The last two years have produced plenty of drama in South Carolina, and we have no doubt that the Palmetto state’s penchant for ass backwardness, cheap shots and notorious political high jinks will produce more of the same in 2011 … particularly in advance of state’s “First in the South” 2012 presidential primary.
Recently we pondered whether this state’s ongoing tragicomedy had “jumped the shark,” but today we turn our attention to eleven stories that could define the upcoming year in S.C. politics.
1 – “TEFLON” NIKKI: WILL SOMETHING STICK?
While Republicans in South Carolina rode a national GOP wave to a historic sweep of statewide offices (and a huge upset in the fifth congressional district) S.C. Gov.-elect Nikki Haley held on for a comparatively unconvincing victory over Vincent Sheheen in the South Carolina gubernatorial election. Dogged by a mix of personal accusations and professional scandals, Haley nonetheless convinced a (slim) majority of South Carolinians to elect her – but what did she give up to get that 51.3 percent?
We may find out sooner rather than later … and we’re not just talking about our founding editor’s upcoming book.
With questions still swirling about her foundation work with Lexington Medical Center as well as her undisclosed “consulting” work with Wilbur Smith and Associates, could 2011 be the year that something finally sticks to “Teflon Nikki?”
We think so …
2- THE OUTING OF LINDSEY GRAHAM
First … will it even happen? A Washington D.C. blogger who specializes in “outing” hypocritical closeted public officials claims to have proof of Graham’s alleged homosexuality – which has been widely-rumored in Palmetto political circles for years. Obviously this isn’t the first time we’ve heard such a claim, but Graham (who has denied the rumors) recently pissed off the gay community in a big way by publicly dissing the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”
Could certain elements of the homosexual lobby now be plotting to “out” him as revenge?
Assuming it does happen … what would the political fallout be from Graham’s “outing?” And how would it impact his reelection prospects in 2014?
Also … which South Carolina politicians would be “outed” next?
Trust us … that closet is packed, people.
3- SHOW ME THE BUDGET CUTS
The S.C. General Assembly passed a record $20.8 billion budget for the current fiscal year (which runs through the end of June 2011). Not only is that unprecedented spending plan now facing a $300 million shortfall, but absent federal “stimulus” funds the budget for the upcoming fiscal year (2011-12) is likely to come up $1 billion short of this year’s total.
That leaves lawmakers with a choice – either raise taxes and fees or reduce some of the excess government growth that they’ve presided over in recent years.
S.C. Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman – the state’s “Godfather of Pork” – has already sounded the tax hike trumpet, while other Republican lawmakers are trying to bridge the gap by raising fees on South Carolina taxpayers. Meanwhile, S.C. Gov.-elect Nikki Haley and Treasurer-elect Curtis Loftis will have to decide next month whether to permit three state agencies to run a combined $264 million deficit.
That will be a gut check vote for both officials …
Bottom line: Will South Carolina leaders actually trim the state budget this year? Or will they continue to permit its unsustainable growth by forcing our state’s taxpayers to pick up an even bigger burden?
4- THE NEW DISTRICT
For the first time since the Great Depression, South Carolina is getting a new congressional district as a result of the 2010 Census figures. Now the only question is where the lines for this new district will be drawn?
There are several scenarios being discussed … but whatever lines the state’s Republican leaders decide to draw will have to be “pre-cleared” by the U.S. Justice Department, which is controlled by President Barack Obama.
That could set up one helluva court battle …
Also worth watching will be the lines that are drawn for South Carolina’s State Senate and House districts … will the legislature’s “Republican in Name Only” leaders try to use redistricting to squeeze out fiscally conservative Republicans? With a record “majority” in the S.C. House, they’ve certainly got plenty of room to maneuver …
5- THE FRESHMEN
Somebody cue The Verve Pipe because four of South Carolina’s six Congressmen are freshmen – Tim Scott (SC-1), Jeff Duncan (SC-3), Trey Gowdy (SC-4) and Mick Mulvaney (SC-5).
All four of these new faces are Republicans – but as we’ve seen before at the state and federal level that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to protect your wallet or your pocketbook.
So … which of these new lawmakers will emerge as true taxpayer champions? And which ones will turn into RINOs like Henry Brown and Bob Inglis?
We’ll start finding out this year …
6- THE COASTAL KICKBACK: WILL IT POP?
One of the most brazen “pay-to-play” scams in state history, the “Coastal Kickback” has ensnared several prominent S.C. Republican politicians (as well as lobbyists and political operatives) in a major campaign finance scandal – one that’s the subject of an ongoing IRS-FBI investigation.
The question now is whether this scandal blows up or fizzles out …
Interestingly, sources tell FITS that U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn could provide a barometer for the direction this scandal takes. Clyburn and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder are thick as thieves, and we’re told that the soon-to-be-former Majority Whip has been asked to intervene with the Justice Department on behalf of several individuals who have been implicated in this scam.
Frankly we don’t see any way that the central figures in this drama escape some sort of public consequence for their actions, but if anybody could soften the blow of “justice,” it would be Clyburn …
7- JAKIE’S REVENGE?
We’ve learned not to be surprised by anything that happens in South Carolina politics …
That’s why when S.C. Senator Jakie Knotts (RINO-Lexington) challenged the second-ranking Republican Party official in the state to a duel last week, we didn’t really think twice about it. But what was it that prompted Knotts to issue his challenge to SCGOP first vice chairman Patrick Haddon?
Sources tell FITS that supporters of S.C. Gov.-elect Nikki Haley – including Haddon – are peddling a piece of “extraordinarily sensitive” information about Knotts, who gained national attention (well, infamy) this summer when he referred to Haley as a “rag head” just days before the 2010 SCGOP gubernatorial primary election.
Thus far these Haley supporters have been unsuccessful in getting the mainstream media to “bite” on their so-called scoop, but these efforts to embarrass Knotts have apparently landed them on the rotund RINO’s radar screen in a big way.
We’re not sure what’s going on, exactly, but we can say that we wouldn’t be surprised in the least if this story ended in gunfire …
8- WINNOWING THE (2012) FIELD
By this time next year, the Republican presidential field will consist of two or three top contenders … as opposed to the eleventy kabillion White House wanna-bes who are currently descending on the Palmetto state in advance of our “First in the South” presidential primary. Needless to say, South Carolina voters will help determine which candidates make the grade … and which ones are relegated to “Santorum” status.
By the way, of the current rumored candidates we like precisely none of them … well, other than Ron Paul.
9- WHO WILL LEAD THE SCGOP?
Perhaps the better question is who wants to lead the SCGOP?
With SCGOP chairwoman Karen Floyd stepping down in May 2011, the jockeying is already underway for control of the party apparatus in advance of the peak 2012 primary season.
But what exactly comprises the party apparatus? Seriously … isn’t it just a handful of well-heeled special interests whose leaders cut the SCGOP big checks each year? And if so, then how is that apparatus any different from the S.C. Democratic Party apparatus?
It isn’t …
Republicans have a choice … they can either cut ties with the special interests that bankroll their operations and solicit a wider constituency of smaller dollar donors (i.e. the approach favored by the Tea Party) or they can continue down the road to irrelevance.
Unless the next chairman of the party flips that script, it won’t matter who he or she is …
10- MEDIA MATTERS
The last few years have witnessed the “rise of the blogs” here in South Carolina and beyond – as well as the mainstream media’s attempts to reinvent itself in response to this rapidly changing media landscape. How will the evolution of information sharing progress this year? And how will the reconstructed Fourth Estate cover the key fiscal decisions that are being made in Columbia, S.C. and Washington, D.C.?
This year has certainly seen its share of mainstream media failures (most notably The Greenville News‘ futile attempt to charge for content), but it has also witnessed the spectacular failure of The Nerve, a “new media” website that was supposed to supplant FITS and challenge the state’s top MSM outlets for supremacy.
Yeah … “not so much.”
With the stakes higher than they’ve ever been, the ideology of information sources has never been more important … and the battle for new readers has never been more brutal.
Aided and abetted by a slavishly beholden mainstream media – most notably The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper – South Carolina’s status quo educrats have spent the last decade propagating several “big lies” with respect to public education. First, they contend that our monopolistic system has miraculously advanced academic achievement despite millions of dollars in budget cuts. Meanwhile, they boast that their system has successfully protected the children of this state from rogue, out-of-state demons who are hellbent on imposing a risky, self-serving voucher scheme aimed at … wait for it … “destroying public education.”
Obviously, the reality confronting our state is an entirely different story … education funding in South Carolina is soaring, academic achievement continues to lag behind the rest of the nation and the implementation of universal parental choice is probably the only thing that could save our children (and our public schools) from another decade of increasingly costly failure.
Sadly, though, you don’t have to look any further than S.C. Gov.-elect Nikki Haley’s retreat on parental choice to see the impact that these “big lies” have had on the political debate.
Fortunately, S.C. Superintendent-elect Mick Zais did not back down from his support for universal parental choice … and he still won his race convincingly. Also, there appears to be more support for universal choice in the legislature this year than ever before – particularly as contracting purse strings force every dime to be justified.
Could this be the year that school choice supporters (who have been steadily expanding their ranks in the S.C. General Assembly) finally achieve an elusive breakthrough in the S.C. House?
With other states starting to embrace these cost-saving reforms, could South Carolina finally find itself on the leading edge of real reform?