People like that re-form — maybe we should get us some

Thought y'all might find these two press releases, both having to do with a bill to put the Employment Security Commission under the governor, edifying.

First, we have one from Speaker Bobby Harrell, who manages to damn the governor's performance as an economic developer while faintly praising the notion of putting him in charge:

    "This is just another example of the House’s many efforts to restructure and
streamline government. Given recent events, we feel this is the right thing to
do and the proper time to do it.  Moving
the Employment Security Commission under a Department of Workforce will increase
efficiencies and the sharing of crucial employment data but this move alone will
not solve our state’s third worst in the nation unemployment rate, that solution
depends more on job creation not job placement. 
That being said, placing both job creation and job placement agencies
under the executive branch should provide another tool the Governor can use to
take the steps necessary to lower our state’s 9.5% unemployment rate."

since he obviously hasn't been able to do it yet, he doesn't quite say. As you know, Bobby's never thought a whole lot of the performance of the gov's Commerce Department.

But as much fun as it may be to pick that statement apart, the Speaker's right both ways — South Carolinians are worse off since Mark Sanford became governor, and there's no good reason why the governor should not be over the ESC. In a properly balanced system of government, separate branches of government — legislative vs. executive, executive vs. judicial, etc. — need to have separate bases of power and different lines of accountability. Two entities within the executive branch do NOT.

But the ESC does not agree, and put out this release today:

SCESC Commission Responds to Legislative "Reform" Bill

For Immediate Release                                                                           February 4, 2009

    An economic recession, a high unemployment rate and an unprecedented number of people receiving benefits have led the Governor and several legislators to question the integrity of the S.C. Employment Security Commission.
    The problems currently affecting the system are economic, not systemic, as attested by the fact that other states with similarly high unemployment are also borrowing money to pay benefits.
    The Employment Security Commission’s main concern continues to be addressing the critical the needs of the over 100,000 unemployed citizens of our state through the administering of unemployment benefits, helping individuals to find available jobs and providing a variety of Labor Market Information to both employers, jobseekers and the general public.
    At the same time, the agency is working to provide additional jobs data that the Governor has requested. We will also work closely with the state legislature to assist them in any way possible.
    We have faith in our employees and in the integrity of our system, which has continued to provide excellent employment service to the people of this state for over seventy years.

Don't you love the touch of putting "reform" in quotation marks? In bringing this release to my attention today, a colleague said, "Yes, it's tame. But I find it rather extraordinary that an agency would put out a news release essentially attacking a bill that was introduced to restructure it. Even DHEC doesn't do THAT." If you'll recall, DHEC Commissioner Earl Hunter confined himself to an internal memo — and apparently some informal networking that persuaded allies to back away from reform (or so I infer from the pattern of events).

Here's the thing, folks: The ESC is right to say that the governor's criticism is largely off-base, and willfully ignores the reality of mounting unemployment in this state (preferring to blame it on inefficiency in the agency, because he believes gummint is to blame for everything, and can never be the solution). But the governor's right to gripe when the ESC stonewalls him on information.

The bottom line is that there shouldn't be any political space for these two sides to be fighting. The ESC ought to have to do what the governor says, and the governor shouldn't be able to shirk his responsibility to the people of this state by blaming climbing unemployment on those people over there.

That's why we need to get us some of that re-form, Daddy.

21 thoughts on “People like that re-form — maybe we should get us some

  1. Lee Muller

    Bobby Harrell is always the last one on the bus… then he grabs the wheel and announces he is driving.

  2. Rich

    Amen to reform. But let the effective date of reform occur the day after Governor Fudd leaves office!

  3. Doug Ross

    So if the ESC won’t do what the governor asks them to do, explain to me again why it’s Sanford’s fault?
    That’s the hurdle you have still yet to clear. You won’t allow Sanford to do what he wants to do and yet you blame him for the way things turn out.
    It’s like blaming Mothers Against Drunk Driving when a person gets killed by a drunk driver. “If they would only sit down at the table and compromise with the drunks, we wouldn’t be in this horrible situation.”
    Compromising principles is what caused this mess. That plus patronage and a legislature run amok.
    The Unparty Motto: “We plumb the depths of the middle ground”

  4. Bart

    Rich would rather the ESC continue it’s ineffective and inefficient ways for a couple more years so Sanford won’t be able to claim credit for any reforms taken or enacted. Wow! Is it now SDS, replacing BDS?
    Doug, you’re right on point.

  5. Doug Ross

    Brad will gain credibility on his views of Sanford when he commits to supporting a trial voucher system for low income students in a failing district.
    That would be what someone who was open to “working together” to find common ground would do.
    But just like the legislature, he can’t allow that to happen. Because Sanford might be right.

  6. enkidu

    Your points are well taken but your use of “re-form” and “gummint” (perhaps to emphasize the often backwoods nature of our State government) is off putting. Perhaps that’s just an example of delightful editorial humor but it seems to me to cheapen the discussion of a serious problem.

  7. bud

    South Carolinians are worse off since Mark Sanford became governor, and there’s no good reason why the governor should not be over the ESC.
    Let’s have a moment to let this sentence sink in. Ok, now that everyone has had a chance to digest this idiocy can we please move on to some semblance of rational thought. Really Brad, do you actually read the stuff you write. Good heavens it’s no wonder our state is in such disarray. Not only do we have one atrocious governor but we have the world’s biggest oxymoron of newspaper.

  8. Brad Warthen

    bud, I read what I write, and when I offer you an ironic juxtaposition such as that one, I do so consciously, and I explain why both facts are true.
    As for Doug, I don’t know what to tell you, except that you’re not following my explanation any more than bud is.
    The following things are true:
    — The governor, who has zero understanding of the role that responsible government plays in creating the “soil conditions” (one of his favorite phrases) for economic growth, sounds like someone from another planet when he greets the news that unemployment in this state is increasing at a rate that exceeds anyone’s predictions by blaming the messenger. ESC could well be the least efficient agency in the history of the world, but that would not explain why it is suddenly out of money and keeps having to seek new infusions. It was just as efficient or inefficient five years ago as it is now, but it was not repeatedly running out of money five years ago. So what is actually different about the current situation? I shouldn’t have to point it out, but the thing that is different is that employment in South Carolina is spiraling downward at a seriously alarming rate, and the ascending graph line of increasing payouts is now higher than the descending line of revenue caused by the fact that the Legislature reduced the tax that supports those benefits back in the late 90s. Ignoring those facts and blaming the agency for the current situation is the height of absurdity. (The only thing more absurd is that the governor complains that the agency didn’t raise the alarm before now — when we know that if it HAD raised the alarm that the tax was insufficiently funding benefits, our governor would have been at the front of the line of people yelling “Hell, no!” to raising the tax.)
    — It is ridiculous and wrong for the agency to stonewall the governor about data he’s requested, something it is only in a position to do because of our bizarre form of government in this state, in which agencies are independent fiefdoms that have little or nothing to do with the rest of the executive branch.
    — If the governor were responsible for the agency, he would not be able to stand in his corner and blame those guys over in THAT corner, because everyone would understand that he was the guy with the responsibility. And the agency would not be able to deny him information, or send out press releases fighting his legislative agenda, or doing any of these things that you would not see happen in a sane state.

  9. Brad Warthen

    … which would focus political energy on the actual problem, which is that people are losing jobs at a rate that our tattered, inadequate “safety net” can’t keep up with.
    Instead, we have this outrageous situation in which folks who like the governor are siding with HIM, and folks who don’t like the governor are siding with the ESC, and little attention is being paid to the real problems.

  10. Doug Ross

    You say that Sanford doesn’t understand the role that government has in creating the “soil conditions”…
    That is patently false. He doesn’t agree with your perception of the role that government plays.
    Your premise on the role of government in the process is nothing but an opinion.
    As I said before, if ESC does what Sanford says to do and the economy suffers, then blame Sanford. Otherwise, he bears no responsibility.

  11. Birch Barlow

    Brad, thanks for this post and your comments on it. I admit I probably wouldn’t know much about this situation outside of reading this blog.
    I very much agree with your take on this situation. Well done.

  12. bud

    Wow. Is Brad just plain stupid. I don’t think so. After all he seems to have a terrific understanding of the English language. Yet after reading all this spinning and weaving it makes you wonder. If the Governor is as incompent as Brad says he is AND if it’s also true the previous 2 governors were also incompetent then what possible credible argument can you make to support the position that the governor should have MORE power. It’s just not a tenable position to make. And since we already gave the governor more power over an agency, DPS, in the early 90s and that was a complete disaster the evidence is crystal clear on this. Keep power away from the governor. No other valid conclusion can be reached based on the facts. It’s just not possible. Period. End of story. The fat lady has sung.
    Here’s the bottom line: If the people of South Carolina cannot elect a competent governor it is simply not good policy to give him more power. This is just not a complicated issue.

  13. Sam

    It is hard to argue with bud’s logic. The strongest and most convincing argument against giving the governor more power is a review of what the current one and the last two have done with what they had. How did governors like Carroll Campbell and Dick Riley accomplish so much in education and job creation when they had nothing close to the power Sanford has. Seems to me we are side-stepping the real issue. The issue is not the structure of government. It is the quality of its leadership that makes the difference.

  14. KP

    Oh, I think Bud gets the point. He’s just unwilling to admit that any position other than his own could possibly be anything other than “stupid.”
    I agree that South Carolinians, in our present mindset, are likely to elect any number of governors as incompetent and useless as the current one, and that outweighs any other argument for me personally. I also see that we can’t really show people how incompetent our leaders are if we allow them to keep pointing fingers at someone else.
    I don’t think either viewpoint is stupid.

  15. Brad Warthen

    As long as it’s a useless job, we’re going to have useless candidates. The last candidate we had who wanted the job in spite of the weakness of it (and he fully intended to push for further restructuring to strengthen it) was Joe Riley in 1994. And S.C. Democratic primary voters did the stupidest thing I think I’ve seen happen in an election in this state and chose Nick Theodore instead. (Why? Because he spent his years as Gov Lite — a “job” that allows for lots of free time — running for governor full-time, while Joe was busy being one of the best mayors in the country. Which still doesn’t let the voters off the hook.)
    It’s a hell of a situation. The kind of people who would be perfect for the job if it had any power won’t run for it because it doesn’t. The current job description is perfect for a guy like Sanford, who is all about striking poses and making ideological points, and uninterested in governing. Jim Hodges, for all his flaws and bad calls, was at least interested in governing. To a lesser extent, so was David Beasley.
    But the last governor we had who was really into governing was the last one to push hard, and effectively, to advance the cause of putting the governor, the elected chief executive, in charge of the executive branch….
    You know what? I’ve written that about a million times since 1991, and it’s so freaking obvious, such a total no-brainer, that it continues to STAGGER me that anyone could fail to understand it. Folks, the guy elected to be nominal chief EXECUTIVE has no authority over two-thirds of the EXECUTIVE functions of our government. The Legislature has full legislative authority. The judiciary gets to do its job. But not the executive — you know, the branch that’s supposed to OPERATE the government. And the only branch where voters can actually elect and empower a platform, a plan, for moving ahead — you can’t do that with 170 legislators, only two of which any voter gets to vote for. Can’t be done.
    And why is it this way? Because the landed gentry that set up this system didn’t ever want anything to change, so they set it up so that the voters would have NO leverage to elect someone to make anything new happen. (Mainly, they were intersted in keeping wealth in their own hands and slavery in place, but the system has outlived that original purpose.) Any legislature can easily kill reform (killing it is easy; passing it is hard), and this state’s Legislature is better at it than most. There is no co-equal branch of government where a coherent, unified voice can push for significant change. And that is crazy, if you would like our state to no longer be last where sane people would like to be first, and first where we’d want to be last….
    But there are always people who willfully REFUSE to see this problem, and they are the very best, most valued allies of the status quo.

  16. Doug Ross

    > Folks, the guy elected to be nominal chief
    > EXECUTIVE has no authority over two-thirds
    > of the EXECUTIVE functions of our
    > government.
    So why do you seem to apply 100% of the blame for the state of the state on Sanford?
    Blame the people who have the power, not the guy who they ignore.

  17. Rich

    Brad’s historical understanding of the issues is right on the money. Indeed, I am gratified finally to see a post with a sense of history to it–however fleeting. But that’s just the academic in me!
    We need to scrap the 1895 Tillman Constitution and replace it with a lean, mean, democratic machine. It’s time for S.C. to be in the forefront of reform and renewal, rather than vaguely hankering for the days when everyone “knew their place.”
    Time for a commonwealth of South Carolina, rather than a CommonPoverty.

  18. Ish Beverly

    I’m fearful of any plan by the State Newspaper to revise our state constitution. I have a problem with the intention of the news media making law. I’m terrified when Rich agrees with the plan.

  19. bud

    Just one time I’d like for Brad, or anyone else on this blog, to explain why if the governor’s ability to appoint a department head is such a great idea then why did it fail so abysmally when he had that power over DPS in 1993? Please address that question and that question alone without all this posturing over accountability, the logic of the executive having executive power and all the other theoretical BS that gets thrown around. Because all Brad has in his arsenal of persuasive points is theoretical BS.
    I, on the other hand, have a real life example of attempting to do just what Brad wants for all of state government. AND IT FAILED. That is the legitimate historical perspective on this issue. (Of course he’ll say it wasn’t really a cabinet post but of course it kind of was).
    And by the way DPS was created at the behest of a really strong governor, Campbell, so we can’t say that the governor has no power. Too bad his persuasive power was squandered on such a disasterous bit of restructuring.

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