Print this Page

Fiscally-conservative (but charismatically-challenged) S.C. Rep. Ralph Norman has reportedly signed on to run against liberal tax-and-spender Bobby Harrell for Speaker of the S.C. House of Representatives – arguably the most powerful elected office in the Palmetto State.

Of course there is considerable speculation within Palmetto political circles that Norman’s rumored candidacy is merely part of an effort to earn a prestigious cabinet post in a Nikki Haley administration come 2011.

According to emails obtained by FITS, Norman has told a group of Tea Party activists that he will challenge Harrell – which of course prompted “much rejoicing” among their ranks.

“We have a new opportunity to dethrone King Bobby Harrell,” one email reads. “Anyone would be better then Bobby, but Ralph isn’t just anyone!”

These Tea Party groups are allegedly working closely with the S.C. Policy Council, a Republican think tank that has sparred with Harrell in the past over spending and the issue of government transparency.

Harrell, who was elected Speaker five years ago, has plunged the state down an unsustainable course of reckless government growth.

Under his leadership, the House has raised taxes and fees to pay for all sorts of new spending, and he’s the primary legislative author of our state’s failed government-run economic development model – the so-called “pillars and pyramids” scheme. This, of course, is the genius concept that has produced notorious boondoggles like “Innovista,” a speculative real estate deal disguised as a “research campus” that has sucked up over $150 million in taxpayer funds (and counting) with nothing to show for it but empty buildings.

Harrell has 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).

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

By contrast, Norman (who just regained his seat in the S.C. House after losing a 2006 bid for the U.S. Congress) has one of the strongest fiscal conservative voting records in the S.C. General Assembly. He’s also a supporter of universal parental choice and is generally well-liked by his colleagues.

Giving the current ideological makeup of the S.C. House, however, we see absolutely no way for Norman to win. There simply aren’t enough fiscal conservative votes when you consider that the majority of Republicans vote with Democrats on most issues.

That’s why the other rumored challenger to Harrell – Judiciary Chairman Jim Harrison – was reportedly seeking to duplicate the current Speaker’s “center-left” coalition in creating his path to power.

Which means nothing would have changed …

Also, multiple sources tell FITS that Norman is high on GOP gubernatorial nominee Nikki Haley’s list to become the next Secretary of Commerce (along with Upstate Alliance CEO Hal Johnson) – which let’s face it, is a lot more likely to happen than him becoming the next Speaker.

The bottom line is that real change will not come to South Carolina’s legislative leadership until the ideological composition of both the S.C. House and State Senate changes … and changes dramatically.

That means fiscal conservative leaders must engage the Republican primary process and aggressively support reformers over status quo incumbents – something S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford never attempted to do in any meaningful way and which Nikki Haley appears similarly disinclined to do based on her subservient position on the state budget.