Video: Sheheen explaining his restructuring bill in 2008

I was looking for a picture of Vincent Sheheen to go with the last post, and ran across this video clip that I had forgotten.

It’s from the meeting on January 29, 2008, when he unveiled his restructuring plan to Cindi Scoppe and me, in the editorial board room at The State.

It’s short — the camera I used then would only shoot video for three minutes at a time — and there are several other clips from after this one that I did not upload.

But I share this one because in it, he shows how well he understood the actual power situation in South Carolina.

When talking about South Carolina’s unique situation as the “Legislative State” (even back in 1949, when some other Southern states had some similar such arrangements, political scientist V. O. Key called South Carolina that in his classic. Southern Politics in State and Nation), we tend to use a lazy shorthand. We say that SC lawmakers don’t want to surrender power to the governor.

That glosses over an important truth, one that we elaborated on in the Power Failure series back in 1991, but which I don’t stop often enough to explain any more: It’s that the Legislature, too, lacks the power to exert any effective control over state government. This leads to a government in which no one is in charge, and no one can be held accountable.

There was a time, long ago — pre-WWII, roughly, and maybe for awhile between then and the 1960s, which saw expansions of government programs on a number of levels — when lawmakers actually could run executive agencies, at least in a loose, informal way. On the state level, agencies answered to boards and commissions whose members were appointed by lawmakers. On the local level, they ran things more directly, calling all the shots. This was before county councils were empowered (more or less) in the mid-70s.

But as state agencies grew, they became more autonomous. Oh, they kept their heads down and didn’t anger powerful lawmakers, especially at budget time, but there was generally no effective way for legislators to affect their day-to-day operations. And while lawmakers appointed the members of boards and commissions, they lacked the power to remove them if they did something to attract legislative ire.

And on the local level, the advent of single-member districts broke up county delegations as coherent local powers. Yes, we have vestiges of that now — the Richland County elections mess is an illustration of this old system, as is the Richland recreation district and other special purpose districts, all legislative creations — but largely, they’re out of the business of running counties.

Increasingly in recent decades, the main power wielded by the Legislature has been a negative power — the ability to block things from happening, rather than initiate sweeping changes. And that’s what the General Assembly is best at — blocking change, for good or ill. That’s why the passage of this Department of Administration bill is such a milestone.

Anyway, while he doesn’t say all that stuff I just said, in this clip, Sheheen shows that he understands that no one is actually in charge, and that someone needs to be, so that someone can be held accountable. Or at least, that’s the way I hear it.

You may wonder why I think it remarkable that a state senator would exhibit such understanding of the system. Well… that’s just rarer than you may think.

7 thoughts on “Video: Sheheen explaining his restructuring bill in 2008

    1. Norm Ivey

      We’re not in it to make money…

      Anything we’re interested in, we can go back in and copy it on paper….

      Thanks for sharing this, Bud.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      FYI, my early mentor Reid Ashe ran Knight Ridder’s experiment in e-news in the mid-80s, called VuTron. Basically, you dialed in (remember before we connected to the internet, and computer connectivity was one computer talking to one other computer at a time?) and got text news from KR papers.

      Here’s how unready the market was at that time… by the end, Reid was giving away computers to anyone who would subscribe, because there just weren’t enough PC owners out there to have a readership. Note that it was a paid service. This was before newspapers made the oft-lamented decision to offer their content online for free…

  1. Scout

    I like things like this because it is refreshing to see people who are able to think on their feet and explain things genuinely that is not like a memorized polished sound byte talking point. So you know he understands what he is talking about; he’s not just parroting what someone else wrote.

    I don’t see Haley being able to do that so much. Maybe she can and does and I just don’t get to see it. I don’t know. But my impression is she doesn’t have this kind of grasp of the underlying details of most issues. And that she avoids the kind of interviews like this one to hide that fact.

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    Interesting you should say that…

    My impressions of politicians over time are based on having conversations such as this one with them, often over the course of years.

    It is the cumulative effect of such discussions that caused me to see Vincent as much more qualified to be governor than Nikki Haley.

    Our friend Doug will demand to know, “What’s so great about Vincent Sheheen? Where are his great accomplishments in office?” And sometimes, I don’t know how to answer him, because I’m not thinking in his terms. I’m thinking that I really know these people and have reached certain conclusions about them. Sometimes I forget myself what caused me to form an impression of a politician as someone who understands our system and how it needs to change. A video like this is for me a welcome reminder.

    Nikki Haley has different talents. She is able to present herself well and connect with an audience. She does that much better than Vincent does. And that is actually an important leadership characteristic, particularly in the job of governor of SC, where the power that exists lies to such a great extent in the bully pulpit aspect. (Some of that is negated by her penchant for making enemies, which cuts into that effectiveness.)

    Sheheen’s two greatest strengths are these: First, he’s a really smart guy who understands how things work and has good judgment. Second, he’s a trustworthy young man of excellent character who sincerely wants to serve.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Also, to address Scout’s supposition that Nikki “avoids the kind of interviews like this one to hide that fact”…

      Well, I don’t remember her coming in with a grand scheme for reform based on her personal insights into the way things work, the way Vincent did here, but she did come in for extensive interviews.

      That said, I’m at a disadvantage in terms of showing you video of such interviews.

      The main occasions for her to have an editorial board interview were when she first ran for office in 2004, and when she had opposition in 2008. The first time, I hadn’t started blogging yet, and therefore wasn’t shooting photos and videos in our meetings.

      The second time, a terrible thing happened. Y’all may recall that my laptop was stolen from my truck on election night, 2008. Because I had just been through a grueling season, I was three or four months behind on backing up my photos and videos to an external hard drive. So I lost everything I’d shot of Nikki during her interview with us that fall.

      All except this one clip, which I had already uploaded to YouTube and used on the blog. In it, you see her talking about an issue that she had spent a good bit of time studying — payday lending. At the time, I found some of the stuff she asserted slightly dubious, but overall she made a good impression, as usual, and we endorsed her for re-election to the House — because she was much stronger than her Democratic opponent.

      The only reason this clip even exists is that I departed from the practice I had during that period of uploading to an account controlled by the newspaper — all those clips are gone (as you can see with these missing clips of Nikki and her opponent). I don’t know why I loaded this particular one on YouTube, but I’m glad I did.

      The really interesting thing in this clip is that Nikki used her account of what transpired on the payday lending bill to stick it to the leadership. This was before her open rebellion over rollcall voting. But if you have the context, you can see her basically saying, “I’m the heroine here; the leadership are the bad guys.” She seemed to me at the time to be doing so somewhat reluctantly — note how I had to drag Harry Cato’s name out of her — but later, I came to doubt that…

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    There are six comments on this thread, and three of them are by me.

    I’m not complaining; I just say that in order to set up the observation that blogging turned out to be way different from what I expected.

    One of my main reasons for starting a blog, back in 2005, was to share content just such as this — in-depth, behind-the-scenes sort of stuff to which I was privy as an editorial page editor. What we published in the paper was way less than the tip of the iceberg, in terms of material that lay behind the opinions that we published.

    I figured the blog would enable y’all to see what I saw and hear what I heard. I would write full reports on every interview, every meeting with news makers.

    Well, I quickly discovered that there wasn’t time enough to do that. I couldn’t have such meetings, and get the paper out, and stop and write, even briefly, about each one of them. As for video… well, even if I didn’t edit them in any way, just putting one up on the blog was time consuming. And if I tried to edit it — say, splice together highlights from a number of clips, in order to make it more watchable — then it ate up hours that I did not have.

    Then, gradually, I discovered something else — even when I presented this extra material, it was sort of greeted by a ho-hum response.

    As contrasted with the daily political gossip item of the day, which you could read about a thousand other places.


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