Heard in the Echo Chamber - The McConnell Conspiracy
On the surface, he appears to be one of Gov. Mark Sanford's allies, championing a long-overdue restructuring of state government and urging State Sen. Jake Knotts to back off of his anti-Sanford gubernatorial bid.
But where does Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn F. McConnell really stand? And more importantly, what's with the dyed jet black hair, Civil War phallic obsession and Morrisey-esque asexuality?
By far and away the most powerful, secretive and eclectic politician in South Carolina, McConnell has proven with the Hunley that when he wants something, he gets it. He's also proven that when he doesn't want something, such as port expansion on Daniel Island, you can bet your bottom dollar it isn't going to happen.
In 2004, McConnell surprised many political observers by offering two massive government restructuring bills that together included nearly all of Sanford's sweeping campaign objectives - a proposal which would have dramatically shifted the power balance in Columbia from Legislative to Executive. No sooner had the ink dried on the thousand-page tome, however, did conspiracy theorists within the Echo Chamber begin accusing the Charleston Senator of paying lip service to the governor, hoping in secret that the gargantuan pieces of legislation would die under their own weight.
Sure enough, that's exactly what happened.
Citing "legislative resistance," McConnell couldn't even get the bills out of his own committee, and accordingly South Carolina forfieted its best chance to move government out of the 19th Century since Operation Lost Trust.
Emboldened by the public perception that he was a Sanford ally, McConnell quickly followed up on this coup by showing his true colors when it comes to Executive-Legislative relations, sponsoring a bill to rob Sanford and future governors of their appointment powers at Santee Cooper and methodically pushing it through the General Assembly.
In doing so, McConnell showed once again that he not only gets exactly what he wants when he wants it, but that his goal is clearly to further weaken - not strengthen - what is already the 47th weakest Chief Executive Office in the entire nation.
On top of all of this, McConnell has presided over not one but two of the largest biannual expansions of government South Carolina has ever seen - 1999-2000's 25% increase and the current 22% spending orgy of the last two fiscal years.
Many insiders from previous administrations also point to McConnell's "let him hang" attitude towards the last Republican Governor - David Beasley - and to the fact that McConnell was secretly "the happiest man in Columbia" when Beasley was ousted by former Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges in 1998.
And why not? Beasley's fall restored his position as the highest-ranking Republican in state politics.
McConnell also not-so-secretly backed Democrat Dick Elliot in 2004 as he staved off GOP challenger Katherine Jenerette by a mere 4% of the vote, and is known to have an especially cozy "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" relationship with longtime Charleston Democratic Sen. Robert Ford.
There's also McConnell's "thick-as-thieves" status with Clemson University, a group that has consistently done battle with Sanford over excessive funding for its multi-million dollar PSA programs.
The reality that gradually comes into focus after a careful study of Sen. McConnell's record is that his so-called opposition to a Jake Knotts' gubernatorial bid may be precisely that, "so-called."
While publicly opposing Knotts' prospective bid in the newspapers, McConnell has yet to threaten him with the loss of his Senate committee positions, write a letter to the Republican Party urging that the Lexington Senator be unceremoniously jettisoned from the GOP, or gone on the record pledging to publicly and financially support a GOP primary challenger to Knotts in 2008.
Why not? Therein lies the mystery.
Because McConnell is handled with kid gloves by Columbia insiders, approached with negligent naivete by the Governor's Office and routinely given a hall pass by the mainstream media (with the notable exception of The State newspaper's John Monk), the truth behind his real motivations with respect to Mark Sanford's re-election remains amazingly well-concealed.
We here at FITS, however, suspect that McConnell - while remarkably similar to every other "say one thing, do another" politician in Columbia - just happens to be a lot better at hiding it than the other big-spending guardians of South Carolina's failed status quo.