Signs abound that state government is getting more out of control. Just look at three recent events:
• Speaker spat. A very public brawl over whether the speaker of the House of Representatives improperly reimbursed himself with campaign funds is locked in a crippling political scrum. A circuit judge ruled that the House Ethics Committee has jurisdiction, not a state grand jury looking into it for the state attorney general. More charges and countercharges are thrown. At best, the whole mess looks like a bunch of high-level backroom politicking replete with expensive lawyers. At worst, it’s a pitiful exercise for stubborn leaders to grab and keep power.
• Secret vote. In Charleston, the Medical University of South Carolina’s governing board voted in secret — yes, in secret — to hire its new president. The excuse: The board’s bylaws say votes have to be secret. Only days later when nailed by the press for conducting business in private does the board tuck tail and vote again in public — after it’s obvious the public vote masks the controversy hidden from citizens.
• Pilot project. As reported last week by Free Times and Statehouse Report, Gov. Nikki Haley’s administration is quietly seeking a pilot program for the Department of Social Services to be able to cut off food stamp benefits for people in Bamberg, Calhoun and Orangeburg counties if they’re not looking for work for at least 30 hours a week — even though there are far fewer jobs in those counties than people could fill.
Even more baffling is that few people seem to know of the effort, launched purportedly to reduce obesity. Sure, that makes sense — take away food stamps from thousands of poor people who have nothing by starving them out of obesity. Or “that is crazy,” as Bamberg County Council Chair Larry Haynes reacted when told about the program with its Orwellian overtones. He said he’d never heard of the proposed program, which is particularly surprising, because guess who’s going to have to worry about hungry people in the county if the project gets a green light?
American government stems, if you recall high school civics, from “we the people,” not cheap exercises in secrecy. Elected and appointed leaders have the responsibility to conduct the people’s business in public, not private. Not in the backrooms of offices in the Blatt or Gressette legislative buildings in Columbia. Not in a tony Charleston boardroom. Not by proposing punitive pilot programs without telling people who could be impacted by them.
Leading journalist Bill Moyers, who sees similar patterns that infect government at the national level, says the people are losing their government to the “mercenary class.” As he related in an August 2013 commentary, insiders ultimately always seem to win in Washington:
“They get the tax breaks, the loopholes, the contracts, the payoffs. They fix the system so multimillionaire hedge fund managers and private equity tycoons pay less of a tax rate on their income than schoolteachers, police and firefighters, secretaries and janitors. They give subsidies to rich corporate farms and cut food stamps for working people facing hunger. They remove oversight of the Wall Street casinos, bail out the bankers who torpedoed the economy, fight the modest reforms of Dodd-Frank, prolong tax havens for multinationals and stick it to consumers while rewarding corporations.
“We pay. We pay at the grocery store. We pay at the gas pump. We pay the taxes they write off. Our low-wage workers pay with sweat and deprivation because this town — aloof, self-obsessed, bought-off, and doing very well, thank you — feels no pain.”
Press attorney Jay Bender of Columbia said our top-down, plantation-like culture may just be endemic in South Carolina.
“As a state, we seem willing to accept decisions that are against our interests, and in many instances against the law, without question,” Bender told us this week. “Perhaps it is resignation or perhaps it is in our DNA, but until we insist on government officials who serve openly, honestly and in our interests, we will continue to get the government we deserve.”
Let’s do something about cleaning up the mess. What’s going on is unacceptable.
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