Little-noticed fact: Sheheen has had a stellar legislative year

I don’t disagree with any of the “experts” who say Nikki Haley is the favorite to win the gubernatorial election this year.

But I do take exception to this observation:

The panelists stopped short of criticizing Sheheen, whom Winthrop University political science professor Scott Huffmon called “a great candidate” because he came so close to knocking off Haley last time. But when asked by Bierbauer what Sheheen has done in the past four years to strengthen himself as a candidate, they mostly kept silent….

That silence suggests something that we frequently hear here, particularly from Doug: That Sheheen hasn’t been a leader in his job as state senator.

Sheheen has done little to  tout his successes as a lawmaker.

Sheheen has done little to tout his successes as a lawmaker.

Actually, in terms of being a guy who gets things done in the Legislature, Sheheen has done quite a lot.

In the past year, significant progress was made on two things that Sheheen has been pushing vocally and visibly: The elimination of the Budget and Control Board and 4k expansion.

Argue how much of that was Sheheen if you’d like. For instance, his opponent had identified herself strongly with the restructuring initiative. But the fact is that Sheheen was pushing this bill, and working on his colleagues to promote it, since well before Nikki Haley ever decided to run for governor. (Which is kind of how long it takes for a good idea to seep into the heads of a majority of lawmakers.)

Those aren’t his only accomplishments. He was a significant player in the ban on texting-while-driving. The first two are much more impressive to me, however, as reflecting the kinds of strategic, fundamental changes that we need for South Carolina to progress.

What puzzles me is that we don’t see Sheheen touting these successes as a reason to vote for him. Instead, we see money and effort wasted on repeated attempts to get folks angry at the incumbent about the Department of Revenue hacking.

I don’t know why…

39 thoughts on “Little-noticed fact: Sheheen has had a stellar legislative year

  1. Doug Ross

    “I don’t know why…”

    Because what you think is important isn’t important to most people. Restructuring government is just shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic for most of us non-inside the Gervais street circle. And 4K preschool/babysitting won’t see any meaningful benefits for at least a decade and a half — if they can be proven at all.

    People care about jobs at the state level, first and foremost. Haley can’t be touched on that issue this time and is why she will win. After that, my guess is that at the state level people are interested in roads as well as higher education costs and opportunities – which in my view should focus more on the tech college program and less on the big two universities . K-12 education is a local government issue. The hacking scandal was trivial.

    Sheheen lacks the money and the personality to win. He’s run a horrible campaign by almost all accounts. He offers Democrats nothing but being Not Haley. He inspires no passion. He takes no risks (which as the obvious underdog he should be doing). Haley has improved year by year in the job and that’s why she’ll win. (Unless Will Folks decides to release his alleged book in October).

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          2001. Wow, that is SO many years after my concert-going days.

          I think maybe I’ve been to one concert since then. It was awesome. It was Elvis Costello, and he performed at this venue in Charlotte (or as he said, SHALL-lot) that made it all that much better. I don’t know the name of the place, but it’s essentially a basketball court with boxes of seats arranged around it. The stage is at one end of the court. No one stayed in their seats; everyone went out to stand on the court. So it was like being at a high school dance in the gym, only the garage band playing the dance was Elvis. Very intimate setting. He was amazing. I had no idea he was such a good guitarist, or such a good live performer. For whatever reason, I had thought a lot of his magic was produced in the studio. I was wrong…

    1. Norm Ivey


      Please don’t equate the teaching profession to babysitting. 4K teachers are trained, certified professionals. Whatever your opinion of the teachers you’ve had dealings with, as a profession in general, they are good people who have invested their time, their money, their emotions, and their careers to educating our children.

      1. Doug Ross

        Norm. . All three of our kids attended 4 year old preschool at a local church. I know exactly what our experience was. It was a half day of play time and socializing and snacks and crafts and reading stories. It didn’t alter their educational outcome. Most of us over the age of 40 didn’t go to preschool and we somehow managed to get by. I didn’t demean those who teach at that level,. I simply stated what I believe – that it had little impact on educational outcomes.

        1. scout

          A few points

          * I suspect your 3 children didn’t grow up in the culture of poverty with the accompanying low vocabulary and literacy exposure that is typical of that situation – so for your 3 kids, it probably didn’t change their educational outcome. However, the 4k expansion bill targets at risk children in poverty who do have those issues. I don’t think you have any data relevant to whether it will affect their educational outcome.

          * the 4k expansion is full day with emphasis on research based instruction in literacy and language skills, so it’s quite possible that the half day church preschool experience might not measure up to what we are talking about. However, I must say that there is absolutely nothing wrong or non-educational about a half day of “play”, crafts, snacks, socializing, and reading for a 4 year old. Children at that age learn by doing and what looks like unstructured “play” can be more planned than you think and be quite educational especially depending on the conversations that are happening around it – Oral Language is where it’s at in preschool learning.

          * Most of us over 40 who didn’t attend preschool and made it OK, also didn’t have to experience anything like what kindergarten is now when we were 5. It’s a whole different animal. Once again I think your data is irrelevant to the current situation.

          1. Doug Ross

            And your “data” hasn’t resulted in any better outcomes in graduation rates. I want to see proof that going to 4 year old preschool results in noticeably higher high school graduation rates. After two decades of all sorts of changes in the education system (smaller class sizes, teaching to the standardized tests, handing out laptops to everyone, etc.) what have we seen in terms of the end result? Are kids smarter? Are they better prepared for college? Are they better prepared for entering the workforce? The answer is no.

            Educators will come up with all sorts of “research” to justify all kinds of government funded programs. We rarely if ever see that research follow through to the ultimate objective: students achieving a level of literacy and competency to allow them to graduate high school, attain higher education goals, and be productive members of society. What we get is “we saw a 3.2% increase in 4th grade reading scores for free lunch eligible students”.

            I saw one of the “new” ideas which will be implemented at a local elementary school. Student desks have been replaced with a plus sign shaped table where four students sit — each one staring at the side of the head of another student. There isn’t anywhere in the room where the teacher can stand without at least one student having his back to the teacher. This is supposed to encourage the new buzzword in teaching “project based work”. Total b.s. What we learned from our kids doing projects in middle and high school was that some kids did the work and others did nothing — sort of like real life.

            And the walls on the corridor for the classrooms is all glass! No, that won’t be a distraction in any way! It boggles the mind how we allow school districts to get away with this stupidity.

    2. scout

      “Because what you think is important isn’t important to most people. ”

      Kind of like having the requisite knowledge to begin learning to read in Kindergarten doesn’t seem to be as important to you as high school graduation rate…. for some reason. Not that high school graduation isn’t important, but I don’t understand why it seems to be the only stat that matters to you.

      You say what can be learned at 4 can be learned at 5. That may be technically true of some things; only trouble is what needs to be learned at 4 isn’t being taught at 5. Kindergarten now is what 1st grade used to be essentially in a lot of ways. If you get to kindergarten not being ready, you will progress slower and likely remain behind – and those that remain behind frequently get frustrated and eventually …. drop out. (see it relates to your favorite stat).

      I really don’t understand how you can rationally believe that 4k is just babysitting.

      Do you not accept that brain development goes through a critical period in the first few years of life? – i.e. some things if not learned then just don’t take as well or at all later – some neural pathways if not stimulated, atrophy and cease to exist. This is particularly true of auditory pathways and language stimulation, all of which are foundational for reading.

      Do you not accept that many parents in SC are deficient in the language skills and habits needed to stimulate their babies brains despite the fact that they want to do whatever they can for their baby? Their babies brains are primed to absorb new vocabulary, but the parents themselves don’t have the vocabulary to give them, but when the kid gets in school later the vocabulary will be in their textbooks and coming out of their teacher’s mouths and they will be lost. If they start hearing school vocabulary at age 4 or younger when their brains are still primed for rapid language acquisition, it sticks better and they have more of a foundation when the true academic learning starts.

      Do you not accept that the literacy skills and habits of most parents living in poverty are not sufficient to expose the child to the knowledge of what books are for, how you hold a book, which direction you turn the pages, that you turn pages one at a time, that letters make words, that books have words and pictures, and the knowledge of which is the word and which is the picture, etc – background knowledge that most middle and upper class children just absorb simply by being around people who read to them and who read themselves as part of their daily lives or for their jobs and have houses full of things that can and are read while the child is there.

      You seem like a rational enough person to understand and concede each of these points. I don’t see how these points can not lead to a conclusion that we need more formal early childhood education in South Carolina due to the impact of low vocabulary and low literacy skills known to be associated with poverty on the ability of parents to prepare their children for kindergarten during their critical learning period.

      There is more I could say but I won’t. Because I haven’t found a way to have you hear me yet. Since we’ve had this conversation a few times before. And you still seem to only care about high school graduation rate.

      If measures of kindergarten readiness at the beginning of kindergarten showed an appreciable difference between children in poverty who attended 4k and those who did not, would that matter to you?

      It is likely that reasons for dropping out of high school are multifaceted. I suspect 4k is only the beginning of the solution – I believe it will keep them on the track longer but there are many other factors that can derail them later. So it won’t be a panacea, and you may never concede that it helped at all.

      But I think that changing the quality of life of a kindergartner is a worthy enough reason. It is painful to watch a child that wants to please and doesn’t have the skills to do what is being asked of him through no fault of his own. And that happens a lot in 5k in SC.

        1. scout

          I’m doubtful that that is the reason. But I will sum up.

          What needs to be learned at 4 is not taught at 5.

          If you don’t have it at 5, you will likely remain behind……..and possibly drop out.

          4 year old brains are in a critical period of language development.

          Parents living in poverty aren’t equipped to give their kids what they need to know language and literacy wise at 4 to be prepared for kindergarten as it is today at 5 – because they usually have poor language and literacy skills themselves.

          Hence – 4k expansion to give at risk kids the preparation needed in language and literacy.

          Middle class and higher kids typically get this in their home environments.

          No, it will probably not be a panacea for the high school graduation rate – these kids have a lot of other challenges that will affect that too.

          Doesn’t mean they won’t get further. Doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.

          1. Barry

            I agree with you Scout.

            My wife taught kindergarten for 11 years in a private church school.

            I think you sum up the challenges, opportunities, and realities quite well.

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    “Because what you think is important isn’t important to most people.”

    You mean, because most people don’t understand why the important issues are important.

    On that basis, we can agree.

    What South Carolina needs is fundamental change, down on a foundational level that most people never even look at — and therefore make the mistake of not caring about.

    If you say it’s “shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic,” you’re really failing to understand. Restructuring state government is about laying an entirely new keel for the ship, and correcting the structural flaws that make it likely to sink if it strikes an iceberg.

    Addressing the dire need for early-childhood education is about changing the course of the ship, so that it doesn’t strike the iceberg to begin with.

    These are the things that matter, the things that lead to having a state where the addition of good jobs isn’t news any more, but routine, what we come to expect. They’re about catching up to, and even passing, the rest of the nation. And we have a long, long way to go…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      To further agree with you…

      Sheheen doesn’t emphasize these things, I suppose, in part because it’s just too much work to explain to people why they matter.

      Another reason is that it’s hard to use them to bash Nikki, and that seems to be the campaign’s central theme — she’s a bad governor, so you need a different one. These issues, and the texting one, don’t play into that well…

      1. Bryan Caskey

        “Sheheen doesn’t emphasize these things, I suppose, in part because it’s just too much work to explain to people why they matter.”

        Huh? Isn’t that a fundamental job of a politician?

    2. Doug Ross

      Which would be more important – 4K education or a high school vocational education initiative consistent with what many schools in other states have? I really want to see the evidence on outcomes for 4K students that justify the cost. Will we see a marked improvement in graduation rates for those students? I doubt it. What you learn at 4 can be learned at 5.

      As for restructuring, please tell me how we assess whether it worked or not.

      If they let me run Sheheen’s campaign, I would guarantee a victory if he did what I said. Make everything about jobs. Here’s the five messages I would tell him to put out there — and to not mention the Governor again for the next 90 days. At least this would make him interesting… and put Haley on the defensive.

      1) We need to increase the gas tax to repair our roads. The tax dollars collected will turn into jobs for South Carolinians and will provide the infrastructure we need to grow the economy across the state. I know people hate taxes, especially when they see so much waste in government… but let’s pass a gas tax with an initial three year duration. Judge me on what we get done and if I fail, you can vote me out in 2018.

      2) I’ve done the hard work required to implement 4K kindergarten but that’s not enough. We can’t wait ten years or more to see the benefits of that legislation. We need to focus immediately on implementing world class high school vocational education across the state, piggybacking on the great success of our technical college system. We want students who choose not to go to college to have opportunities to enter workforce upon graduation. Our state needs mechanics, nurses aids, carpenters, and all sorts of good, honest, hark working tradesmen and women. We want people to become productive members of society and the best way to do that is by having a job.

      3) Our tax code is too complex. I will push for a flat tax on all income above twice the poverty level and make April 15th just another great day in South Carolina for our citizens.

      4) We need to have a discussion about race in South Carolina. Too many black South Carolinians are held back by funding policies and bias in this state. At the same time, there are some problems that are more prevalent in the black community that I will call on the political, civic, and church leaders of that community to work with me to address. I will start that process with a symbolic gesture – working every day while I am your Governor to remove the Confederate Flag from the State House grounds. It’s time to put that history behind us and move forward.

      5) I know there are some fine people in this state with deeply held religious convictions. That is one of the freedoms we should treasure as Americans. But those religious convictions do not require the government to enforce specific policies that allow people to be treated differently than others. Let me lay this on the table – Gay people have the right to have their commitment to each other recognized by the state as a legal marriage. If you cannot vote for me because I accept the reality of the world we live in, I will just have to try and win without you.

      1. Doug Ross

        Brad – you have my number in case the Sheheen campaign wants to hire me . I’ll work for free but expect a bonus if he wins. The bonus? Letting me be the one to take down the flag when it happens.

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        Doug, I would almost — almost — hire you to run my UnParty campaign. I’m completely with you on numbers 1 and 4, but we’d have to have some hard discussions about some of the others.

        For instance, take number 3. I’ve long been an advocate for comprehensive tax reform. (In fact, it was one of the six major pieces of “unfinished business” I wrote about in my last column at the newspaper.) But a flat tax isn’t the cure. Among other things, we need to stop overrelying on the sales tax, quit making businesses shoulder most of the property tax burden, make the sales tax apply to services as well as goods, get rid of the auto sales tax cap and eliminate most if not all sales tax exemptions.

        Of course, that brings us back to my, and Vincent’s, wonk problem. We’ve studied the problems facing our state for years, and we’ve concluded that the real solutions are things that don’t fit well on a bumper sticker or have great curb appeal to people who are NOT policy wonks.

        That makes it tough to connect with people emotionally, which — I’ll freely admit — your approach would help him (and me, theoretically) do…

      3. Bryan Caskey

        I’m comfortable with all of those proposals. If Sheheen proposed that, I would vote for him, and I’m slightly to the right of Genghis Kahn.

        I’ve “evolved” to use the President’s word on the issue of the confederate flag. In college right when all the controversy hit, I was in favor of keeping the flag up in it’s (then) new location on the grounds, but I’ve changed my position over time, after thinking about it in the context of history.

        I actually ought to do a whole post on that issue.

        1. Silence

          1) Swap the gas tax increase for an elimination of the H-tax. Book it. Done.
          2) The world needs ditch-diggers too, so OK.
          3) Flat tax is better than the status quo, but eliminating the income tax would be better still.
          4) I’m with “College Bryan Caskey” in that I don’t mind the flag. I like how it still bothers people. That said, let’s take it down because it may be causing us to lose out on economic development opportunities. I’m practical, if nothing else.
          5) Civil rights for everyone, even homosexuals.
          6) Eliminate the sales tax exemptions. Good idea. I don’t want to pay 2,000 tax on a 20,000 car though, or 4,000 tax on a 40,000 car. Plus, then I’d still get stuck with the personal property tax annually besides. They pretty much already get you on the cars. I’d probably continue to drive a beater.
          AND I WILL ADD:
          7) Licensing for mopeds and mandatory helmets on mopeds and motorcycles. Human powered bicycles don’t need a license though. I am SICK of all of the g/d mopeds.

            1. Bryan Caskey

              Right….we just need to ban the automatic mopeds, the high-capacity mopeds, and the ones with bayonet lugs.

              Common-sense moped regulation that we can all agree on, right?

            2. Norm Ivey

              Not suggesting we ban anything. Just encouraging us all to drive as if the other driver–regardless of what he’s driving–has a right to be on the road as well.

          1. Doug Ross

            Silence says “2) The world needs ditch-diggers too, so OK.”

            I think that is one of the misconceptions that has been unfortunately firmly rooted in many regions of the country regarding vocational education. It’s not about ditch diggers. The vocational school I attended in Massachusetts 35 years ago had programs for computer science, electronics, drafting, culinary arts, graphic arts along with the traditional auto mechanics, carpentry, welding, etc. programs. We spent every other full week in our “shop” and then doubled our English and Math classes in the next week.

            It can have a far greater impact on the community than 4 year old preschool ever will.

            1. Doug Ross

              Here’s a link to a world class vocational high school’s program:


              How many students (and parents) would jump at an opportunity to do this:

              “During the freshman year, students explore all of Assabet’s eighteen technical areas for two hours over the first two weeks of school called the Mini-Exploratory. Upon completion of the Mini-Exploratory, students select six technical areas to explore further for one week called Freshman Exploratory. Following the completion of the Freshman Exploratory, students choose the three technical programs they would most desire for permanent technical program placement. Each student is notified of his or her placement in the beginning of January and will remain in that technical area for the remaining 3½ school years of technical program training.”

              You think South Carolina could make use of high school students who graduated with over one thousand hours of technical training in the following areas:

              Drafting & Design Technology
              Metal Fabrication
              Precision Machining & Automated Manufacturing
              Electrical Wiring
              House Carpentry & Millwork
              Painting & Design Technologies
              Computer Programming & Web Development
              Design & Visual Communications
              Automotive Technology
              Auto Body Repair
              Culinary Arts
              Health TEchnologies

            2. Bart


              After reading your list, it reminded me of several similar classes offered while I was in high school. Classes in carpentry or shop as it was called, home economics which several guys took that did include learning how to cook – not necessarily on the trained chef level, typing – a class that has served me well for decades, drafting, and a math course for use in everyday living.

              I agree with you, if SC would look at the benefits of a curriculum like the one you outlined, maybe more of our young people would graduate with useable skills instead of humanity courses that provide nothing that would enable them to earn a very good living. Not all students are going to be doctors, lawyers, or CPAs. Not all jobs are 8 – 5 white collar.

              Vocational schools are a great idea. Now, if our state leaders would listen and understand their value, maybe South Carolina could start to move to the second rung on the ladder climbing out of the pit of ignorance we find ourselves living in.

            3. Danny Noonan

              I planned to go to law school after I graduated, but it looks like my folks won’t have enough money to put me through college.

      4. bud

        Well written Doug. I don’t believe they would work to get Sheheen elected but you put some thought into those points and I applaud you. (Everybody take note. I disagree with some of what Doug wrote but he wrote it well and that’s worthy of an attaboy).

    3. bud

      Restructuring state government is about laying an entirely new keel for the ship, and correcting the structural flaws that make it likely to sink if it strikes an iceberg.

      Doug is more correct on this than Brad. Restructuring just never does what it’s proponents say it will do. It’s something journalists get some sort of intoxicating buzz over but in the end the changes just result in a whole lot of disruption to the rank and file workers who continue doing as they did before. Or, in the case of the 1993 restructuring actually make things worse. Perhaps the BCB changes will be more benign but at the end of the day not one South Carolinian will notice any change. Fundamental change can only take place at the ballot box.

      1. Juan Caruso

        “Restructuring just never does what it’s proponents say it will do. It’s something journalists get some sort of intoxicating buzz over but in the end the changes just result in a whole lot of disruption to the rank and file workers who continue doing as they did before. ” – Bud

        ‘Your observation of general trustworthiness of proponents is historically valid. Well said, Bud.
        Public daycare for wasted minds is the truer, underlying purpose of K4 for the intended recipients. Not so, however, with many church-sponsored pre-school programs.

  3. Silence

    There was a young lawyer from Camden
    Who pursued state reform with abandon
    He expanded four-kay
    Made a board go away
    And was quite popular with Ugandans

  4. Silence

    A candidate for governor tried
    To reform the system from inside
    He was quite liberalizing
    And banned texting while driving
    But he will not stand up for gay pride

  5. Silence

    Young Vince had no lack of accomplishment
    Of his co-sponsored bills we’re all cognizant
    But when November comes
    We’ll just vote for some bums
    And the winner’ll be from the Subcontinent

  6. Silence

    When local taxpayers got hacked
    The state senators all had our backs
    The revenue department
    Got constant bombardment
    And from our guv did this detract


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *