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MEET SOUTH CAROLINA’S MOST INFLUENTIAL POLITICAL POWERBROKERS

FITSNews – August 19, 2007 – Power.

The word is defined by Webster’s dictionary as “possession of control, authority or influence over others,” but we happen to like its more literal meaning, “a source or means of supplying energy.”

The first annual installment of FITSNews‘ “Palmetto Power 100” (yes, we’re planning on subjecting ourselves to this same torture next summer) incorporates individuals with both characteristics, or at least we hope it does. Of course, it could be that we’re so completely brain-dead from compiling this monstrosity that the cheesy “dictionary definition” introduction was the only thing we could come up with at the moment.

Assembled with the help of literally hundreds of your e-mails, phone calls, letters, faxes and comments here on the blog, the list that follows is by no means perfect … and by no means un-premeditated. We give props, take shots and poke fun, because that’s what we do. The rankings themselves, however, do faithfully represent our most honest and objective effort to try and assess who’s really driving the trains in this state … and why. The fact that we like, don’t like or are trying to sleep with any of the individuals included on the list was totally irrelevant to our ranking system, although Sic Willie did seem unusually adamant in his insistence that Gilda Cobb-Hunter remain at the top of the heap. Hmmmm …

Anyway, if you made the list – congrats. If you didn’t – better luck next year.

And now … the envelopes, please …

1. Gilda Cobb-Hunter – State Representative (D)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 0%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: No

Other than failing to override the governor’s veto on school choice, Gilda-Cobb ruled the roost in 2007. She may not have “Speaker” in front of her name, but rest assured the coalition that chose the current Speaker (Bobby Harrell) and hopes to choose the next one (Harry Cato) answers to her and her alone. With fifteen or so Republicans in her pocket on controversial votes and a GOP leadership unwilling to exercise its majority status, the State House at the moment is Gilda’s playground. We’re even thinking of marketing a new video game about S.C. politics and calling it “The Legend of Gilda.” Rated “E” for everybody, of course.

2. Hugh Leatherman – Senate Finance Committee Chairman (RINO)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 0%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: No

The biggest of all big government politicians, this Democrat-turned-Republican has almost single-handedly put the brakes on Gov. Sanford’s reform agenda and sent the state on a spending spree unprecedented in its history. Leatherman, who doesn’t believe in spending limits, tax cuts, government restructuring or school choice, is the single biggest roadblock to moving South Carolina forward since Ben Tillman – which is pretty amazing considering he’s small enough to run over with a Barbie-mobile.

3. Jim Clyburn – U.S. Representative (D)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 0%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: No

Since the Democrats took over Congress in 2006, Clyburn has emerged as one of their most visible leaders on the national stage and a key backroom player in his role as Majority Whip. South Carolina’s early Democratic presidential primary has also helped raise his status, although his repeated efforts to build a bridge to nowhere in the middle of Nowhereville, S.C. (with over $100 million of your tax dollars) mean he’s as fiscally dangerous as they come. Forget about poor black kids without health insurance – let’s build a $100 million bridge over a pristine natural habitat instead. Also, his recent “foot in mouth” comments concerning U.S. troops in Iraq didn’t help him much.

4. Glenn McConnell – Senate President Pro Tempore (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 50%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: Jury still out

Eclectic and unpredictable, McConnell’s strength lies in his vast knowledge of procedure and his ability to stop virtually any bill he doesn’t like in its tracks. He’s a mixed back in terms of his advancement of real reform, however, with many accusing him of trumpeting one thing in the press while doing another behind closed doors. For sheer savvy and political theater, though, McConnell remains unmatched in state politics.

5. Jean Toal – Chief Justice, S.C. Supreme Court
Fiscal Conservative Rating: N/A
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: Sometimes

Cautious and deliberate, Toal is the first woman and first Roman Catholic Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court. A legislator for 13 years prior to her appointment to the bench in 1988, Toal has served as Chief Justice since 1999. Universally respected as the queen of her branch of government, the only blemishes on her record are two hit-and-run vehicular indiscretions that earned her a little “above the law” criticism. Of course Toal is above the law, so stop your complainin’, bunch of babies.

6. David Wilkins – U.S. Ambassador to Canada (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 35%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: No

Wilkins would probably rank higher on our list were he not in Ottawa serving as U.S. Ambassador to Canada. Perpetually rumored as a possible gubernatorial candidate in 2010, the widespread circulation of other not-so-flattering rumors (combined with Wilkins’ notoriously thin skin in dealing with them) will probably keep him from running for governor. Still, he has access to gobs of Upstate money and the reverence with which he is viewed by legislators and political insiders makes him profoundly influential on Palmetto politics despite the fact he’s hundreds of miles away.

7. James Smith – State Representative (D)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 0
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: No

If Democrats are smart, they’ll make Smith their nominee for governor in 2010. If Smith is smart, he’ll then take advantage of the ample room S.C. Republicans have provided his party to get to the right of them on tax and spending issues. With the GOP in full drunken sailor mode, it’s surprising that Palmetto Democrats haven’t seized on this opening, much like the Blue Dogs Democrats in Washington have. Currently serving a tour of duty in Afghanistan, Smith is the Democrats’ best chance to recapture the Governor’s Mansion, although it is doubtful he could ever be persuaded to pursue a fiscally-responsible platform.

8. Bobby Harrell – Speaker of the House (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 10%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: No

Harrell is making no bones about his gubernatorial ambitions in 2010, but his big government philosophical moorings and IOU’s to the Democratic leadership in the House are killing our state’s competitiveness – and could kill his chances at taking over the Governor’s Mansion. A sitting Speaker should always be No. 1 on a list like this, and the fact that Harrell isn’t reflects on his utter inability to hold the GOP caucus together on anything resembling a conservative idea. We think Bobby’s a great guy, we’re just not sure he’s a Republican.

9. Harry Cato – House Labor Commerce & Industry Chairman (RINO)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 10%
Stock: Falling
Change Agent: No

Cato is something of a paradox. His power is at its apex at the moment and yet the very forces which produced his surge will likely hasten his downfall. By cutting a deal to elect a Democrat to the Supreme Court in exchange for Black Caucus support for an imminent run at the Speaker’s Office, Cato has infuriated his fellow leaders and opened the rank-and-file Republicans up to blistering criticism. You’ll hear about Judge Beatty during the 2008 elections, and all the fingers will be pointing at Cato.

10. Harvey Peeler – Senate Majority Leader (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 50%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: No

The bottom line is that if he wanted to, the Senate Majority Leader could flat kick your ass. He’s big, burly, brusque and always seems to have a mischievous look in his eye. When Peeler crashed a press conference held by the governor and members of the House earlier this year, nobody dared step between him and the microphone. Unfortunately, despite having a decent voting record himself, Peeler’s “Republican” Caucus in the State Senate is about as conservative as Jane Fonda.

11 – Mark Sanford – Governor (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 95%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: Yes

Sanford may be the Don Quixote of state government, but he’s still got the biggest microphone in town and the man on the street remains solidly in his corner. We give him plenty of grief for his eccentricities (and inconsistencies), but lately he’s started to show his old form a bit more. Additionally, he seems to be developing a taste for political battles beyond charts and graphs, something he’ll need to continue nurturing if he expects to get a legislative deck of cards that’s worth playing.

12. Jim DeMint – U.S. Senator (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 100%
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: Yes

DeMint has legitimately impressed us recently with his firm stance against pork barrel spending in Washington. He also solidified his popularity with a huge chunk of the GOP base by emerging on the winning side of the immigration issue. The former Upstate ad man still has about as much charisma as a paper weight, but he does seem to be growing into his suit a bit more these days.

13. Dan Cooper – House Ways & Means Chairman (RINO)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 0%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: No

Next to Senator Leatherman, Cooper is the biggest porker in all of state government. He also has an “Egg-tooth,” which we think is pretty damn funny. Cooper is the epitome of the “go along to get along” problem in Columbia, the kind of guy who thinks that spending your tax dollars on boat ramps, pig pickin’ festivals and local sports complexes (named after his dad) will somehow create “economic development” in our rural counties. Actually, all they create is more taxpayer waste in a state that’s already got plenty to go around.

14. Gresham Barrett – U.S. Representative (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 100%
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: Yes

If he plays his cards right, Barrett could very well end up in the governor’s office in 2011. His credentials on both fiscal and social conservative issues are impeccable, meaning he’ll be an attractive candidate to both the GOP bible base as well as the rapidly growing bloc of “pocketbook” Republicans and fiscal moderates. Barrett will have to prove he can raise the money to be competitive, but if he does that and runs a Sanford-style, economic-themed campaign – watch out.

15. Rod Shealy, Sr. – Political Consultant
Fiscal Conservative Rating: N/A
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: No

Long regarded as an amusing sideshow to the decades-old “Consultant War” between Richard Quinn and Warren Tompkins, the last three years have seen Shealy rise to the peak of his political consulting power. Love him or hate him, the fact is he’s the most diabolically-gifted consultant in the state right now. One of our readers recently described him by invoking the “Just Win, Baby” slogan of longtime Oakland Raiders’ owner Al Davis. Well, Shealy has done that – following up his prolific 2006 with two special election wins in State Senate races this year.

16. Richard Davis – Lobbyist (D)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 0%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: No

It’s easy to make the Top 20 when you’re basically a high-priced errand boy for the biggest spender in all of state government, Sen. Hugh Leatherman. Like his master, Davis is a Democrat who pretends to be Republican because it’s good for business. Go through the state budget, for example, and you’ll find Davis’ fingerprints all over dozens of wasteful line items, and the recent vote to restore corruption and inefficiency on the State Budget and Control Board means that Davis and Leatherman will be plotting new ways of depriving you of your tax dollars for at least the next three years. Of course when Leatherman is eventually ousted, Davis will be as worthless as tits on a bull.

17. Larry Marchant – Lobbyist (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 95%
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: Yes

The smartest, most aggressive (and best dressed) lobbyist in Columbia, Marchant has absolutely no fear. Coming from the bare-knuckle political school of former Gov. Carroll Campbell, Marchant has taken on some of the most controversial issues in the state and still managed to expand his power base, not to mention position himself as a prime target for presidential prospects. A stark contrast to most lobbyists, Marchant succeeds by taking risks, not hiding from them.

18. Lee Bandy – Columnist, The State Newspaper
Fiscal Conservative Rating: N/A
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: Yes

For a guy who retired from journalism last year after four decades in the business, Bandy’s weekly column is still must-read material for every South Carolina politico. Bandy doesn’t report on public opinion, he shapes it, as a single word from him can either propel a presidential campaign into the mainstream or take the wind out of a candidate’s sails. Always “stirring the pot,” as he likes to call it, Bandy is his own political institution in this state.

19. Lindsey Graham – U.S. Senator (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 60%
Stock: Falling
Change Agent: No

We actually admire Lindsey Graham for sticking to his guns on the immigration issue, but the fact is his penchant to side with the Democrats in Washington on critical votes has caused his stock to plummet dramatically in recent years. As a result he’s now a pariah with a substantial (and highly-motivated) chunk of the Republican base, and while his general election prospects are still strong, a well-funded conservative challenger could send Graham packing in a 2008 GOP primary.

20. Reggie Lloyd – U.S. Attorney
Fiscal Conservative Rating: N/A
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: ?

Reggie Lloyd is flat out as cool as the other side of the pillow, a high-stakes power player with the one of the best poker face we’ve seen in a long time. An African-American conservative with law and order credentials and an easy-going, affable demeanor, if Reggie Lloyd isn’t the future of the Republican Party we don’t know who is.

21. Bill Gillespie – State Economist (D)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 0%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: No

An outright communist who wouldn’t know the revenue-enhancing benefit of a tax cut if it flew up his rear end, lit a camp fire and started roasting S’mores, Gillespie is the biggest quack in all of state government, and like lobbyist Richard Davis pays his mortgage by living on the inside lining of Sen. Hugh Leatherman’s suit pocket. Gillespie is best known for sitting blithely by while billions of dollars get blown on pork barrel spending, yet anytime a tax cut is suggested he’s the first one out of the box saying we can’t afford it.

22. Tom Davis – Chief of Staff, Gov. Mark Sanford (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 100%
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: Yes

Few in state government can hold a candle to the irrepressible intellect, conservative credentials and tireless work ethic of Tom Davis. One of the only men in Columbia with the ear of the governor and the trust of the legislature, Davis has been at the forefront of every successful Sanford initiative. The lead driver of South Carolina’s bi-state port partnership with Georgia (potentially one of the biggest economic development projects in state history), Davis also personally delivered a stunning blow to Democratic Superintendent of Education Jim Rex when he led the fight to sustain the governor’s veto of Rex’s sham public school choice bill. His fantasy baseball team may be on the way to the cellar, but Davis’ political career is on an upward trajectory.

23. Warren Tompkins – Lobbyist, Political Consultant (RINO)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 0%
Stock: Falling
Change Agent: No

Six years ago, Tompkins would’ve been in our Top 10. He had just helped navigate George W. Bush to a stunning presidential primary victory and seemed poised to put Bob Peeler in the Governor’s Office. After a disastrous 2002 campaign season, however, he’s had just one statewide victory and has stumbled badly as South Carolina Counselor-in-Chief to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential bid. Tompkins still elects plenty of status quo state legislators, but his best days on the big stage are behind him.

24. Jim Rex – State Superintendent of Education (D)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 0%
Stock: Falling
Change Agent: No

Rex came out of nowhere to edge Republican Karen Floyd by a razor-thin margin in the 2006 elections, but since then his stock has been steadily dropping. Rebuffed in his efforts to co-opt the parental choice movement with a sham “open enrollment” bill, Rex’s next step will likely be to propose another smoke-and-mirrors “choice” proposal, perhaps a state-controlled pilot program. Despite his diminished clout, though, Rex is still the only Democrat currently holding statewide office.

25. Andre Bauer – Lt. Governor (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 70%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: ?

Left for dead during the 2006 campaign, Bauer pulled off not one, but two political miracles. First, he staved off a well-funded primary challenge from GOP scion Mike Campbell. Then he defeated perhaps the most qualified Democratic challenger on the ballot, Robert Barber. Dogged by the perception of immaturity, Bauer has actually impressed us of late by focusing on substantive reforms to the Department of Health and Human Services and using his Office on Aging to cultivate a powerful political base. Remember – one out of every three voters is a senior citizen, people, and seniors love them some Andre Bauer.

26. Roger Milliken – Industrialist
Fiscal Conservative Rating: N/A
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: No

When you’re South Carolina’s only billionaire, it’s hard to dispute your place on a list of powerbrokers. Milliken is not going to single-handedly influence a presidential election, of course, but his money ensures that his views are going to get into the bloodstream one way or another. Plus, piss him off and he’ll be your worst nightmare.

27. Jenny Sanford – First Lady (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 95%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: Yes

Jenny Sanford has never lost an election serving as campaign manager to her husband, Mark, and as much as she gets the “Hillary Clinton” rap, at least her overt involvement in her husband’s administration is consistently coming from the right as opposed to the left. South Carolina’s First Lady is as tough and smart as they come, an Old Testament woman with a 170 IQ.

28. Richard Quinn – Political Consultant (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 45%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: Sometimes

By far the best “message man” of the big three political consultants, Quinn is in the fight of his life right now managing the South Carolina destinies of John McCain and Lindsey Graham, both of whom have taken massive incoming hits during the last year over the immigration issue. The “Quinndom” will always be a force to be reckoned with in state politics, though, and just as Shealy bounced back from a tough 2002, there’s no doubt Richard & Co. will bounce back from what’s shaping up to be a tough 2008.

29. Joe Erwin – Former Democratic Party Chairman (D)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 0%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: No

Erwin was understated during his time as State Democratic Party Chairman, which wasn’t hard to do following a firebrand like Dick Harpootlian. Loaded with cash and possessing a PR man’s knack for selling ideas, Erwin is one of the top contenders to seek the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2010.

30. Darrell Jackson – State Senator, Pastor (D)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 5%
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: ?

Jackson’s recent remarks supporting the notion of parental choice have put the fear of God into the education establishment, and with good reason. Already one of the Palmetto State’s most powerful politicians, Jackson’s stature only grows with every overture he makes to the “right” side of a political issue. His Bible Way church is also a political machine, which was on display earlier this year when it hosted Bill Clinton at the State NAACP convention. Like Elliot Ness, Jackson is untouchable.

31. Robbie Kerr – Former Director, DHHS
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 80%
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: Yes

Like E.F. Hutton, when Robbie Kerr speaks, people listen. The state’s foremost expert on Medicaid and health care reform was hands-down Sanford’s most impressive Cabinet member, and the leadership role he’s currently taking in meeting South Carolina’s chronic health insurance crisis is one of many projects keeping him at the forefront of this vital debate.

32. Henry McMaster – Attorney General (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 60%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: No

McMaster is another name bandied about as a possible gubernatorial candidate in 2010, and the fact he was reelected Attorney General without opposition says a lot about the strength of his political position. McMaster has had a down year in 2007, “losing” a high-profile kidnapping/ rape case and taking a beating for his unwavering support of John McCain, but he’s probably still in the top tier of would-be governors.

33. John Spratt – U.S. Representative (D)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 0%
Stock: Falling
Change Agent: No

While his colleague Jim Clyburn has gotten most of the headlines, Spratt is still a force in Washington politics and, oh by the way, Chairman of the House Budget Committee. Interestingly enough, we were chairwomen of the budget committee at our church bake sale once, but somehow it just isn’t the same thing. Spratt also pummeled a qualified Republican opponent last year due to poor management from the national GOP, but we’re not convinced that a smart, S.C.-based campaign couldn’t take him out.

34. Katon Dawson – Chairman, SCGOP (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 60%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: ?

The Republican Party in South Carolina is at war with itself and sadly the big government, anti-reform forces are winning a lot more fights than they’re losing. Against such a backdrop, it’s difficult to call Dawson a success, but lately we’ve seen him showing a little more backbone against the status quo legions. It’s difficult to run a party that’s controlled by Democrats (well, unless of course it’s the Democratic Party) but we’re eager to see Dawson continue taking steps that will hopefully return the GOP to its less government, lower tax roots.

35. Bill Stern – State Ports Authority Chairman (D)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 0%
Stock: Falling
Change Agent: No

Stern doesn’t care which party you’re affiliated with, if you’re in power he’s going to be there suckling at the teet. A capable fundraiser, Stern’s stewardship of the Port of Charleston has been a disaster. During his tenure, the port has dropped from No. 4 in the nation to No. 7 and faces dwindling traffic due to lack of capacity expansion. Along with fellow Marxists Harry Butler and Tumpy Campbell, Stern is literally running one of our state’s few competitive advantages into the ground by refusing to allow private capital to pay for needed infrastructure enhancements.

36. Randy Page – President, SCRG (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 100%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: Yes

His group has been dubbed the “Scourge” by its political opponents and labeled a “cancer” by the left-leaning press, but Page somehow manages to remain one of the most well-liked guys in Columbia. He’s also one of the most powerful, as SCRG (love ‘em or hate ‘em) isn’t short of cash and isn’t afraid to crack skulls.

37. Nick Kremydas – S.C. Realtors Association
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 80%
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: ?

Kremydas may look like the villain in a James Bond film, but the fact is he runs one of the more conservative associations in South Carolina – and is easily one of the state’s most influential young powerbrokers. Now if we can only get him to plot some “elaborate yet easily-escapable” scheme for our demise (perhaps sharks with lasers on their heads?), we can begin filming immediately. “Ahhh … Meester Bond.”

38. Bob Royall – Former U.S. Ambassador (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: N/A
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: ?

If cash is the lifeblood of politics, then having Bob Royall on your team is like dropping an ATM in the middle of your campaign office. The former Secretary of Commerce and U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania has been a heavy hitter in S.C. politics for decades, and his shelf life seems to be limitless. Just last year, in fact, Royall was urged by numerous business leaders to challenge Gov. Mark Sanford for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, pretty lofty praise indeed for a 72-year old.

39. John Rainey – Chairman, State Board of Economic Advisors (RINO)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 10%
Stock: Falling
Change Agent: No

Our biggest beef with Rainey is he can’t forecast state revenue for sh*t. Seriously, we could put a chimpanzee with a dartboard in charge of the BEA and probably get a more accurate indicator of how much money is going to come into Columbia. Rainey is crusty, curmudgeony and by far the worst appointment Mark Sanford ever made (next to Bill Stern, anyway). Of course, his personal wealth and power over the forecasts that determine how much of our cash the legislature gets to blow through each year means that everybody in Columbia kisses his seersucker ass.

40. Stan Spears – Adjutant General (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: N/A
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: No

Gen. Spears is South Carolina’s top soldier and leader of the S.C. National Guard, which means he’s got real power in addition to political clout. Unfortunately, the nation’s only independently-elected Adjutant General has been a vocal opponent of long-overdue changes to the State Constitution that would place his office in the Cabinet of future governors.

41. Dan Hoover – Reporter/ Columnist, Greenville News
Fiscal Conservative Rating: N/A
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: Sometimes

Hoover, the heir apparent to Lee Bandy as dean of the S.C. political press corps, is another Sunday columnist whose insights play a tremendous role in determining if a given candidate sinks or swims. He’s also a rock solid investigative reporter and edgy political blogger for the Greenville News, a regular journalistic jack-of-all-trades who is poised to become the most influential newsman in the state when Bandy hangs up his column after the 2008 presidential election.

42. Converse Chellis – State Treasurer (RINO)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 10%
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: No

Chellis, rocked in recent weeks by past allegations of fraud and sexual harassment, is nothing more than a “Sock Puppet” on the State Budget & Control Board for big government Republicans Hugh Leatherman & Dan Cooper. Elected by the legislature in the wake of the Thomas Ravenel drug scandal, Chellis once again gives big spenders a 3-2 majority on the board, the danger of which was demonstrated last week when he cast the deciding vote to return a Democrat to the board’s top executive position.

43. Inez Tenenbaum – Former State Superintendent of Education (D)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 0%
Stock: Falling
Change Agent: No

You’ve got to give Inez credit – during her eight-year tenure as Superintendent our schools went from being the nation’s worst to … well, still being the nation’s worst. Tenenbaum doubled the Department of Education’s bureaucracy and spent billions of new tax dollars to get the same result we could have gotten by sitting at a computer playing Yahoo! “TextTwist” all day. For whatever reason, Inez is still viewed by Democrats as a heroine and a viable statewide candidate, which given her husband Sam’s money is probably not all that surprising.

44. Harry Ott – House Minority Leader (D)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 0%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: No

The fact that the current House Minority Leader is ranked a couple dozen spots ahead of the current House Majority Leader on this list should tell you all you need to know about which party is running the show in Columbia. As long as the Republican leadership allows Democrats-in-hiding like Joan Brady to continue selling out the core ideals of the GOP, Ott and his Democratic Caucus will be happy to continue scooping up the taxpayer-funded spoils.

45. Richard Eckstrom – Comptroller General (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 95%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: Yes

Eckstrom is probably the only statewide official ever included in a Saturday Night Live skit, which in and of itself solidifies his presence on this list for many years to come. Although he and the governor have lost their majority on the state Budget & Control Board, Eckstrom is still a fiscal force in Columbia, as well as a fashion icon with his white bucks, bow ties and seersucker threads.

46. Joel Lourie – State Senator (D)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 0%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: No

One of the most accessible, likeable (yet liberal) Democrats in Columbia, Lourie is probably the most well-positioned financially to make a gubernatorial bid in 2010. Having said that, his ready access to cash doesn’t guarantee that he’ll be the man to mount the challenge, as his friend James Smith is also at the top of several 2010 lists. Lourie and Smith have said they won’t run against each other, meaning the Dems had better start figuring out who’s going to be the point man and who’s going to provide institutional support. Personally, we think Smith makes the better front man, but Lourie could surprise us.

47. Aaron Gould Sheinin – Reporter, The State Newspaper
Fiscal Conservative Rating: N/A
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: Yes

Tough, fair, respected and hugely influential, Sheinin – whose enterprise reporting is the best in the state right now – leads the political coverage for South Carolina’s largest newspaper, making him the most powerful pure reporter around. He doesn’t have his own column yet (like Lee Bandy or Dan Hoover), but the man known around the State House as “Elvis” probably deserves one. He’s the heir apparent to Bandy, meaning he’ll probably be a top 20 powerbroker himself in the next few years.

48. Frank Fusco – Executive Director, State Budget & Control Board (D)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 0%
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: No

Back in charge at the Budget & Control Board after a seven-month absence, Fusco is ready to once again do the bidding of his big government bosses Hugh Leatherman and Dan Cooper, a cornucopia of taxpayer-draining duties which will probably include administering their $46 million a year slush fund, a.k.a. the “competitive grants” program. More powerful than all but a handful of legislators, the re-appointment of this dyed-in-the-wool Democrat is among the most frightening results of the GOP’s complete abdication of its fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers.

49. Jim Micali – CEO, Michelin North America
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 80%
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: Yes

The incoming president of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce and immediate past president of the Manufacturer’s Alliance, Micali is a key emerging business leader. He’s also by all accounts a pro-business conservative, which would make him a breath of fresh air at a State Chamber organization that under Hunter Howard’s leadership veered further to the left than the guest list at a Streisand fundraiser.

50. Nikki Haley – State Representative (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 100%
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: Yes

Independent, fiercely intelligent and altogether impervious to the slings and arrows of the State House rumor mill, Nikki Haley keeps her head down and consistently produces. She’s also raising money at the level of a statewide candidate and earning props for her impressive showing on the workers’ compensation conference committee. A star on the rise if we’ve ever seen one, don’t be surprised when you wake up one day and discover she’s South Carolina’s first female governor.

51. Ed Sellers – CEO, Blue Cross Blue Shield
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 80%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: Yes

Sellers is without question one of the most politically active and influential captains of industry in South Carolina at the moment, exercising tremendous clout and enjoying distinctly positive relations with both of the warring GOP factions (one of the few Palmetto politicos who can say that). His involvement in a new effort to meet South Carolina’s growing health insurance crisis will keep him at the center of public policy debate for a long time to come, and his frequent forays into tax policy lend added gravitas to an already impressive resume.

52. Cindi Ross Scoppe – Assistant Editorial Page Editor, The State
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 50%
Stock: Falling
Change Agent: Once in a blue moon

Although her boss Brad Warthen tends to get most of the attention, Scoppe makes it on our list because unlike Warthen, what she writes is actually coherent … and taken somewhat seriously. That can be good and bad, as Scoppe’s pro-reform zeal on issues like restructuring showcase her forward-thinking vision, yet her blind allegiance to the failed status quo with respect to education demonstrates a narrow-minded recalcitrance. Scoppe has also never met a tax hike she didn’t like, and never met a tax cut that didn’t send her scrambling for the class warfare spin dictionary.

53. Rick Silver – Public Relations Counselor (D)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 0%
Stock: Falling
Change Agent: No

The architect of the education establishment’s multimillion dollar PR-effort, Silver’s cunning is legendary in Palmetto political circles. A truth-averse hack of the first order, he’s the man responsible for the whole “Beware the Wolf” campaign against parental choice, and is also the author of a litany of Goebbels-esque attacks levied against the proven effectiveness of choice in improving public education. Of the Jewish faith, Silver will probably not appreciate being compared to the Propaganda Minister of the Third Reich, but if the shoe fits …

54. Darla Moore – Businesswoman (D)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 20%
Stock: Falling
Change Agent: No

We initially had the richer-than-God benefactress rated a lot higher on our list, but it seems the namesake of South Carolina’s biggest business school and co-founder of the Palmetto Institute has missed her window when it comes to capitalizing on her prodigious political clout. A big government Democrat hiding behind a sexy, pro-business veneer, Moore was among those lobbying for taxpayers to spend $1 million on a Green Bean Museum in her native Florence County, effectively killing what little fiscal conservative credibly she had left. Four years ago, Moore’s name was at the top of the list when Democratic statewide offices were discussed. Today, it’s scarcely mentioned.

55. Joe Taylor – Secretary of Commerce (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 60%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: Sometimes

Taylor says all the right things, but we’re not convinced he’s the pro-business leader South Carolina needs to move its economic development efforts into the 21st Century. Of course, until we address gaping holes in our underlying tax climate, we could put Adam Smith himself at the helm of the Commerce Department and it wouldn’t make a lick of difference. Commerce will always be fighting with one hand tied behind its back as long as our tax code remains non-competitive and legislators continue to spend billion dollar surpluses on government pork.

56. Barbara Williams – Editorial Page Editor, Post & Courier
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 100%
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: Yes

Sometimes we think this state would be better off if “Mother Williams” was its benevolent dictator. Just as you can invariably count on The State’s editorial board to get it completely wrong, the common sense truth pours effortlessly from the unflinching pen of the Post & Courier’s editorial diva. The good news is that with The State’s recent pullback from numerous non-Columbia markets, more people are reading Mother Williams’ words of wisdom now than the vindictive fiction propagated by Unabomber look-alike Brad Warthen.

57. Burnie Maybank – Attorney (RINO)
Fiscal Conservative Ranking: 30%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: No

Maybank, who served as Revenue Director for two Republican governors, is the consummate Palmetto insider. Haling from a prominent Charleston family, the man in the tortoise-shelled glasses is as loaded and well-connected a politico as you’re going to find in South Carolina. Unfortunately, his ideas are about as fresh as his cocktail hour jokes, which are delivered ad nauseum in his trademark dry, nasal tone. People listen to him, to be sure, we just have no idea why.

58. Strom Thurmond, Jr. – Former U.S. Attorney (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: N/A
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: ?

The son and namesake of the most famous, most powerful politician in state history, Thurmond could drop his name on any ballot he wanted anywhere in this state and get at least 40% of the vote without leaving the house. Widely praised for his work as U.S. Attorney (despite the fact he was in his twenties when appointed to the post), Thurmond has remained low-key about his future political ambitions. If he embraces a reform agenda, he could be unstoppable. Of course, if his philosophical moorings lean toward the status quo, he’d probably be just as unstoppable. Whichever way he breaks, rest assured it will have a considerable impact on the future of this state.

59. Vincent Sheheen – State Senator (D)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 10%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: No

Sheheen, along with James Smith and Joel Lourie, is one of the Democratic Party’s “Young Guns” and a frequently mentioned gubernatorial prospect. His family is legendary in state politics, and Sheheen has picked up his forbearers’ mantle and firmly established himself as a star on the rise. He’ll probably play second fiddle to either Smith or Lourie in 2010, but a statewide run for something isn’t too far off.

60. Tracy Edge – State Representative (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 85%
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: Yes

Edge, who works for Myrtle Beach real estate powerhouse Burroughs & Chapin, draws his strength from the profound influence he wields over state health care policy. He also happens to be infinitely smarter than most of his colleagues, although he generally prefers to do most of his work behind the scenes. Now if we can just get him out of those Cosby sweaters and into some hip threads …

61. Laura Hudson – Victims’ Advocate
Fiscal Conservative Rating: N/A
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: ?

You won’t find a tougher, more tenacious presence at the S.C. State House than Hudson, which is probably one reason she usually gets exactly what she wants out of the legislature every year. Say no to her and you better hope you’ve got a bullet-proof vest on. Thorn in your side? Try a .45 Magnum in your face.

62. Sam Tenenbaum – Fundraiser/ Activist (D)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 0%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: No

Perhaps the most opinionated man in state politics, Tenenbaum is best known as the husband of Inez Tenenbaum, the former State Superintendent of Education. Of course, he happens to be a prodigious Democratic money man and grassroots organizer in his own right, but for the most part he lives in his wife’s shadow … albeit noisily. Is he an obnoxious blowhard? Absolutely. But if we had that kind of money we’d probably be obnoxious blowhards, too. Wait a second … we are obnoxious blowhards.

63. Beth Padgett – Editorial Page Editor, Greenville News
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 90%
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: Yes

Another editorial page editor whose stature grows with the diminished readership of The State, Beth Padgett of the Greenville News is a consistent advocate for changes that will move South Carolina forward. Her passionate, well-reasoned arguments are frequently found circulating around the State House, often from reform advocates wishing they could have said it as well as Beth did.

64. Lewis Gossett – President, S.C. Manufacturers’ Alliance (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 80%
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: Most of the time

Gossett, who is bald but not black (amazingly), just pulled off a major expansion of his organization and is in the midst of a successful “Made in S.C.” industry promotional campaign. The Manufacturers’ Alliance – which boasts a surprisingly strong conservative record compared to the rampant liberalism of the State Chamber and other supposed “pro-business” groups – was already a major player in state politics, but Gossett and Co. (Sara Hopper, James Richter, etc.) are taking steps to further cement its strength.

65. Kevin Hall – Attorney (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 80%
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: Most of the time

The presumptive heir to Katon Dawson as Republican Party Chairman, Hall is also a sought-after Republican fundraiser who has played key roles in both Mark Sanford and Jim DeMint’s successful election victories, and is currently a South Carolina chairman for Lindsey Graham. He’s in all the right camps, knows all the right people and raises beaucoup bucks, meaning he’ll have a prime seat at the table in plenty of elections to come.

66. Eddie Floyd – Doctor, Fundraiser (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: N/A
Stock: Falling
Change Agent: No

Eddie Floyd is tired. Ask him and he’ll tell you. There was a time in S.C. politics when his was the ring you had to kiss in order to win statewide election, but his role as Republican kingmaker has diminished vastly in the last eight years. Floyd still has pull, don’t get us wrong, but he’s a far cry from his prime.

67. Jimmy Merrill – House Majority Leader (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 75%
Stock: Falling
Change Agent: ?

As much as we give him grief from time to time, we actually like Jimmy and recognize the tremendous potential he has to grow into a legitimate conservative leader one day. Unfortunately, 2007 was a big step backward in that process. Merrill seemed dazed and confused throughout the recently-concluded session, and his lethargy helped hand Democrats dozens of key victories. Of course to Merrill’s credit, it’s got to be tough fighting out-of-control spending when your own party is driving the gravy train. He does needs to take steps, however, to clarify that he’s part of the solution, not part of the problem.

68. Ann Timberlake – League of Conservation Voters
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 55%
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: Yes

Conservation had a good year in 2007, as Timberlake and lobbyist Christie McGregor got pretty much everything they wanted out of the legislature. One of the few areas in which we happen to think government should be spending more, not less, the Conservation Bank is a critical investment in our state’s competitiveness. Until we become competitive in recruiting high-wage jobs in emerging economic sectors, we’re going to remain a tourism-dependent state. And you can’t have a vibrant tourism economy if your state looks and feels like New Jersey.

69. Rick Quinn – Former Majority Leader (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 70%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: Sometimes

Defeated for his House seat in 2004 and defeated in the State Treasurer’s race in 2006, Quinn is focusing most of his energies on business opportunities for the moment. Of course he’s never far from the thick of the political action. Not only does Quinn run one of the state’s biggest political mail houses, his extensive personal relationships with current legislators and encyclopedic knowledge of the state budget and tax policy makes him a highly sought-after advisor. Along with State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, Quinn remains one of only two Palmetto politicos in the past decade to offer a viable alternative to the state’s existing tax code. The Quinn-Sheheen plan, although never passed, at least exposed the need to end dozens of anti-competitive tax exemptions, and its authors’ ultimately came around to the notion of a substantial income tax reduction as a necessary prerequisite for job creation.

70. Tom DeLoache – BIPEC (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 85%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: Yes

BIPEC’s recent legislative ratings were a shot across the bow of the Republican-led General Assembly, as well as a stark reminder of how anti-business the GOP has become in recent years. DeLoache showed tremendous guts in releasing such a scathing scorecard – now the question is whether or not his organization will follow through and put pressure on the legislators it called out.

71. Oran Smith – President, Palmetto Family Council (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: N/A
Stock: Falling
Change Agent: ?

The primary spokesman of the “values crowd,” Oran is a surprisingly nice guy and one of the few Bible thumpers we genuinely enjoy being around. Having said that, while we agree with most of his issues, he’s preaching to an increasingly shrinking choir in South Carolina as fiscal issues gain more and more traction with our state’s shifting electorate.

72. Joe Wilson – U.S. Representative (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 60%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: No

Yadda, yadda, yadda. America is the best. Here’s another keychain … Seriously, the fact we pay this guy taxpayer dollars to cheese it up all day is a disgrace. Sure, he’s a Congressman so we have to put him on the list (whoops, no Henry Brown or Bob Inglis), but Wilson is so low on substance and high on hyperbole it’s hard to take him seriously. Which is probably why we usually don’t take him seriously – unless of course he’s smacking around the idiots currently in charge at the State Ports Authority, as he’s been known to do from time to time.

73. Walter Whetsell – Political Consultant (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: N/A
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: ?

One of the top political advisors to the State Republican Party, Whetsell is more keenly aware than most of the dangers posed by the recent spate of Republican overspending and scandal. Unfortunately, he hasn’t run his recent campaigns based on that awareness. Once he figures out that he needs candidates who actually believe in conservative ideas (as opposed to their influence on electoral math), Whetsell could easily crack into the top tier of GOP consultants.

74. Jim Hodges – Former Governor (D)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 10%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: No

The “education governor” didn’t deliver the goods during his one term in the governor’s office, and his 2002 defeat paved the way for what looked like a Republican revival in state government. Of course that didn’t happen, and Hodges has quietly bided his time on the sidelines, no doubt relishing the GOP infighting. Opportunities like the ONE campaign keep him active and in print, but whether or not Hodges makes another push toward the top of the list will depend largely on whether Republicans can get their act together or not.

75. Annette Young – Majority Whip (RINO)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 10%
Stock: Falling
Change Agent: No

Temperamental if not temperate, let’s just say Young never would’ve made it during Prohibition. When she’s sober, she can scheme and connive with the best of them, although her instrumental role in the election of Democratic Judge Donald Beatty to the State Supreme Court has exposed her to considerable risk in her Dorchester County district, where dozens of activists she’s screwed over in the past now appear ready to pounce.

76. Butch Bowers – Attorney (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 90%
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: Yes

Butch, a key player in the recent workers’ compensation reform debate, is one of the GOP’s top new movers and shakers. Universally respected, he works behind the scenes on dozens of issues, seldom finding the limelight himself but always delivering the policy goods along with top notch counsel as to how to use them effectively.

77. Steve Benjamin – Attorney (D)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: N/A
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: No

Benjamin was defeated in his run for state Attorney General five years ago, but his future in the Democratic Party remains bright. If Republicans continue to squander their majority status, you can bet that agile, energetic young minds like Benjamin will be ready to steal it right out from under their noses.

78. Mike Green – SC Hotline Editor (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: N/A
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: ?

We don’t care how goofy Mike is, when you get to pick the headlines on the state’s most widely-read online political news source, that’s power. The emerging importance of the web in politics cannot be disputed, and Green’s SC Hotline (co-owned with Jeffrey Sewell) remains the primary information portal through which thousands of politicos pass each and every morning.

79. Ashley Landess – S.C. Policy Council Vice-President (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 100%
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: Yes

Landess, whose columns are printed every month in dozens of local newspapers, is a sharp and sassy conservative commentator who is widely regarded as the brains behind the S.C. Policy Council. A marathon runner who is also active in the ONE campaign and other humanitarian efforts, Landess has been a front-line player in South Carolina’s education and tax policy debates for years.

80. Joe Riley – Mayor of Charleston (D)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: N/A
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: N/A

Defined by his strong leadership during the Hurricane Hugo crisis eighteen years ago, Riley couldn’t quite turn his popularity into statewide gold. He’s an icon in the Lowcountry, however, a growing and increasingly potent political base where his endorsement and organization lends instant juice to any statewide candidacy.

81. David Beasley – Former Governor (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 60%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent – No

“Da Beas” is back, people, and relishing his role as the top Palmetto politico backing the surprisingly credible presidential campaign of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Now nearly a decade removed from his gubernatorial ouster and seemingly cured of his political itch after an unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid in 2004, Beasley is done running for office but still holds the allegiance of a progressive chunk of the Republican Party.

82. Chris Drummond – Political Consultant (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 80%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: Yes

If there’s dirt to be had on anybody, anywhere in South Carolina politics, chances are Drummond either has it or has already leaked it. The former TV executive turned Sanford communications director is definitely as shady a character as you’re ever going to find in Palmetto politics, but his messaging skills and relationships with the S.C. press corps are second to none.

83. Fred Carter – President, Francis Marion University (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 50%
Stock: Falling
Change Agent: No

The former director of the Budget and Control Board and Sanford’s first Chief of Staff, Carter still has tremendous influence on the Columbia political scene from his well-upholstered Pee Dee outpost – the President’s Office at Francis Marion University. With numerous Carter protégés in key positions throughout state government, this former Marine’s influence will be felt on the Columbia echo chamber for years to come.

84. BJ Boling – Political Consultant (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 100%
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: Yes

Check back in ten years and Boling will no doubt be among the top two or three political consultants in the state. He’s sharp, selfless and his gut instincts are among the best we’ve ever seen. It speaks volumes for his abilities that Boling survived not one, but two cost-cutting purges in the McCain organization, and his success against seemingly insurmountable odds in Nikki Haley’s insurgent campaign three years ago will go down in Palmetto political history as one of the state’s greatest upsets.

85. Curtis Loftis – Director, State Office on Aging (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 85%
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: Yes

Since inheriting the reins of the Office on Aging, Loftis has emerged as a key player in the Columbia political scene and one of the Lt. Governor’s most trusted advisors. A successful businessman and charitable organizer with surprisingly well-attuned political radar, Loftis has Bauer’s most precious political asset firing on all cylinders.

86. Kristin Maguire – Education Policy Analyst (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 95%
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: Yes

Maguire is a stay-at-home mom who makes occasional forays to the State House on education-related legislation, but it’s her behind the scenes work crafting and articulating conservative education policy that defines her influence. You can bet any statewide GOP campaign tackling the education issue has at least given her a call.

87. Fred Allen – Lobbyist
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 30%
Stock: Falling
Change Agent: No

Allen boasts one of the most impressive client rosters of any lobbyist, and his on-again, off-again status as a Republican fundraiser has helped expand his universe of influence. Unfortunately, compared to lobbyist/ politicos like Richard Davis, Larry Marchant and Warren Tompkins, Allen is looking up at most of the Palmetto State’s top inside players.

88. Chad Walldorf – President, S.C. Club for Growth (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 100%
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: Yes

Walldorf was one vote shy of becoming the next director of the Budget and Control Board, but this former Sanford Deputy Chief of Staff isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Aided in Columbia by Joshua Gross, Walldorf is slowly building the Club for Growth into a legitimate S.C. conservative advocacy group that could one day play a pivotal role in shaping a new Republican Majority. A successful businessman, Walldorf was also the brains behind Gov. Sanford’s groundbreaking Executive Budgets, some of the most well-conceptualized conservative policy statements South Carolina has seen in decades.

89. Don Fowler – Former National Democratic Party Chairman (D)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 0%
Stock: Falling
Change Agent: No

Fowler’s wife Carol is an embarrassment as State Democratic Party Chairwoman, but with the former national Democratic Don behind her, she has to be taken at least a little bit seriously. Don is an A-List national operative, and along with Republican Tucker Eskew one of the few South Carolina politicos to play a major role on the national partisan stage in recent years.

90. Sunny Phillips – Fundraiser (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: N/A
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: ?

Sunny is alternately loved and loathed by her Republican peers, but her ability to raise money makes her a highly sought-after commodity during election years. Currently with the State GOP, Phillips has raised coin for dozens of Republican candidates including Mark Sanford, Thomas Ravenel, Joe Wilson, Ralph Norman, Jim DeMint and Karen Floyd. Now she’s raising cash for GOP Chairman Katon Dawson.

91. Trey Walker – Political Consultant (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: N/A
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: ?

Walker seems too young to have been in state politics as long as he has, but the top lieutenant of Richard Quinn’s political empire is still very much in the mix as chief political advisor to Attorney General Henry McMaster. Walker’s influence has taken a dip with the sagging fortunes of John McCain’s South Carolina campaign – which he managed until recently – but he remains a steady, knowledgeable political hand with a wealth of institutional knowledge.

92. Mike Campbell – State Director, Americans for Prosperity (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 90%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: Yes

Since his elder brother “Tumpy” inherited a brain the size of a golf ball, Mike is the heir apparent to the legacy of their celebrated father, former Gov. Carroll Campbell. Mike’s initial foray into politics didn’t go so well, as he lost a tight race to Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer in the 2006 GOP primaries, but he has bounced back nicely by serving as state director for “Americans for Prosperity,” a conservative grassroots group. He’s also hitched his star to the surprisingly smooth-riding presidential wagon of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who we think will be a top prospect for the Vice-Presidential nod.

93. Zeke Stokes – Political Consultant (D)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: N/A
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: No

Along with former State Democratic Party Executive Director Lachlan McIntosh and Barack Obama staffer Laurin Manning, Stokes is one of the top three up-and-coming political minds in the Democratic Party. He also served as the lead consultant to the only victorious statewide campaign the Democrats had in 2006, which is saying something. A recent brush with the State Ethics Commission for improper e-mailing did raise some eyebrows, but fortunately for Stokes the State Ethics Commission has less aggressiveness than a Rent-A-Cop, and so he walked with scarcely a slap on the wrist.

94. Robert Ford –State Senator (D)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 0%
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: No

Ford makes this list because of his close ties with powerful State Sen. Glenn McConnell. Believe it or not, this poverty pimp is thick as thieves with the Confederate re-enactor, an “odd couple” relationship which frequently gives Ford a leg up on his Senate colleagues. Notoriously inane, Ford once referred to e-mail as a “tool of the aristocracy.” He’s also tight with Charleston PR pro Chris Drummond, Gov. Sanford’s former communications czar. Strange bedfellows, indeed.

95. Dick Harpootlian – Attorney (D)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 0%
Stock: Falling
Change Agent: No

It’ll probably be a century before anybody even half as entertaining as Dick Harpootlian lands on South Carolina’s political scene. Democrats scored some of their biggest gains in the new “Republican” era when this prominent Columbia defense attorney was at the helm of the party, and his quick sense of humor and in-your-face political incorrectness routinely made life miserable for his dim-witted GOP adversaries.

96. Bob Coble – Mayor of Columbia (D)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 20%
Stock: Falling
Change Agent: No

Coble’s name always seems to pop up as a possible Democratic candidate for statewide office, but for whatever reason he’s never taken the plunge. One reason could be that he looks a lot like Elmer Fudd, but our suspicion is he just can’t raise the money needed to compete. He’s still Mayor of the state’s biggest metropolitan area, however, which is almost as cool as being the Mayor of Importantville.

97. Marci Andino – Executive Director, State Election Commission
Fiscal Conservative Rating: N/A
Stock: Holding
Change Agent: ?

You better believe the girl who counts the votes in South Carolina has a spot on our list. Andino may not be a household name, but she has done a commendable job navigating our state through the maze of uncertainty that followed the 2000 Florida recount fiasco. Her commission also earned high marks for its handling of the politically divisive recount process in the 2006 Superintendent of Education race.

98. Hunter Howard – State Chamber of Commerce (RINO)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: 10%
Stock: Falling
Change Agent: No

Under Howard’s leadership, the S.C. Chamber of Commerce might as well have called itself the S.C. Marxist-Leninist Society. Ostensibly the voice of the business community in Columbia, Howard instead wore a cheerleader’s dress and waved his pom-poms in the air as Republicans sent South Carolina on two of the biggest spending binges in its history over the last decade. Thankfully, he’s finally stepping down from the helm of the Chamber, to which we can only say we hope the door doesn’t hit him on his way out.

99. Rick Beltram – Spartanburg County GOP Chairman (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: N/A
Stock: Falling
Change Agent: No

It would be wrong to rank politically influential South Carolinians without including at least one retarded person on the list. Enter Rick Beltram, the Spartanburg sweatshop owner whose command of the English language rivals that of insect larvae. Aside from writing like a kindergartener, Beltram’s inability to count past his fingers and toes also turned the recent Spartanburg GOP presidential straw poll into a nationally-televised goat show. In Mr. Potato Head’s favor, he does attract a lot of attention to the Upstate, it’s just not always the kind we want.

100. Katrina Shealy – Lexington County GOP Chairwoman (R)
Fiscal Conservative Rating: N/A
Stock: Rising
Change Agent: ?

In the most Republican county in the state, Katrina Shealy is the GOP equivalent of the new sheriff in town. Lexington County’s legislative delegation has numerous rising political stars and a bedrock base, meaning that if Shealy excels in her current position she could be in line to one day lead the State GOP.