Go read Cindi’s column on the restructuring proposal

It’s a good piece, rightly taking Democratic leadership to task for their ham-handed attack on the freshmen’s proposal, and also showing due hesitation about a convention.

Of course, Cindi agreeing with me on a “Power Failure” issue is not exactly news, but maybe y’all will like the way she explains it better.

So go click on it. Then go to another device and click on it from there. Because I worry that serious, complex reform issues such as this don’t get enough coverage in an age when it’s all about the clicks. Cindi sort of indirectly alludes to that problem within her column:

I mean, if it weren’t for Trav Robertson’s delusional (or deliberately deceptive, or embarrassingly ignorant) rant, how could I get anybody to read about legislation proposed by most freshman legislators to blow up South Carolina’s government and start over?

Actually, now that I put it that way, maybe that’s something you would find interesting…

One hopes. But just to make sure, go read it a few times. And click through when she gives you links to the two bills, and other links.

It ends on a hopeful note. While a constitutional convention may be dangerous, and while this proposal may go nowhere, this year, it’s very encouraging that this many freshmen actually understand what’s really wrong with state government.

Which makes them the savviest freshman class I’ve ever seen. And that gives me a lot of hope for the future, when these lawmakers have more pull — if they can get re-elected. As Cindi puts it:

Cindi recent mugWhat is significant, hugely significant, is that most of our state’s first-term legislators have decided that South Carolina’s biggest problem is that the Legislature has too much power. And they have concluded that the problem is so dire that it warrants the most radical solution they can think of — within the confines of statutory and constitutional law — because the Legislature is not going to voluntarily relinquish a significant amount of power.

What is significant is that these freshmen understand that this whole exercise is a waste of time unless they make voters understand that their frustration and anger about our state’s failures is a result of the way our government is structured. They say they are willing to invest the energy and resources and time to do that.

If they succeed, we won’t need to take a chance on a constitutional convention, because the Legislature will make the changes itself….

But go read the whole thing

49 thoughts on “Go read Cindi’s column on the restructuring proposal

  1. Doug Ross

    “hat’s really wrong with state government.”

    You’re talking about the 1% that is broken, right?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      In this case, I’m talking about the fundamental structure. But that’s not something that people who complain about government qua government are usually talking about.

      You’re usually talking about the delivery of services, or the characters of officeholders and state employees (which you like to do by name, as those if we got rid of these individuals, it would solve the problem). None of those things is the real problem.

      The real problem is deeper and fundamental. South Carolina government was built, centuries ago, to be unaccountable and resistant to change. You always want to blame that on individuals currently holding office. But the problem started with John Locke…

      Most current officeholders don’t even understand the problem, much less being the cause of it. Which is why it’s so remarkable that this freshmen get it. This is a very special moment…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        To put it another way… you tend to have as much of a beef with the federal government as with the state. (Such as the TSA). You tend to gripe about government in general as a bad thing.

        But the federal government doesn’t have this fundamental, structural problem. In fact, I think our Framers did the best job of its kind in human history.

        On the federal level, it’s the people and the parties that screw things up. On the state level, as I’ve been saying for a quarter-century, things are fundamentally unsound…

        1. Doug Ross

          So if we could get rid of the people and the parties, we’d have a great government? I’m all for that. Term limits would help do that. So would removing all the laws that favor the two parties over third (or fourth parties).

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Again, the best way to accomplish what you want is to take redistricting away from legislators. Those are laws that favor ONE party over others. Term limits just throw out the good with the bad…

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Also, we have a voter education problem. Sure, there are election laws that give the two parties advantages. But the far bigger barrier to independent candidates (I’m less interest in alternative-party candidates, since they tend to be ideologically doctrinaire and sometimes outright nutty) is the fact that voters are incapable of thinking outside the two-party box.

              They’ve been trained to think that way by the parties themselves, by other interest groups, and yes, by media — reporters like the simplicity of a sports competition, in which there are two teams and one wins and one loses. Many journalists seem incapable of thinking of things in any other terms.

              But that’s even more true of the general public. The bane of my existence, as a person who deals in political ideas, are people who believe that if you’re not A, then you’re B. For which reason I’ve spent my career dealing with Democrats who KNOW I’m a Republican, and Republicans who KNOW I’m a Democrat, just because I disagree with THEM…

              1. Richard

                I believe the media is doing enough “educating” us on the positives of the Democratic party and the negatives of the Republican party.

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  That’s your skewed and mistaken impression.

                  Besides, why are you sticking up for the Republican Party? I thought you were a supporter of Trump — the worst thing that ever happened to the GOP…

                2. Claus2

                  “Besides, why are you sticking up for the Republican Party? I thought you were a supporter of Trump — the worst thing that ever happened to the GOP…”

                  Besides, why are you sticking up for the Democratic Party? I thought you were a supporter of Hillary — the worst thing that ever happened to the Democratic Party…

                  See what I did there?

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    What you did there makes NO sense. This is in the context of my deep disdain for both parties, which is extremely well documented. So where do you get such nonsense from?

                3. Doug Ross

                  Not deep enough disdain to stop you from endorsing and voting for Hillary to run the country.

                  I’d call that mildly troubled…

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    Doug, what is it with you that you can’t see the obvious?

                    There was one person in the universe who had a chance of beating Trump in 2016, and that was the Democratic nominee.

                    You can be a nonparticipant and make your empty gestures all you want, but the simple stark fact is that a vote for ANYONE other than her in November 2016 was a vote for Trump. Earlier, votes for other people had a chance, which is why I voted for Kasich. But in November, we were absolutely out of options.

                    If you stayed home, if you voted Libertarian or Green or a write-in, you were voting for Trump. Because any vote that didn’t go to the Democrat in that election was another vote in Trump’s victory margin.

                    What is it that’s so complicated about this?

                    And why do you have so much trouble understanding that the two following things are simultaneously true:

                    1. I can’t stand the parties.

                    2. In the overwhelming majority of elections — maybe 99 percent of them — the only qualified, fit candidates are going to be either Republicans or Democrats.

                    This is not complicated. It is simple, plain reality.

              2. Doug Ross

                “Sure, there are election laws that give the two parties advantages”

                Not advantages. Monopolies. Big difference. Taxpayer funded primaries for the two parties give them complete control of the process. Primaries should be paid for by parties — or run using delegates or conventions.

                “But the far bigger barrier to independent candidates (I’m less interest in alternative-party candidates, since they tend to ideologically doctrinaire and sometimes outright nutty)”

                As opposed to all the current Democrats and Republicans who have created the system that you want to replace? Who’s the nutty one now? Your logic sometimes leaves me completely baffled.

                “is the fact that voters are incapable of thinking outside the two-party box.”

                No, they are just not given equal access to the alternatives. In your role at The State you actually helped to keep the two party system strong by not giving third party candidates equal time. “Oh, they can’t win so we can’t waste time on them”. Third party candidates are excluded from debates as well by rules set up by the two parties. It’s a closed loop system supported by the parties and the co-dependent media who more often than not take the path of least resistance.

                1. Doug Ross

                  Here’s something we could do – remove all references to party from the general election ballots and remove the straight party ballot option from the voting machines.

                  I’d like to see a Democrat or Republican politician offer a valid explanation for why either of those are required – other than to keep third parties from getting more votes and preventing many voters from having to know who they are actually voting for.

                2. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Doug, I can probably count on one hand the number of times we were presented with a viable, non-flaky alternative candidate. There was Bubba Cromer, and, uh… well, there was Bubba Cromer.

                  Once, we endorsed a Libertarian for county council as a way of expressing our extreme displeasure with the Democratic incumbent. She was not a candidate we would normally have considered, nor was she a candidate with a chance of getting elected. It was our way of saying, “This is how bad it is.”

                  Just because it would be cool to endorse independent (or, far less likely, alternative-party) candidates doesn’t mean that good candidates — people I could in good conscience endorse — will arise and run. It would be great if they did, but it almost never happens

                  Yes, we can argue chicken and eggs all day long. You can say, as so many do, “Good independent candidates don’t arise because you don’t endorse them,” but the fact will remain that I didn’t (most of the time) endorse them because they didn’t arise.

                  I’m not going to endorse a bad (in comparison to his or her opposition) candidate just to encourage hypothetical people to run similar campaigns. That would be unconscionable. The candidate has to be, in comparison to his or her opponent, the better choice….

                3. Doug Ross

                  Sure.. but your definition of viable and flaky is probably not the same as the general public. You come to the table with a large set of personal biases that automatically make you resistant to certain candidates. As soon as a candidate who proclaims to be a Libertarian crosses your path, your knee jerk response is likely “flake” or “selfish person who wants to destroy government”. But you (meaning The State also) don’t even give those candidates a chance to let the public decide.

                  Let’s say I chose to run for Governor on the Libertarian Party ticket. Should I deserve to have an interview with Cindi? Should I get some free space on the editorial page to present my platform? Should I be allowed to participate in every debate? Should I be allowed all the same advantages that Republicans and Democrats have? If the answer to any of those is “No” then the system is rigged and the media is co-dependent in that ruse.

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    I think I started out by saying the press is a huge part of the problem — before you engaged the issue. I say that all the time.

                    But Doug, I can only use my own judgment, tested and proven over time to the point that I not only obtained a berth on the board, but became the head of it.

                    Almost everything you just said assumes unlimited resources, and I’d say no to most of them — unless, of course, you had demonstrated some electoral viability that you’re not including in your hypothetical.

                    A journalist, more than almost anyone, has to triage his time…

                4. Doug Ross

                  By the way, here’s the SC Libertarian Party platform… I bet there are several items on this list that you would support and many that would freak you out.


                  Here’s a few amendments Libertarians would like to see enacted:

                  Executive Branch
                  The SCLP supports a constitutional amendment that would make the Governor fully accountable for the Executive Branch.
                  The state’s boards and commissions should be under the Governor so that there will be someone to hold directly accountable for the successes and failures of those organizations. This will ensure accountability to the governor as opposed to miscellaneous legislators. The Attorney General and the Comptroller General should remain independent constitutional offices as a control on the Governor’s power.

                  Judicial Independence
                  The public deserves confidence that judges rule independently of the legislature whose laws they judge. South Carolina is the only state in the nation in which the legislature unilaterally appoints judges even when vacancies arise. The SCLP supports a constitutional amendment that would have the governor nominate judges, with advice and consent from the Senate.

                  On-The-Record Voting
                  The SCLP supports a state constitutional amendment that would prohibit voice votes in the General Assembly and require a recorded vote from each of its members on all matters.

                  The SCLP supports a state constitutional amendment that would permanently place the members of the General Assembly under the authority of the State Ethics Commission and require all elected officials to report their income sources.

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    I’m for all of those, and was on the record as being for all of those, probably before the LP took them up.

                    A constitutional amendment on recorded votes “on all matters” seems overdoing it a bit. I don’t really want a recorded vote on a resolution congratulating USC for winning a championship or whatever…

                    And yeah, I’m sure there are plenty of other items on the LP platform that would make me want to tear my hair out. Of course, the same is true of all party platforms.

                    Similarly, pretty much any party will have some planks I agree with. That’s the problem with parties and their platforms. They’re a mishmash of good and bad ideas…

                5. Doug Ross

                  Every candidate for state wide office deserves a 30 minute interview with one of the leading papers in the state. And should be allowed reasonable access to the editorial page to offer their platform to the people.

                  If you’re telling me that is too much to ask, then I’ll just make my own assumption about that.

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    Well, I can promise you THAT’S not gonna happen.

                    If Cindi even interviews people for more than three or four top offices this year, I’m going to be surprised. And pleased, and proud of her. Because she doesn’t have time to do ANY of them.

                    And when we were fully staffed, we did as many as we could — which would not be as many as you would have had us magically do.

                    We did 50 to 60 candidates in a typical primary back in the day. And at least two or three dozen in the fall. And yeah, except for the very top offices — governor, president, sometimes U.S. Senate — we held them to 30 minutes. It was VERY regimented, to my chagrin — I’d have loved to have had time to let the conversations flow on longer. We’d let them give their stump speech for maybe 5-10 minutes, ask any questions that arose from that, plus a handful of standard questions we had for each office, and they were out the door and bring in the next guy.

                    You have no idea how hard it is to do that many interviews — sometimes four and five a day — between filing deadline and election day, plus additional research time on each, plus the meetings on each office at which we made our decisions, plus writing and editing each endorsement… all while getting the pages out every day, full of OTHER topics we were discussing, researching and writing while all this was going on. (Doing this in the last weeks of a legislative session was particularly brutal. Again, South Carolina should move its primaries to August.)

                    Really. You have no idea.

                    My great regret is NOT that I didn’t find additional time (perhaps by giving up sleeping at night) to interview candidates who I knew had zero chance, and/or we knew we wouldn’t endorse base on what was already on the record (although we often talked to the latter category if they requested the meeting, come to think of it, assuming they were in a competitive race).

                    My regret — the thing I wished I could have waved a wand and had extra time for — was that we couldn’t endorse in school board elections. It could have been so helpful — people know next to nothing about school board candidates, unless they are themselves insiders. The potential to help readers make more informed choices was enormous. But with seven districts just in these two counties, that would have doubled our overall interview load, and that was completely and utterly impossible…

                6. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Doug, we had comments passing each other earlier, and I missed where you said this:

                  “Here’s something we could do – remove all references to party from the general election ballots and remove the straight party ballot option from the voting machines.”

                  Amen to that.

                  Of course, some people would go in the opposite direction. Such as Catherine Templeton, who wants to close the primaries.

                  Not only should our primaries be open, we should have ONE primary including all parties and independents, with the top two vote-getters going head-to-head in the general.

                  Failing that, every voter should have the right to vote in both primaries. Everyone one of us has a stake in who both major-party nominees are. We all have a right to have a say in BOTH leading candidates on the ballot in November….

            2. Richard

              “Term limits just throw out the good with the bad…”

              Give them time and history has shown they all turn bad.

                1. Claus2

                  I believe you might be on to something, not all turn bad… some of them don’t get re-elected before they have the opportunity to turn bad.

                  I’m sorry, I realize you idolize politicians like some idolize rock starts or sports figures… but most politicians can’t be trusted any further than you could throw them.

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    Again, you’re saying things that are completely unsupported by anything I have ever said or written.

                    What I have made amply clear, over and over, to Doug and others here is that politicians are just people, no better or worse than other people.

                    There is nothing inherently wrong in being a politician any more than there is anything inherently right in it.

                    And the belief that there IS something inherently wrong in it is a particularly pernicious notion that is destroying our country. E.J. Dionne was writing about that, just today. It was a good piece. Those of you open to reason should read it…

  2. Lynn Teague

    The sponsors of this bill have been accused of everything but abusing kittens for daring to suggest it, but we absolutely need a rewrite of the SC constitution. Is a convention the safest way to do it? No, section by section amendment allows less room for nonsense. On the other hand, our fundamental rights aren’t protected by the state constitution anyway, that is the federal constitution.

    I don’t know all of the sponsors of this bill, but I’m reasonably certain that the overwhelming majority of them are trying to do just what they say they are trying to do – fix the worst underlying problem in SC state government. I hope they don’t give up on that essential goal.

  3. bud

    … this whole exercise is a waste of time unless voters understand their frustration and anger about our state’s failures is because of the way state government is structured.”

    Let’s be 100% clear about what this statement is and what it is not. It is absolutely NOT, repeat NOT a statement of fact. It IS an assertion, an opinion, a belief. Characterizing this as fact does not make it so.

    1. bud

      In scientific terms what we have is a hypothesis. A hypothesis can be tested wit evidence, facts. First of all is it true that voters are frustrated and angry? The best test for that is their voting history. If they are truly frustrated and angry they have the option of voting out the offending legislators. Yet this is rarely done. The GOP dominates, especially at the highest levels. Granted some of this is the result of the propaganda machine that falsely portrays failed policies as successes. The 1992 restructuring debacle is a great example of that. There really was no attempt to quantify the results of that legislation. So despite ruinous impacts on the ability of state government to function Carroll Campbell got away with proclaiming it a success. Facts suggested otherwise. Trooper strength fell while traffic deaths soared. That was the result of massive spending required to break up an effective agency. Did The State report this? No. That would have refuted their notoriously biased assertion.

      While I maintain a sense of optimism that effective changes to state government CAN be made, it is foolish to go down this path in a Willy-nilly effort to foist changes without first addressing failures from the past. The State did the citizens of this stat much discredit for its failures. Let’s hold THEM accountable this time.

  4. Harry Harris

    The over-arching factor in my opposition to anything suggested in the proposal for restructuring is the current polarized nature of out politics. I don’t want fundamental political foundations re-structured in such highly partisan times. Political structures affect economic, educational, health care, religious, law-enforcement, personal freedom, and many other parts of our society and lives. I don’t think, frankly, SC has had a really good governor since Richard Riley. Ideologues like Sanford and half-Sanford Haley, are more the rule than the exception., often getting in on one-issue opportunism (Hodges), or dangerous undercurrents (tea party). Giving more authority or power to a Mark Sanford or the present Governor is dangerous in this polarized. one-party dominated environment. The “accountability” argument is just naive. An ideologue in education or health care can do great damage to citizens and the organizations they lead in much less than four years – look at what Haley and her appointed health czar did or what Mick Zais did in education. We need, in my opinion to have power spread out, but to find sensible smaller reforms to build both consensus and accountability. Now is a time to seek some effective, non-ideological smaller changes, but to not put our foundation at risk in a toxic environment.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      In other words, you’re taking the conservative position, which I can appreciate.

      A government in which power is “spread out” as you say — such as here in the Legislative State — is the ultimate conservative position, because it makes it extremely difficult to find a place to insert a lever and effect change.

      If you want change, you want to concentrate power so that you can push on that spot and make change happen.

      By the way, a lot of people — including some of those freshmen, I suppose — think that a few entrenched lawmakers have the power to run things according to their will.

      Not really. Once upon a time, but not now. Once, before single-member districts, senators had huge influence over their counties, but no more. And once, legislative leaders like Edgar Brown had the power to make the Legislature do this or that. But for the most part, no one has that, beyond an ability to stop things. Gone are the days when a Gov. Fritz Hollings could go see one lawmaker with a bottle of whiskey, and by the time they’d drunk it, have a technical college system…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I’m being conservative myself, by fearing a constitutional convention.

        I need to have a talk with Micah and see how he thinks we can make sure the delegates have as firm an understanding of our state government’s structural problems as he does, and the same sense of responsibility.

        I worry about whom might be appointed or elected to that convention, and where the convention might go once the delegates get together…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          For instance, a convention could go here.

          Not really. However the delegates are chosen, a majority wouldn’t go for that. But you get the idea — things could get pretty far afield…

        2. Doug Ross

          You only like representative government in concept, not practice. Why worry about whom would be appointed? Surely the SC Legislature is working in all our best interests… they are all good and righteous and smart and ethical and caring and compassionate and empathetic.

          Stop being cynical.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Doug, the stakes are SO much greater than in normal representative government. In normal representative government, different people are elected at different times by different constituencies, and there’s a chance for all sorts of points of view to be heard (at least, there is until one party captures the redistricting process, which is why we need reapportionment reform). And if you lose a policy argument this year, it can be revisited the next year. There’s give and take. It’s organic. It’s ongoing.

            With a constitutional convention, you get one shot, and the decisions are permanent. You can’t go to the polls the next year and undo it. You might have to wait another 123 years. It’s a scary amount of power for one group of people in one moment in history to have.

            So, yeah, I want to see what sort of safeguards exist in Micah’s plan…

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              To put it more simply, in a constitutional convention the reality AND the theory are wildly different from the way they operate in normal representative government….

    2. Doug Ross

      “dangerous undercurrents (tea party)”

      Yeah, those few Tea Party politicians turned nirvana into a vast wasteland. It was so much better before Rand Paul was elected. And the destruction that occurred under Sanford and Haley in the state was just devastating. Oh, wait, it pretty much ran as it always did? Or did I miss all the danger?

      Dangerous is ludicrous.

      1. Harry Harris

        You missed it. Haley, following Sanford, pushed and pushed lowering the top income tax percentage to the point of blocking sales tax reform and highway funding by a gas tax. Haley cost the state and countless citizens access to health care coverage by refusing to expand Medicaid to more working folks, while claiming to have some “better way” that never happened. The state patrol went through turmoil. ,Sanford and Haley contributed greatly to the further demise of morale among educators, and helped Mick Zais get elected to SS of Ed. The biggest explosion in predatory lending in memory saw more “payday” lending jobs created than anything in SC including prison expansion. You probably missed the pain, but overlooked the damage.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I didn’t miss anything.

          But I know that probably the only way to overcome something like the Legislature’s opposition to expanding Medicaid would be a popular governor with a bully pulpit.

          Which do you think would be more likely to happen — James Smith, who favors expanding Medicaid, getting elected, or electing a Democratic majority to the Legislature? You need one or the other even to have a serious conversation about it in the halls of power.

          And Mick Zais, to me, is an argument against the Long Ballot, not for it…

          1. Harry Harris

            Long before Zais, I advocated for years doing away with the elected State Supt of Ed. An appointed one (by the governor) would likely be worse because of the doctrinaire nature of some governors and the whipsaw effect of a change in administration. I have proposed an empowered state school board, six appointed by the governor, six appointed by the legislature, and six elected by region statewide. As opposed to today’s state board, they would hire and fire the Superintendent (on merit), set most policy, and approve budgets for submission to the legislature. They would have no role when not in session (or committee) to avoid interference with administration. All meetings and committee meeting would be open and subject to FOIA rules (unlike cabinet meetings). Under today’s system, the State Supt and legislature effectively make policy, and the board really has little more than advisory power. Too often, policy is made by folks with little or no experience, slanted information, shallow understanding, or popular “wisdom.” We need informed, diverse, dedicated-to-the task people setting policy and evaluating results with the power to hire and remove the chief officer as needed.

            By the way, Prez Trump and Sec DeVos are likely to have Zais installed as Deputy Sec of Education. Horrors!

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Zais surprised me, in a bad way.

              He was a retired general. People like that usually have very little interest in ideological garbage. They tend to be more pragmatic, thinking in terms of, “How do we get this task done?”

              Then he came on like a typical Tea Party idiot, sounding like he’d been spouting extremist slogans his whole life. He tried to out-extreme the extremists. The kind of people who’ve never thought in terms of serving the country, people whose entire identity is tied up in being accepted by their little political clique.

              That makes him unlike almost every career officer I’ve ever known. They tend to disdain that sort of thing as one of the less-appealing characteristics of civilians…

              1. Harry Harris

                You would probably be shocked by his approach to staff. His demeanor was insulting; he was insular, and he thought he was everybody’s boss, though the district personnel work for a superintendent who work for a school board. The results were demoralizing at all levels. You would think a military man would understand the importance of good morale.

  5. bud

    The election of Donald Trump despite great pains by the founding fathers to prevent such a thing just screams at how utterly absurd it is to suggest a more powerful governor will produce better candidates. I find it horrifying to grant the governor MORE power. That is a very bad idea.

      1. bud

        Trump was not, NOT democratically elected. Stating that he was democratically elected or worse he was the people’s choice drives me crazy. So no, Trump does not suggest democracy has failed. To the contrary his “election” is a great argument in favor of an actual democracy.

  6. bud

    Let me suggest a totally contrarian view. Perhaps our government is really isn’t doing such a bad job. Roads are getting built. Schools are in session. The parks are operating. DHEC is keeping our environment clean. Sure we can use an infusion of money in certain areas. But all in all things are not all that dire.

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