Business Leaders Reject Harrell Hunting Invite
In a sign of escalating tensions over the proposed property tax-sales tax swap, FITS has learned that several prominent South Carolina business leaders and higher-ups at the S.C. Chamber of Commerce and S.C. Manufacturer's Alliance have rejected weekend hunting invitations extended by Mayor of Importantville Bobby Harrell.
The group represents the core opposition to Harrell's proposal to eliminate property taxes in exchange for a two-cent increase in the sales tax.
Mayor Harrell, who contends his offer for the business leaders to join him this weekend on a duck hunt in Northern Beaufort County was "a good faith effort on my part to try and bury the hatchet," nonetheless refused to say Thursday whether he would still make the trip with Majority Leader Jim Merrill, Ways & Means Chairman Dan Cooper, Judiciary Chairman Jim Harrison and LCI Chairman Harry Cato.
"I can't speak for the others who were asked, but for me the timing of this trip just wasn't right," said Carolina First CEO Mack Whittle, one of the business leaders who declined Harrell's invitation. "I'm not sure what it was specifically that made me feel that way, but a little something in the back of my head told me this might not be such a good idea."
Whittle was one of a select group of business leaders invited to join Harrell and his fellow legislators on the duck hunt. Others asked to join include Lake City Millionairess Darla Moore (above), Sonoco CEO Harris DeLoach and Roche-Carolina CEO Don Herriott. Also invited to attend were S. Hunter Howard, Jr., Otis Rawl, and Mark Sweatman from the S.C. Chamber of Commerce and Lewis Gossett, Sara Hopper and Russ Hightower of the S.C. Manufacturer's Alliance.
"I had a bad omen," said Hightower. "Something told me I had better stay home."
"Our representatives had some serious reservations about joining the Mayor on this particular trip at this particular time," said Hunter Howard of the State Chamber. "Obviously, we mean absolutley no disrespect whatsoever to the Office of the Mayor of Importantville or to our dear friend Bobby Harrell. His invitation was gracious and generous, and we regret that we were unable to accept it at this time."
FITS, however, has obtained secret tape recordings made by retiring Rep. Dan Tripp from a recent closed-door caucus meeting which may prove that the hunting trip invitations were not what they appeared to be at first glance.
"OK listen up, Jimmy (Merrill)'s got DeLoach and Herriott, Dan (Cooper)'s got Otie and Sweatman, (Jim) Harrison you take Gossett and Hightower," a voice alleged to be Harrell's can be heard faintly on the Tripp cassette recording. "Mack and Hunter are all mine, and (Harry) Cato you just flirt with the girls and keep them occupied, alright?"
Mayor Harrell disputed accusations that the recording masked a secret plot to "accidentally" shoot the business leaders and thus prevent their continued opposition to his proposed tax swap.
"Oh no, no, goodness no," Harrell told FITS. "What on earth would give anyone that idea? When I instructed my colleagues to 'get' someone, I just meant that those were the specific business leaders I wanted them to engage in substantive, issues-based conversation with. I can't think of a reason anyone would suspect otherwise and Harrison is a lousy shot anyway, even if he is trying to hit somebody on accident."
Darla Moore, for her part, said she rejected the invitation because her trigger finger was sore from a long week spent counting all of her money, and a spokeswoman added that she also doesn't like being forced to wear the color orange.
"Darla's always been a pastel and bold primary color kind of gal," Moore spokeswoman Roberta McAlister said. "Those ridiculous orange vests don't accent her peach facial tones well at all."