Well, I guess he showed THEM who the big ol’ hairy Speaker is

One day not too long ago, a business-leader type, discussing reform legislation of some sort, said within my hearing that if David Wilkins were Speaker of the S.C. House today, you’d see some action on the bill in question — implying that Bobby Harrell isn’t the Speaker his predecessor was.

Well, I may not be holding my breath to see restructuring, or comprehensive tax reform, or a rise in the cigarette tax to the national average, or anything else we sorely need pass the House, but yesterday Bobby Harrell left no doubt who the big ol’ hairy speaker was — at least, not in the minds of Nikki Haley or Nathan Ballentine, or anyone else who might consider opposing him in any way.

The full AP story:

Date: 12/3/2008 7:51 PM

BC-SC–Speaker-Committee Ousters,2nd Ld-Writethru/682
Eds: UPDATES with quotes, details from House speaker, legislators.
SC House speaker: It’s nothing personal
Associated Press Writer

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ Two Republican House members say GOP House Speaker Bobby Harrell ousted them from committees in reprisal for their push to increase on-the-record voting and open criticism of practices in the lower chamber.

But the Charleston Republican, who won his second full term leading the GOP-dominated chamber Tuesday, said there’s nothing to complaints from Reps. Nikki Haley and Nathan Ballentine.

"I think everything that I did in these appointments was appropriate," Harrell said.

"What he’s doing is a complete power play," said Ballentine Wednesday after being booted from the House’s Education Committee to the relative backwater of the Democrat-controlled Medical, Military and Municipal Affairs Committee. "Here’s what happens if you try to step out on my watch."

Ballentine and Haley had allied with Gov. Mark Sanford, a frequent Harrell critic, to push for more on-the-record voting.

Harrell derided the effort, noting the House does plenty on the record already. When Sanford, Ballentine and Haley appeared at news conferences promoting the idea, Harrell said he supported more roll-call voting, but more was needed than "just pandering to voters and grabbing for headlines."

"House leadership is sending a message: If you open your mouth, you’re going to get your head chopped off," Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer said.

Haley said she crossed Harrell this year by bucking his efforts to scuttle tougher payday lending regulation and irked him again by questioning House practices that allowed approval of a retirement pay increase for legislators on a voice vote earlier this year.

Haley started the week campaigning to be the first chairwoman of the House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee, a prestigious committee because it handles business legislation, but dropped her bid Monday night.

On Tuesday she tried to head off Harrell backed rules on roll-call voting she said didn’t go far enough. On Wednesday, Harrell appointed her to the LCI committee, but then hours later had his lawyer deliver a letter booting her to the Education Committee.

"I went against the speaker on something he was publicly against: votes on the record. And I was not just demoted, but he attempted to embarrass me and humiliate me in the process," Haley said. "What he proved in these last two days is that he is a speaker who is more concerned about his personal image than he is about policy in this state."

Besides, Harrell said, the "Education Committee is not a demotion. Education is the most important issue facing South Carolina."

Harrell said Haley needed to move because of the chairman’s race. "When you have two people who run for chairman, sometimes it’s easier for one or both of them if they aren’t on the same committee after the chairman’s race is over."

Harrell said he took the same tack two years ago in a competitive race for the Education Committee chairmanship. However, Haley was the only committee member booted after one of the three committee races that were competitive Wednesday

Harrell said Ballentine brought his move from the House Education Committee to the Medical, Military and Municipal Affairs Committee on himself.

Ballentine listed his three choices for new session’s committee assignments as "LCI, LCI, LCI. I couldn’t put him on LCI or believed there are other members who should be on LCI," Harrell said. "He clearly doesn’t like Education, so I moved him from that committee to where we did have a vacancy or a space available and that was 3-M."

But there were openings on the commerce committee. Harrell tapped freshman and fellow Charleston Republican Rep. Tim Scott for one of them.

Ballentine said the last reassignment to the 3-M committee came when a member of the Judiciary Committee got into an altercation with that committee’s chairman a few years ago.

Harrell couldn’t recall a similar move, but said none of it was personal or in retaliation.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.

Nikki, being a polite South Carolina lady, understated the case when she said, "he attempted to embarrass me and humiliate me in the process." He didn’t attempt. He did it. My good buddy Joel was far closer to the mark when he said, "If you open your mouth, you’re going to get your head chopped off."

Speaking of Joel… Some of y’all think I’m hard on the governor. Well, I can’t hold a candle to Bobby in that regard. Nikki Haley’s "sin" was to associate herself with the governor in his constant posturing — you know, his personal narrative that HE wants to do what’s right, and the legislative leaders don’t. Actually, that’s not what irks them. What irks them is the WAY he does it. Rather than sitting down with them and trying to accomplish his goals, he traipses around the state posing for TV cameras and presenting himself as the Font of Virtue, and everyone else as Part of the Problem.

The thing is, Nikki and the gov are right about the need for more transparency in legislative voting. I’m not 100 percent convinced that EVERY vote needs to be a roll call — there’s an awful lot of them, and most of them are of minor significance — but I appreciate that Nikki has gone beyond the ideological goal of requiring just the spending bills to be by roll call, to include ALL legislation.

And you see what she gets for her trouble. The Speaker appropriates the issue by pushing something that he calls transparency (and she doesn’t), and not only frustrates her wish to be chair of the LCI committee, but removes her from the committee altogether.

There’s an UnParty angle in this, too. There were murmurings among the GOP faithful that Nikki might actually welcome Democratic support in her bid for the chair. Perish the thought! And perish Nikki, as far as they were concerned.

And Nathan Ballentine? As Nikki paid for the sin of consorting with the governor (and maybe even Democrats — gasp!), Nathan’s sin was supporting Nikki.

So Bobby may or may not be able to use his power to do any great good for South Carolina — but he can sure use it to crush anyone who opposes him. He can’t do anything about the governor, but he can do what he wants to Nikki and Nathan. So he did. And believe you me, everyone took note.

12 thoughts on “Well, I guess he showed THEM who the big ol’ hairy Speaker is

  1. Doug Ross

    Maybe I’m dense, Brad, but when I read what you write about Speaker Harrell, it just doesn’t come across very clear to me whether you think his actions are a big deal or not.
    Was he wrong to do what he did? Do you believe him or Ms. Haley?
    You seem to hedge your bets when it comes to Mr. Harrell. Odd.

  2. Brad Warthen

    I don’t know how “big” a deal it is, Doug; I just know it’s interesting, and I want to make sure folks outside the House knew about it. The Speaker’s made sure everyone INside the House knows about it.
    It’s deplorable that this is the only kind of power legislative leaders seem willing (or perhaps able) to wield — negative power. They know how to STOP good legislation, and they know how (at least, the REPUBLICANS know how) to keep their caucuses in line, but they don’t seem able to get it together to fix our state’s problems. Of course, the governor doesn’t CARE about getting anything done — he’s all about the gesture — which is what frosts Bobby so, and what makes him so willing to punish anyone who aligns themselves with him.
    Nikki cares, though. She’d like to do good things. And her ability to get them done just took a nosedive.
    This was the S.C. House equivalent of a public execution, and it will utterly silence dissent in the GOP caucus, which is feeble enough, Lord knows. That’s very bad. Were Nikki and Nathan 100 percent right on the issue? They had the right idea, but as I say, I’m not sure you CAN have a roll call on all votes and get anything done in the Legislature. All I know is that Bobby Harrell just shot a couple of squirrels with an elephant gun.
    That’s deplorable. But is it a big deal? It is to Nikki and Nathan. And it is to anyone else who was thinking about thinking for himself. But Lee actually has the right metaphor. In the GOP-run House, this is a dog-bites-man situation. So “big deal” is open to interpretation. What’s different about it is that usually GOP members don’t push this far — just having the Speaker note that he is displeased usually cows them. Nikki and Nathan refused to be cowed, and they were punished for it.
    I certainly though it bad enough to call attention to it. This was an action meant for lawmakers to see — and be intimidated by (or, if they’re GOP true believers, to be gratified by). I wanted to make sure that you voters out there were fully aware of just how heavyhanded the Speaker was being with those under his power.
    Something else that worries me, which is just occurring to me: Nikki was reluctant to go on the record with us about all this. She finally did, and this is what happened. That’s a cause for grave concern.

  3. Lee Muller

    Nikki Haley knew Bobby Harrell a lot better than the editors of The State did.
    Maybe Brad will wise up to some of those in the Senate blocking reform, before they leave to become lobbyists for the the gambling industry or payday lenders.
    But from his continued ankle biting of Mark Sanford, the light hasn’t come on, yet.

  4. Brad Warthen

    Anyone who thinks either Bobby Harrell or Mark Sanford is a hero in this drama just isn’t paying attention.
    The only admirable characters here are the two victims, Nikki and Nathan.

  5. Lee Muller

    We know the legislature’s spending plans didn’t work well. Brad and Cindi backed all that pork.
    We know that if we had spent much less money, like Mark Sanford wanted to do, the state would not be having to cut back mid-year.

  6. p.m.

    “Anyone who thinks either Bobby Harrell or Mark Sanford is a hero in this drama just isn’t paying attention.
    “The only admirable characters here are the two victims, Nikki and Nathan.”
    Harrell and Sanford hail from Charleston. Haley and Ballentine, like their newspaper crony, call the Columbia area home.
    And that’s basically that.

  7. Workin' Tommy C

    I’ve never had a legislator respond personally to me the way Nikki Haley has. She has never hesitated to plainly state her positions and I respect her very much for that.
    As one of her constituents, all I have ever asked her to do is to fight for what’s right and to actually know us and represent us, the common working folks. She does that exceedingly well.
    I am grateful that Nikki Haley is truly PRINCIPLED. This is a rare trait among politicians and should be encouraged as much as possible.
    Nikki Haley has a true sense of community and has been brave and energetic enough to work to open our legislators’ votes to the light of day. This is an important first step in the fight against corruption and waste in this state.
    Nikki Haley was the only incumbent I voted for in the last election. All the rest have stabbed us in the back so many times that, personally, I’m about out of blood.

  8. Barry

    Bobby Harrell is a poor excuse for a house member.
    As a Republican, I almost hope the General Assembly falls on their faces.

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