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State House

South Carolina’s Comptroller ‘Spitball Fight’ Creating Constitutional Crisis

A $36.6 billion bluff?

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There’s a political spitball fight between the South Carolina House of Representatives and the State Senate over who should become the next comptroller general of the Palmetto State.

Should you care? If you are expecting a check from the state of South Carolina anytime soon, yes.

Readers will recall the former occupant of this office – Richard Eckstrom – announced his resignation weeks ago after admitting a $3.5 billion accounting error (oops!). State senators led by Larry Grooms began making preparations to boot Eckstrom from office the moment he first acknowledged this “anomaly” in early February – eager to install their own candidate in his place.

Grooms began pushing career bureaucrat Mike Shealy as the next comptroller – except he forgot to clear his choice with leaders in the House, who had already moved to anoint former state representative Kirkman Finlay III as Eckstrom’s successor.

Finlay has more than enough votes to win the election … assuming there is an election. Meanwhile, Shealy – a twenty-year lieutenant of über-liberal Senate leader Hugh Leatherman – does not have the votes, having encountered stiff opposition from fiscal conservatives in both chambers.

In a desperate bid to narrow the gap, Grooms has been poor-mouthing Finlay’s candidacy in the Senate – claiming the Columbia businessman opposes the comptroller’s office becoming an appointed post. The implication? That Finlay wants to turn the office into his own political fiefdom.



Finlay does support making the office an appointed position, however.

“If the House and Senate vote for it – and the people approve it – I’m fine with it being an appointed position,” Finlay told me earlier this week. “I have no problem with the elimination of this position as an elected office as long as the duties and responsibilities are appropriately administered.”

With the outcome decided, House members drafted a resolution calling for a joint session of the S.C. General Assembly to be held last Wednesday (May 3, 2023) for the purpose of filling Eckstrom’s seat. Senators ignored that resolution, though – and are now threatening to hold the entire legislative branch of government hostage unless Grooms gets the comptroller candidate he wants.

Talk about a high stakes game of chicken …

Come May 16 – next Tuesday – this “game” could become very uncomfortable for state employees (and anyone else expecting a check from the state of South Carolina). While these checks bear the signature of the state treasurer, Curtis Loftis, they are issued “pursuant to (the) warrant of Richard Eckstrom Comptroller General.”

Eckstrom affixed his warrant to the last round of state paychecks (dated May 1, 2023) prior to departing from office – but serious questions linger as to whether the next round of payments can be doled out. After all, Eckstrom is no longer comptroller – the office is vacant. That means there is no warrant – no constitutional authority to issue the checks.

In fact, I’m not even sure the May 1 checks were issued legally … something the state better hope its attorneys are ready to argue in court.

(Click to View)

Richard Eckstrom (S.C. Comptroller’s Office)

As if this paycheck drama weren’t sufficiently scary, senators are now pushing this impasse to ever-escalating heights – threatening to subvert their adjournment process and throw the state’s entire $36.6 billion budget into disarray. Credit to columnist Cindi Ross Scoppe of The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier for publishing a nifty recap of this drama, which she referred to as “one of the highest-stakes standoffs between the Senate and House in decades.”

For once, she’s not wrong …

In a childish fit of pique, Grooms is going all in on a losing hand … pushing the legislature to the brink of armageddon because he’s angry the House didn’t roll over and support his left-of-center comptroller nominee. Unfortunately, Senate leaders are (for now) going along with Grooms – letting him convince them this is just another inter-chamber phallus measuring situation, one they can win if they just keep raising the stakes a little bit higher.

“The House will eventually have to fold,” one senator told me on condition of anonymity.

Will they?

Ultimately, all this saga is doing is proving to the people of South Carolina (once again) just how immature and incompetent their government is – that GOP “leaders” are willing to play roulette with people’s livelihoods to show that one legislative micro-phallus is infinitesimally larger than another.

And remember, both of these dysfunctional chambers are comprised of so-called “Republican” supermajorities (albeit decidedly left-of-center supermajorities).

Who will “win” this spitball fight? I don’t know. But clearly, good government is once again a loser in the Palmetto State …



Will Folks on phone
Will Folks (Brett Flashnick)

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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1 comment

Gerald May 9, 2023 at 6:22 am

There should be a “memorandum of understanding” (MOA) between the Comptroller’s office and the Treasurer’s office that allows the Treasurer to manage the Comptroller’s office till a successor is chosen.
These MOA are commonplace in state government.
This idea was publicly discussed in the hearings.
The taxpayers deserve stability and accountability and this provides just that.


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