Beware of Legislative Delegation Unity
Summerville Patch Posted on October 18, 2012 at 2:54 pm
According to the Oct 13 Post and Courier Ed Carter said the reason he is running for the House District #97 seat is to “have a legislative delegation that’s united, not divided”. Similarly, Sean Bennett claimed he should be elected so the Dorchester legislative delegation would be “united.”
Touting legislative unity without regard to specific context and issues is ridiculous. In reality, complete unity on the Dorchester Legislative Delegation is neither achievable nor desirable. Moreover, unity for good policies is good, but unity for bad policies or corruption is bad.
Due to redistricting, starting next January eight of the twelve members of the Dorchester Delegation will not reside in Dorchester County. If Patsy Knight beats Carter, those twelve members will be split exactly 50-50% between Republicans, who represent mostly urban areas, and Democrats, who represent mostly rural areas. If Carter wins, there will be seven Republicans and five Democrats. Given those scenarios, policy differences among Delegation members are inevitable.
The most significant effect of disunity occurs when opinions differ among Delegation members in the majority party, which in Dorchester County is the Republican Party. Many times Dorchester County has benefitted, and not been harmed, by lack of unity among the Delegation’s Republicans. Indeed, Dorchester County has been saved several times from significant harm by a minority number of Republican legislators opposing bad policies or corruption by a majority of the Republican members of the Dorchester Delegation.
I shudder in fear over the possible ill effects of “unity” among Delegation members due to a bunch of friends going along as a legislative herd in a wrong or corrupt direction.
Here are five examples of how disunity among Dorchester Republican legislators has benefitted Dorchester County:
Redistricting – In 1990 the SC Legislature passed a law that completely disconnected the Dorchester Delegation from the Charleston and Berkeley Delegations. Under that law, instead of Dorchester remaining part of the “tri-county” urban area, Dorchester acquired a “bi-county” connection with only rural Colleton County. This law was pushed through the Legislature by the SC Republican Party with the help of Dorchester Republican House members seeking to maximize statewide Republican gains and specific local Republican legislators without regard to the resulting harm to Dorchester County.
I had a clear choice: support state Republican policy or protect Dorchester and our tri county concept. With the help of Charleston Chamber of Commerce official George Campsen and others, Senator Glenn McConnell and I prepared an alternate plan adopted by a three Judge federal court panel. As a result, Dorchester County remained with Berkeley and Charleston Counties, and many legislators residing in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester Counties became members of the legislative delegations of two or three of those counties. For example, Summerville’s Senator served on the Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester Delegations. As a result, legislators from all three counties have worked cooperatively on their common urban problems, and Dorchester County remained part of the “tri-county area”.
It would be difficult to overstate the amount of acrimony between a Dorchester House member and me caused by my unwillingness to allow her plan to disconnect Dorchester County from Berkeley and Charleston Counties.
Weighted Voting – South Carolina joins Georgia and Alabama as one of only three states that have a county legislative delegation. In reality, legislative delegations are a fifth layer (in addition to federal, state, county, city layers) of government that is totally unnecessary.
Upon becoming a Senator in 1989 I discovered that the legislative delegations in SC’s 46 counties had enormous powers and often were governed by a handful of legislators who did not reside in the county and represented very little or, on occasion, literally no population in the county they controlled. As an example, four of the seven members of the Dorchester Delegation did not live in Dorchester County and two of those members literally represented land in Dorchester County that was uninhabited. Yet, each member of the Dorchester Delegation had one vote on the Delegation. As a result, on one occasion a replacement member of the DD2 school board was selected by a coalition of four House members, two of whom voted (by proxy) even though they did not live in and represented no one living in Dorchester County.
After witnessing how our citizens were being harmed by this practice and after realizing that the SC Legislature would not change the system, I helped residents of Dorchester, Berkeley or Charleston Counties challenge this system with a federal lawsuit.
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the US Constitution requires that the weight of each legislator’s vote on a county Delegation be in proportion to the percentage of the total population represented in that county. Under that “weighted voting” principle, a legislator who represented no one in a county would have no vote in that county, etc. Changing to this “weighted voting” system was adamantly opposed by Dorchester House members as they enjoyed their control over the Delegation due to their numerical superiority.
Election Commission – One of my duties upon becoming Senator again in 2008 was to vote on who would be appointed or reappointed to the Dorchester County Board of Elections and Registration. Being conscientious, I sought to learn how well the Elections Board members had been performing before voting whether to reappoint them. To accomplish that, I read all of the minutes of the Elections Board for the previous two years. I was astonished to discover from those minutes that one of the Elections Board members had run for the DD2 school board while continuing to serve on the Elections Board that had administered that DD2 school board election.
That clear violation of state law was allowed by the full Elections Board. In addition, another Board member declared he was on a ten month “leave of absence” while his wife ran for a county wide office, and nevertheless appeared to have continued to work for the Election Board. Further, the state salary paid to the Board member who claimed he was on a “leave of absence” was redistributed among the other six Board members rather than returned to the State of SC as required by law. Some of this was not only illegal but appeared to be crimes.
My attempts to explain that the status of being on a “leave of absence” did not legally exist (you either are on the Board or you are not), that no one could serve as a Board member and simultaneously run for an office in an election administered by that Board, and that unused salary had to be returned to the State, were rejected and fell on deaf ears. Only by my obtaining a lengthy opinion by the SC Attorney General confirming that the points stated above were correct did Election Board members acknowledge their errors and return to the State the monies they had distributed among themselves.
To my amazement two Dorchester House members sought to reappoint all of the existing Elections Board members who had violated laws as stated above. In contrast, I wanted to replace them, because in my view they had failed in their responsibilities to comply with these laws, and resisted acknowledging their law violations and pledging not to repeat them. Those Dorchester Republican
House members insisted that these incumbent Board members should be reappointed to preserve continuity and I insisted that they be replaced with Board members willing and able to comply with the law.
Ultimately, House members and I compromised, with three new Elections Board members appointed and three incumbents retained. For a couple of years no one was appointed to the seventh Elections Board position because I did not want a majority of the Board members to be the former law breakers but the House members did. The Dorchester Elections Board now consists of a majority of new appointees since 2008.
The Board appears to be operating lawfully, efficiently and effectively.
Master in Equity – The SC Supreme Court reversed a decision of a Dorchester Judge (Master in Equity) to foreclose on a home due to the fact that, contrary to what the Judge had stated in his signed Order, the Judge’s secretary, not the Judge himself, had attended and conducted the foreclosure hearing.
In addition, one afternoon, a resident of Kings Grant standing behind me at the Oakbrook Post Office starting complaining about the conduct of that Judge. I felt it was my duty to investigate these complaints before voting on whether to reappoint that Judge to a six year term, and did so.
My investigations revealed other improprieties by this Judge, and my interview of him confirmed much of the wrongdoing and his apparently lack of understanding or disinterest in the violations. Ultimately, Governor Mark Sanford had his staff investigate and interview the Judge, after which he informed our Dorchester Delegation that he would not reappoint this Judge if his name were sent by our Delegation to Governor Sanford for reappointment.
Gov. Sanford’s attorney provided us Dorchester Delegation members a three page memo in which that attorney detailed several reasons for not reappointing the Judge, including his having made a judicial decision based on an ex parte (secret) discussion with a plaintiff’s attorney without the knowledge or participation of the opposing litigant; approved excessive attorney fees without required documentation; failed to attend a court hearing which a secretary attended instead, but signed an Order stating that he had attended the hearing; and “rubberstamped” proposed orders from attorneys.
To my amazement, some Dorchester Republican House members wanted to reappoint that Judge, despite the lapses in conduct referenced above. Ultimately, the Judge resigned his position rather than dispute complaints against him and was replaced, but not before the Judge seeking reappointment was allowed to remain in office as a Judge for over a year on “holdover” status due to certain House members’ failure to vote to send a name of a proposed appointee to Governor Sanford and to have the Dorchester Delegation meet for nearly two years to avoid considering the matter.
State Infrastructure Bank — $19 million was awarded this year by the SC State Infrastructure Bank for projects in Dorchester County, including the five laning of Highway 165 to Ashley Ridge High School. However, that award was preceded by a totally unnecessary power grab by a Republican House Delegation member who usurped the authority of Dorchester County Council by demanding, and arranging, over the objection of Dorchester County Council, for her to make a presentation about the $19 million project to the SIB.
Who knows what other abuses of position and power might occur, and what other harms might ensue, if all Dorchester Delegation members “unify” to implement bad or corrupt policies detrimental to the public instead of some of them trying to do what is correct and proper.