Jim Harrison, S.C. House District 75

Thursday (Sept. 7), 1 p.m.
How soon we forget. Until he mentioned it, I had forgotten Jim Harrison had, not so long ago, been in a fight over the speakership — a fight that he lost to Bobby Harrell.

Basically, he mentioned it to dismiss it, although not totally convincingly: "We’re one big happy family now," he said. "It was tense for awhile." But perhaps I should be convinced — after all, things have been smooth enough among the Republican leaders that I had forgotten it.

Anyway, that’s not what our meeting was about; it was about our endorsement. And now that it’s over, I’m still not sure whether we’ll end up endorsing Rep. Jim Harrison or his Democratic opponent. I thought I’d write this first, comparing it to my notes on Mr. Summers, and start our discussions from that point. I think we’ll want to ask a few more questions, and do more research, before we come up with our final decision in October.

Interestingly, he lists the criminal domestic violence bill as one of his main accomplishments of this past session — and that’s one of the issues that motivated Mr. Summers to run against him. "Even though we got all wrapped up in … the John Graham Altman issue," Mr. Harrison said, in the end "we ended up with a better bill."

We spent a good bit of time on PPIC, which he knows we disagree on. Here are some of his comments on the subject:

  • "I think you’ve got to look at 17 years, and not just one bill."
  • "Personally, I wish that those who are pushing for some school choice had stuck initially to let’s look at ensuring that all of our children, no matter what level of income they had or where they lived, had the opportunity for a quality education."
  • "I fully support that choice for children in failing schools that are below a certain income level."
  • "I could live very easily without that provision in the last bill that gave a thousand-dollar tax credit, no matter where you lived and no matter what your income was."
  • "It ought to be focused on failing schools and low-income families."
  • "I agree, it probably won’t work at first in every county."

He said he was optimistic that "more and more people in the House, even in the Republican caucus," are coming to realize the need to address the inequality of educational opportunity between kids in poor districts and their counterparts in more affluent areas. But he didn’t think that growing realization would bear fruit for another two to four years.

"I wish, that as part of the property tax debate, we’d gone ahead and fought that battle last year, too… because they go hand-in-hand," he said. I agree.

He said he believes he is an effective legislator and effective committee chairman. We asked, on that subject, why so many bills that one would think would go through his Judiciary Committee have instead been routed to Ways and Means in recent years.

"David (Wilkins, Harrell’s predecessor as speaker) … was terrified of fights on the floor. I think he was a great speaker, but he wanted control," which he would lose on the floor. It is Mr. Harrison’s belief that Mr. Wilkins had greater confidence that if a bill went through Ways and Means, there was a greater likelihood that things would go the way he and Mr. Harrell wanted.

One thing that did not bypass him, and which he lists as a major accomplishment, is the merit selection process for judges. He thinks that could use improvement, though. With the Legislature poised to create six new judgeships, "I think that the Republican caucus is going to have to commit that a certain number of minorities and women" will be elected "before they are even created."

He worries that the best lawyers, aren’t always seeking the bench. "We need to do a better job of going out and recruiting…" He said he was starting to see too many candidates who are unsuccessful lawyers."If you’re a successful black attorney, you’re probably making too much money to give it up, particularly early in your career," he said.

He talked about the continuing need for comprehensive tax reform, rather than the partial shift that came out of this year’s session. In this context, he spoke words that more than a few anti-tax campaigners need to hear: "Lowering one is easy; the difficult thing is raising a tax." That’s why the Legislature hasn’t implemented a general tax increase since 1987, while every session produces some sort of new tax break or rollback — a reality that provides stark contrast to the anti-tax mythology that lawmakers are "never missing a chance to raise taxes."

He talked about the need for the Legislature to get off local governments’ backs — something he said would be easier to do with the latest property tax bill behind us. We asked why, then, did he support the bill that prevented local governments from regulating billboards? "I’ve always been a property rights guy, since 1994."

On his relationship with Richard Quinn and Associates: "I’m not on the payroll, but I work with them, and am compensated for what I do," which he said is about 30 percent legal work.

On the relationship between our two Republican U.S. senators: "I think behind the scenes, DeMint is trying to come out from behind Lindsey’s shadow."

On why he dressed so informally for the interview: "I knew how y’all would grill me, and I was going to be comfortable."