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Scandal-Scarred State …




Don’t look now, but South Carolina is starting to get a reputation …

For starters, there’s a big national story out this week about Palmetto State Sheriffs and their legal problems – most recently the federal indictment of Lexington County, S.C. Sheriff James Metts.

And of course there’s the ongoing drama involving notoriously corrupt S.C. Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell – who appears poised to receive the same “Palmetto Whitewash” received two summers ago by S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley.

Oh, and who can forget the saucy details of the scandal brewing around Columbia, S.C. mayor Steve Benjamin?

Everywhere you look in South Carolina – at all levels of government – there’s scandal.  The problem?  Those scandals rarely result in consequences for those who engage in corrupt behavior.  Seriously … half the S.C. General Assembly should probably be in jail right now, not doling out hundreds of millions of dollars to connected corporations and billions of dollars to a sprawling, mostly unnecessary bureaucracy.

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson has done his best to tackle public corruption in the Palmetto State – including leading the investigation that brought down “Republican” Lt. Gov. Ken Ard (who was elected via an illegal cash for contributions scheme).

Ard’s indictment – and resignation from office – represent one of the few instances in which a corrupt Palmetto politician was held accountable for his actions.  Of course Ard’s office is constitutionally weak – meaning there is little in the way of reprisal in the event someone choose to go after its occupant.

Wilson dramatically upped the ante when he launched his investigation of Harrell – one of the most powerful figures in state government.  And Harrell has fought back with ferocity … apparently secure in the knowledge of the case’s eventual outcome.

So … how to solve the problem?

And can it even be solved? 

Sure …

The first step is for state lawmakers to craft (and pass) an uncompromising ethics bill, one that contains clear provisions, draconian penalties and independent enforcement.  The second step?  Electing more people like Wilson … and fewer people like Haley and Harrell.

Obviously that’s easier said than done … and both of these steps will require a much stronger commitment from the state’s mainstream media establishment, which more often than not is playing for the wrong team.

Fortunately four legislators – Beth Bernstein, Tom Davis, Kirkman Finlay and Vincent Sheheen – are in the process of tackling this issue, preparing ethics reform proposals in advance of next year’s legislative session.  And obviously Wilson is not backing down in the face of tremendous resistance from Harrell and his powerful allies.

So there’s hope …

South Carolina doesn’t have to be a cesspool of corruption.  It can be a state where elected officials discharge their duties evenly and dispassionately – in the best interests of the governed, not their own interests or the special interests of those bankrolling them.

For that to happen, though, it’s going to require tougher laws … and leaders with the balls to enforce them.

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