Former S.C. Majority Leader Jimmy Merrill (RINO-Charleston) led a delegation of lawmakers who flew on the state plane to a “legislative conference” in Winston-Salem, N.C. last weekend, according to documents obtained by FITS.
Joining Merrill on the state plane were S.C. Reps. Shannon Erickson (RINO-Beaufort), Anne Peterson-Hutto (D-Charleston) and Bill Herbkersman (R-Bluffton). Also flying on your dime were two employees of the Charleston hospitality industry and a registered lobbyist for the S.C. Realtors’ Association, although the name of the lobbyist was listed incorrectly on the passenger manifest.
Winston Salem is only a five-hour drive from South Carolina southern-most point, which begs the obvious question – why didn’t these lawmakers just hop in the car?
As we noted in a previous story, it could be that S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford’s use of the state plane for personal and political reasons has emboldened his legislative antagonists to be even less discreet in their taxpayer-funded travel, which would be yet another unfortunate byproduct of the governor’s recent bad behavior.
This trip isn’t without political hypocrisy, either.
For example, Merrill has made a name for himself in the S.C. General Assembly by publicly opposing taxpayer-funded lobbying, even though many of his fellow lawmakers have accused him of selling out on this issue behind closed doors. Clearly, though, Merrill doesn’t have a problem inviting lobbyists to ride on the state plane with him.
The trip to this “conference” included several legs, as Merrill and his fellow Lowcountry lawmakers insisted on being picked up (and dropped off) in Hilton Head and Charleston rather than driving to Columbia to meet the plane. That adds to the taxpayer cost, obviously, as did the mechanical problems the state plane reportedly experienced while on the ground in Winston-Salem.
In fact, we’re hearing reports that the good folks over at the Division of Aeronautics – which was recently placed under the S.C. Budget and Control Board – had to drive back to South Carolina over the weekend and retrieve both parts and personnel needed to perform emergency repairs on the airplane, which was temporarily grounded during the trip.
Anyway, here’s the passenger manifest, which was provided by the Division of Aeronautics …
Dozens of other lawmakers and taxpayer-funded lobbyists also attended the event on your dime, but they made other travel arrangements.
Previously this year, several House staffers flew up to Winston-Salem on the state plane to “prepare” for this event.
The “Southern Legislative Conference” is at best a second-tier gathering of regional lawmakers. At worst? It’s a complete and total waste of time (and taxpayer resources).
In fact, we’ll be very interested to see what Rep. Merrill and his colleagues claim to have “learned” at this event, because as far as we can tell – and based on firsthand reports we received from the “conference” – most of the S.C. delegation used it as an excuse to get sloshed in bars.
Several pictures from the event have surfaced on various Facebook pages, all of them showing S.C. lawmakers and their staff drinking in bars. In one picture, a red-faced S.C. Ways & Means Committee Chairman Danny Cooper appears to be quite inebriated (which would confirm reports we received), while in another picture Majority Whip Annette Young looks to have had a few too many – which obviously wouldn’t be shocking news given her legendary affinity for the bottle.
Anyway, as the travel of S.C. politicians comes under greater scrutiny, FITS will be tracking every flight made by the state plane and reporting to you on “who flew where, with whom and for what.”