Heard in the Echo Chamber - Volume I
Welcome to the inaugural installment of "Heard in the Echo Chamber," FITS weekly look at the various rumblings of note heard in and around the "inner sanctum" of the always-entertaining South Carolina political scene. Each Sunday, we'll update you on the latest noteworthy happenings transpiring under the dome, in the SC political blogosphere and (occasionally) in the reporting of major in-state news media. Enjoy ...
PROPERTY TAX SHOWDOWN
The South Carolina House of Representatives is poised to debate the session's most-publicized issue this week - property tax relief. In a preview of the potentially heated discussions to come, House Majority Leader Jim Merrill and House Minority Leader Harry Ott (ordinarily among the State House's more composed characters) nearly came to blows last week on the House floor, signalling that this week's floor debate might devolve into something considerably less than genteel deliberation.
Look for Democratic Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter to bring her "A-game" to the combative proceedings as she and Ott spearhead what is sure to be an entertaining, albeit abortive effort to slow the "Bobby Harrell Tax Shift Express."
The real property tax train wreck, observers tell FITS, is likely to occur in the State Senate.
FIRST PROPERTY TAX CASUALTY?
In related news, Carolina First CEO Mack Whittle may be in danger of losing his coveted position on the USC Board of Trustees due to his involvement in the increasingly acrimonious property tax debate. Whittle, who like Darla Moore and the SC Chamber of Commerce, has never met a spending or tax increase he didn't like - particularly one related to higher ed - has nonetheless ruffled a lot of feathers in the General Assembly by laying down on the tracks in front of Harrell's property tax relief freight train.
Could it be that Harrell intends for Whittle's removal from the board to serve as a "shot across the bow" to other so-called business leaders who are currently opposing his plan?
If so, Whittle is already showing signs of squirming under the heat. For example, he told reporters last week that Legislative leaders are "probably not exactly correct" in assuming his opposition to the plan. Probably not exactly? Sounds like the start of a "Whittle-wiggle" to FITS.
STOSSEL FOR GOVERNOR?
Gov. Mark Sanford has been talking about school choice for going on four years now, but ABC News' John Stossel, a 20/20 contributor, has probably done more to advance the cause in four weeks.
Stossel's "Stupid in America" segment, which aired on ABC on Jan. 13 and prominently chronicles the failures of South Carolina's worst-in-the-nation school system, has combined with the introduction of a more palatable "Put Parents in Charge Lite" bill to give newfound momentum to the school choicers. Political analyist Joshua Gross of the Body Politic even went so far as to say that "PPIC-Lite" would pass the General Assembly this session during an appearance on The Andy Thomas Show's "Inside the Bubble" program last Tuesday.
Gross is probably over-stating things a bit, but one overlooked dynamic that may be fueling Legislative support for school choice is, ironically, the continued back-pedaling on the issue from the Governor's Office. After previous comments from the governor and a less-than-enthusiastic endorsement of the newly-modified PPIC bill from Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer, one legislator told FITS, "the more they run from it, the more likely we are to run towards it."
And who said Sanford doesn't know how to "get things done?"
Richland County Solicitor Barney Giese is the subject of venerable columnist Lee Bandy's ink this weekend in The State after the son of former GOP Senator Warren Giese announced he was switching to the Democratic party last week.
Giese, whose defection was hailed as a landmark event by such political science luminaries as Neal Thigpen and Blease Graham, told Bandy that his relationship with local Republican leaders was frayed "beyond repair."
Still, for a party that can't field viable candidates for over half of the statewide Constitutional offices on the ballot in 2006 (and is forced to run their Superintedent of Education candidate, Bob Staton, as a Republican), the Giese defection really isn't as big a dent as Bandy's column would have you believe.
Of course the SCGOP's real problem is - and will continue to be - that it's tent is in fact far too big, incorporating big government, tax-and-spenders like Hugh Leatherman, Oscar Lovelace, Bob Staton, Luke Rankin, Verne Smith and dozens of recent party-switchers who are no more committed to the ideals of limited government and lower taxes than Madonna and Sean Penn were committed to the notion of monogamy.
FITS about had a stroke when we learned that sic Willie was nowhere to be found at his favorite haunts The Clubhouse, The Back Porch and The Publick House for a full THREE NIGHTS IN A ROW this weekend ... like many of you we wondered, did Jakie Knotts finally make good on his pledge to "make that summmbitch disappear."
Turns out our favorite bad boy was laid up in bed with a nasty cold, which we verified on a visit to his undisclosed location in Northeast Columbia Sunday morning. As proof that our boy was not his usual deviant self, he didn't even crack a smile when we offered to send over his all-time favorite female FITS' intern to wait on him hand and foot in a french maid's costume complete with fishnets and stilettos.
Our Willie did manage to raise himself sufficiently, however, to pen a brutal critique of the South Carolina business community in The State newspaper on Friday morning (http://www.thestate.com/mld/state/news/opinion/13779905.htm), appear on the Andy Thomas Show Friday afternoon, and deliver a speech to "South Carolina Winning Women" on Saturday. Our boy, who followed Republican candidate for Superintendent of Education Karen Floyd at the event, was reportedly quite an affable and entertaining guest, although we at FITS are sure that his good behavior was likely attributable to his cold making him feel a tad listless and lethargic.
Whatever the reason, we look forward to notorious anti-Will bloggers Ross Shealy (www.scbarbecue.blogspot.com) and Paul Adams (www.queerasfolks.blogspot.com) having a field day with the idea of sic Willie addressing a women's group ... no matter what the pretense!
Until next week ... be heard.