‘Power Failure’ problems still plague South Carolina

Yesterday, at Jack Van Loan‘s gathering for Steve Benjamin, the mayor at one point — in talking about the strong-mayor system — invoked “Power Failure.”

He does that frequently when I’m around, which causes me to think he does it to flatter me. But he always does it relevantly. For those who don’t know what “Power Failure” was, a brief description that I put together recently:

South Carolina is different. It took me about three years of close observation to understand how it was different. I realized it toward the end of the incredible summer of 1990, when one-tenth of the Legislature was indicted, the head of the highway patrol resigned under pressure after helping the head of the local FBI office (which was investigating the Legislature) with a DUI, the president of the University of South Carolina resigned after a series of scandals, and… well, there were two or three other major stories of malfunction and corruption in state government, all at the same time. Under my direction, The State’s political reporters stayed ahead of all the competition that summer, and broke at least one story that even the feds didn’t know about. All this fed into my determination to explain just why our state government was so fouled up. There were reasons, and they were reasons that were peculiar to South Carolina, but they were invisible to most citizens.

I proposed to The State’s senior management that they let me undertake a special project that would let the voters in on the secret. They agreed, and turned the resources of the newsroom over to me to use as I needed them for the “Power Failure” project. Over the course of a year, 17 multi-page installments and more than 100 stories, we explained why ours was the state government that answered to no one. And we set out a blueprint for fixing it.

That helped lead, the following year, to a major government restructuring, creating a cabinet system and giving the governor actual control over a significant portion of the executive branch. It didn’t go nearly far enough. Only about a third of the government, measured by share of the budget, answers to the elected chief executive. But it was a start…

As it happens, I had occasion today to look back at a reprint of the series, and I continue to be struck by how relevant it remains.

The series was about much more than the fact that the state’s executive branch was governed by a bewildering array of boards and commissions that answered to no one. It was about more than making the governor accountable. It went into problems with local government, the judiciary, and other aspects of government at all levels.

The sad thing is that while that reprint is old and yellowed, being 21 years old, so much of what it described remains unchanged.

I was reminded of that in this morning’s paper. We see that a Nikki Haley ally is planning to run against Glenn McConnell for lieutenant governor next year. This is portrayed as a sort of dress-rehearsal for 2018, when the governor and lieutenant governor will run together on a single ticket. That is a tiny, tiny movement toward the “Power Failure” recommendation that we stop electing all these constitutional officers separately from the governor.

Meanwhile, the bill to replace the Budget and Control Board with a Department of Administration answering to the governor hovers out there, and maybe, maybe it will actually be enacted in the next legislative session. Nikki Haley has been pushing hard for that since entering office. Rival Vincent Sheheen has been pushing for it longer than that, and he still is doing so. From a Sheheen op-ed last week:

Government restructuring is Job No. 1


Posted: Thursday, October 3, 2013 12:01 a.m.

Post & Courier·

  • It’s time to take another giant step in reforming South Carolina’s state government to improve accountability for the hardworking people of our state.

Over the last few years, South Carolina has gone backwards in so many areas — we’re now one of the toughest places in the nation to earn a living and achieve the American dream, while our government has failed on its most basic functions. But one of the places where we are moving forward is in modernizing our state government in an effort to improve accountability.

Last year, I introduced S. 22, a restructuring bill to overhaul and reform South Carolina’s legislative and executive branches. I worked across the aisle to ensure the bill speedily passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support. Then it was altered and passed late in the session by the House of Representatives.

A conference committee has been appointed to hammer out the differences in anticipation of the upcoming session. So now we have an exciting opportunity to reconcile the two versions and make history for our state….

Actually, you should probably go read the whole thing, at the Post and Courier.

The reprint is old and yellowed, but we’re still struggling along with the same problems. Still, let’s celebrate what we can. I for one am thankful that both Haley and Sheheen back reform, and that maybe this one change is about to happen. Beyond that, there’s a lot more work to do.

7 thoughts on “‘Power Failure’ problems still plague South Carolina

  1. Doug Ross

    How many people in power 21 years ago are still in positions of power? Term limits would help in limiting the ability to acquire power thru seniority.

  2. Ralph Hightower

    If S.22 does reach the governor’s desk, Governot Nikki Haley won’t sign it.

    Why? Because her opponent for governor is the one that wrote the legislation.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Yes, she would portray it as her own victory. And she HAS been promoting it energetically, so she has a certain right to do so. At the same time, this is Sheheen’s legislation, and he was working on it first.

        Basically, it would be a win for both of them, and for South Carolina.

        1. Doug Ross

          That would be an interesting power play – invite Sheheen to the bill signing and put him behind Haley for the photo op. Would he show up?

  3. bud

    It continues to astound me how so many really smart people still believe the 1992 restructuring made things better. It really didn’t. We still rank way down on every list of quality of life category. We continue to elect ridiculous people to high office like Mark Sanford. If the State newspaper had really done it’s job AFTER the restructuring took effect maybe, just maybe people would be better educated as to what actually occurred in the mid 90s. But The State was so invested in the success of restructuring there really was zero possibility of any meaningful follow-up. And we continue to flounder at the bottom like a Lake Marion large mouth bass at the bottom of a fishing boat.

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