State House: Fallout From Scuttled Conservation Bank Confirmation

It wasn’t just Mike Pitts’ political destiny on the line …

The failed bid of former state representative Mike Pitts to become the next director of the South Carolina Conservation Bank has sent shock waves throughout the S.C. State House.

And rightfully so …

It is not often that former lawmakers seeking lucrative posts in state government get denied by their former colleagues. But that is exactly what happened to Pitts after state senator Dick Harpootlian of Columbia, S.C. grilled him mercilessly last week during a meeting of the S.C. Senate agriculture and natural resources committee.

Nominated unanimously by the bank’s board, Pitts resigned his seat in the S.C. House several months ago with every expectation of being confirmed by the Senate – which has advice and consent authority over this appointment.

It didn’t work out that way, though, thanks almost exclusively to Harpootlian.

One of the state’s most skilled and experienced trial lawyers, Harpootlian is virtually unstoppable even with rival attorneys objecting and judges reining in his lines of questioning.

Without either of those impediments working against him last week, Harpootlian was the lion to Pitts’ slow zebra.

(Click to view)

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

The resulting exchange – and its inevitable outcome – have Harpootlian (above) riding high. Meanwhile, Pitts’ scuttled bid has GOP leaders in the Senate scrambling to explain themselves to their colleagues in the House.

“Meet the new boss,” one lobbyist told us, referencing a picture of Harpootlian.

“Definitely not the same as the old boss,” they added, referencing a picture of Senate majority leader Shane Massey of Aiken, S.C. “(Harpootlian) took on the leadership of the S.C. Senate, a body normally gives wide deference to seniority, and kicked their collective ass.”

The lobbyist referred to Massey as the Senate “putative” majority leader, accusing him of “siding with one of the most liberal Democrats against a conservative Republican with a solid record of service.”

Readers will recall Massey became majority leader after reportedly striking a deal with the former occupant of the office, Senate president Harvey Peeler. Many believe Peeler still pulls Massey’s strings.

“Without the support of Peeler and his faction within the GOP caucus, Massey is just another senator,” our lobbyist source said.


According to the lobbyist, Massey was “scared” by Harpootlian, who “treated the (Pitts) hearing like a court case … cross-examining the witness.”

As a result of this alleged fear, Massey moved for the committee to advance Pitts’ nomination to the floor of the Senate “without reference,” meaning without the approval of the committee.

Pitts’ supporters told us that prior to Massey’s motion, the former House member had a majority of Senators prepared to advance his nomination to the floor with a favorable recommendation.

“What was Massey’s agenda in doing this?” the lobbyist wondered. “Why was he supporting the Senate’s most liberal freshman member?” 

Those close to the GOP leader say he was not supporting Harpootlian per se, but doing what he does best – avoiding tough votes.  They also pointed to Massey’s efforts to defeat Harpootlian in last fall’s special election to S.C. Senate District 20 (map) as evidence that there is no love lost between the two politicians.

Massey, 43, is widely believed to covet the Palmetto State’s third congressional district seat – which is currently held by Jeff Duncan. But Duncan has showed no indication that he is ready to give up the seat, and Massey will find it difficult to follow in his footsteps if he is seen as torpedoing conservative nominees.

(Click to view)

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

Our thoughts on all this? As we noted in our earlier coverage, this news outlet has always liked Pitts – and we believe he would have performed capably in this position.

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.

As part of our ongoing efforts to crack down on pay-to-play politics in the Palmetto State, we have proposed a permanent ban on current and former lawmakers – and members of their family or their co-workers – from receiving any appointed government post.


Moreover we believe the bank – which uses taxpayer funds to purchase privately owned land for conservation purposes – does not perform a core function of government. And we have repeatedly expressed concerns in recent years related to its mismanagement.

Frankly, we do not believe the leadership of the entity ought to be an issue … the entity itself ought not to exist.




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