Something interesting is occurring in Columbia. Though the 2023 legislative session is barely one month old, a significant change appears to be underway. It’s happening slowly and by degrees, but it appears to be happening nonetheless.
We may be witnessing the birth of the most conservative GOP-led South Carolina House of Representatives ever.
Consider what transpired on the House floor last Wednesday when H. 3728 – the “Transparency and Integrity in Education Act” – was taken up. A key component of this bill is a ban on race-based instruction including critical race theory (CRT) – which promotes the belief that certain groups of people are inherently racist and that racism is deeply ingrained in the fabric of American society.
Several states around the country are slamming the brakes on this divisive doctrine being taught within government-run classrooms. The measure debated last week would add South Carolina to their ranks. So far, so good.
The problem was the original version of H. 3728 had some flaws. Chief among them, the original version of the legislation contained a so-called “Parental Pledge of Responsibility.” Pause for a moment and let that sink in: This would have required law-abiding moms and dads to adhere to a pledge of government-sanctioned conduct in raising their children.
The pledge and other onerous items were removed via a series of amendments, and the bill proceeded to win approval via an 83-34 vote.
Predictably, the education bureaucracy and its water-bearers in the S.C. Democratic Party (SCDP) howled in outrage. What was unusual, however, was the chamber’s GOP party bosses were likewise fuming at the outcome. Though harder to spot and less publicly vocal, their anger still bubbled under the surface. Because they recognize a shift to the right is occurring on their watch. And it could signal more trouble ahead for the Establishment in the very near future.
Driving this sudden shift is the South Carolina Freedom Caucus, a group of hardline conservatives who say they are dedicated to legislating in accordance with the principles upon which they campaigned – and were elected.
“Having a group of legislators willing to keep their colleagues accountable is forcing the greater Republican Caucus to the right,” explained Adam Morgan, chairman of the caucus. “They have no choice but to bring our legislative agenda items to the floor. If they don’t, it puts members of the Moderate Caucus in a bad position having to defend a super majority that fails to pass conservative legislation.”
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Tellingly, the Freedom Caucus is also picking up support from House members it describes as “allies,” those who are not actual Caucus members but who are ideologically compatible with its guiding conservative principles.
That has GOP party bosses in the House increasingly alarmed. “They’re concerned their members are sensing a change in the prevailing political winds,” one observer said, “and they are afraid more defections are in store soon.”
Having successfully flexed its new-found muscle on the floor last week on the CRT issue, opportunities to inject more conservative approaches into high-profile legislation are right around the corner. Abortion, concealed carry, certificate of need repeal, and a parental bill of rights are just a few of the hot-button issues on deck awaiting lawmakers’ consideration.
Could the most conservative House since the GOP won control of the legislature a generation ago be shaping up? It’s too early to tell. The proof, as they say, will be in the pudding.
But if the Freedom Caucus continues gaining traction within the chamber, it is a distinct possibility.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
J. Mark Powell is an award-winning former TV journalist, government communications veteran, and a political consultant. He is also an author and an avid Civil War enthusiast. Got a tip or a story idea for Mark? Email him at email@example.com.
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