Rawl defends Georgia dredging decision

South Carolina Chamber of Commerce President Otis Rawl — who two years ago led his organization to make the unprecedented move of endorsing Vincent Sheheen for governor — today stuck up for Nikki Haley for something virtually no one at the State House will defend her on.

Speaking to the Columbia Rotary Club, he said the DHEC decision allowing Georgia to deepen the way to the port of Savannah was not a game-changer, and not a problem, for South Carolina in the long term.

In saying this, he was partly reflecting the wishes of multistate members who like the idea of competition between ports to keep costs down. But he also said it was a competition that Charleston, and South Carolina, would win.

To start with, he said, the proposed work would only deepen the Georgia port to 48 feet, compared to Charleston’s 52 — and that those four feet made a big difference. Further, he said that if South Carolina makes the right moves (always a huge caveat, but he seemed optimistic) we are well-positioned to become the entry point for the world to the Southeast, and an ever-greater distribution hub. One of the things SC has to get right — opening up the “parking lot” that I-26 has become at key times between Charleston and Columbia.

Otis agreed with me that this stance makes him a lonely guy over at the State House, where both houses almost unanimously rebuked the governor for, as many members would have it, selling out South Carolina to Georgia. Aside from Otis, only Cindi Scoppe has raised questions that challenge that conventional wisdom.

Now, lest you think ol’ Otie has gone soft on the Sanford/Haley wing of the GOP, he went on to say that one of the things business and political leaders must do to help build the SC economy is to refute, challenge and combat the Big Lie that our public schools are among the worst in the country. Because who in the world would want to invest in a state like that?

Not that we’re where we want to be, but as Otie pointed out, on realistic measures of quality, SC is more likely to rank in the low 30s. Which may not be fantastic, but is a far cry from “Thank God for Mississippi.”

On the whole, a fine set of assumption-challenging points from today’s Rotary speaker…

30 thoughts on “Rawl defends Georgia dredging decision

  1. Karen McLeod

    He’s betting against the odds if he thinks SC is going to make the “right moves” during this political free for all.

  2. Doug Ross

    The “big lie” depends on which statistics you choose. You can’t tell someone else what they should use to measure the state.

    Tell us what those statistics are that place us in the low 30’s. It has to be related to absolute performance, not rate of change. It also has to be based on high school performance and nothing else. Companies aren’t hiring elementary students — and aren’t going to base a decision to locate on how well our 3rd graders read.

    Also, if you are considering finding workers to be employed in the Charleston area, wouldn’t an employer look specifically at the statistics related to education within, say, one hour’s drive? Whatever is going on in Columbia, Greenville, and Rock Hill probably doesn’t make much of a difference to an employer in Charleston.

    As a parent who had three kids go thru K-12 in Richland 2, I have no problem saying that the education system was worse at the end of the 16 year period that covered ending last year than it was at the beginning. And it was made worse by the PACT testing that did nothing to improve quality.

  3. Brad

    Actually, Doug, you have to go out of your way being selective to come up with a different conclusion from the one Otis offers.

    If you’d like, I’ll ask him which stats he was specifically thinking of, but I suspect it was an aggregate of all the measurements out there.

    The only way you make South Carolina look at or near the bottom is by citing SAT or graduation rates.

    By almost any other standardized test of whether kids are learning — such as the NAEP, the “nation’s report card” — SC generally ends up closer to the middle than the back of the pack.

  4. `Kathryn Fenner

    Yeah, and he doesn’t like regulations, especially the federal kind, and he really hates Obamacare. What else is new.

    I think the ed stats depend on exactly the methodology and what they purport to show. “Graduation rates” can mean on-time grad rates, grad w/i a certain times frame, etc. I have read that our grad rate is 58% and even less….

  5. Silence

    A lot of the “worst schools” rankings give a lot of weight to teacher pay. In SC it’s going to be a lot lower than in California, Connecticut or NY.

  6. Lynn T

    Rawl is very right on the school quality issue. The “failing school” mantra is a lie, and largely benefits those who wish to drain resources from the public schools for their own political purposes. I’m old enough to know that our schools have substantially raised the educational levels of a large part of our population over the past four decades. We need a stronger focus on early childhood intervention and education, and we need to insure that students don’t suffer because they live in an economically disadvantaged school district, but South Carolina’s schools are not the abject failures that some claim. We need to work on improving the system, not destroying it.

  7. bud

    How does Mr. Rawl propose “opening up the I-26 parking lot”? The obvious answer is a massive, and expensive widening project. Given our general assembly and governor’s disdain for spending money I don’t see that happening any time soon.

  8. `Kathryn Fenner

    He says I-26 needs to be 3 lanes all the way to Columbia.

    I used to travel to Chucktown regularly at odd hours, and it had to be well after 9PM before the traffic eased up much. Not a parking lot, but still heavy. My secret weapon is to take the parallel road (321?) to O-burg. No traffic, no stops….

  9. Juan Caruso

    From what I read lately, mid-state residents’ pessimistic outlook may be reflect just that. http://www.greenvilleeconomicdevelopment.com/rankings.php

    As I have stated earlier in defense of Nikki’s and now Rawl’s Ports opinion, it has also been mine.

    Being a SC political observer for some time, now, I see something else in “Otie’s” recent endorsement…perhaps a cushy office in the Romney administration like Inez got in Obama’s? Stay tuned.

  10. Doug Ross

    I await the statistics that show South Carolina’s education system is ranked in the 30’s.

    But if it has anything to do with elementary school performance, please forgive me if I doubt that matters to employers.

    A state-wide assessment of schools is irrelevant when employers make a decision to locate in an area.

  11. Doug Ross

    The actual “big lie” in education is that spending more money will create better educated students.
    We’ve already seen that idea fail miserably in Allendale.

    Money doesn’t raise IQ’s. Money doesn’t fix broken families. Money doesn’t reverse cultural pressures that hold down people who want to advance.

  12. Mark Stewart

    My view of his unconventional wisdom is simply wow, there is a guy about to be hit by the proverbial bus (named Georgia).

    Savannah vs Charleston is a zero sum game. One will win; there is no competitive pricing value in two deep water ports. That is true of the railroads, however. And wouldn’t it be great if SCDOT would focus on I-26 over the sketchy I-73? I hope he is working to claw back those plans.

    He warning about educational perception does seem correct – as long as we keep trying to improve educational outcomes and develop a desirable workforce.

  13. `Kathryn Fenner

    @Doug–actually IQ is very mutable, especially in the young, and money can go along way to fixing the damage of broken families, and the damages of poverty in general. It may mean intensive tutoring, preschool programs, quality day care for the poor, quality case workers where needed. Instead, we skimp as much as possible, never getting anywhere near the tipping point, and throw up our hands.

    What’s your plan for these kids?

  14. Doug Ross


    I have no plan for “those” kids. There have always been those kids and there will always be those kids… because you can’t buy intelligence, effort, and strong family structure.

    How much money do you think it would take to usher a poor kid in a broken home through to graduation with a high rate of success? $1000 a year more than we spend now? $5000? Tell me what it would cost to fix Allendale SC so that its students are at the median level of educational outcomes within a decade. And then how long do we have to continue that spending before they will be self-sufficient? Then multiply Allendale by every other impoverished town. Where are you going to get the money from? (I know – the “rich”).

    I’d rather hand a check for $10,000 to every poor family in SC and say “Do with it what you think is best for your family” than to spend millions on “programs” with minimal success rates.

  15. Doug Ross


    You got those statistics that show South Carolina is in the low 30’s? I’m sure Mr. Rawl would have those handy if he’s going to make statements like that. I mean, he’s not the type of guy in a position where he would only promote the cherry picked stats, is he? Oh, wait, he is.

    Statistics watch: Day 3 and counting

  16. Brad

    Geez, Doug. I was planning on asking him the next time I saw him.

    But if you’re going to be a nag about it, I’ll email him.

  17. Silence

    Tell him that I really appreciate his charitable work, especially his “Parade of Stars Telethon”

  18. Brad

    Doug, Otis got back to me. Turns out he was talking about measurements I wasn’t even aware of. Here’s what he said:

    Brad,  thanks for spreading the news. The NGA, National Governor’s Assoc., set up standards for reporting. 19 states have reported thus far. Here are some of the states that have reported and their before and after.  As you will see many states have over-reported their success. In the end our 73.6% will look pretty good even though we still have a lot to do

    Georgia  before 80% after  67.4%

    Utah    before  90%  after 75%

    Oregon  before 85%  after  66%

    Alabama  before 86.7%  after 65%

    DC  after 20 % points down

    Florida  before 78.6%   after  76.2%(actually pretty close)

    South Carolina  before 73.6%  after 73.6%( SC has been reporting on standards for 3 years.)

    How would you like to be the Supt. Of Education in some of these states with large reduction have been identified.  SC still has issues and pockets of opportunity, but the data should debunk many of the  myths around education in SC. Should really help on the economic development front.  I will send  you more info as the data comes in. Hope is that we will be in the mid to low 30’s in the rankings. Would not be surprised if we end up in the high 20’s.

    31 states have not reported. We are collecting data as it comes in. As you can see we are not going to be 49th. My guess is that the other 31 states  are going to have significant deviation based on the new standards or they would have already reported. In the case of New Jersey, Gov. Christie point  out that less than 30 of kids in Newark  schools graduate on time.

    Hope this helps.


  19. `Kathryn Fenner

    That so does not answer the question: what does “graduation rate” mean? Number of kids who start first grade and graduate in 12 years? Number of ninth graders who graduate in four? Number of seniors who graduate in one year? Number of people who ever get a diploma? How is it calculated? What were the changes that have so dramatically altered the results?

  20. Doug Ross

    Uh that tells us nothing. What does that % even mean? He didnt say those were graduation rates did he?

    Is it a statistic that employers would use to locate in a state?

    All you gave us was a number. What is it?

  21. Brad

    That number was where Otis expects us to end up once all the states have reported in on those NGA standards, extrapolating on what’s come in so far. As he said, “Hope is that we will be in the mid to low 30’s in the rankings. Would not be surprised if we end up in the high 20’s.”

    He had used that “low 30s” expression on Monday, which is what I was referring to when I said, “SC is more likely to rank in the low 30s.”

  22. Doug Ross

    What are the standards? All you have given us is a number. It’s meaningless with the context of knowing what the number represents. I googled the NGA standards and all I learned is that the standards represent a common curriculum across all subjects for K-12. I can find no reference to any rankings (and how would you measure that anyway – you would need a national test to determine how high school seniors performed on meeting the standards).

    So if Mr. Rawl is going to give a number like 73.6%, he has to tell us what that means. 73.6% of what? There’s a numerator and a denominator required there. Without knowing either number, the “big lie” is 73.6%

  23. Doug Ross

    Here’s some actual numbers that can be assessed by employers:

    Math and Science Readiness: South Carolina ranked 40th


    American Legislative Exchange COuncil:

    South Carolina ranks 50th out of 51


    National Assessment of Educational Progress which measures 4th and 8th graders:

    South Carolina ranks 38th


    And let’s not disregard that there is a big gap racially in these numbers. That’s the elephant in the room that nobody wants to touch.

  24. Doug Ross

    73.6% of what? Inquiring minds who would like to see how great South Carolina’s education system is need to know what 73.6% is.

  25. Doug Ross

    Still no confirmation on Rawl’s “Big Lie”…

    Seems like if someone is going to tout a statistic on how great South Carolina’s schools are, it would be readily available information.

    Unless it’s just pure marketing hype.

  26. `Kathryn Fenner

    Doug–I’m shocked, shocked, that you think he would quote a meaningless statistic. Shocked.

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