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State House

South Carolina’s Sorry ‘Restructuring’ Battle

No matter what happens, the Palmetto State will remain chained to the past …

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South Carolina senator Tom Davis has been pushing the cause of government restructuring for decades. Davis, who previously served as chief of staff to former S.C. governor Mark Sanford, was one of the leading architects of an ambitious agenda to streamline and modernize the way the Palmetto State’s byzantine government operated.

Unfortunately, powerful legislative leaders rebuffed that agenda at every turn – eager to maintain their historical stranglehold over the executive branch of government. And so Sanford’s restructuring push yielded little in the way of actual change.

Years ago, I submitted a blueprint for a comprehensive reconfiguration of South Carolina’s busted, broken, bloated and brazenly corrupt state government – which remains mired in the morass of its duplicative, dysfunctional, dystopian-inducing constitution of 1895.

For those of you in need of a history lesson, the 1895 constitution – forged in the aftermath of post-Civil War Reconstruction – was intentionally structured to vest as much power in the hands of the legislature as possible. After Reconstruction, white Democrats feared the swelling black population would assume political control – so they re-wrote the state’s founding document to mitigate the risk of a black governor having any real power if elected.

To this day, South Carolina’s gubernatorial office remains impotent compared to other executives nationwide – with the legislature enjoying direct control over many functions of government which would be executive functions in a more logically established system.

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It’s not as bad as lawmakers’ stranglehold over the judiciary – but it prevents a direct line of accountability over a host of executive functions. And preserves a status quo that has been holding South Carolina back for decades on a host of fronts.

Unfortunately, the fight to fix this chronic problem has been moving in reverse. “Restructuring,” sadly, has become less about creating legitimate checks and balances between branches of government and more about modest alphabet soup realignments of unchecked legislative authority. Rather than reimagining how government can more effectively and efficiently administer a limited number of core functions, the debate has shifted to one of coddling bureaucratic interests and the special interests which prop them up.

“Government ‘restructuring’ is sadly turning into yet another example of how insider interests and their bureaucratic allies hoard power and money – as opposed to the efficient, responsible, meritocratic administration of core government functions that should be its goal,” I wrote last December.

“Restructuring” should be about creating a modern, responsive government from the ground up – one that eliminates duplicative and unnecessary functionality. Instead, it has become about reshuffling a perpetually expanding bureaucratic behemoth that literally cannot contain its appetite for more of the taxpayers’ money.

And the supposed savings taxpayers were promised as a result of all this reshuffling? Those have vanished.

Still determined to make a difference, Davis is leading a modest effort to reconfigure South Carolina’s health care agencies. The bill he’s pushing – S.915 – is backed by the entire Columbia, S.C. establishment, including several influential special interests which would benefit from long-term leases and lucrative contracts tied to its passage.

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Lawmakers previously approved lawmakers (and governor Henry McMaster signed into law) S. 399 – which abolishes the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) effective July 1, 2024 and create in its place a state Department of Public Health (SCDPH) and a state Department of Environmental Services (SCDES).

Now, lawmakers are attempting to consolidate other health care agencies within this new bureaucratic structure – which according to Davis is critical to achieving better service for constituents and providing better value to taxpayers.

“We currently have separate state agencies — several of which have directors accountable only to unelected commissions — that provide crisis mental health care, substance-abuse services, disability and special-needs services, and assistance to the elderly in duplicative ways and with little coordination,” Davis said. “This both diminishes the quality of care and increases its cost. S. 915 compels the coordinated delivery of these public-health services via a cabinet secretary who is directly accountable to the governor.”

Members of the S.C. Freedom Caucus are opposing the bill, though. One of them – state representative Josiah Magnuson – earned the ire of the Columbia swamp and its mainstream media apologists by procedurally blocking the passage of the legislation just hours before lawmakers adjourned for the year.

In response, McMaster – who has been slavishly beholden to the status quo since becoming governor seven-and-a-half years ago – has been beating the drum on behalf of the special interests eager to secure its passage.

“They’ve got to get this done,” McMaster said, implying he might use his limited executive authority to call for a special session of the legislature to get the bill approved.

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I reached out to Magnuson in an effort to find out why he blocked the bill.

“The problems with this bill are like layers of an onion,” Magnuson told me. “First, it creates a bureaucracy over the bureaucracy – which makes no sense. I support streamlining government – but this bill wasn’t that. It wouldn’t cut any government positions and its cost to taxpayers was unknown. Further, the initial draft of the bill centralized control of sheriffs during a public health emergency in the hands of one person, and House leadership made clear it was their intent to keep that centralization in the bill.”

Magnuson also expressed concern over the far left group which assisted in drafting the legislation.

“Instead of listening to the people of South Carolina, the bill was developed by a partner group of the World Economic Forum,” he said. “This group seeks to push ‘inclusive capitalism’ and the UN Sustainability Goals. We need to go back to the drawing board, hold public hearings across the state, and come up with a bill that truly streamlines state agencies, not pads the pockets of big political donors and globalists.”

Magnuson’s concerns were incorporated in a policy briefing released by the Freedom Caucus earlier this month. According to the briefing, the bill “would not shrink government and would not decentralize government power.”

Davis said the Freedom Caucus’ concerns are unfounded.

“There’s an important medical freedom component to S. 915,” he said. “Currently, the state code of laws says that sheriffs must assist the DHEC director in carrying out his healthcare orders. S. 915 changes must to may and devolves the power to issue healthcare orders from the DHEC director to the governor.”

Is he right? And more importantly … does it matter?

In the context of this debate, sure … it does. But in the broader context of fixing what’s wrong with this state? Addressing what’s been wrong with it for decades? No, it does not. State government in South Carolina has been broken so badly – and for so long – it’s going to take a radical reinvention to turn things around, not this insider-approved tinkering.

Regrettably, the appetite for such reinvention – like the appetite for real reform of our judiciary – would appear to be nonexistent amongst those profiting from the perpetuation of failure.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Travis Bell Photography)

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 and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and eight children.

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1 comment

Fill Wolks May 23, 2024 at 10:27 am

Anything I don’t like is “the swamp”

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