I don’t often give Nikki Haley much credit (not politically, anyway). And when it comes to transparency in government – the issue which propelled her to the governor’s office in 2010 – she has clearly been a definitional hypocrite.
Hypocrisy aside, though, there’s no denying Haley was the driving force behind legislation requiring roll call voting in the S.C. General Assembly.
Obviously, her advocacy on this transparency issue benefitted her politically …
“Demanding more roll-call voting is the issue that put Haley on the political map,” former reporter Yvonne Wenger of The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier observed in a piece published back in 2016.
Indeed it was …
But it has also been beneficial to taxpayers, who can now track how individual lawmakers vote on bills, joint resolutions, sections of the state’s $30 billion annual budget and, of course, gubernatorial vetoes.
And make no mistake: If Haley hadn’t made roll call voting an issue, it wouldn’t have happened.
Unfortunately, true transparency remains elusive at the S.C. State House – where broad swaths of decision-making remain shrouded in secrecy – and where lawmakers do not always follow the law as it is currently written.
In 2019, for example, the S.C. Senate failed to hold a roll call vote on final passage of a crony capitalist giveaway to liberal billionaire David Tepper, owner of the National Football League (NFL)’s Carolina Panthers.
“The Senate frequently does this,” an editorial from The (Columbia, S.C.) Nerve observed at the time.
Such flouting of the law is totally unacceptable … and it is up to Senate leaders (including president Harvey Peeler and majority leader Shane Massey) to insist that the chamber adhere to the statute as written.
Of course, following the current law is not enough … as noted above, far too much public business is still done without the benefit of a record of how individual lawmakers voted.
For those of you unfamiliar with the legislative process, in most cases the vast majority of work on proposed bills is done at the subcommittee and committee levels – where panels of legislators hear testimony, ask questions and propose substantive amendments to legislation.
By the time a bill reaches the floor of either the S.C. House of Representatives or State Senate, most of the real debate has already transpired – meaning the outcome is a foregone conclusion (and arguments are advanced exclusively for political posturing, not persuading people to actually change their views).
The real work … and the real debate … takes place in committees.
Unfortunately, committee votes – which can kill bills in their tracks or move them forward with favorable reports attached – are not required to be recorded. Sometimes, video recordings of these votes do exist – while other times reporters who attend these meetings take notes when committee chairs ask for a “show of hands” (or take pictures of those voting or not voting).
(Click to view)
As of this writing, though, there is no requirement that legislative committees preserve a permanent record of roll call votes on bills and amendments heard/ debated at the committee and subcommittee level.
That is a huge transparency loophole … one which I believe must be closed immediately.
Earlier this year, my news outlet reported on a controversial decision to table legislation aimed at safeguarding women’s sports. The decision to table this bill – effectively killing it for the year – was made on an unrecorded voice vote.
Whatever your view of this issue (and I’ve made mine perfectly clear) certainly we can all agree our leaders ought to be required to formally register their support, opposition or indifference – allowing us to hold them accountable based on our beliefs.
That is what representative democracy is all about, people …
With inconsistent-to-nonexistent transparency on committee-level votes, however, lawmakers are able to anonymously kill or advance bills at their most vulnerable point in the legislative process – with no accountability.
Again, that must change.
To be clear: Transparency is not a cure-all. It does not guarantee better, more efficient government. In fact, South Carolina state government has grown by leaps and bounds since roll call voting became law – producing similarly substandard results on all fronts.
You would have thought that taxpayers being able to see the extent to which “Republicans” (and Democrats) in state government were wasting their money would have resulted in some substantive changes. Alas … that hasn’t happened.
And to say corruption has persisted is an understatement. It is thriving.
Still, there is no excuse for continuing to allow lawmakers to hide their votes at the committee level. Requiring roll call votes on all amendments and bills at both the subcommittee and full committee levels would provide a vital layer of transparency and accountability – enhancing public trust in the legislative process and forcing legislators to come clean on how they voted on bills when it matters most.
Enough is enough … no more hiding.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading.
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