By FITSNews || If Speaker Bobby Harrell thought he could breathe easier following the electoral defeat of his main rival within the S.C. House of Representatives – he’s got another thing (and another challenger) coming.
Harrell, a fiscal liberal who governs the House using a majority Democratic coalition (or a “RINOcrat” majority, as our founding editor likes to call it), could end up facing an even more formidable threat to his power in 2011.
Well, over his five-year reign as Speaker, Harrell has consistently fought against government transparency, supported tax hikes and spending increases and resisted all efforts to streamline and modernize state government. He’s also emerged as the preeminent defender of South Carolina’s failed education establishment, which isn’t surprising considering the money he’s pumped into the system and the fact he authored the costly “accountability” measures that were supposed to turn things around a decade ago (but which have similarly failed).
Then there’s his advocacy for “Innovista,” a botched college research campus that has cost taxpayers more than $150 million and failed to produce anything resembling the jobs and private sector investment Harrell promised.
On a personal level, Harrell has also made numerous enemies in both parties given his legendary temper tantrums and failure to keep his promises. Among Republicans – both fiscal liberals and conservatives – Harrell is viewed with disdain when compared to former Speaker David Wilkins, who was also known for his volatile temper but was generally considered to be a man of his word.
In spite of all this, Harrell scored a big win last week when the second-highest-ranking Republican in the House – Speaker Pro Tempore Harry Cato – was defeated in his Republican primary race in Greenville. For years, Cato had been quietly lining up the votes needed to oust Harrell, and it appeared that 2011 was going to be the year when he finally sprung the trap.
Cato basically had Harrell in a pincers. On the one hand, he had lined up the support of the Legislative Black Caucus by leading the fight to elect liberal judge Donald W. Beatty to the State Supreme Court in 2007. After taking considerable heat over that move (including plenty of heat from us), he began to win over the support of fiscal conservatives by – among other things – championing parental choice legislation in 2010.
Unfortunately for Cato, his support of Beatty – and ongoing questions about whether or not he actually lived in his district – doomed his campaign. Also, fiscal conservatives simply didn’t trust his “conversion.”
But just because Cato is history doesn’t mean that the path to power he was taking is permanently closed.
In fact, multiple sources tell FITS that House Judiciary Chairman Jim Harrison – who unsuccessfully challenged Harrell for the Speaker’s Chair five years ago – is quietly lining up the support he will need to oust Harrell in 2011, using the same “pincers” approach that Cato adopted.
In fact, Harrison may already have lined up as many as thirty Democratic votes – which if true would easily spell the end of Harrell’s governing majority. More shocking than that number is the fact that Harrell appears to be oblivious to the precariousness of his political positioning.
“Harrell doesn’t see what’s going on,” one senior Republican lawmaker told FITS.
In addition to this surprisingly high level of vulnerability on his left flank, Harrell is also facing increasing opposition on his right flank given the likelihood that S.C. Rep. Nikki Haley will be the Republican nominee for governor. Harrell and Haley have fought bitterly in the past, with Harrell publicly demoting Haley prior to the 2009 legislative session as a punishment for her support of “on the record” voting.
Now, with Haley’s stock rising, lawmakers are fearful of having her as an enemy.
“Members don’t want to be at war with Nikki just because of Bobby,” one lawmaker told FITS.
One problem for taxpayers in all this?
Based on his voting record, Harrison is almost as bad as Harrell when it comes to fiscal issues. In 2009, for example, he received an “F” grade on the S.C. Club for Growth’s legislative scorecards, and this year he was the ringleader of a failed effort to raise court fees on South Carolinians after state lawmakers failed to make funding the state’s court system a priority.
That’s obviously not an impressive resume, although it’s hard to imagine anyone getting to the left of Harrell on tax and spending issues – particularly given the $1 billion budget shortfall lawmakers will be staring down next year.