- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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Jan. 20

The Herald, Rock Hill, South Carolina, on poem that was not read at Haley inauguration:

The poem “One River, One Boat” requires little time to recite. We know because when U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn read it into the congressional record Jan. 14, it took him four minutes and 10 seconds.

In addition to a reading in Congress, the poem also was recited on the floor of the S.C. Senate on Jan 15 by state Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston. And it was read by its author, S.C. Poet Laureate Marjory Wentworth, at the annual King Day at the Dome march on the S.C. Statehouse grounds Monday.

Where it wasn’t read was at the second inauguration of Gov. Nikki Haley on Jan. 15. Wentworth was told the schedule of events that day was tight, leaving no time for a poem, not even four minutes and 10 seconds.

Haley’s inaugural ceremony was 90 minutes long. The processional down the Statehouse steps consumed nearly half that time.

Officials with the governor’s office said time constraints were the only reason the poem was not included in the inauguration. Wentworth said she was told that the poem was rejected before anyone involved in planning the event had read it, and that the content of the poem was not an issue.

But Wentworth, who has been poet laureate since 2003, has read a poem at the last three inaugurals, including Haley’s first. Those poems, she said, were about “safer” topics, “animals and nature.”

“One River, One Boat,” the poem she wrote for Haley’s second inaugural ceremony touched on graver themes, including slavery and the state’s struggles with the treatment of African Americans. One stanza refers to the Confederate flag flying on the Statehouse grounds, another to a judge’s decision last month to throw out the conviction of a 14-year-old black boy wrongfully tried and quickly executed without an appeal for the murder of two white girls 70 years ago.

“Here, where the Confederate flag still flies beside the Statehouse, haunted by our past, conflicted about the future; at the heart of it, we are at war with ourselves,” the poem reads. Not animals and nature, but surely not too controversial to be part of the inauguration.

But, then, the governor’s office denies that the poem itself - most of which was politically neutral - was the problem. So, why not carve out five minutes to let the poet laureate do her job?

Perhaps it had something to do with Haley’s well documented efforts to gut state funding for public art organizations and programs to bring art, music, drama and dance programs to different parts of the state. Perhaps she has no use for public poetry either.

Wentworth said that former Gov. Mark Sanford’s office had earmarked $1,500 a year to pay for her travel and accommodations around the state. Haley has provided no money.

Wentworth wrote “One River, One Boat” exclusively for Haley’s inauguration, which she considered one of her duties as poet laureate. We think it was shortsighted of planners not to allow the poem to be read during the ceremonies.

But if their intention was to suppress the poem, they failed miserably. It is getting far more attention now than it would have as just another inaugural poem.

That’s good. Wentworth and her poem deserve the exposure.

Online:

http://www.heraldonline.com

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Jan. 21

Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, on state education reform:

South Carolina House Speaker Jay Lucas, having already created ad hoc legislative committees on ethics and roads, on Tuesday announced that he was forming a task force to study education reform. There will be plenty to discuss, particularly with the state Supreme Court having directed the Legislature to come up with a plan to improve poor rural schools.

But one fundamental reform ought to be decided by the voters: having the state superintendent of education appointed by the governor. It would recognize that education is a pre-eminent state responsibility over which the governor should have executive authority.

The current education superintendent, Molly Spearman, supports the idea. So did her predecessor, Mick Zais.

In a recent legislative workshop, House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, said the change would ensure that “the superintendent of education will be on the same page as the governor.”

Rep. Bannister added, “Everybody needs to be paddling in the same direction.”

Making the superintendent part of the governor’s Cabinet would establish education as a higher priority and empower the state’s chief executive practically to make it so. Indeed, it would immediately put public schools at the forefront of any governor’s agenda. The struggles of public education in South Carolina - particularly those cited in the lawsuit on behalf of poor counties - offer ample evidence that public schools and their students deserve no less.

Given the chance, South Carolina voters have overwhelmingly endorsed rational proposals for government restructuring - such as having the party candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run on a ticket. More recently, voters endorsed making the state’s popularly elected adjutant general a gubernatorial appointee, effective 2019.

The Legislature should take the next step for restructuring and put a referendum question on the ballot for the 2016 general election to make the superintendent of education appointive effective 2019.

About half of the state’s budget goes to education, but the governor has no direct budgetary responsibility over how that money should be spent, or whether it is adequate to the task.

Putting the agency under the ultimate authority of the governor would provide for more coherent policymaking and allocation of resources.

It would give the governor the responsibility and the authority needed to improve public education in South Carolina.

And it would heighten the public debate on education, particularly during the election. At present, the superintendent of education is of secondary interest in the run-up to the election of state constitutional officers.

Putting public education under the governor’s authority would allow the voters to decide whether they want an “education governor” who would be committed primarily to address an essential state responsibility.

It would put future governors on the spot to make a real, lasting difference to public education.

Online:

http://www.postandcourier.com

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Jan. 16

Island Packet, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, on state benefits:

S.C. lawmakers were right to close their cushy pension plan to incoming lawmakers in 2012. The lucrative plan pays out at about triple the rate offered to other state employees.

As The (Columbia) State newspaper recently explained, the pension payments are based on the lawmakers’ base salary — $10,400 for most lawmakers — and their in-district expenses — $12,000 total in 2014.

So a legislator who retires after 30 years in office would make $32,390 per year in retirement pay. Meanwhile, a state employee with the same income and years of service would earn only $12,230 in retirement pay.

Not bad for the part-time job of being a state legislator, is it?

While the plan was closed to newly elected legislators in 2012, most lawmakers were elected long before 2012. So they remain members of the program.

Equally troubling, the pension system carries no penalties for lawmakers who leave office amidst scandal. That includes former House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, who pleaded guilty to breaking the law in his official capacity. After pleading guilty to misdemeanor campaign finance charges in October, Harrell resigned. His annual retirement pay will be about $35,000.

Thankfully, Rep. Nathan Ballentine, R-Richland, is looking to deny guilty lawmakers some of their state perks.

“We can’t take anybody’s retirement,” Ballentine told The State. But the Republican has introduced a bill to ban lawmakers who commit certain crimes from benefiting from the state’s health and dental plans. “If you are punished for things like we’ve seen here lately … the last thing that you should be able to do is to keep (legislative benefits).”

We agree. Breaking with the public’s trust when you’re a public official should come with consequences. An appropriate penalty is the denial of state benefits.

Ballentine’s proposal complements several other new bills that would affect legislators, including requiring full disclosure of lawmakers’ income and making more of their correspondence subject to the state’s open records law. We hope the General Assembly will give all of these bills serious consideration.

Representing the people is an honor. Those who take advantage of voters should not get to take advantage of state perks too.

Online:

http://www.islandpacket.com

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