarchist.”

In a House GOP Caucus meeting last month, Hill also was made to apologize for publishing the cell phone numbers of his Republican colleagues on Facebook and telling his followers to call them and push them to support a proposal to defund Planned Parenthood through the House budget.

The group included some of the staunchest abortion opponents in the House, including state Rep. John McCravy, R-Greenwood.

But later, in a post on his website, Hill praised his followers for all their calls and voicemails, saying their efforts were instrumental in passing the proposal and prove his brand of “confrontational politics” works.

“At the end of the day, I have not one regret,” Hill wrote. “This issue is too important to let slide by. Inconvenient calls from constituents are part of the job, an occupational hazard of being an elected official.”

Just a handful of the House’s roughly 80 Republicans voted against Tuesday’s proposal to indefinitely suspend Hill. That includes Hill and state Reps. Josiah Magnuson of Spartanburg and Mac Toole of Lexington.

The House GOP Caucus has rarely, if ever, kicked out a member.

Hill could return, however, if a majority of the caucus votes him back in. The odds of that happening are long, he acknowledged Tuesday.

“I don’t see a lot of them changing their minds,” he said.

Avery G. Wilks is The State’s senior S.C. State House and politics reporter. He was named the 2018 S.C. Journalist of the Year by the South Carolina Press Association. He grew up in Chester, S.C., and graduated from the University of South Carolina’s top-ranked Honors College in 2015.
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