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Palmetto Political Stock Index – 4/16/2024

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South Carolina “Republican” lawmakers have a big decision ahead of them this week: Whether to elevate former Democratic minority leader (and Democratic gubernatorial nominee) James Smith to the state’s circuit court … or not.

As of this writing, Smith appears to be a lock to receive his controversial appointment from the GOP “supermajority,” which continues to govern more like a left-of-center “uniparty” than the conservative majority it purports to be on the campaign trail.

Of course it’s not just about “conservative” lawmakers doling out powerful posts to activist liberals like Smith … it’s about the broader failure of “Republican” leaders to fix the Palmetto State’s badly broken and perpetually unjust judicial branch.

South Carolina desperately needs – and justice demands – bold reform of the current, corrupt status quo. Unfortunately, the powerful lawyer-legislators who control – and profit – from the current system have made it abundantly clear they have zero interest in meaningful change.

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Over the past year, our founding editor Will Folks and political columnist Mark Powell have been monitoring political developments in South Carolina and beyond via our Palmetto Political Stock Index.  With the ‘First in the South’ presidential primary season now in the rearview, our index is focusing more intently on statewide developments.

As previously noted, each installment is an assessment of how our subjects fared over the previous week. Positive reports don’t reflect endorsements, and negative ones aren’t (necessarily) indicative of vendettas. We just call ‘em like we see ‘em.

To view the most recent index, click here. And to get your historical fix, click here.

Got a hot “stock tip” for our consideration? Email Will (here) and/ or Mark (here). Just make sure to include “Palmetto Political Stock Index” in the subject line.

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MARVIN PENDARVIS

STOCK: FALLING

Tongues are still wagging across the Palmetto State this week following the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED)’s recently launched criminal investigation of state representative Marvin Pendarvis. The nascent criminal inquiry – based on a civil lawsuit filed last week – involves allegations forging a client’s signature on an unauthorized settlement – and then trying to buy his silence with hush money.

In other words, very serious stuff – with potentially serious tentacles, too.

The 34-year-old Pendarvis has long been viewed as an up-and-comer in Democratic ranks. First elected to the House in 2017 (just three weeks after turning 28), he has cruised to reelection ever since. Now, Pendarvis’ reputation has sustained a serious hit – and if criminal charges are eventually filed, it could wind up being damaged beyond repair. 

Of course the big question at the S.C. State House this week isn’t about how the scandal will affect Pendarvis’ future, it’s this: Who else will this scandal ensnare?

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MEDICAL MARIJUANA

STOCK: RISING

In a time when it seems people can’t agree on much of anything, South Carolinians are strongly in agreement on one thing: They want medical marijuana.

A new Mason-Dixon Poll’s findings on this issue were emphatic. Regardless of how you look at it (Democrat-Republican, white-black, young-old, rich-poor, Upstate-Midlands-Lowcountry, etc.), support for marijuana’s medicinal uses slices across all lines.

Let’s cut to the chase: 83 percent want it – including overwhelming majorities of all of the above-mentioned demographics.

Numbers like those are too big for state legislators to ignore. That polling comes as the “Compassionate Care Act”  (S. 423) is winding its way through the General Assembly. Though it has cleared the S.C. Senate, it has yet to even receive a hearing in the House. And with the clock ticking ever close to the end of the legislative session, its chances dim with each passing day.

The invisible force at play here is Big Pharma, which doesn’t want medical marijuana cutting in on its business. Will it (and its astonishingly deep pockets) be enough to beat back the competition for another year? 

We’ll soon find out which has more sway in Columbia: Big Pharma’s big bankroll, or the vox populi’s 83 percent.

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WAR IN THE MIDDLE EAST

STOCK: RISING

Joe Biden stood at a presidential podium last Friday and grimly warned Iran, “don’t.” Just over 24 hours later, Iran fired 185 attack drones, 36 cruise missiles, and 110 surface-to-air missiles at Israel in response. So much for Joe Biden, the statesman.

Iran’s attack – which appears to have been almost completely repelled by Israel’s U.S.-funded missile defense system – marked a major escalation of the latest conflict in the Middle East. That conflict began on October 7, 2023 when the Gaza-based terrorist organization, Hamas, initiated a bloody assault on Israeli civilians. Iran’s attack elevated things to a dangerous new level – both for Biden’s reelection bid and for peace in general.

Biden now finds himself stuck in an ever-tightening strategic vise. On the one hand, he’s obliged to defend the Jewish state and avoid offending traditional liberals – many of whom are pro-Israeli. At the same time, his dangerous political “third rail” is support from far left/ woke progressives, whose votes are essential to his prospects in November. Pro-Palestinian at best and increasingly anti-Israel and antisemitic at worst, they’re already branding him “Genocide Joe.” His is an unenviable spot, to say the least. 

Then, there’s the wider threat to peace in general. Remember that $400 million former U.S. president Barack Obama delivered to Iran as payoff money for a nuclear deal? A big chunk of it was fired at Israel last weekend. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his nation has no choice but the retaliate in kind. Given that Israel and Iran both have lots of big shiny ones in their arsenals, this isn’t child’s play. The world is holding its breath to see what happens next.  

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NIKKI HALEY

STOCK: FALLING

Speaking of war, South Carolina’s favorite warmonger has been missing in action these days. This question is increasingly making the rounds in Palmetto political circle: “What’s happened to Nikki Haley?”

True, she recently joined a neocon think tank which issued prepackaged pablum announcing her arrival. But what are we hearing directly from her?

Crickets.

Just weeks ago, during the white-hot stage of the Republican presidential primary process, Haley was a ubiquitous presence on X (the former Twitter). You could almost set your watch by the frequency of her tweets. These days, however, her penny ante Margaret Thatcher shtick has all but disappeared from the interwebs.

For someone who desperately wants to have a voice in the nation’s political dialogue, Haley’s newfound silence is deafening.

Obviously, we’ve not heard the last from the former governor and U.N. ambassador. As one South Carolina-based political strategist told us, “She’s like Napoleon exiled on Elba, already plotting her comeback in 2028.”

Maybe. Yet students of history will also remember Napoleon’s big comeback abruptly ended at a little village called Waterloo.

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JEFF DUNCAN

STOCK: RISING

There’s no need to wipe your device’s screen. You read right: Jeff Duncan’s stock is rising this week.

How can that be, you ask? Hear us out …

The soon-to-be former South Carolina congressman has been mired in controversy following the revelation of an extramarital affair – much like the ‘Days of our Congressman’ saga enveloping his congressional neighbor, William Timmons. But that’s where all similarities end. Timmons is fighting to hang on to his seat; Duncan is giving up his. 

Duncan also shepherded the critically important Pipeline Safety, Modernization, and Expansion Act out of the House subcommittee he chairs — no small feat. Additionally, there’s word wedding bells may be in the offing as it relates to the illicit relationship at the heart of his fall from grace.

Can Timmons say the same?

In short, Duncan seems to have weathered this particualr storm far better than his colleague, who continues to behave like a petulant child.

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DONALD TRUMP

STOCK: HOLDING

It was a first in American history: A former president of the United States sitting in a courtroom as a criminal defendant. The curtain rose Monday on Donald Trump’s Manhattan trial on 34 counts involving hush money paid to retired porn star, Stormy Daniels.

Our index isn’t concerned with the legal minutia of this case. What matters to us is its potential impact on the presidential race. Because, after all, that’s what this – and Trump’s many other legal matters – are really about. And the short answer is this: At this moment, it’s too early to tell.

Mainstream media breathlessly touted a recent Reuters/ Ipsos poll showing Biden’s lead expanding from a single point in March (39 percent to 38 percent) to four points in April (41 percent to 37 percent). That followed a much-touted New York Times/ Sienna poll (which liberals love ballyhooing as “the most accurate poll in America”) from the weekend that had Trump and Biden essentially tied after the former president led by five points a month earlier.

How big a toll will seeing the presumptive GOP nominee sitting at the defendant’s table on TV newscasts day after table take on Trump’s campaign? Stay tuned; we’re about to find out.   

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SC HOUSE GOP LEADERSHIP

South Carolina

STOCK: FALLING

To borrow from Ronald Reagan, “there they go again.” South Carolina faces a myriad of perpetual (and worsening) problems: A fragile economy, a road system that’s crumbling like pie crust, an education system where achievement is the exception to the rule and a judicial selection system in which lawyer-legislators pick the judges they argue cases before.

Given all those challenges – along with a rapidly dwindling hourglass on the 2024 legislative session – where did the House “Republican” leadership direct its firepower last week? On a measure aimed at taking down just one member of the body.

No, really. Rather than working to advance the greater good, GOP leadership went after state representative R.J. May III in all but name. The status quo’s always-reliable henchmen, the well-lubricated Micah Caskey and his pipe-toting sidekick Gil Gatch, were floor cheerleaders for an amendment to a bill that would have prevented a House member from working on behalf of a candidate challenging a fellow House member in an election. Since May is the only political consultant currently serving in that chamber, it was obviously a bullseye aimed at taking him out.

Thankfully, the ill-advised amendment was eventually rejected as not being germane to the bill.

Actions speak louder than words, and this action spoke volumes. May is a founding member of the South Carolina Freedom Caucus, the group challenging the “uniparty” in Columbia that is relentlessly growing government’s size and scope year after year.

The sloppily executed legislative hit job was easily brushed aIside—despite the antics of the Caskey & Gatch comedy act. More disturbing is the tidal wave of cold hard cash the Establishment and its allies are preparing to rain down on May, his fellow Freedom Caucus members, and candidates aligned with them (some 40 in all) in the upcoming primary election. A cool $1 million or more, according to some estimates. Exposing yet again that not only is the House GOP Leadership desperate to cling to power, but it’s willing to pay through the nose to do so.

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FEDERAL BUREAUCRATS

STOCK: FALLING

Fear not, federal bureaucrats! Regardless of how November’s election turns out, Joe Biden’s got your back.

Politico reports the Biden administration is moving to protect those tens of thousands of unelected handmaids of the “uniparty” in D.C. should Trump be returned to the White House.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management just put the finishing touches on a rule that will keep civil service employees at their desks by safeguarding them from involuntary removal. 

Meaning even if Biden loses, his minions will still be doing his bidding when he’s tooling that Corvette down Delaware streets cruising ice cream parlors. 

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