Category Archives: Meetings

What I ended up saying to Rotary


Your suggestions — especially Kathryn’s — led more or less directly to my drafting the words below, which I delivered to the Capital Rotary Club at the Palmetto Club early this morning.

I pretty much zipped through the prepared stuff in order to get to my favorite part — questions. But here’s what I started with:

I was asked to come talk about the current election, and I hardly know where to start.

I think I’ll start with PREVIOUS elections.

We’ve been talking quite a bit on my blog this week about The State’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton on Sunday – or rather, to put it more accurately, The State’s endorsement of the person running against Donald Trump. The paper has no love for Secretary Clinton.

Of course, my responsibility for The State’s endorsements ended when I left the paper in 2009, but it remains a subject that highly interests me.

It was noted in the editorial that this was the first time the paper had endorsed a Democrat for president since 1976.

Someone – a person I’m pretty sure almost always votes Democratic [is that fair, Kathryn?] – asked on my blog why we endorsed all those Republicans. Which is a fair enough question to ask me, since I don’t like either party, and think they have both been enormously destructive to the country in recent decades.

I could only answer for the elections in the years when I was on the editorial board, so here goes:

In 1996, We liked Dole better than Clinton – although by the end, I had my doubts about Dole, and asked Tom McLean, who was then editor, to write it instead of me, which he did. But personally, I still voted for Dole.

In 2000 — We liked Bush better than Gore – as a board, anyway – personally I was rather noncommittal. I was lukewarm on Bush because I had much, much preferred John McCain to him, and had argued very strenuously for endorsing McCain in the primary. We had endorsed Bush instead, which was probably the biggest argument I ever lost as editorial page editor. Also… I worked in Tennessee in the 70s and 80s and got to know Al Gore, interacted with him a good bit, and liked him. But after eight years as Clinton’s vice president, I liked him less. On election night, I remember the lead changing back and forth, and at each point, I couldn’t decide how I felt. I only knew that when the Supreme Court decided Bush had won Florida, I was relieved, and grateful to Gore for promptly conceding at that point.

2004 — We disliked Kerry more than we disliked Bush (if you look back, you’ll see most of the editorial was about Bush’s flaws, but ultimately we didn’t trust Kerry on national security – and for me, that tends to trump everything)

2008 — My man John McCain was running, although we liked Obama a lot. That was really an unusual election for us at the paper. For once, the two candidates we had endorsed in their respective party primaries back at the start of the year faced each other in the general. So we were happy either way, but I had been waiting 8 years to endorse McCain, and I wasn’t going to miss my chance. Besides, Obama was untested. We trusted McCain’s experience.

In 2009, I was laid off from the paper for the sin of having too high a salary when the paper was desperate to cut costs. So I wasn’t involved in 2012, or this year.

Another way to explain our preference for Republicans over the years, a very simplistic one: we were essentially a center-right board, and as long as the GOP remained a center-right party and the national Democrats were so ideologically liberal, we would tend toward Republicans. But I don’t like that overly simple explanation because I don’t like the liberal OR conservative labels, and we prided ourselves on being pragmatic. [I then went on a brief digression of our official point of view, which we called, rather oxymoronically, “pragmatic conservatism.”]

This brings us to today.

The general thrust of the editorial page remains the same as in my day. The core of the editorial board is Cindi Scoppe, and the joke during our many years working together was that we were two people with the same brain. Of course, there are different people involved along with her (Mark Lett, Sara Borton, Paul Osmundson), but the general editorial positions remain the same.

And in this election cycle, the paper did the only thing it could do under the circumstances: It endorsed the only person on the planet in a position to stop Donald Trump from becoming president of the United States.

As I said, the paper was pleased to endorse Republicans as long as it remained a sensible, center-right party. This year, the GOP completely went off the rails, and nominated a man who really isn’t any kind of conservative: an abysmally ignorant – and unwilling to learn – bully who considers attacking people who have criticized him personally as his top priority. A man who admires tyrants, who would abandon our allies, throw out nuclear nonproliferation policies that have served us since 1945, who plays to xenophobia, who would institute religious tests for entering the country, and the list goes on and on.

But that seems like a good place to stop and take questions. I’d love to get questions about local politics, but I can speak to national ones as well. Whatever y’all prefer…

My audience did not disappoint, but provided enough good questions to keep a likely interaction going until time was called. We pretty much stuck to national politics, which I guess was to some extent my fault, for having started us in that direction. But the discussion was interesting, relevant and civil. And you can’t beat that…

I thank my optometrist, Dr. Philip Flynn, for inviting me, and the Club for putting up with me this morning.

Legislative hearing on the school equity decision

I got this advisory yesterday from Bud Ferillo, who made the influential “Corridor of Shame” documentary, in case you don’t know him otherwise:

Advisory Notice
See attached official notice for the initial meeting of the new legislative committee that will consider remedies for the Abbeville v. State of South Carolina rural schools funding case.
It will be held in Room 100, ground floor of the Blatt House Office Building, at 1:00pm next Monday, February, 23, 2015.
Former U. S. Secretary of Education and South Carolina’s first two-term Governor, Richard W. Riley, a partner in the Nelson Mullins law firm which represented the plaintiff districts prop bono publico, will be the lead off speaker. See the attached Agenda for other speakers and committee business.
PLease share with others. Come early for a seat. Enter through the center door facing the Gressette Senate Office Building. All other entrances are locked.


Tweeting from ULI’s Midlands Reality Check

Here's what the Midlands look like now, translated into ULI's Lego language.

Here’s what the Midlands look like now, translated into ULI’s Lego language.

That’s where I am this morning, so excuse me if I’m not keeping up with y’all for a few hours.

It’s a worthwhile exercise, I believe — 300 community leaders from across eight counties gathering to talk about growing by choice, not by chance.

I’ll catch up with y’all when the exercise is over. If you’re interested in the meantime, follow @BradWarthen on Twitter…

Midlands leaders band together to take advantage of stimulus

This afternoon we were visited by a rather distinguished and diverse group of business, academic and political leaders who have been putting their heads together to see how our various interlocking existing community ecodevo initiatives — Innovista, the 3 rivers greenway, hydrogen and fuel cell efforts, and so forth — can position our community to take advantage of the stimulus funds once they start flowing to achieve some of our existing goals.

As Lee Bussell said when he asked for the meeting:

With the first mention of the stimulus bill we pulled together a working group of about 25 people representing business leaders, USC, the city, counties, Midlands Tech, Central Midlands, The Chamber, Good to Great Foundation, SCRA, Columbia USC Fuel Cell Collaborative and a number of others .
Our purpose was not just to make sure Columbia participated in the creation of jobs through this special program. We identified that for the last 5 years we have been working toward building a sustainable and green community with the creation of an economy based on alternative energy solutions. Sustainability and green jobs have become a central part of our community development strategy.
I am asking on behalf of all of these groups that you consider pulling together a group at the State that we could come meet with next week. We think it’s critical that you understand what we are attempting to accomplish. It could truly enable our regions to find opportunity to not only create jobs, but also to create an everlasting impact on the sustainability of our community and a whole new economic approach.

Lee didn't actually make today's meeting (he's out of the country, I understand) but the following folks did come (starting with left to right in the photo above, from my phone):

  • Paul Livingston of Richland County Council
  • Neil McLean of EngenuitySC
  • John Lumpkin of NAI Avant
  • Columbia Mayor Bob Coble
  • Tameika Isaac Devine, Cola city council
  • USC President Harris Pastides
  • John Parks, USC Innovista
  • Bill Boyd, Waterfront Steering Committee
  • Judith M. Davis of BlueCross BlueShield
  • Jim Gambrell, city of Columbia
  • Ike McLeese, Cola Chamber of Commerce
  • Kyle Michel, Kyle Michel law firm

… and several other folks who I know I must be forgetting as I try to reconstruct who was sitting around the table (or whose names I missed).

Basically these folks represent a lot of different efforts that will be combined and coordinated as the situation warrants to seek funding for things they were going to do anyway, with the goal of long-term economic transformation for the community. As Harris Pastides said, the test of success will be whether, after the construction workers are gone, we still have jobs here that put us on the cutting edge of the nation's move toward a greener economy and greater energy independence.

Toward that end — and with Congress not yet decided toward the final shape of the stimulus — Mayor Bob has set up a War Room in his office at City Hall. Pres. Pastides says he'll be doing the same at USC. The watchwords, says Coble, will be nimbleness, persistence and resources as opportunities are seen to match local projects with stimulus funding streams.

The group was very optimistic that the sorts of things they're working on here in the Midlands are a good match, and at a good point in the pipeline, for matching up with priorities they're seeing in the stimulus, and also with longer-term priorities of the Obama administration.

That's what I recall off the top of my head; I haven't gone back through the recording I made. (Sorry, no video; I took out my camera last night for a family birthday party, and forgot to put it back in my briefcase.) I expect some of the news folks who were there will have something in the paper that will flesh this out a little. I just wanted to go ahead and get my contact report filed…

(And no, in case you're wondering, neither the governor nor any representative of his was there. As Coble said, our governor is seen as an obstacle in this process; whether that obstacle will be surmountable or not remains to be seen, but the folks in the room seemed determined to try…)

Video returns: Excerpts from Harrell interview

Have you noticed that it’s been awhile since I posted video? Like, since the election? Well, there’s a simple explanation: As I told you at the time, my laptop was stolen from my truck on election night. That meant I lost both all of my raw video from those last weeks before the election, AND the platform on which I produced the clips for posting.

I got a new laptop (well, it’s new to ME) over the holidays, but was too busy either to shoot or to edit anything, what with folks being on end-of-year time off and such around here.

But we’re back, with this extended clip from the interview with Bobby Harrell Tuesday. It’s from near the end of the interview, when he was defending his record on roll-call voting, and how he treated Reps. Nikki Haley and Nathan Ballentine in connection with that.

If all you want is the stuff about Nikki and Nathan, it starts about 3 minutes and 18 seconds into the video (it starts with a question from me; you can probably hear the effects of my cold on my voice). Were I a TV “journalist,” that’s all I would have given you — the controversy, the sexy stuff. And admittedly, it IS the more interesting part.

But I decided to be all wonky and include Bobby’s extensive explanation before that of HIS position on transparency in voting, and what he’s tried to do about it. You’ll note, if you watch all of it, that at one point he handed us a document in support of what he was saying. Below you will find a photograph of that document. I hope you can read it OK.

Anyway, video is back. Enjoy.

A visit from the speaker

Well, it's begun.

The Legislature convenes next Tuesday, and in anticipation of that, House Speaker Bobby Harrell came by to see us yesterday afternoon.

On his mind were the following:

  • Number one, the economy. Emphasizing the state's alarming unemployment rate, he said he recently met with Commerce Secretary Joe Taylor to express the speaker's willingness to provide him with whatever tools he needs. After I brought up his past criticism of the agency, Mr. Harrell insisted that we not report him as being critical of Commerce now. The closest he came to anything disparaging was the observation that Commerce had been "scoring points, not winning the game" lately. Other than that, he was Mr. Supportive.
  • Employment Security Commission. You may recall that before Christmas, Mr. Harrell said, "It is inconceivable that Governor Sanford hasn’t already made this
    request of the federal government, and it would be tragic if he allows
    jobless benefits to run out, particularly at this time of year." Now he was at pains to point out that he believes the agency should supply the info the gov wants, and he said he'll sign a letter next week calling for an audit. This is not inconsistent; it's not far from our position — yes, the agency should provide such info readily, no, the governor shouldn't play "chicken" with unemployment benefits.
  • Cigarette tax. As one who once opposed the increase outright, Mr. Harrell now counts himself among those reconciled to its inevitability. The sticking point, as always, is what it should be spent on. (As you now, our position is that whatever you spend it on, it should be passed, because it undoubtedly will reduce teen smoking.) He noted that he supported the governor's veto last year on that score. He would like to see the money (and the federal Medicaid match) spent on making health insurance more available to small businesses. He said Oklahoma has recently shown a way to do that — it would require a waiver from the feds.
  • Education funding formula. My notes were sketchy here, but he was talking about revamping the whole funding system. I'll check with Cindi later to remind me what he said about this; in the meantime consider this a placeholder — I mention it only so that you know it was one of the things that was on his mind. All my notes say is "Education formula… The whole pot… They've been melting… a lot." And I confess that makes little sense to me, much less to you.
  • Roads. He wants more money for road maintenance, but he does not want to raise the gasoline tax, which is how we fund roads in SC. He would instead devote car sales taxes — what little we get in sales tax, given the $300 cap — to roads. He did not specify what he would NOT fund from the general fund to do that.
  • Restructuring. He promised to push for a Dept. of Administration.
  • Tax reform. He said a BRAC-style tax reform commission would be a good idea, but he offered two amendments to what biz leaders have advocated. Rather than have no legislators on the commission, he would have about a fourth of the panel be lawmakers. His reasoning is that lawmakers could school other members as to the feasibility of the ideas (which sounds suspiciously like a way to keep out good ideas the Legislature doesn't like, but maybe that's just me and my suspicious nature). He also said that rather than making it impossible for lawmakers to amend the plan, he would allow for amendment with a big supermajority — say 75 percent. His stated reasoning on that is to prevent some minor technical flaw from sinking the whole plan. He believes the supermajority requirement would eliminate the danger of narrow interests killing the overall plan. One more point on tax reform: He thinks it should be done in two stages — deal with the host of sales tax exemptions first, then the rest of the tax structure.

Those are the main topics he brought up. In answer to questions, he said:

  • A payday lending bill — one to more tightly regulate the industry, but not out of existence — will likely come out of the session.
  • He likes the governor's idea of eliminating the corporate income tax — an idea he traces to Ronald Reagan (at which point all Republicans murmur "Peace Be Upon Him" or something equally reverential). But he doesn't like the idea of eliminating economic incentives.
  • In response to our noting that the governor seems to want to step up his voucher efforts, the Speaker said he's supportive, but doesn't think it will pass.
  • Roll call voting. He defended his rules change to increase transparency, which he believes addresses the "key concerns" — such as spending legislation, the budget overall, anything affecting lawmakers' pay or benefits, ethics or campaign finance and the like. He totally dismissed the idea that his handling of Nikki Haley and Nathan Ballentine was out of line, or anything personal. As for his not telling Nikki in person he was kicking her off the committee, such has "always been done by sending a letter."
  • Cindi was just starting to ask about the one thing liable to occupy most of the House's energy this year — passing a budget in light of plummeting revenues — when the Speaker said he had to leave for another interview for which he was already late (Keven Cohen's show). Rest assured Cindi will follow up. (If I'd realized how short on time we were, I would have insisted we start on that overriding topic earlier.)

One more thing worthy of note: This was the first time Mr. Harrell asked to come in for a pre-session board meeting. Predecessor David Wilkins did it as a more or less annual ritual, bringing his committee chairs (including Mr. Harrell) along with him.

Smoking ban: Just don’t DELAY it again

As we continue to wait for Columbia’s smoking ban to take effect at long last, Mayor Bob says the fine for violating it may have to be lowered in keeping with a Supreme Court ruling.

Fine. Whatever. Just don’t delay the ban for another minute. We’ve waited far too long already.

The penalty isn’t important — at least, not to me. I don’t want to punish anybody; I just want clean air.

Jim Nelson, S.C. House District 87


Sept. 4, 9:30 a.m. —
Our first endorsement interview of the 2008 general election cycle was Jim Nelson, a Democrat who’s opposing Rep. Chip Huggins in this Irmo-Chapin district. This was the first time I’d met Mr. Nelson — and come to think of it, when Mr. Huggins comes in it may be the first time I’ve met him (and I beg his forgiveness if I’m wrong about that), even though he’s been in the House since 1999.

Mr. Nelson is an easy guy to get to know, an affable character of moderate temperament. Speaking of moderate, he was a Republican when he moved here from New York many moons ago, but was turned off by the insistence on some Kulturkampf-style resolutions at a party convention here. (When we asked for specifics, abortion was mentioned.) On another occasion, he saw an anti-tax protester at a polling place — this was the early 90s, I believe he said — and told him that in his opinion, he, Jim Nelson, didn’t pay enough taxes here in South Carolina. (He still hasn’t quite gotten over how low property taxes are here.) Around that time, he went to work for Bud Ferillo, who remarked that he couldn’t be a Republican because they agreed on two many things. (One area of disagreement he chuckled over: Bud is convinced that desegregation launched the economic growth of the South in the 60s; Mr. Nelson insists it was air-conditioning.)

Evidently, Mr. Nelson and I don’t agree on abortion, although he is not necessarily at odds with out editorial board on the subject. But we found many areas of agreement — on his opposition to vouchers, his opposition to the tax swap for school funding from the property tax to sales taxes, his support of a cigarette tax increase and his support for the governor having wider responsibility for the executive branch. He contrasted his views on vouchers and the cigarette tax with what he said were those of Mr. Huggins, but that’s all I know about that at this point.

He presents himself as a business-oriented pragmatist, who thinks South Carolina is undercutting itself by trying to do everything on the cheap: "In business, we would do it the cheap way first, and go back and do it again the right way," which he notes is wasteful. He believes this particularly applies to education. He said he told that tax protester that where he worked at the time (before Ferillo-Gregg), all the South Carolinians worked out on the loading dock. Why not, he posited, educate the S.C. kids properly so they can have the good-paying jobs "so you don’t have to import people like me."

Mr. Nelson says that demographic changes in the district make it viable for a Democrat. We’ll see.

Here’s Mr. Nelson’s campaign Web site.


Mayor Bob defends his apartment security plan


Mayor Bob came by the office this morning to try to sell us on his proposed ordinance to require security measures at apartment complexes. We talked for about 45 minutes. As you know, we have criticized the city in the past for trying to get the federal government to do the city’s job with regard to crime in poor North Columbia neighborhoods. Here’s what we said March 9:

Published on: 03/09/2008
Edition: FINAL
Page: A22
IT MAKES GOOD sense for the owner of troubled Gable Oaks apartments to beef up security, but that doesn’t relieve Columbia police of their duty to adequately patrol and enforce the law at the omplex.
    City officials seem to believe it’s largely up to the owner of the apartment complex to provide what amounts to basic police protection.
    They say the onus is on Transom Development, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based SunTrust Banks, to ensure residents’ safety. Some council members want the federal government to require — and help pay for — security at apartment complexes, such as Gable Oaks, that accept federal housing vouchers. Last week, some S.C. House members got into they act by filing legislation that would offer income tax credits in exchange for providing security at low-income, multifamily housing complexes.
    Considering the fact that three people have been killed in or near Gable Oaks since December, it’s understandable that residents and city officials are very concerned. It’s perfectly appropriate for Transom to do all it can to provide extra security for its residents. And it should pay for that higher level of service. Transom plans to do just that; it has agreed to hire security guards and to issue residents parking decals.
    But make no mistake about it, the primary responsibility for protecting residents of Gable Oaks or any other part of the city lies with the city. Gable Oaks is in the city limits, and its tenants are city residents. City residents should be able to expect a certain level and quality of service from the police department.
    We can’t help but believe that if there was a spike in crime in Shandon or Wales Garden — no matter how minor — the city would aggressively patrol the area, get matters under control and pay more attention going forward. Gable Oaks deserves no less.
    But the tone and tack city officials have used when discussing Gable Oaks make it seem as if residents are on their own if the owner doesn’t provide maximum protection. That would be unfair and discriminatory.
    While Gable Oaks is in the spotlight, north Columbia residents have taken this opportunity to express concern that the city neglects their area of town. During a meeting last Monday night, about 50 residents complained of poor police presence, indifferent landlords and a City Council focused more on downtown than north Columbia. There’s no doubt that over the years, the city has paid inadequate attention to certain areas of town, and north Columbia is one of them.
    While city officials say the owner should police Gable Oaks, some acknowledge that tenants from the complex aren’t necessarily the troublemakers. Visitors and people passing through cause some of the problems. That means those people are passing through — or even coming from — other city neighborhoods. And it’s the city’s responsibility to police all its neighborhoods and ensure people’s safety.
    By all means, Gable Oaks’ owner should improve security. But city police shouldn’t take that as a sign they don’t have to be vigilant in policing the area.
    Ultimately, the quality of law enforcement residents in Gable Oaks, or other parts of Columbia, receive will be determined by how committed the city is to help make it safe.

Here are some of the main points that the mayor made to us this morning:

  • The federal government, since it provides subsidies for housing in these complexes, should require security just as it has architectural requirements.
  • The feds have refused twice to ge involved, but suggested the city would be within its rights to require lighting, fencing, private security guards and other measures by ordinance — if the rules applied to ALL apartment complexes in the city.
  • There is some chance the federal position might change with a new administration, but crime-beleaguered residents can’t wait for that.
  • Whatever the philosophical objections (such as our objection that if the crime were in Shandon, the police would deal with it), there is the very real problem of people being exposed to crime. The city has had real-life success stopping crime in Gable Oaks using the approach he is now proposing to apply to ALL apartments in the city, and there is no good reason not to implement something that works.
  • One difference between this and crime involving single-family residences is that an apartment complex is a large business being conducted within the city, and is thereby subject to regulation.
  • Requiring the complexes to provide security is no different from requiring USC to come up with off-duty cops to handle traffic for Williams-Brice Stadium events: If you’re running an enterprise that causes a problem, you deal with the problem.
  • It’s not appropriate for city police to stay in one such business 24 hours a day, at the neglect of nearby areas.
  • Private security guards can enforce rules that city police can’t — such as a complex’s own covenants or lease provisions.

Near as I can recall, those were his main points. Maybe I’ll post video from the interview on Saturday Extra this week. (In fact, I’m sure I will unless something better comes up.)

Oh, and by the way — the mayor shrugged off the friction between him and Kirkman Finlay III (below, from a previous edit board meeting) over the issue. When Warren kidded him that "I thought you were about to rip your tie off," from Adam Beam’s report this a.m. "No," said the mayor, "we were hugging and kissing by the time the day was over."


Desirée Jaimovich, Argentine journalist

emember a few months back, when I was visited by Zoe Rachel Usherwood, Foreign Affairs Producer for Sky News in the U.K.? Well, whether you remember or not, it was right after the primaries, when there had been a lot of international attention focused on South Carolina. Well, today the same international program brought Desirée Jaimovich by the office.

Desirée is a writer and editor for the Buenos Aires Herald, an English-language publication. Argentina is, as you probably know, one of the more cosmopolitan of South American countries, a lot of people having ethnic roots from across Europe.

We talked about a number of things. She asked in particular about a recent story that recently led our front page, "S.C. first in on-job deaths of Hispanics." I told her that illegal immigration was an extremely hot issue in this country, but that unfortunately, while our lawmakers will demagogue no end about illegality, there is little talk among our politicians about the dangerous conditions that illegals often work in — and there should be.

She of course asked WHY illegal immigration was such a hot issue, and I somewhat glibly told her that it was a matter of xenophobia. A little later, though, I told her not to go by me, that I don’t understand and never have understood the roots of passion over illegal immigration. (And don’t explain to me for the millionth time that it’s because it’s illegal; as I indicated back here, maybe I’ll believe that’s core of it when folks get as stirred up about speeding on the highway.)

Anyway, we had a nice visit. I never did practice my Spanish on her though, because it embarrasses me. When I was a kid living in Ecuador, I was more or less as fluent in Spanish as English. But I’ve been back in this country since 1965, which is a long time. Whenever I try to speak it now, it’s such a struggle that I find it distressing.

Graham on his road trip with McCain, Lieberman


ids have Christmas, and Lindsey Graham had his recent road trip with John McCain and Joe Lieberman to Iraq, the Mideast and Europe. To a foreign policy wonk, what could be better? I’d like to have been along myself.

Basically, he got to be at the elbow of the guy who, as he put it, has a 50-50 chance of being presidentFrance_mccain_wart
next time he talks to these foreign leaders, only under circumstances without all the formal bull you have to deal with traveling with an actual president.

Anyway, as this clip begins, he is giving his enthusiastic assessment (which now that I look back at the video, sort of stands in contrast to the merely polite description he gave of Gov. Sanford) of Nicolas Sarkozy of France, and goes on from there. This was near the very start of our meeting.


Graham on Sanford, S.C. politics


Sen. Lindsey Graham made headlines today by rather dramatically breaking with his friend and fellow Republican Mark Sanford. Far from having a "list" of Republican lawmakers he’d like to get rid of, Sen. Graham gave a thumbs-up to the whole GOP field of officeholders in South Carolina.

So when he came by today to talk about Iraq, Iran, Europe and nuclear proliferation, before he left we inevitably got into S.C. politics, starting with a question from reporter John O’Connor about to what extent Mark Sanford is actually a veep contender.

Mr. Graham was careful only to say positive things about the governor, he did say something about himself that drew a contrast between the two of them. He said he was backing Republicans, regardless of whether he agreed with them totally or not, is because "I’m a party leader." Which of course suggests that certain other people are not, but he wasn’t going to say so.

He was much more forceful and articulate when talking geopolitics, of course. I plan to go back through the more substantive parts of the interview and see if I can can pull out a clip or two from those parts later. For now, I thought I’d share the part that dealt with today’s news story.


Lea Walker responds


ust now I finally got caught up with yesterday’s e-mail, and found this message:

Dear Sirs and Madam:
Your editorial today endorsed Runyon, and your
comments are not fair to me, nor to the city. My international background will
bring unique and broader vision and solutions to our City. I’m not motivated by
the zoning issue, but by my urge to contribute and get involved. The city
council should be diversified/open-minded, and not to be self-absorbed and not
to treat the minorities as invisibles.
The most important issues for this campaign
should get our city council think out of the box, but not just to get another
one who thinks alike. To me, all the other candidates talked about the same
issues, and suggested the same remedies.
Lea Walker, President
(US) Chinese Culture Center

Ms. Walker (pictured above) is one of the four candidates running for the at-large seat on Columbia City Council. I still hope to get around to posting something from our meeting with her before this thing’s over. If you’ll notice, I haven’t posted anything on our meeting with the guy we endorsed, either. I did put up something from our meeting with Daniel Rickenmann, but it wasn’t nearly as complete as what I’ve done on Brian Boyer and Belinda Gergel.

Unfortunately, those kinds of posts are very time-consuming (I stayed very late doing the Rickenmann and Gergel ones), and when things get busy around here, putting out the editorial pages comes first.

What is the useful role of CHE?


s foreshadowed in a previous post, we met this afternoon with Garrison Walters, the new (new to us, anyway) head of the state Commission on Higher Education.

Once upon a time, that post was filled by Fred Sheheen — Vincent’s Daddy, for those keeping up with political genealogy — who had an active, aggressive notion of the role the CHE should play in marshaling this poor state’s limited higher education resources to greatest effect. The powers that be, such as those who revere the prerogatives of the godlike boards of trustees of the respective institutions, did not like his style. They moved not only to get rid of him, but to restructure the CHE to make it kinder, gentler and less likely to say "nay" to anything they wished to do — or to have any authority even if it did say so.

Since then, the organization has been a lot more studious and polite — content with a "coordinating" rather than "governing" role. Mr. Walters is aware that our board has long favored a Board of Regents that would treat our collection of public, post-secondary institutions as a system rather than islands. He maintains, as do many who cast doubt on our restructuring fervor (say, the Senate on doing away with the "long ballot," or defenders of the council-manager system in Columbia), that some states with such boards do well, and others do not, while some states without overall governance do fine (he cites Michigan, Illinois and Texas).

My position, as always, is that given a choice between a structure intended to facilitate efficiency and accountability on the one hand, and a structure that one can succeed in those regards in spite of, I prefer the former.

As previously noted, of course, we temporarily have a condition in which our three research institutions, motivated in part by such inducements as the endowed chairs, are pulling at their oars as though they understand that we’re all in the same boat. Mr. Walters made note of that. Our position is to applaud our current state, but to worry about what happens when the current individuals in leadership move on, as Andrew Sorensen is about to do. Below that level cooperation and coordination is less evident, although there are encouraging exceptions to that trend.

Anyway, Mr. Walters held out hope that once a study committee finishes its work in September, we might see a new focus and purpose toward focusing our higher ed efforts. Let’s hope he’s right. In the meantime, I provide a video clip in which I ask our guest what he thinks it will take for South Carolina to get where it needs to go, and what CHE’s role is in that…

David Shi, Furman president


Today we had a visit from David Shi, president of Furman University. He also spoke to the Columbia Rotary, and his topic was the same, so if you were there you heard what Mike, Warren and I heard this morning.

He was here to stress Furman’s focus on public policy-related initiatives across the state, which he said was unique (at least, to this extent) among private colleges in South Carolina, and to a certain extent nationally. He knows of no private, liberal arts college anywhere else with the statewide focus that Furman has. Among the programs to which he referred:

  • The Riley Institute, named for former Gov. and Education Sec. Dick Riley, a Furman alumnus. You can read about it here. One program offered under the aegis of the Institute is the Diversity Leadership Academies across the state.
  • The David Wilkins Award, named for the ex-Speaker and current ambassador to Canada, which is awarded annually for bipartisan statesmanship. John Drummond, Bobby Harrell (Wilkins’ successor) and Hugh Leatherman have all received it.
  • The Rushing Center for Advanced Technology, which offers tailored training programs for businesses.
  • Being a signator of The American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment. One cool thing related to this — a model "green" home being built on the campus for an upcoming Southern Living cover, which after that will become office and meeting space for the university’s overall green initiatives.

There was more, but you get the gist. And why go to so much trouble to engender public leadership? One reason he offered, which I thought a masterpiece of academic understatement, was because Furman is in South Carolina, which is "not really known for prolonged, high-quality public leadership."

Contacts: Rickenmann, mental health advocates, McMullen

As Doug Ross might testify, I make a point of breaking my fast most mornings in a place where I’m likely to run into newsmakers who tell me things I was not trying to find out, but needed to know anyway (to sorta, kinda paraphrase Dirk Gently).

At this time I will head off those of you who think this is an elitist pursuit by saying I also frequent Wal-Mart — but there, few people come up to me and tell me things I can publish.

Anyway, in keeping with my sporadic efforts to let you know about folks I interact with (part of the whole transparency thing, letting you know who might be trying to influence what you read on the editorial page, yadda-yadda), here’s this morning’s list of folks who dropped by my table:

  • Daniel Rickenmann, who seemed to be sort of working the room, eventually got to me. No substantial discussion. I asked him what he was hearing from constituents as he campaigned for April 1, he said he’d heard a lot (understandably) about the city’s problems keeping track of money, and suggested the creation of a citizens’ fiscal review panel. At least, I think that’s what he said. Does not being sure sound lax on my part? Well, I knew I would be sitting down formally with him next Tuesday for an endorsement interview, and that will be well documented, I promise.
  • A group of folks — one of them a surgeon I know from USC’s medical school, but I’m leaving his name out for now since he was not the instigator of the conversation (although he can remind me of the names of the other folks later) — approached me to say that the former Department of Mental Health property on Bull Street (you know, which was supposed to be redeveloped, but which hasn’t happened?) is still needed to provide mental health services, and to help train psychiatrists. I’ve heard this before, of course, but there seemed a new urgency in their concern. The doc mentioned the name of a good source, which I wrote on my copy of the WSJ.
  • Ed McMullen, late of the S.C. Policy Council, joined me as I headed for the elevator. We talked briefly about several things, ending with the Wireless Cloud, about which he promised to send me a line on a source. Don’t forget me on that, Ed.

Is this what it’s like writing a diary?

Contact report: Hugh Leatherman

One thing I need to do is catch up on some recent meetings I haven’t let y’all know about, before I get too far behind. I’ll mention this chance encounter from this morning now:

I ran into Sen. Hugh Leatherman this morning at breakfast and sat with him for awhile to kick over a number of topics — national and state politics, what’s happening in Florence, etc.

Two things stand out in my mind:

  1. We talked about endowed chairs. Sen. Leatherman is high on the program, but isn’t convinced that the cap has to be raised. Mind you, he’s certainly not persuaded by any of the governor’s objections, which seem to him off-base. The governor chops at trees, but has never bought into the forest (although he IS into preservation of wilderness, so maybe that’s a bad metaphor). But the Senate Finance Chairman sees a way to make sure future chairs are funded without lifting the cap. He briefly explained it, but I confess I didn’t fully understand it, and didn’t want to detain him all morning trying to. It’s a good topic for further inquiry.
  2. I was reminded at various points in the conversation, as I am so often in speaking with the General Assembly’s Republican leadership, about how frustrated they are trying to deal with the governor day-to-day. Conversations such as this one flesh out the substance of such stories as this one in The Post and Courier today, about the governor’s efforts to stack the Legislature in his image. To serious, responsible lawmakers, having one Mark Sanford is enough of a burden; they don’t need any clones. Note this quote from the Charleston story: "If someone ran against Senator Leatherman, I’d probably support them." Who said that? Mark Sanford. So we’re not just talking paranoia here.

S.C. Hospital Association on quality of care and safety, covering the uninsured


ere I must apologize for falling behind reporting on the meetings we have with folks pushing various points of view. It was one of the reasons I started this blog, but pulling my notes, video and all together to fairly summarize such meetings is very time-consuming. Yesterday, I had two very interesting such meetings — one with Jay Moskowitz, president of Health Sciences South Carolina in Columbia, who is an example of the kind of classy talent our governor would prefer that we NOT attract; another with some guys from the Air Force on a host of issues from the strategic to the logistical (so wide-ranging that I can’t summarize it just in passing). Unfortunately, yesterday was so busy I didn’t get to digesting those, and probably won’t today or tomorrow.

But I will keep the backlog from stacking up any higher by telling you about a meeting we had today:

Thornton Kirby — pictured above — president and CEO of the S.C. Hospital Association, came in to talk to us about two issues:

  1. The hospitals’ initiative on health care quality and safety, and
  2. The plan the association is helping to back to cover the uninsured in our state.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll just give you these two video clips below, roughly covering those two subjects, and give you the two links above.

I do have some views on the matters discussed — such as my own personal view (not to be confused with the editorial board’s position, certain people would prefer for me to make absolutely clear, as if the disclaimer at the top of my main page weren’t enough) that the bigger problem in this country isn’t the one-in-seven uninsured, but the vast majority who increasingly have trouble affording the privilege of being insured.

But in Mr. Kirby’s behalf, I will cede his excellent point that my sort of comprehensive solutions can only be implemented nationally, leaving the states to do what little they can. (Which is why I was happy to see what Joel Lourie has been trying to do, just to mention something I meant to say earlier.)


Can anyone say, ‘single-payer?’

Day after day, I become more certain that we need to scrap our entire health-insurance system, and go to a single-payer national plan. It would cover everyone in a simple and straightforward manner that wouldn’t require a Ph.D. in filling out forms to navigate, it would put enough healthy (for the moment) people into the system to make it affordable for those who need care at a given moment, and would give us a gigantic bargaining bloc (forbidden in Medicare Part D, thanks to Big Pharma) for containing drug costs. In other words, it would make sense.

And here’s the really, truly amazing thing about it. Nobody, but nobody, in the political mainstream will stand up and suggest it. In fact, political candidates go to great lengths, through all kinds of gyrations, to avoid it. This is so even though I have only heard three credible reasons why not to at least suggest it, to get a conversation started:

  • The medical insurance industry doesn’t want it, because it does away with it’s reason to be.
  • Big Pharma doesn’t want it, because if we banded together, it would no longer be able to overcharge for the drugs it pays billions to advertise.
  • The idea of us banding together to act in our common interest offends some people’s ideology.

Yeah, I hear other objections — waits for procedures, reduction of choices — but those will be the features of ANY approach that works in lowering costs. The insurance companies have been telling what treatments we can and can’t have, and which doctors we can see, and which pharmacies and hospitals we can go to, for decades now.

Anyway, this little post isn’t about going into the details; this post is simply about the fact that we’re not even having a national conversation about whether to do this. With the exception of Dennis Kucinich, who doesn’t count because he doesn’t have a prayer of being elected, nobody is out there touting this idea, so that we can at least debate it. And rest assured, we won’t be doing anything bold in this area unless someone is elected with a mandate to do so.

There are people laboring in the field out there trying to drum up support for HR676, which would create a single-payer system, but you don’t usually hear about them. The one advocate of the approach best known to people on this blog is our regular contributor Paul DeMarco, a Marion physician, is a founding member of a group called South Carolinians for Universal Health Care that is pushing for it (I believe, and Paul will correct me if I’m wrong, that the group is affiliated with Physicians for a National Health Program. Some of his fellow single-payer advocates came to see the editorial board yesterday. The video above shows Sabra Smith, a practicing nurse and PhD student at USC School of Nursing, talking about why she got involved with Dr. DeMarco’s group.