When senators left Columbia last summer, they promised road repairs would be at the top of their agenda when they returned to Columbia in January.
Instead, among the first topics discussed on the Senate floor last week was refugees.
While eight senators were working behind the scenes on a roads plan that may — or may not — be unveiled this week (or next or ...), senators considered debating proposals regarding resettling refugees in South Carolina.
The refugee issue — centering on Syrian refugees and the threat of terrorism — has been a hot topic in the Republican presidential race, leading GOP frontrunner Donald Trump to propose a temporary ban on all Muslim entering the United States.
And, as of last month, plans had been announced to resettle two Syrian families — one with two members, another with 11 members — in the Palmetto State.
Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, asked the Senate to take up a proposal that would ban state agencies from being involved with refugees placed in South Carolina until the federal government addresses security concerns and establishes a new process for accepting refugees.
Peeler said the importance and timeliness of the issue made consideration of the proposal urgent enough to pull it out of a Senate committee, skipping the normal vetting process, and debate it immediately on the Senate floor.
“A wolf in sheep’s clothing is a cartoon, but a terrorist in refugee’s clothing is real,” Peeler said. “This is a real war we’re fighting. Our nation can’t survive by having boots on the ground over there, and goody-two-shoes on the ground over here.”
However, Peeler’s plea for immediate action failed to get enough senators’ votes to skip the committee process.
Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, also introduced a proposal to require refugees to register with the state Department of Social Services.
“When we bring folks in from these countries that have known terrorists that are looking to do harm to our country, we’ve got to be very careful,” Bright said, adding protecting citizens is a fundamental role of government.
“What’s the point of having borders if we’re not going to protect our citizens within these borders from folks who are outside and choose to do us harm?” Bright asked.
State Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, took to the Senate floor to quote Republican Gov. Nikki Haley’s GOP response to the Democratic President Barack Obama’s State of the Union.
“During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices,” Jackson quoted Haley. “We must resist that temptation. No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.”
Both proposals, which do not specify specific refugees, will be taken up in subcommittee next.
In her State of the Union response, Gov. Haley drew much praise in some circles for warning GOP voters to avoid following “the siren call of the angriest voices,” a reference to leading Republican frontrunner Trump.
The next day, Haley said tone and language matter in the election, especially with Trump.
“The one that got me is when he said, ‘Ban all Muslims,’ ” Haley said of Trump. “When you’ve got immigrants coming here legally, we’ve never in the history of this country passed any law or passed anything based on race or religion. Let’s not start that now. I have been through those fights. That’s not worth it. We want to move America forward.”
Critics on Twitter honed in on the governor’s words, specifically, “we’ve never in the history of this country passed any law or passed anything based on race or religion.”
Not so, they responded.
Former Democratic state Rep. Bakari Sellers tweeted “Jim Crow!” in response to a tweet of the Haley quote.
Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon responded with a Wikipedia link to an explanation of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which sought to ban Chinese immigrants.
Lynn Teague of the League of Women Voters brought up Japanese internment camps during World War II, adding they were justified, at the time, by both the race and religion of the U.S. citizens who were interned.
Ol’ Strom would be proud
State Sen. Paul Thurmond, son of the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, introduced two of his sons Thursday on the Senate floor.
And levity ensued.
State Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, said one of the Charleston Republican’s sons has two girlfriends.
State Sen. John Courson, R-Richland, responded to Thurmond: “Did you know, if he has two girlfriends, your father — and his grandfather — would be very, very proud.”
“My dad used to say, ‘Don’t go date any of ’em, just dance with all of ’em.’ So, that’s what I’m trying to encourage: No dating yet, let’s just dance.”
2016 in S.C.
▪ The three top Democratic candidates for president — former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of New York, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and U.S. Sen. Sen. Bernie Sanders or Vermont — will debate at 9 p.m. Sunday from Charleston on NBC News.
▪ Clinton, O’Malley and Sanders also be at the King Day at the Dome rally at the S.C. State House in Columbia at 10:15 a.m. Monday.
▪ GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson, a retired Baltimore neurosurgeon, will be in West Columbia at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Brookland Banquet and Conference Center, 1066 Sunset Blvd., for one of S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson’s constitutional issues town-hall meetings.