On Haley and Sheheen on the ethics bill

This could be a moment to pause and celebrate something. Not the ethics bill that passed the state Senate yesterday (I’ll let Cindi Scoppe tell you about its inadequacies, as she did in this column and this one), but the fact that both candidates for governor are vocal in calling it inadequate:

COLUMBIA, SC — An update to S.C. ethics laws – more than a year in the making – passed the state Senate on Thursday only to be blasted by Gov. Nikki Haley and her likely Democratic challenger for governor in November, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, as not being good enough.

In particular, the two rivals faulted the proposal for not including an independent body to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by lawmakers.

“Let’s be clear, what the Senate passed tonight wasn’t ethics reform – it’s an income-disclosure bill, and while that’s a positive step forward, it’s really only a half-step,” Haley spokesman Doug Mayer said….

Unfortunately, there’s a sour note in this duet:

“Some reform is better than no reform, but this bill is pretty close to nothing,” Sheheen said, before turning his criticism toward Haley. “In order to have open and accountable government, we need full income disclosure, an independent body to investigate ethics violations, and to finally put an end to the governor’s continued misuse of the state plane and vehicles for campaign activities.”…

In defending Sheheen from criticism from our own Doug, I’ve said that a challenger needs to define what’s wrong with the incumbent, in order to give the voter reasons for replacing that incumbent.

But Doug has a point, and once again, Sheheen’s criticism of Haley is coming across as grating. I don’t know how much of it is the content, and how much of it is just a matter of this tone not being natural coming from Vincent Sheheen. This drip, drip, drip of talking points about Nikki feels like the work of consultants; it’s just not the way Vincent naturally speaks. He’s a more affable, get-along-with-people kind of guy.

It would be far better if Sheheen said something like this:

It may not always feel like it, especially when the Senate drops the ball this way on a needed reform, but we’re slowly making progress in South Carolina. Both the incumbent governor and I are taking the same position, which is that our state politicians need to be held to a higher ethical standard. When those who would lead this state are unanimous in calling for more ambitious reform, that’s progress; we’ve moved in the right direction. Now, you’ve heard me say in the past that the incumbent governor has through her own lapses helped illustrate why we need ethics reform. I stand by that, and the record stands for itself. If I thought she did everything right, I’d be voting for her instead of running against her. But today, I want to thank the governor for her leadership in trying to make sure lawmakers don’t commit such lapses in the future, and are held accountable if they do. Whatever she’s done in the past, she’s taking the right position on this now. And I will stand squarely beside her and help with the heavy lifting of trying to move us further forward, and pass real ethics reform. And if I am elected to replace her, I hope she will continue to support this effort. Because all of us who understand the problem — and I think both of us do now — need to work together to overcome the inertia of the status quo.

OK, that’s a little wordy — if I were writing a statement for him I’d tighten it up — but that’s the tone I think he should be striking…

8 thoughts on “On Haley and Sheheen on the ethics bill

  1. Lynn T

    I’ll vote for the grating element owing much to content; it isn’t just tone. Nothing in Governor Haley’s history or character has anything to do with whether the version of the ethics bill that Governor Haley supported was or was not a good bill. In fact, it was an imperfect bill, but probably the best that could possibly have passed in the General Assembly, and one far better than the one that actually passed the Senate yesterday. It deserved the support of both candidates for governor and their parties. It is pathetic and saddening that this played out as it did. No matter who wins the race for governor, South Carolina has lost.

  2. Michael Rodgers

    Here’s what he should have said, riffing and copying from your fuming with impatience.

    I refuse to praise this “reasonable” political compromise that moves South Carolina roughly, barely perceptibly, in the right direction. I insist on advocating for what should happen and on articulating clearly both why it should happen and why there is no rational, defensible reason why it should not happen. While some issues are complicated, the need for real ethics reform is painfully simple and obvious. Even our current governor sees it.

    The excuses for inaction range from the ideological to the moronic. Instead of requiring full income disclosure and establishing an independent body to investigate ethics violations, the Senate passed a half measure towards ethics reform. There is no valid excuse for going halfway. And unless and until we require more from our leaders in state government, the best ethics reform we’ll get is only what they are willing and able to make happen.

  3. Ralph Hightower

    The ethics legislation should include not only those of the General Assembly, but those other elected officials: Governor, Lt. Governor, Treasurer, Attorney General, Adjutant General (whatever that guy in charge of the National Guard is called), Secretary of Education, Secretary of Agriculture, Comptroller General.

    Have I missed any of the elected offices?’

    But Governot Haley will veto any ethics legislation that impacts her.

    1. Lynn T

      Actually the existing legislation does address both legislative and executive branches of government, along with officials in local government. It is only the issue of independent investigation and enforcement that is focused largely on the legislative branch, since they now handle this through internal committees.

  4. Michael Rodgers

    The RGA is praising Haley by criticizing Sheheen, using their positions on the Medicaid expansion. Whoa, that’s a game changer. Sheheen might win now.

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