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In one of the most vindictive political moves we’ve seen in quite some time, S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell removed a member of his own party from a key House committee in retaliation for that lawmaker’s outspoken support of a government transparency proposal and other common sense conservative reforms.

State Rep. Nathan Ballentine (R-Lexington), was booted from the House Ethics Committee by a vote of the full House, but only after Harrell rigged the slate of candidates and threatened Democrats if they did not back his power play.

At the start of yesterday’s organizational session of the S.C. House, six candidates had announced their intention to run for the Ethics Committee’s six positions, but Harrell personally persuaded State Rep. Bill Sandifer to run for the committee again, even though he intends to resign from it later today (enabling Harrell to appoint his successor).

See how it works?

With Sandifer agreeing, seven candidates were now on the ballot for the committee’s six spots, meaning the one who received the fewest votes would be left out in the cold.

That’s when Bobby’s “Pretty Hate Machine” kicked into high gear.

First, two of Harrell’s most trusted “fluffers,” outgoing Majority Leader Jimmy Merrill and hard-drinking Rep. Annette Young, went on the warpath with GOP lawmakers, urging them to refrain from voting for Ballentine.

Meanwhile, Harrell went to Minority Leader Harry Ott and informed him that if Ballentine received too many Democratic votes, he would personally see to it that Laurie Slade Funderburk (D – Kershaw) was kept off of the committee, leaving the Democrats without representation.

We’re not sure if that sort of vote-trading is legal, but not surprisingly, it worked like a charm.

Ballentine received just 46 votes, falling 38 votes shy of his closest colleague in the lopsided tally.

Several lawmakers also specifically observed Speaker Harrell shooting Ballentine a smug grin as the votes were cast, smiling and looking up at the voting board as if to savor the moment.

“They clearly shut him out of the Ethics Committee for his independence,” said Rep. James Smith, who joined a few brave Democrats like Gilda Cobb-Hunter and Doug Jennings in voting for Ballentine despite the Speaker’s threats.

Far too many members of both parties caved, though.

Stay tuned for more on this, too, as what happened to Ballentine appears to be the opening shot in a much broader strategic plan that Harrell and his lieutenants will be implementing during the course of the coming legislative session.