Ethics, schmethics — what on Earth is really going on?

First, the good news is that maybe, just maybe, ethics reform did NOT die in the SC Senate yesterday.

And, on the whole, that’s a good thing. Because while the bill is far from perfect, it’s better than no ethics reform at all.

Vincent Sheheen and Wes Hayes made the bipartisan case for ethics reform in an op-ed today. It was more in the vein of why we need reform, period, than why we need this particular bill. For more of a breakdown on the good and bad qualities of both the House and Senate bills, see this piece by Cindi Scoppe from Sunday before last. After discussing inadequacies in the Senate bill, it concluded:

The good news is that there’s still a chance to add the missing provisions to the bill and shore up the shortcomings, and at least give us a fighting chance of a strong bill coming out of the final conference committee. But there’s a lot of work to be done. And the clock is ticking.

Oh, if only senators were as conscientious as Cindi, and I, and most sensible people, would like them to be.

Rather than worrying about whether the ethics bill had everything in it that it should have, half of the Senate (which is all it took) engaged yesterday in a bipartisan effort to kill such legislation altogether.

I had a terrible time figuring out why they were doing this, from the story in the paper this morning. This was not the reporter’s fault. The problem was that the senators had no reasons that made sense.

The Republicans of the Tea Party wing who voted against putting the bill on special order had a stated reason. But it was just “reason” as motive, not “reason” as logic. It was, in fact, completely batty. They said they didn’t want to spend the time on ethics reform because they wanted to spend it on their 1830s-style bill to nullify Obamacare. Really.

A big reason the bill WAS put on special order today, reversing yesterday’s vote, was because the more sensible Republicans agreed to go along with the demand that the nullification bill be considered, too. Again, really.

But at least there was a certain clarity to the Republicans’ lunacy. Here are the stated Democratic “reasons”:

State Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, said there is no urgency in passing the bill, adding its passage by the GOP-controlled House, only four weeks ago, left the Senate with too little time to consider ethics reform.

State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said Democrats still have concerns about the proposal that need to be worked out, including the composition of the committee that would oversee ethics complaints against lawmakers. Hutto held up getting to the ethics bill Wednesday by debating a bill that would direct money left over from the state’s budget year that ends June 30 to different projects.

Hutto criticized Haley and other lawmakers for saying that protecting taxpayers against the theft of their personal information — such as the hacking incident that happened last year at the state Department of Revenue — was a top priority when little, he said, has been done to address the problem…

Also, they don’t like the way Nikki Haley spells her name. And they don’t like to put bills on special order on days of the week that start with “W.” OK, I made those last two up, but they make about as much sense, in terms of relevance.

This caused me to dream up reasons. I thought that maybe this was some of the Democrats’ way of hurting Nikki Haley and helping Vincent Sheheen, whether he wants such help or not. (Sheheen was one of the four Democrats voting for special order yesterday.) The idea being to block Nikki Haley’s bid to get credit for ethics reform (in spite of, or perhaps because of, being a poster child for why we need ethics reform), while Vincent’s out there voting for it and writing op-eds in favor of it.

But that theory is a little over-elaborate. It requires voters to blame Nikki for something Democrats did. And even if that worked, they’d have to kill the bill next year, too.

I’m afraid the more likely explanation is simply that these guys are opposed to ethics reform. That’s the Occam’s razor version, and probably the right one.

Anyway, today’s action offers reform a chance this year. We’ll see.

5 thoughts on “Ethics, schmethics — what on Earth is really going on?

  1. Bart

    Did I not read recently that Haley and Sheheen were working TOGETHER on an ethics bill? Or was it my imagination maybe I need new reading glasses.

  2. Doug Ross

    Since it is people and not a faceless entity who make these votes, here are the Senators who aren’t really interested in a more ethical legislature… and isn’t odd in the first place that we would even need legislation to try and reign in the unethical behavior? These are supposed to be upstanding citizens elected to public service. If they weren’t so crooked, we wouldn’t need the bill.

    Against making ethics reform a priority… there are at least three names here who are probably scared the bill will pass. Probably more.

    Republicans (7)

    Lee Bright, Spartanburg Kevin Bryant, Anderson
    Tom Corbin, Greenville Tom Davis, Beaufort
    Hugh Leatherman, Florence Shane Martin, Spartanburg
    William O’Dell, Abbeville

    Democrats (13)

    Karl Allen, Greenville Robert Ford, Charleston
    Brad Hutto, Orangeburg Darrell Jackson, Richland
    Kevin Johnson, Clarendon Gerald Malloy, Darlington
    John Matthews, Orangeburg Yancey McGill, Williamsburg
    Floyd Nicholson, Greenwood Kent Williams, Marion
    Glenn Reese, Spartanburg John Scott, Richland
    Nikki”Where’s My Mileage Money?” Setzler, Lexington

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    Now here’s a case where my view of legislative responsibility and Doug’s overlap.

    I tend to speakl of the culpability of the Legislature as a body, and that upsets Doug. He wants to blame institutional failure on particular individuals. Specifically, he always wants to blame Hugh Leatherman in the Senate, and Bobby Harrell in the House.

    That is usually inappropriate, in the cases under discussion. Doug is supposing that these individuals wield the kind of power that, say, Edgar Brown once did. They don’t. The House Speaker is largely defined by the majority of members who elect him, and his positions tend to reflect those of that majority. In the Senate, individualism rules the day. Individual senators are almost like separate countries, forming alliances for one purpose or another (and the organization of the Senate along partisan lines — the moment Republicans got a majority, about a decade ago — introduced more tendency toward Groupthink than anything else, but party remains a less potent force than in the House), but remaining individuals.

    Sure, in a body like the Senate, individuals can do a great deal to block or slow down reform. But the individual who does so is more likely to be someone like Jake Knotts than one of the people Doug tends to name.

    In this case, one of those individuals decided, AS an individual, to vote against special order. Hugh Leatherman stands out on that list. You expect Lee Bright, Tom Davis and Kevin Bryant to vote that way; they are members of the nullificationist caucus — (and, ahem, ardent Ron Paul supporters). Not Leatherman.

    So yeah, he’s culpable for that. Just as the other 19 are.

    I’d also like to know why my senator, Nikki Setzler, voted against it. I suspect it was for a bad reason — but not the thing that Doug (and his opponent in the last election) try to paint him with. I fear it was party loyalty, since only four out of 17 Democrats voted for special order.

    Those four, by the way, were Creighton Coleman, Fairfield; Joel Lourie, Richland; Thomas McElveen, Sumter; and Vincent Sheheen, Kershaw.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      It’s interesting that the four Democrats who voted for reform were all from Midlands counties (which is a way in which Setzler stands out, in a bad way).

      Once, I might have flattered myself (privately, not daring to do so in print) that the editorial page of The State had played some small role in persuading those local guys to vote that way.

      But in this case, Vincent’s long been for this reform, and he has no closer ally than Joel (with the possible exception of the third musketeer, over in the House, James Smith). So that explains two of them right there. I don’t know enough about McElveen’s and Coleman’s positions.

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