This news outlet wrote a piece a month-and-a-half ago entitled “Mike Pitts Faces Fight In State Senate.”
In that article, we noted that former South Carolina state representative Mike Pitts -who resigned from the S.C. House of Representatives last month to become the next leader of the S.C. Conservation Bank – was facing a battle in his bid to be confirmed for this post.
The bank – which we oppose, incidentally – uses taxpayer funds to purchase privately owned land for conservation purposes.
We predicted at the time that Pitts would be able to push through and win Senate confirmation, believing he would never have given up his seat in the legislature unless he knew he had the votes.
Now? We’re not so sure.
Pitts’ nomination is taking on some serious water, with the S.C. Senate agriculture committee voting this week to advance his nomination – but withholding its seal of approval, which is usually perfunctory.
The battle now heads to the floor of the Senate, where Pitts’ future is quite uncertain in the aftermath of revelations that he voted against a proposal that would have required lawmakers looking to lead the agency to wait a year before taking the six-figure job (thereby paving the way for his own ascension to the post).
State senator Dick Harpootlian blasted Pitts for this vote – which the ex-lawmaker initially claimed he “didn’t know” he had cast. Pitts later tried to claim there might have been an error in the electronic voting system used by the House, although he eventually gave way under withering questioning from Harpootlian – arguably the state’s most accomplished trial lawyer.
Eventually, Pitts said his memory was foggy as a result of a heart attack he suffered last year.
Harpootlian also assailed the bank’s chairman, Mike McShane, for basically admitting that Pitts was chosen because he would be able to effectively lobby lawmakers for more money.
Things got even dicier for Pitts on Thursday when reporters Jamie Lovegrove and Andrew Brown of The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier ran a piece in which it was revealed that numerous, more qualified applicants for the Conservation Bank job were passed over in order to give the job to the former lawmaker.
Can Pitts, a Republican, rely on partisan allegiances to carry him to victory in the Senate?
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Ordinarily we think he could, but his nomination isn’t just opposed by Democrats. Former Republican governor Nikki Haley waded into the conversation on Thursday, announcing her opposition to Pitts’ nomination on the grounds that it was bad public policy.
“South Carolina should get out of the practice of giving outgoing legislators government jobs (e)specially when the person in question voted to allow it,” Haley tweeted. “It does not move South Carolina in the right direction to allow this to move forward. Hoping good government prevails. South Carolina deserves better.”
While we believe Haley might want to think twice about hopping on her high horse at this particular moment (or frankly, at any particular moment), we do not necessarily disagree with her assessment of the situation.
The optics of the Pitts’ nomination are terrible … and Pitts has done little to help himself during the confirmation process.
This news outlet has always liked Pitts, but we have also always been adamant that the only way to eliminate the perception of impropriety and self-dealing in public service is to actually eliminate impropriety and self-dealing in public service.
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Last September, we rolled out a controversial proposal that would have paid state legislators more – a lot more, actually – but would have cut off their ability to profit off from their positions during and after their “service.”
Basically, our proposal would have guaranteed legislators a generous annual salary (and benefits) – but eliminated their ability to reward themselves, their family members and their co-workers from the public trough while they were in office or after they stepped down.
Among the new restrictions we proposed in that column was “a lifetime ban on lawmakers becoming lobbyists.”
“No waiting period. No window. A permanent ban,” we wrote.
In fact, as part of our ongoing efforts to crack down on pay-to-play politics we believe this permanent ban should be extended to all appointed government posts. In other words, those elected to the S.C. General Assembly (and members of their family or their co-workers) would permanently forego any future, paid employment with the state (unless of course they win election to another office).
“Draconian? Yes. Necessary in a state as corrupt as South Carolina? Absolutely,” we opined.
So … how do we believe Senators should vote on Pitts’ nomination? We don’t know, but if we were one of the forty-five current members of the chamber we would have a hard time supporting it under the circumstances.
More importantly, we believe this unfortunate episode should invite further scrutiny upon the Conservation Bank – which we do not believe is performing a core function of government and, as such, needs to be eliminated.
UPDATE: Pitts is withdrawing his name from consideration for this post.
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