SC Politics

South Carolina Legislative Leader: Santee Cooper The ‘Real Villain’ In Latest Government Implosion

Gary Simrill: “A rogue agency has now threatened the health and safety of all South Carolinians.”

Last week, this news outlet provided extensive coverage of the South Carolina General Assembly’s disastrously failed attempt to pass two emergency measures amid the coronavirus pandemic. Lawmakers came to Columbia, S.C. with the hopes of approving an emergency spending resolution and a rules package governing their schedule for the rest of the year.

They accomplished neither …

We were first to break the news that trouble was afoot regarding these thought-to-be non-controversial items … and it was.

There were fireworks … and fallout … with all of the drama stemming from state’s scandal-scarred, government-run utility Santee Cooper.

What happened? Santee Cooper – which plunged the Palmetto State billions of dollars in debt on a pair of abandoned nuclear reactors in Jenkinsville, S.C. over the last dozen years (a.k.a. NukeGate) – has been doing everything within its power to block lawmakers from considering its sale to (or management by) the private sector.

Privatizing Santee Cooper (something we have advocated for since 2008) is probably still a long shot, but lawmakers wanted to keep this option on the table moving forward – particularly in light of the state’s worsening revenue situation.

A rare mindful move on the part of legislative leaders …

Unfortunately, being held accountable to the private sector is the last thing this entitled bureaucracy wants, so its leaders hatched a plot to mislead lawmakers prior to their emergency deliberations. According to legislative leaders, Santee Cooper executives made knowing misrepresentations about a deal the utility purportedly reached with the Central Electric Power Cooperative, a glorified middleman that routes power from Santee Cooper to a statewide network of roughly twenty regional electric cooperatives.

Such a deal would have dramatically reduced the appetite for a sale.

The only problem? There was no deal …

South Carolina speaker of the House Jay Lucas – who typically eschews the public spotlight – made no secret as to his outrage over this deception.

“I cannot allow false, misleading information from a state agency to permeate the debate surrounding Santee Cooper,” Lucas wrote in a tersely worded letter to utility leaders. “The House’s deliberations must be based on verified fact and actual data, neither of which Santee Cooper has prove to be able to produce.”

Similarly, powerful House ways and means chairman Murrell Smith took to the floor of his chamber and excoriated Santee Cooper’s high-priced leadership – calling them “nothing but obstruction(ists) from the start” and decrying their machinations as “the height of arrogance.”

The following day, Lucas, Smith and several other leaders launched what effectively amounts to a legislative investigation of the agency – sending a letter to Santee Cooper demanding reams of documents and correspondence related to its latest legislative maneuvering.

(Click to view)

(Via: Columbia SC Photographer Travis Bell)

One of the signatories on that letter was S.C. House majority leader Gary Simrill of Rock Hill, S.C. Simrill (above) also took pen to paper over the Easter weekend – crafting an opinion piece that was published by the largest news outlet in the state, The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier.

In his column in the Post and Courier, Simrill railed against the obstructionism of Santee Cooper – calling it “a rogue agency that has now threatened the health and safety of all South Carolinians.”

“Santee Cooper’s board members and executives have lost sight of the fact that they are public servants,” Simrill wrote.

He accused the agency of “preempting the General Assembly’s efforts to determine its future,” of spinning “a web of deceit” and of setting itself “on a course that leads to irreparable damage to South Carolina.”

He also endorsed the harsh invective thrown at the agency by governor Henry McMaster in the aftermath of the debacle.

“The governor is completely correct when he said there seems to be no limit to the depths of their ability to protect their own interests,” Simrill wrote.

We concur …

(Click to view)

(Via: Santee Cooper)

Unfortunately, Santee Cooper is succeeding in its obstructionist tactics thanks to a small clique of saboteurs in the South Carolina Senate – namely Stephen Goldfinch, Larry GroomsBrad Hutto, Luke Rankin and Nikki Setzler. According to Simrill, these “politically motivated” senators “hijacked” negotiations during the emergency session.

He didn’t list them by name … but we are unencumbered in that regard.

And while Simrill praised the Senate’s “Republican” leaders – specifically president Harvey Peeler and majority leader Shane Massey – for being “honest and honorable” and for being willing to “collaborate and negotiate under these unprecedented circumstances,” we are unable to echo those kind words.

To be clear: We do not think Peeler or Massey are on the wrong side of this debate. In fact, Massey was reportedly so passionate in his contempt for the Senate saboteurs that he nearly came to blows with one of them just off of the floor of the chamber last week.

According to our sources, things got so tense at one point that senators and staff were on the verge of laying odds as to the forthcoming fisticuffs …

So while we do not doubt for a moment that Peeler, Massey and most other GOP senators are willing to do what is right with regard to Santee Cooper, it is becoming painfully clear – once again – that they have absolutely no control over their chamber. As long as a handful of “Republican” senators are willing to align with Democrats on key issues, GOP leadership of the chamber will continue to be “in name only.”

Which is why rogue agencies are able to get away with what Santee Cooper got away with last week …




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Banner: Columbia SC Photographers Travis Bell

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