Heard in the Echo Chamber - Volume VII
Every Sunday afternoon, FITS publishes "Heard in the Echo Chamber," a look at the week gone by in South Carolina politics from an insider's perspective. Collected by our roving team of Stiletto'd correspondents, it's the inside scoop on what really goes on in state politics - not all that boring, watered-down mumbo-jumbo you read in the newspaper.
We gotta admit, though - this week we're dragging.
With a packed 5 Points rocking out Saturday to the sounds of 7 Mary 3 and other bands at Columbia's annual St. Patrick's Day festival, it turns out the FITS staff was a wee bit over-served by the various purveyors of adult beverages. In fact, a particularly precocious (and quite over-served) Deb N. practically fell on top of 7 Mary 3 lead singer Jason Ross, who was hanging out after the show at The Clubhouse restaurant in the Vista.
On behalf of all the FITS girls, thanks for being such a good sport, Jason!
But in spite of it all, there's still work to be done, and we think the first item on this week's Echo Chamber report shows just how important it is that we get right down to it ...
Geena Davis (pictured above) may be President on a lot of Palmetto State TV screens, but according to a report released this week by Rutgers University's Center for American Women and Politics, South Carolina ranks dead last in the nation in the percentage of women serving in its state legislature. Standing at a pathetic 8.2%, ours is the only state below 10% (Alabama ranks 49th in the nation at 10.7%). In fact, South Carolina's percentage of women legislators is a full 14.6% lower than (or three decades behind, depending on how you want to look at it) the national average of 22.8%.
Just as troubling, it appears the national trend line has hit the so-called glass ceiling. After scoring double-digit percentage increases during the Eighties and Nineties, girl power in state legislatures has plateaued - gaining less than half a percentage point since 1999.
Of course the exception to the South Carolina political rule (as usual) is Gov. Mark Sanford's Cabinet, which features four women and ten men. Then there's his senior staff, which in addition to First Lady Jenny Sanford, features women in such key roles as Communications Director (Marisa Crawford), Education Advisor (Charmeka Bosket), House Legislative Advisor (Rita Allison), Deputy Legal Counsel (Swati Patel) and Appointments Secretary (Jamie Bach).
FITS has heard rumors that a new effort is underway here in the PalMANo State to address this glaring disparity, to which the Stiletto Mafia can only say "Amen," and call us if you need us.
Previous efforts, like Kris Geddings' (wife of former Hodges Chief-of-Staff Kevin Geddings) "B-List" have stoked some media attention but have accomplished precious little in the way of results.
Count on FITS to keep you posted ... the Stilettos are quite angry about this, and you wouldn't like Diane S. when she's angry.
CALLING BULL-POLL ON THAT
State Rep. John Graham Altman insisted recently that bad poll numbers didn't play into his decision not to seek re-election to House District 119, a seat he's held for 10 years.
FITS has learned that bad poll numbers in fact played a critical role in Altman's decision, and that after seeing just how bad they were, the State Republican Party actually persuaded him to drop out of the race so that someone with a better shot could go up against formidable Democratic candidate Leon Stravinakis.
Sound familiar? It was only last year that Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum bowed out of her quest for a third term after polls showed her getting whipped in a head-to-head match-up with Spartanburg businesswoman Karen Floyd.
When are politicians going to learn?
FITS can't decide which Sunday column is worse - The State columnist Lee Bandy's latest heavy petting session with fake-GOP gubernatorial candidate Oscar Lovelace, or Post and Courier columnist John Frank's open mouth kiss of Charleston Rep. Wallace Scarborough in his second Capital Notebook column.
Seriously, thank God for Dan Hoover at the Greenville News for not attempting to make out with anybody in print this weekend ...
Bandy's suck-up probably deserves the most contempt, though, since it is part of an emerging pattern of the venerable columnist being fed "GOP" consultant and Lovelace campaign manager Rod Shealy's talking points and running them pretty much verbatim. As bad as this week's public make-out session with Lovelace was, Bandy's column last month about Gov. Mark Sanford attending the unveiling of a memorial to fallen law enforcement officers still takes the cake for ridiculously-biased and irresponsible journalism.
Sanford did in fact veto funding for the law enforcement memorial back in 2003, saying that the $500,000 price tag should go instead to fund more troopers, police cars and other in-the-field needs at a time when the state budget was low. His veto was endorsed by the State Troopers' Association, and Sanford himself offered to help raise private money to pay for the tribute. That offer was roundly rejected by State Reps. Shirley Hinson and Annette Young, however, a point Bandy completely ignored in his column as he allowed Shealy-sponsored blowhard Jakie Knotts to rail on the governor at will.
So egregious and slanted was the spin that one Sanford confidant went so far as to say, "I've lost all respect for Lee Bandy." We at FITS aren't ready to go that far, but it's pretty clear that the Dean of S.C. political reporters is rapidly turning into the Lovelace for Governor campaign's media mouthpiece.
SKATING ON THIN ICE
State Sen. Greg Ryberg has been skating on thin ice this whole winter, but he may have finally fallen through and landed smack-dab into the frigid waters of Lake Hypocrisy.
Raging indignant against the evils of video poker in press releases from his Senate Office, Ryberg has been careful on the stump to avoid staking himself out on the pivotal question of whether or not convenience stores that he owns actually housed the machines he now refers to as "the crack cocaine of gambling."
Well, turns out the Senator finally did stake himself out on that question last week during a campaign speech in Kershaw County, saying his stores never housed the machines that he now says offer players the "phantom promise of instant riches."
Whoops ... FITS is betting it won't be long before a smart reporter trots down to the State Department of Revenue and searches around for video poker licenses that may or may not have been applied for by Ryberg's convenience stores. While they're at it, that reporter might also place a call to the Attorney General's Office or the State Ethics Commission, which FITS has learned is looking into an anonymous complaint that Ryberg Senate Staffers may have conducted opposition research on former House Majority Leader Rick Quinn while still on the taxpayer nickel ... which of course is a big no-no.
In other gambling related news, a chilling special report in the Charlotte Observer this weekend proved conclusively what most of us already knew to be true - that poor people who can't afford to waste their money are the ones playing the "Education" Lottery. Take unemployed Junior Miller, for example, who spends $20 a week on Powerball tickets after paying for such trivialities as child support and food.
Of course the S.C. Lottery website still advises players to "think of the money you lose as the cost of your entertainment, like going to a movie."
SHOTS FIRED AT SIC WILLIE BUILDING
Five people were wounded and $30,000 of damage was done after shots rang out during a private party at the Capitol Center in downtown Columbia.
Formerly known as the "SouthTrust Building," the Capital Center is South Carolina's tallest office building at 25 stories and 348 feet. It is also home to Viewpolitik, the at-times real, at-times imaginary consulting firm of S.C.'s favorite bad boy and occasional FITS contributor Sic Willie.
The Slick One was evidently not present at the time of the shooting, and police say no evidence exists that he was the target of the would-be assassins.
Capitol Center officials refused to comment on the incident, but a source familiar with the building said security upgrades were already being contemplated in the wake of Rep. Catherine Ceips bill requiring SLED to grant a concealed weapons permit to any woman with a restraining order.
"Mr. Folks has every right to rent office space here and we certainly welcome his business, if not his retro wardrobe and chin scruff," the source said. "Of course, we are taking the necessary precautions to safeguard all of our tenants in the event there are changes to state concealed weapon permitting law."
Until next week ... be heard.