- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:


July 6

The Greenville News on redrawing the boundaries of Senate districts:

When South Carolina legislators redraw district boundaries every 10 years they are supposed to give consideration, among other things, to “not dividing county boundaries” according to rules the Senate used after the last census in 2010.

Nearly lost in last week’s runoff election when Sen. Lee Bright was defeated by challenger Scott Talley is that the Legislature let Bright and then-colleague Phillip Shoopman ignore that consideration when they made a back-room deal to redraw the boundaries of their Senate districts in 2011.

No doubt many in the state will view Bright’s defeat as political Karma given his recent support for a controversial bill regarding transgender rights. There’s little room to debate whether he and Shoopman skirted the spirit of reapportionment law back in 2011 - they did. Clearly. The deal came to light after Bright’s defeat because, ironically, the majority of Bright’s margin of defeat came from the 12 precincts from Greenville County that were added to his Spartanburg County district in 2011 to bolster his chances of reelection then.

According to a report last week by Greenville News reporter Rudolph Bell, Bright was eager to unload the Holly Springs community in Spartanburg County because he had angered voters there with appointments to a fire district; and Shoopman wanted to get 12 precincts on Greenville County’s Eastside out of his district to head off a potential challenge from businessman Bob Castellani, who lived in the part of the district that was moved.

The deal highlights a problem. If legislators are able to change their district boundaries purely to shore up their chances of victory (or eliminate a potential challenger), what’s to hold them to other requirements in the redistricting rules, namely those that ensure equity for voters of all demographics?

Districts are reapportioned for very good reasons. That reapportionment should not be manipulated by legislators for what clearly is a political purpose.

As Sen. Larry Martin told Bell, “I just had the sense that they had agreed on that for some political reason.” He said the deal was approved in part because the plan originated with the affected senators and because it didn’t violate apportionment rules.

That two senators were able to concoct a plan to remove potential opposition from one district and remove potentially angry voters from the other to help perpetuate their hold on their seats is a failure of the entire Legislature. It’s another example of South Carolina’s good ol’ boy system run amok. It makes it easy to see why South Carolinians displayed such disdain for incumbents in this past election and why the two good ol’ boys in this story no longer hold their seats. (Bright’s primary loss has put a hold on his legislative career and Shoopman decided shortly after the reapportionment that he would not seek reelection.)

In the meantime, voters in Senate Districts 5 and 12 were left with boundaries that make little sense and that ignore the Senate’s own rule to respect county lines as much as possible when redrawing districts. Dividing counties is sometimes unavoidable, but when it happens it can be difficult for legislators to caucus with both counties’ legislative delegations, resulting in a choice over which county gets more complete representation.




July 5

The Post and Courier of Charleston on Fort Sumter:

Fort Sumter isn’t just a national historic site, it’s a national historic treasure. So why isn’t it being treated like one?

In an article Monday, Post and Courier reporter Bo Petersen cited the numerous existing structural problems with the fort, and the pending hazards it faces as the State Ports Authority moves ahead with the deepening of the channel serving Charleston Harbor.

The fort’s problems are in sharp to contrast to its popularity with the throngs of tourists who come to Charleston to see the place where the Civil War started.

The hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit the site each year contribute to its upkeep, but not enough to take care of all the wear and tear on the fort. The National Park Service clearly recognizes the many structural problems facing the fort, but can barely keep up with the crumbling brickwork and deteriorating walkways.

Similar problems are being experienced by other national park sites across the U.S. because of a long-term lack of adequate funding. But Fort Sumter can’t sustain ongoing budgetary shortfalls as easily as most other sites.

It constantly endures the effects of waves, boat wakes and water seepage. Consequently, its maintenance problems have to be met, or the damage will only get worse.

As a national historic site, the fort is mainly the responsibility of the federal government. And federal lawmakers are failing Fort Sumter. The backlog of needed maintenance and repair work is $10 million for Fort Sumter and the associated sites of Fort Moultrie and the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site.

First District Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., acknowledges the need for more funding, but in his view there are complications. “What folks in government don’t do very well is differentiate investment from consumption,” Rep. Sanford said. “We have to be careful not to give away the farm. Everyone has to take part - concessionaires, users. It can’t just be the taxpayer.”

If there needs to be a balance of contributions among those various groups, then the congressman and his colleagues should work on an arrangement that will provide the necessary funding from each and then implement it. The situation at Fort Sumter shows a long-standing shortfall both in cash and congressional responsibility.

Credit Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., for attempting to gain more funding for Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie by combining them to create a new national park.

Meanwhile, Mr. Petersen points out the pending need for a $3 million breakwater to protect the fort from the wakes of larger ships that will be coming into the harbor after the channel is deepened to 52 feet.

Congress, the SPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Park Service should be working on a plan to put that structure in place before the deepening gets underway.

Beyond its historic value, Fort Sumter has a symbolic importance equal to any site in the nation. National leaders recognized that when they raised Old Glory there after the end of hostilities between the North and the South. It is a must-see attraction for visitors to Charleston.

Its current deterioration says it should be a must-fund site for the federal government. Gaining the necessary resources to ensure that repairs can be made before further damage is sustained would be a sound investment.

No reasonable taxpayer would consider such an essential allocation as “giving away the farm.”




July 3

The Herald-Journal of Spartanburg on dissatisfaction among South Carolina voters:

South Carolina voters are known for returning incumbents to office. Fritz Hollings retired after more than 38 years in the U.S. Senate, but he was still the junior senator from South Carolina because the Palmetto State had re-elected Strom Thurmond even more often.

That may have changed this year. A number of lawmakers have been thrown out of office. Tuesday, state Sen. Lee Bright lost his bid for re-election. Earlier last month, state Reps. Doug Brannon and Donna Hicks lost their seats. State Sen. Tom Corbin barely held onto his seat.

The pattern has held elsewhere with other lawmakers, including longtime officeholders who had amassed power and influence through seniority, losing their seats. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Larry Martin lost his primary runoff as did state Sen. Mike Fair, who had been in the General Assembly more than 30 years.

Maybe voters are finally fed up.

South Carolinians are tired of critical state problems being neglected while lawmakers try to score political points by focusing on wedge issues. They are tired of the General Assembly’s push to retain its power and privilege rather than focusing on the needs of the people.

South Carolina’s education system is a perfect example. The state Supreme Court has ruled that the state has failed to provide a “minimally adequate” education to poor rural students. It has urged lawmakers to devise a new system to replace the obsolete, inefficient and inequitable mechanism we use to fund schools.

Have lawmakers created a new system? No. They’ve nibbled away at a few corners of the problem, but they haven’t tackled the big task. Instead, they’ve fussed and fumed about the arrogance of the court in dictating to the legislature. They’re more concerned with preserving their power over the rest of state government than in improving our schools.

South Carolinians are tired of poor roads and poor schools. They are tired of turning away federal money that could help provide health care to poor South Carolinians because of vague philosophical arguments. They are tired of legislation like bathroom bills that borrow trouble rather than address any existing problem.

Their rage may not always be well focused, but they know they’re not happy with the way things are going in the Palmetto State. And in this state, that means the General Assembly is at fault. Lawmakers should know that’s the downside of making sure you keep all the power.

It’s likely that if more lawmakers had faced opposition, either in a primary or a general election, more would have lost their seats.

This election year should be a wake-up call for them. Get to work on our behalf. Fix the real problems that plague our state. Fund education. Come up with a long-term solution to our crumbling infrastructure. Reform our patchwork tax code. Your jobs depend on it.



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