The first week of the 2023 session of the S.C. General Assembly has drawn to a close with no resolution to the intra-party drama roiling the ranks of the “Republican” supermajority in the state’s House of Representatives.
This news outlet has written extensively on this issue, which revolves around a controversial “loyalty oath.”
This oath – which is being pushed by new “Republican” majority leader Davey Hiott of Pickens County and S.C. speaker pro tempore Tommy Pope – would prohibit members from endorsing or campaigning on behalf of anyone challenging a GOP incumbent in next spring’s primary elections.
According to my sources, it would also prohibit lawmakers from posting images of the House’s electronic voting board on their social media pages – and bar them from discussing the “internal processes” behind House votes during public appearances.
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“Basically it’s an incumbent protection ultimatum – accompanied by a muzzle,” I wrote earlier this week.
An estimated eighteen GOP lawmakers – most of them affiliated with the so-called “Freedom Caucus” – refused to sign the oath, setting up a showdown with the more moderate “Republican” majority. The sides were supposed to gather at the upscale Palmetto Club in downtown Columbia, S.C. earlier this week in the hopes of resolving a weeks-long standoff.
To say there was no resolution is putting it politely …
According to my sources, the vast majority of these lawmakers were denied entry to the caucus meeting by officers working under the authority of S.C. House sergeant at arms Mitch Dorman.
Eventually, five of these lawmakers – Mike Burns, Bill Chumley, Bobby Cox, Steven Long and Melissa Oremus – were reportedly allowed inside the caucus meeting at the Palmetto Club to “plead their case,” but were “kicked back out” shortly thereafter.
Here is the specific campaign language certain members of the Freedom Caucus are reportedly objecting to …
“No member of the Caucus shall engage in campaign activities of any kind against any other Caucus member in good standing.“-Rules of the South Carolina House Republican Caucus, 11/16/2022
Multiple House members have complained that Pope, Hiott and other GOP leaders are liberally defining “campaign activities” to include a prohibition against members from posting images of the House’s electronic voting board on their social media pages. They have also reportedly been told that they are to refrain from discussing the “internal processes” behind House votes during public appearances.
“They love to leave things vague so they can weaponize the rules,” one lawmaker who declined to sign the pledge told me.
During negotiations, RJ May III – a lawmaker who is one of the leaders of the Freedom Caucus – reportedly offered to abstain from managing political campaigns against GOP incumbents.
May runs a political consulting firm in Lexington County, South Carolina.
May’s proposal reportedly asked House leaders to give the Freedom Caucus three legislative wins – school choice, judicial reform and abortion – in exchange for his concession. They refused.
After these discussions, a vote was reportedly taken among the caucus moderates as to whether its members should continue negotiating with the lawmakers who refused to sign the oath. Only three out of an estimated fifty-five lawmakers in attendance raised their hands indicating they desired to continue negotiations.
The drama unfolding in South Carolina has been largely ignored by the state’s mainstream media – but it has made national news. In a column published earlier this week in The New York Times, contributor Thomas B. Edsall praised GOP moderates for taking a hard line against the “hard right.”
Edsall compared the dysfunction to what unfolded last week in Washington, D.C.
“While 20 hard-right members of the U.S. House of Representatives held the national Republican leadership hostage in Washington last week — forcing concession after concession — something very different was taking place in the Republican-controlled South Carolina House of Representatives,” Edsall wrote. “In this former Confederate state, where Republicans hold 88 of 124 seats in the House of Representatives, the party’s contemporary mainstream has faced challenges from the party’s hard right similar to those that plagued congressional Republicans throughout the tenure of Speakers John Boehner, Paul Ryan and now Kevin McCarthy.”
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Edsall lauded Pope, Hiott and their moderate allies for purportedly forcing the Freedom Caucus members into a state of “legislative marginalization.”
“Instead of acceding to the hard right … South Carolina Republicans turned the tables and demanded that the 19 members of the South Carolina Freedom Caucus abide by a set of rules prohibiting them from campaigning against fellow Republican incumbents or violating the confidentiality of discussions among closed meetings of Republicans,” Edsall wrote.
The loyalty oath was also discussed at length by conservative commentator Glenn Beck, although he took a decidedly less charitable view of the behavior of Pope, Hiott, et. al.
So far, no GOP House members have been willing to publicly discuss what transpired behind closed doors at the Palmetto Club this week. Only one lawmaker – newly elected representative Joe White of Newberry County – has even been willing to share a quote about his view of the standoff.
“One of our three ‘God Given,’ Constitutionally guaranteed unalienable rights is the right to ‘Liberty,'” White told me on Friday afternoon. “I will NEVER give or sign that sacred right away. Read into that whatever you like. At this point I am not allowed to attend South Carolina Statehouse Republican meetings (caucuses).”
My views on all this? I think I’ve made them abundantly clear ..
What do you think? Vote in our poll and post your thoughts in our always engaging comments section below …
Should South Carolina GOP lawmakers sign a loyalty oath agreeing not to campaign against incumbent Republican lawmakers?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
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