Sheheen was wrong to blame Republicans, embarrass Hayes

A Tweet this morning from Wes Hayes, the Republican senator from York County, brought my attention to this statement he had put out on Facebook:

It has come to my attention that a press release circulated by South Carolina Democrats today makes potentially misleading claims on my position and motivations for co-authoring an Op-Ed with Senate colleague Vince Sheheen calling for bipartisan efforts in the Senate to pass ethics reform.

All my years in the State Senate, I have sought to work both sides of the aisle to deliver reforms to make our state stronger; today’s Op-Ed is simply a continuation of my willingness to put partisanship aside to benefit our citizens.

The fact is that Governor Nikki Haley has been a champion for passing meaningful ethics reform and has worked closely with the legislature to ensure real reform is accomplished to rebuild the public’s trust in their elected officials. Even in the wake of partisan gamesmanship, she has led the collective efforts to get this passed. Governor Haley is to be applauded for her efforts, not attacked. It’s time to move forward in the Senate and pass this important legislation.

Please read the OpEd I co-authored with Senator Sheheen here:

Sen. Hayes has my sympathy for apparently getting in trouble for doing the right thing. I’m not sure what “press release circulated by South Carolina Democrats” made “potentially misleading claims” about his position. I had seen a release from Kristin Sosanie over at SCDP, which forwarded a message sent out by Phil Bailey of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

All Ms. Sosanie had said was:

ICYMI – Sen. Sheheen teamed up with GOP Senator and “Dean of Ethics” Wes Hayes in an op-ed in The State this morning calling on elected officials to put politics aside and finally pass ethics reform for South Carolina.

Which I thought was rather nice. I almost commented on it yesterday, it’s so unusual for one of the parties to refer to a member of the opposite party in such laudatory terms as “Dean of Ethics.”

That comment from Ms. Sosanie led into the forwarded email from Phil Bailey, which said:

Sheheen & Hayes urge electeds to put politics aside, stop delaying ethics reform in bipartisan op-ed

Columbia, SC- Today, Sen Vincent Sheheen penned an op-ed with Republican Sen Wes Hayes, calling for the Senate to put politics aside and immediately pass ethics reform in order for SC government to regain public trust. Sen Sheheen also released this statement:

“For the past seven years, I have fought for government restructuring and ethics reform. For the last three weeks, I have worked across the aisle to improve the House’s watered-down ethics bill so that it will actually reform ethics laws. For the past two days, I have voted and spoken up for the need to pass ethics reform. It’s time for the Governor, her Republican leadership in the legislature and members on both sides of the aisle to come together and finally pass real reform.  The partisan bickering has to stop.  The naked self-interest of the governor and other officials has to stop.  We need real ethics reform, now.

“For months now, members of both parties have talked about the need for ethics reform. But action hasn’t followed. I am disappointed that for the past several days the Senate has delayed taking up ethics reform. Enough is enough. The Senate needs to move on ethics reform today, and the legislature should not adjourn until all its work is completed and that means we have reformed our ethics laws.”

Read Sen Sheheen’s bipartisan op-ed with Sen Hayes in today’s State newspaper:

That was followed by the text of the op-ed.

Maybe it was another release, but if it was that one, well… it doesn’t characterize Sen. Hayes position or motivation in any way, other than to say that he and Sheheen “urge electeds to put politics aside, stop delaying ethics reform.” And the op-ed did indeed conclude:

Together, we can effect real change, but those who are holding this effort up must start by putting politics aside and putting the interest of the people of South Carolina first.

So what was misleading? Nothing — technically. But only technically.

If this was indeed the release in question, all I can conclude was that Hayes was blamed by some fellow Republicans for the language attributed in the release to Sheheen, specifically:

It’s time for the Governor, her Republican leadership in the legislature and members on both sides of the aisle to come together and finally pass real reform.  The partisan bickering has to stop.  The naked self-interest of the governor and other officials has to stop.  We need real ethics reform, now….

I have two things to say about that:

  1. First, someone in the GOP caucus needs to work on his reading comprehension skills. But that’s a minor point.
  2. More importantly, Vincent Sheheen did the wrong thing in putting out that statement. And Phil, and whoever else was in a position to advise him not to should have spoken up. But the responsibility lies with Sheheen.

This was wrong for Sheheen to do on several levels. There he was, fixed firmly on the high road with his joint op-ed with Hayes, and he has to come out with a statement the next day blaming the governor and the Republicans?

Did Sen. Sheheen not notice that only seven Republicans voted against putting the ethics bill on special order Wednesday, while 13 Democrats did? And at least the Republicans had an excuse — namely, that some of them are certifiable, and trying to revive nullification.

The Democrats who voted against didn’t have a coherent excuse — not even a loony one.

Finally, it was completely inappropriate to embarrass Sen. Hayes by associating him, however indirectly, with such a comment. No, no one said that Hayes had said these things — you have an airtight defense there. But it was wrong to go on the defensive against the governor and her party within the context of talking about the op-ed — especially since the Democrats have so much more to answer for on this issue.

It was even against Sheheen’s own self-interest to do this. This was a leadership opportunity for him, a chance to impress independents and even some Republicans with statesmanship. What he should have done was chew out his fellow Democratic senators who had voted the wrong way.

Wes Hayes was doing the right thing. I’m sorry if it got him in hot water. This is the kind of mess that keeps people from stepping out from behind their parties and leading.

I hope Vincent Sheheen is sorry about it, too.

29 thoughts on “Sheheen was wrong to blame Republicans, embarrass Hayes

  1. Brad Warthen

    I thought some of y’all would find this interesting.

    I guess I should have written it inverted pyramid.

    Trouble is, I only realized at the end what the point was (because only then did I focus on the offending part of the release).

    But hey, I put the point in the headline…

  2. Kathryn Fenner

    Well, it is sort of “dog bites man.”
    SC Republican does something reasonable and then has to disclaim it, for the base….see also, Graham, Lindsey

  3. Doug Ross

    I suspect Vincent Sheheen is working under the direction of Democratic consultants who will ultimately cause him to lose in 2014.

    All I want is a politician to speak open and honestly, without consideration of political strategy. They are few and far between. Steve Forbes was my earliest favorite. Ron Paul, Michael Bloomberg, Christie fit that mold…. I may not always agree with them but I don’t think they are driven by consultants.

    1. Scout

      “All I want is a politician to speak open and honestly, without consideration of political strategy. ”

      Wouldn’t that make them, almost by definition, not a politician.

        1. Doug Ross

          I gave a few examples of politicians who are able to speak honestly. It can be done.

          1. Mark Stewart

            Steve Forbes only wanted to be a politician. Voters didn’t see him that way.

          2. Scout

            Alright I was being a little bit cynical. But I wonder if we need a different word for elected officials who seem less politically motivated in their speech like you describe. Or is the term “politician” truly synonymous with “elected official” which seems to be how you used it. Seems to me it could be argued that elected officials and politicians are two different groups with a whole lot of overlap. But occasionally you might have one that is not the other. To be a politician denotes to me a certain savviness with understanding people and the relations of people and an intuitive knowledge of how things can/need to be stated based on who you are talking to and what your aim is. It doesn’t have to be a negative thing though it can be used that way.

  4. Kathryn Fenner

    You are less likely to have to act like a politician if you are self-funded. Public finance, exclusively, for elections would help even the playing field.

    Being in a “safe” constituency helps, too.

    1. Mark Stewart

      But money is what we use to validate choices. Public money for all would not promote candidate viability; it would, in fact, lead to a diminishment of overall quality. On the other hand, contributions within the political sphere should be fully and openly documented. That’s where things get really insidious.

      I don’t care that out of state interests try to use South Carolina as a petri dish for socio-political experimentation of absurd ideologies. But we should all know who they are supporting, and to what degree.

      On the original topic, I am still unclear why the Democrats in the Senate would vote against ethics reform. Granted they are as corrupt, and maybe more so, than the Republicans, but was this really just about not wanting to support something that Haley wanted (well, says she wants now)? Or were they just concerned that a less “mailable” process might result in more politicians either being publicly rebuked or tossed out of office – and as the minority party holding to the belief that they would be more likely to be singled out? Or, worst of all, were they really voting to torpedo Sheheen as a signal of displeasure over his running again for Governor? In any event, it isn’t going to be easy to peel off moderate Republican voters when the Democrats vote almost as a block like that.

      1. Scout

        I like the idea of every candidate having the same amount of money to work with – then you would have another criteria to judge by that would be a way to measure how effective a candidate is at managing a limited amount of resources – which is one thing they will have to do in office. If everyone has the same amount and only the same amount – then you can judge who makes the most of it given the same resources. Now how to bring about every candidate having the same amount of money to spend I don’t know.

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          I fear that after several Supreme Ct. decisions, it would take an amendment to the Constitution….and the light bulb has to want to change….

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          So… the person who is best at managing an ad budget should win? I’m not sure that should be the criterion.

          I’m going to side with the free market people on this one.

          Raising money is a lousy measure of a candidate’s viability and worth, but at least it’s a measure. It means this person managed to get X number of people to cough up money for their campaign, so right away they’re representing somebody. They don’t stand alone.

          David Broder disagreed with me about parties. He actually thought what was wrong with modern politics was that parties had become weak. Back in the old days, the smoke-filled room days, representing a party meant you could answer the old ward-heeler’s question, “Who sent you?” In other words, somebody somewhere thought you had something to offer. It’s not just you raising your hand and getting to step to the front rank.

          Money does that, too.

          People who advocate public funding of elections are always talking about the kinds of candidates who would be able to come out of nowhere and be on a fund-raising par with incumbents, instantly. They think it would be awesome if “ordinary” folks with untested, often fringe ideas, would be on the same level with the “pros.” This is, to them, inherently good, because they believe in pure democracy. Also, they kinda like some of those fringe ideas.

          Having to sell your ideas in a marketplace at least provides some sort of test, some sort of filtering, before you get to step to the front rank of political viability.

          With government financing campaign, suddenly Alvin Greenes will be “viable” candidates all over the place; that situation wouldn’t be such a fluke. Very democratic, but not necessarily good for the republic. (One reason Greene won was because his opponent assumed he was going to win, and very little money was raised and spent — or what was raised was saved for the general election. So ability to raise money didn’t perform a filtering function.)

          Where this breaks down in an Internet age is that even fringe ideas can raise a good bit of money. Via new media and technology, a person with an idea that appeals to only 5 percent of the populace can reach almost everyone in that 5 percent and get them highly motivated. It’s why people with minority ideas on, say, gun control can dominate a party’s nomination process and have power beyond their numbers.

          But I digress…

          1. Kathryn Fenner

            You get the support of those who have the bucks to donate….and their influence. Ordinary folk don’t get much say until the voting booth, and by then the choices are not so great a lot of the time….

          2. Scout

            Well I don’t think the person who manages money best should necessarily be the one to win – it would just be one of multiple factors to consider. It would be an additional data point – a possibly relevant one, since managing limited public resources could well be part of an elected official’s job.

            I do realize that such a system could produce more Alvin Greene’s potentially, which is why I said, I don’t know how you’d pull this off exactly. I left it open ended because I recognize there is more to be worked out and I don’t have that answer. You’d need some kind of rigor involved in becoming a candidate that would ensure only serious candidates get through but that is also not discriminatory. I don’t know what that would be.

            I just wanted to get the idea out there that I think an equal contest to see who is able to do the most with the same resources could potentially be a valuable piece of information.

  5. Brad Warthen Post author

    Actually, I think y’all are using the word “political” and its various forms more negatively than I would.

    There is nothing wrong with politics. There is nothing wrong with being “politically motivated.”

    To act, speak and think politically, to me, is to act, speak and think in a manner that is likely to be effective in dealing with other human beings. This can be done to a good purpose or to a bad one.

    Lots of people don’t want their elected officials to be politicians. I do. There’s nothing more useless than an elected official who has all the best intentions in the world, but lacks the political skills — speaking, understanding others’ motivations and other people skills — to get anything done.

    I know that if I were an elected official, that’s something I’d have to work on. I’ve always been about choosing exactly the right position and describing it as well as I can — which is not the same thing as working well with others to get something done. You have to care about what they want as well as what you want, or you’ll find yourself isolated and ineffective.

    I had a boss once who said I would have to decide whether I wanted to be right or be effective. Well, of course, I preferred to be both. But if forced to choose, my tendency has been to choose to be right. Which can be a significant barrier to getting things done.

    And don’t think I mean “right” as in morality, as in “right” and “wrong.” I’m talking about being pedantic, as in MY version of right. Something about being an editor, worrying about just the right words, can make you that way. And it can militate against interpersonal effectiveness.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      This is one reason why I decry being “partisan,” which I tend to use the way other people use “political.”

      I think we’re groping for the same negative thing when we use those terms. For me, the thing I object to is a political mode in which one substitutes some value such as party cohesion for intellectual honesty. I believe parties breed intellectual DIShonesty, but so do other things. The will to win over everything, for instance (which is strongly identified with parties, but one can becoming overly concerned with winning outside the partisan context, as well).

      That’s not to say the will to win is a bad thing. It’s necessary. To paraphrase the point I made before, a candidate may have the best intentions in the world, but if he can’t win an election, he’s useless. A good candidate has an obligation to make winning a priority and not let down those who believe in him.

      The problem is when winning is the ONLY thing. When one wins at the expense of everything else. Which is one of the things that parties are about.

    2. Scout

      That’s what I was trying to get at when I said ” To be a politician denotes to me a certain savviness with understanding people and the relations of people and an intuitive knowledge of how things can/need to be stated based on who you are talking to and what your aim is. It doesn’t have to be a negative thing though it can be used that way.” But I think you said it better. I think the difference between if it is a negative/positive is if you use your political skills for the common good versus the party good or to reach a purely ideological end.

  6. Doug Ross

    In my view a politician is an elected official who works for his own self interest. He doesn’t do what is right, he does what he does to either get re-elected or obtain something of personal value. A politician can be counted on to compromise his principles when it serves HIS interests. Most elected officials fall into this category.

    1. Mark Stewart

      And this is different than a businessperson – or a clergyman (person?) – how?

      I agree that there is too much corruption in public office; especially in SC. I am just not sure that being a politician is a bad thing in and of itself. Or being an attorney. Or a real estate developer for that matter.

      I give politician’s the benefit of the doubt first. Only if their record betrays them do I call them out.

      We need to be judicious in our condemnation; I think the vast majority of elected officials achieve their office with dreams of improving society. The rot that creeps in, if it does, comes later when some subsume themselves to their own weaknesses. Let’s not condemn them all. They are us, after all.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      On another thread, I wrote,

      Sometimes I get the impression that, just as Mitt Romney says corporations are people, Doug thinks the government is a person — and when you pay taxes, that person takes the money and puts it in his pocket. He then goes out and buys whatever he wants with it — movie tickets, chewing gum, iPads, lattes, whatever strikes his fancy.

      That’s because he writes of the government, and politicians, as though they are GREEDY the way only individuals can be — personally acquisitive, chock full of cupidity, and THAT’S why they levy taxes… so they can get money with which to buy their movie tickets, chewing gum, iPads, lattes and so forth.

      And then I read THIS comment by Doug (above) and that seemed to fit so closely to what I was saying).

    3. bud

      Me thinks you paint politicians with an overly broad brush. Mark’s point is spot on. There are many clergy who are guilty of child molestation. Does that make them all perverts? Does ENRON prove all businessmen are greedy bastards who would sell there own mother down the river for a buck? I suggest humans are fallible no matter what their occupation.

    1. Doug Ross

      Isn’t fairly obvious that if you have to enact legislation to rein in the illegal activities of a particular group of people, they are likely generally behaving in a manner that deserves it?

      Was Operation Lost Trust a minor event or just a flareup of a widespread disease?

      1. Scout

        So does the fact that we have enacted legislation to impose speed limits mean that we are generally speeders? I don’t think so. It means that the consequences of speeding when it does occur can be severe and are worth guarding against.

  7. Silence

    One of the problems is that we have allowed the legislature to police themselves, for the most part. It hasn’t worked so well.

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