Can South Carolina’s Legislative State Ever Be Fixed?

IT’S NOT AS SIMPLE AS SOME WOULD HAVE YOU BELIEVE By Jimmy G. Wiles || A month ago Cindi Ross Scoppe, associate editor of The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper, devoted her Sunday column to an expose of South Carolina’s “Legislative State.”  Every South Carolina voter should have read her column….


By Jimmy G. Wiles || A month ago Cindi Ross Scoppe, associate editor of The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper, devoted her Sunday column to an expose of South Carolina’s “Legislative State.”  Every South Carolina voter should have read her column.

Unfortunately, because of U.S. Senator Jim DeMint’s surprise resignation and Governor Nikki Haley’s appointment of his successor, this important topic was overtaken by events. Then came the holidays and any discussion of South Carolina’s Legislative State (and what to do about it) disappeared from people’s radar

It shouldn’t have.

Why? Because the question of why everything seemed to go wrong in South Carolina government and politics in 2012 should be front-and-center as we launch into the next legislative year. Indeed, South Carolina’s esteemed General Assembly begins its new session in Columbia on January 8.

Now, first, before I say anything further, go and read Scoppe’s December 2 column here. Also contained is a sidebar to the piece listing what Scoppe called “four easy steps” to dismantle the Legislative State:

1. Empower governors.
2. Consolidate state agencies and boards.
3. Empower local governments.
4. Transform the Legislature.

Scoppe and the political scientists she cites are right about South Carolina’s suffering from a Legislative State. But her solution’s wrong. That’s because the Legislative State is only a symptom of the disease. To correctly prescribe for the disease, you have to dig deeper in search of the root of the problem.

Scoppe’s prescription is wrong because her diagnosis is wrong.

Who – or what – created South Carolina’s dysfunctional – not to mention embarrassing – Legislative State?

The root cause isn’t what Tea Party leaders, alienated South Carolina voters and others denounce as the venality of our current elected representatives. Let me repeat that: the problem isn’t the Legislature. It’s the South Carolina Constitution of 1895.

South Carolina’s Constitution is a monstrosity. Doubt me? Go read it.

Frequently amended, parts of it have been amputated (correctly) by the federal courts. Other parts are outright insane or violative of the Civil War Amendments to the United States Constitution, and yet far too many of our State Constitution’s 118-year old provisions remain in effect. The 1895 Constitution is an albatross around the neck of any serious attempt at reform.  It’s also what created the Legislative State.

Every one of the problems Cindi Scoppe identified in her recent column is created by the South Carolina Constitution:

  • no separation of powers, with the Legislature having direct influence on and sometimes control over the Judicial Branch and some Executive Branch functions;
  • no independent judiciary and a compromised Executive Branch; and
  • a weak Governor, who often lacks the ability to hire and fire within what should be the the Governor’s Cabinet and others parts of the Executive Branch, such as state commissions and boards.

Exacerbating the problem are all the public officials – besides the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of State – who are elected statewide. Each and every one of them (plus members of Executive Branch bodies appointed by the Legislature) can tell the Governor to go screw herself – and often do.

So, implementing Cindi Scoppe’s “four easy steps” is, um, not so easy.

To fix the problem you have to amend or replace the South Carolina Constitution. And that means either a bill through the Legislature, following by a referendum, or a State Constitutional Convention. Either action, under Article XVI of the 1895 Constitution, requires a two-thirds vote of both Houses.

How likely is that, with the current Legislature?

Right. Hence, we’re screwed – and Cindi Scoppe’s nice column is just a pipe dream. The Legislative State endures. Unless you, the People, rise up.  If not, well, shut up.

Our legislators – good men and women, most of them – are doing only what we would ourselves do if we had the power. The State Constitution of 1895 – the dead hand of the evil “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, really – gives them the power. Human nature (and Original Sin) does the rest.

Almost everything which embarrassed, enraged or alienated South Carolina voters in 2012 was both perfectly legal and business-as-usual. And the rule book on what’s legal and business-as-usual is the Constitution of 1895.

So, the reality is the Palmetto State’s government – and politics – can’t be fixed with “four easy steps.” It requires heavy lifting. For a fix to work, the cause has to be torn out by the roots.

And that means confronting the continuing legacy in the Palmetto State of what the South Carolina Encyclopedia calls “country ideology” and the remnants of Whiggism. The Whig Party died in the United States in the 1850’s. But Whiggism’s founding principle – dating back to before the American Revolution in South Carolina – was that the Legislature should be supreme over the Executive. Similarly, a founding principal of “country ideology” – which, like Whiggism, originated in Great Britain where Parliament has been supreme since the Glorious Revolution of 1688 – was that the people are not to be trusted to govern themselves.

In 2013 South Carolina, both principles are still very much alive. Add to the mix the Palmetto State’s continuing legacy from Reconstruction and Jim Crow and you’ve got yourself a dog’s breakfast of a 21st century state government.

Another factor exacerbating the problem of the Legislative State is the absence of a healthy two-party system. But, on examination, this, too, traces back to the same cause.

The South Carolina Encyclopedia entry on “country ideology” states that South Carolina before the Civil War “did not develop a viable two-party system.” Over 150 years later, we still don’t have one. The identity of the party-in-power just changes from time to time.

So, this New Year, here’s the sound of one-hand-clapping for Cindi Ross Scoppe. She’s given the problem a name. But the solution to the Legislative State isn’t Scoppe’s “Four Easy Steps.” It’s something much harder: fundamental state constitutional reform.

The only question is what are the Palmetto State’s voters and political activists prepared to do about it?

James G. Wiles is a resident of Myrtle Beach, S.C. and regular contributor toThe American Thinker, a national conservative website.


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SparkleCity January 3, 2013 at 11:09 am

The simpleset solution:

50% of the state be annexed into North Carolina
50% of the state be annexed into Georgia

No more oxford shirt/khaki pants wearing dickheads saying: That ain’t how we do it in South Carolina!!!!!

Problem solved……………

CNSYD January 3, 2013 at 11:30 am

We could all marry our sisters like they do in your home state, West By God Virginia. Such chutzpah from someone who is native to state that has the wild and wonderful Whites.

junior justice January 3, 2013 at 11:37 am

The nice thing about marrying your sister is that you don’t have to break in new in-laws.

SparkleCity January 3, 2013 at 12:28 pm


I’ll take “Wild & Wonderful” over “let’s all touch ourselves to the memory of General Beaureguard” or that other great moniker: “South Carolina – too small to be a nation;too big to be an insane aslyum” any day!!!

Not to mention not having two of the most fucked-uped govenors in modern history

Plus, my home state has better rivers, snow & water sking and all the coal and gas Duke Power, SC Electric & Gas, Santee-Cooper can buy from us.

No doubt West Virginia lacks ocean front property (but maybe not for long IF global warming actually happens) and some of my home state citizens spend their money at Myrtle Beach (I as a rule do not – I spend most of my beach money in North Carolina or Florida).

If this state DIDN’T have coastal attractions and no-shit state funded industries, it would definately be 50th in every category, not 85%-90% it is now.

SparkleCity January 3, 2013 at 12:32 pm

But I know…………..

By God, you’ve got your PRIDE!!!!!

That’s one thing this state scores in FIRST place.

UNLESS you look at all the trash & shit lining your roadsides!!!

Original Good Old Boy January 3, 2013 at 12:59 pm

How come you don’t go home to West Virginia if it’s such an awesome place to live? Or are your career options so limited that you are forced to live and work in a state that you despise?

I never imagined someone from West Virginia would have the balls to talk smack about South Carolina, but there you have it.

SparkleCity January 3, 2013 at 1:40 pm

“Good Old Boy”

Actually (and fortunately) my career options were not limited.

I was RECRUITED to come here to help clean up some of this state’s envrionmental fuck-ups because there was not enough in-state talent to do the job.

Basically,I’m being paid good money to clean up y’all’s shit.

Don’t worry, I’ll go back home when the job is done but from what I’ve seen, it will take another 5-10 years to finish up what you in this state are unable to do on your own.

Truth hurts don’t it?

And there, you have that…

Smirks January 3, 2013 at 1:44 pm

When did SC become superior to WV? I was born and raised in this state, have no intentions of leaving, and I wouldn’t even try to entertain any such notion. The only state that has proven thus far that it has no right to point and laugh at SC is Mississippi, but by god, we’re trying to give them that luxury.

NC doesn’t need us polluting their government with our brand of horrendous politicians, and GA would prefer we stay their whipping boy instead of being their foster child to take care of.

SparkleCity January 3, 2013 at 2:11 pm


As always, you thoughtful insight is spot on and I commend you for your loyality to your home state.

Obviously, my loyality lies elsewhere. I consider myself an American first,a Southern Appalachian second, A CAROLINIAN third and a current legal resident of South Carolina fourth.

I am fortunate to be a property owner AND property TAX payer in 3 states: West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina so I think I am qualified to make certain observations.

All I was attempting in a semi-light way(in the context of this article) was that the neighboring states that border South Carolina never seem to exhibit the “craziness” that South Carolina seems to offer from its “leaders”. And maybe,just maybe, the neighboring states have a better way of dealing with things as mundane as running a state.

The state is not geographically isolated like Alaska or Hawaii but for crying out loud, sometimes I think I’m not part of the lower 48 by some of the attitudes I’ve personally seen and experienced in South Carolina.

I’ve lived in the South and the Appalachians all my life and traveled the world and nowhere else that I have lived or visited have I seen so much “That ain’t the way we do it here” and “if you don’t like it, by God leave” attitude as I have in this state.

By the looks of state rankings, what has been going on for 200+ years in South Carolina ain’t working.

That said, there are good people in every state and you my good Smirks are one of them.

SparkleCity January 3, 2013 at 2:19 pm

I ment to say “Hillbilly” instead of “Southern Appalachian”

What the hell was I thinking???

CNSYD January 3, 2013 at 6:01 pm


Obviously you are totally unaware of the history of the state of GA. Orginally populated by prisoners from England’s jails. Ruled by the county unit system in later years. Home of the Talmadges. Herman had a “magic” overcoat in his Senate office. Kept finding all these $100s stuffed in the pockets. He claimed he had no idea where they came from or how they got there. GA had two Governors at one time. Banks wouldn’t take state of GA checks because they did not know who was legally able to sign them, etc. Lester Maddox was elected Governor. Sounds squared away to you I guess since you are from the state that gave us Robert Byrd.

Original Good Ole Boy January 3, 2013 at 11:55 pm

Smirks — when did WV become so superior to SC? The only reason WV is being mentioned is because sparky wanted to piss on SC yet again.

I also think it’s sad how so many “progressives” seem to think it’s cool to diss their own state. Bash the leaders, bash certain people, but it’s unbecoming to listen to SC residents talk like they are too good for SC.

Torch January 3, 2013 at 11:32 am

However he misses the biggest drawback on changing the structure. It would be the last two govenors. One after Argentine tail and the other one a liar and incompetent. Whow would want agencies controlled by someone like them. Look just how the current governor is doing with DOR, DEW, DHHS and the rest.

? January 3, 2013 at 11:36 am

Yep, you nailed it. I expounded further on your notion below.

? January 3, 2013 at 11:35 am

“Right. Hence, we’re screwed – and Cindi Scoppe’s nice column is just a pipe dream. The Legislative State endures. Unless you, the People, rise up. If not, well, shut up.”

So….the “people” should “rise up” to install a more authoritarian executive branch to “fix” the whole problem?(and btw, why should they “shut up”?)

lol, are you serious?

“Our legislators – good men and women, most of them – are doing only what we would ourselves do if we had the power. The State Constitution of 1895 – the dead hand of the evil “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, really – gives them the power. Human nature (and Original Sin) does the rest.”

See, here you’ve actually defined the problem but haven’t successfully applied a solution to it…NO ONE IS FIT TO RULE OVER ANYONE ELSE for the very reasons you defined above.

Creating another branch of gov’t a more powerful branch of gov’t doesn’t address the “root” as you call it.

Human nature being what it is, the moment you give one person(or entity comprising people) control over another you have a problem. It doesn’t matter how many rules, regulations, check & balances, etc. et al you institute in your central planner methodology to try to “fix” the human condition.

Smirks January 3, 2013 at 2:21 pm

The failing of democracy, or a democratic republic, is that it relies on the people. These politicians aren’t dictators who can never be peacefully removed from office, they come back every 2-4 years and politely ask us to let them stay, and we let them. Time and time again. SC’s voting population is especially bad at this, and that’s probably for many reasons. Plenty of poor, uneducated voters, straight ticket voters, etc. In this case it isn’t that government “doesn’t work,” but that we are too incompetent to govern ourselves. That is nothing simple to fix, and could quite likely take multiple generations to even have any kind of affect on.

That being said, while government has its problems, I still don’t believe that an extremely limited government sought after by Libertarians will be any more resistant to the human condition or lead to any greater overall quality of society. Given a number of people who desire wealth and power and who are willing to abuse the rest of the population with it to acquire more, something has to counter them. If not government, what?

? January 3, 2013 at 3:01 pm

“Given a number of people who desire wealth and power and who are willing to abuse the rest of the population with it to acquire more, something has to counter them. If not government, what?”

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that gov’t is a counter to anything.

As a matter of fact, the very people that are willing to lie, cheat, steal, etc. make up the preponderence of those getting out of society and into office. They are wolves/theives writ large. They are the worst society has to offer.

Nothing proposed by anyone here is substantially different from any of the failed solutions of the past, so the cliche “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” holds true.

That self-interest rules the world is nothing new, the question is how man can interact with one another on a peaceful basis to work together when mutually beneficial without coercion and in areas of conflict resolve them peacefully as well.

This is what we know:

Gov’t(in general) is the single biggest killer of man, there is no disputing that. Govt’s wage war unmercifully, take a large amount of societies money, printing up more when wanted(which is theft) which subsequently lowers the potential standard of living for everyone despite tech advances.

As Milton Friedman said eloquently(even though he didn’t mean it):

“Just tell me where in the world you find these angels who are going to organize society for us ? Well, I don’t even trust you to do that.”

I am not certain of the solution Smirks, but I am certain of the problem-and that doesn’t mean that that I should ignore the problem(gov’t) or pretend the problem doesn’t exist or not be allowed to point out the problem just because I don’t currently have the solution.

Lance Riprock January 4, 2013 at 9:06 am

Smirks, you’re a smart dude and all, but you need “effect” (noun), not “affect”(verb) in last line of first paragraph. Peace out, L.

Synthetic January 3, 2013 at 12:02 pm

I recently asked my representative to propose legislation to add initiatives and referendums to whatever was required in the State governing documents to allow citizens to gather petitions to add measures directly to the ballot to take action. Below is my rep’s response:

“Thank you for your email and it is good to hear from you again. I certainly believe the voice of the people must be heard and, like you, I am often frustrated with the actions taken and the inaction of many of our elected officials. I do believe there is a place for initiative petitions and referendums. However, I have watched the continuous turmoil states like California and Wisconsin live in due to this type of governance. That is not governing but instead it is momentary expressions and emotions being enacted as law. I believe our founders were well aware of this and carefully formed our system to allow those like myself – who are elected every two years – to remain in constant contact with the voters. If there are some who are ‘out of touch’ with the voters or are not representing us, and I am sure we agree there are, we should stand against them. I know this is not fully agreeing with your position on this matter.”

I believe the first step for citizens to take back control is to get initiatives and referendums in our governing documents to allow this to happen. And the first step would be TERM limits. I was somewhat miffed by the reply – the legislator heard from me and essentially he is going to do what he feels is best – not what citizens ask him to do – I am sure that absolutely everyone of them believe the same thing.

Until we as citizens boot every last incumbent out of office (no matter how good they have been to the local citizens) – nothing will change. I personally believe that power corrupts – when a second term representative blames WI and CA for their petition initiatives as the reasoning for why it cannot be done in this State – guess what – the South is pretty much the only block of States in this country that do not provide their citizens the ability to place petition initiatives on the ballot.

Perhaps the best piece of advice is to simply move to another State (but when it comes to our political leaders, it is ALL the same) – Did not Sanford promise no more than 3 terms in Congress yet he is running again.


Smirks January 3, 2013 at 2:30 pm

Every time someone brings up term limits, I have to say that we the people have the power to limit their term every time they come up for reelection. Term limits for executive positions are a bit understandable as one person (governor, president) was given control over pretty much an entire branch of government, but a single legislator must have a majority for things to go his/her way.

Term limits as a way of fighting corruption is silly, anyways. Given rampant corruption, the corrupt politicians would just invent a system of taking advantage of their limits.

Term limits are an admission that we are unable to vote out bad politicians ourselves and therefore we should have a rule in place to do it for us. It is an admission that we are incapable of voting for better politicians. If you make such an admission, can you honestly say that when a bad representative is forced to retire, the people that voted for him won’t just vote for some other corrupt, moronic clod to replace him with?

That being said, I have no alternative to it. Just my observation.

Say What? January 3, 2013 at 12:09 pm

Thank God we are a legislative controlled state! Can you imagine the mess we would be in if our current governor was in-charge in a governor controlled state. Same thing if the Luv Gov was in-charge!

SparkleCity January 3, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Same thing I was thinking

You are 100% correct on that point

ceilidh10 January 3, 2013 at 12:35 pm

I think only Episcopalians should be allowed to govern and rule, like in the good old days.

SparkleCity January 3, 2013 at 12:52 pm

What about us Huguenots?????

SparkleCity January 3, 2013 at 1:03 pm

I’ll take a level-headed,”stay the course/steady as she goes” Episcopalian over a frothing,”smite you in the thigh & hip” Southern Baptist any day!!!

cicero January 3, 2013 at 12:41 pm

I believe it was Alexis de Tocqueville who said, “We get the government we deserve.” Whatever it was we “did” to deserve this bunch, especially our current governor, it must have been pretty damn awful.

jimlewis,owb January 3, 2013 at 1:22 pm

“Our legislators – good men and women, most of them”

You had me going for a few paragraphs, then wham-o you delivered the above line.

In this State you are either a fucker or a fuckee. Period.

For the most part the fuckers are elected/appointed officials who are able to maintain and perpetuate their fucker status by their lying, cheating, double dealing, self-serving, back stabbing, cork screwing, black hearted endeavors.

If you want to change this State, then start by cutting off peckers and sewing up vaginas of the cockroaches who spend 24/7 ramming it up taxpayer’s assess.

If this approach is too overboard for your taste, then how about French Kissing the sons of bitches with the guillotine.

good men and women my hairy balls

Recovering Lobbyist January 3, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Wiles is absolutely correct. Whether you agree with his solutions, the strong legislative branch is the source of the problem; no one is accountable. If you don’t like the current system and the results it produces, propose a different model (or propose bullshit, which seems to be what comes from many of the followers of this blog).

? January 3, 2013 at 1:55 pm

All you’re doing is trading one large set of turds for another smaller set run by one person that you get to vote for/against every 4 years and calling it “accountability”.

Bullshit indeed.

Ralph Hightower January 3, 2013 at 5:33 pm


You’re praising Cindi Scoppe of The State?

Oh no, Hell just froze over!

Not Now January 3, 2013 at 5:47 pm

If we could get some legislators with guts to re-write the constitution I think one way to keep those in power on their toes would be to include something along the lines of sortition. Then everyone could possibly be a legislator for a term.

Perer January 3, 2013 at 8:20 pm

Sparkle, the only thing worse than a state run by the legislature is one run by the present Governor or the last one.

As for me, I think you and Buz Martian should run for Governor on a “Can’t Fuck it up any worse” platform. This would be true and people would agree with it far more than most of the other shit Buz says.

I don’t know if we can handle your Hugenut buddies though. But word is Haley might be able. Ask Will.

jim wiles January 3, 2013 at 8:44 pm

Feeling uncharacteristically humble tonight after the comment threads here and over on Will’s critique of my piece.

Not least, I point to Democratic Senator Vince Sheehan’s statement this morning to SC Radio that the solution to this mess is a constitutional convention. Senator Sheehan and I are not in the same political party; but I welcome his remarks – coincidental or otherwise.

Overall, I would tend to align myself with Recovering Lobbyist.

The record’s pretty clear that hermaphroditic forms of republican government like we have in South Carolina don’t work very well. The Israelis, for a while, kept their parliamentary system but provided for popular election of the prime minister, with Knesset electing the president. Did not work. The French co-habitation form works better than most. The British form does not really have three co-equal branches.

The increase in the size of the state, and its economy, and the great growth in the size of state government have only made the flaws more grotesque and obvious.

So, the American system, as reflected in the U.S. Constitution of 1789, remains pretty much what Churchill called democracy itself: the worst form of government – except for all the others.

Some 237 years after the Declaration of Independence, we might want to give the Founder’s design a try here in South Carolina.

jim wiles January 3, 2013 at 9:07 pm

It’s a rare day when you find me, Will Folks and the Honorable Vincent Sheehan (D-Chesterfield, Kershaw, Lancaster)all calling for the same thing on the same day. Except maybe more beer…But there was Senator Sheehan on SC Radio this morning urging a constitutional convention as the best way to fix this South Carolina’s bungled mess of a state government even while Sic and I were doing the same thing here.

Since Will and I didn’t coordinate our pieces, let me point out that a governmental design which doesn’t enforce competence through accountability is a force-multiplier for failure. And it’s not just state government. The lesson is repeating itself in the current Richland County election debacle.

With regard to the comment thread, I would tend to associate myself with Recovering Lobbyist’s take.

The record is pretty clear that hermaphroditic forms of republican government don’t work. The flaws in the 1895 design have grown more grotesque and obvious as the size of both the state and the state government have grown. The challenges posed by the current Great Recession have only exacerbated those failings.

Unless the fabric of our state government is not fixed, voter alienation will only accelerate and the shocking 15% turnout in the 2012 primaries will become the norm and not the exception.


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