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Guest Column: Holding South Carolina’s ‘Freedom Caucus’ To Account

Tom Davis: “These ‘freedom fighters’ deserve nothing but our contempt …”

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by TOM DAVIS

Enough is enough. With the piece published recently on this site, the disinformation regarding S.915 – a bill that would bring coherence to the fractured way our state delivers public-health services to its most vulnerable populations – has reached an intolerably absurd level. All of this comes from the 17 legislators in the South Carolina House of Representatives who call themselves the Freedom Caucus – and it is past time they were held to account. 

In a press release issued after S. 915 was blocked by one of its members on the last day of the legislative session, the caucus claimed “the bill was unwieldy, at over 200 pages long, and includes no projection of cost to the taxpayers,” and suggested that it “be divided into multiple smaller bills to ensure legislators can see an accurate fiscal projection for each agency transition.”

Yes, S. 915 consists of over 200 pages, but all but six of those pages – aside from the medical freedom amendments sponsored by my colleague Senator Shane Martin; more on that later – are ministerial changes to the South Carolina Code necessitated by renaming the existing public-health agencies and realigning and/or consolidating the services they provide. Those agencies’ names appear in numerous sections throughout the code, and it takes many pages to make those language changes. But the substance of the restructuring being proposed in S. 915 is set forth in only six pages. 

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The Freedom Caucus’ suggestion that S. 915 be divided into multiple smaller bills fails to understand the nature of the problem and – perhaps more troubling – evidences a profound ignorance about how to legislate. The state currently has multiple public-health agencies that provide overlapping and duplicative services to South Carolinians with mental disorders, substance-abuse addictions, physical disabilities, age-related impairments such as dementia, etc., in a way that results in horrible outcomes (43rd worst in the nation) at a very high cost. 

It is the most fragmented public-health structure in the nation, the only one where agencies act independent of one another without oversight by cabinet directors accountable to the governor, and this structural problem cannot be addressed with a series of bills. S. 915 deals with how public-health services are delivered in South Carolina, and a piecemeal delivery system cannot be fixed with piecemeal legislation. That makes no sense. 

The caucus’ complaint that S. 915 has “no projection of cost to the taxpayer” is equally specious. While the South Carolina Revenue and Fiscal Affairs (SCRFA) office does in many instances provide fiscal impact statements on legislation, it cannot monetize savings associated with increased gubernatorial accountability over executive branch functions with any degree of certainty, in part because such depends upon the skill of the chief executive. (For instance, the savings associated with the restructuring effected under Governor Carroll Campbell’s leadership in 1993 were not monetized in advance).   

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“Fewer agencies, more coordination…”

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But the inability to precisely monetize the savings in advance – and the realization of those savings being dependent on the skill of the governor – is not an argument for blocking S. 915. The best the legislature can do – and what it has an obligation to do – is to put a services-delivery structure in place that enables a governor to achieve efficiencies and cost savings and allows the people of South Carolina to hold the governor to account if they are not.  

Let’s look at the current state of play. The state has independent agencies answerable only to unelected commissions, each competing for legislative appropriations. Does the caucus truly think this is preferable to agencies directly accountable to the governor via a cabinet director, and which are compelled by the cabinet director to eliminate any appropriation requests that are redundant? 

Moreover, the caucus’ claim that such accountability “creates a bureaucracy over the bureaucracy” completely misses the mark. If S. 915 were enacted the number of agencies would decrease. Fewer agencies, more coordination – how is that not preferable to more agencies, less coordination?  

This caucus’ complaint descends into pure paranoidal fantasy: “Instead of listening to the people of South Carolina, the bill was developed by a partner group of the World Economic Forum. 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.”

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“The implication that we did so to ‘pad our pockets’ is insulting…”

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What does making sure our state’s public-health agencies deliver services to our most-vulnerable populations in an effective and cost-efficient way have to do with “inclusive capitalism” or UN Sustainability Goals? How does that pad the pocket of “globalists?” This is nothing more than an attempt to transplant Matt Gaetz’s and Marjorie Taylor Greene’s congressional nonsense into South Carolina.    

And as to the caucus’ claim that “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,” consider this: The due diligence behind S. 915 involved six town halls and two surveys covering more than 630 constituents across all counties. I know because I participated in that process, as did DHHS director Robbie Kerr and DOA director Marcia Adams.

The implicit accusation that we did so to “pad our pockets” is insulting.


[Another note about process: Over the past two years, I chaired five Senate Medical Affairs subcommittee meetings in connection with this proposed restructuring, with three of those meetings lasting over four hours, and testimony was received from all agencies affected by S. 915. Director Adams and Director Kerr and members of their respective staff spent countless hours meeting with leaders of and employees in these agencies to receive their input. Tellingly, to best of my knowledge, at no time did any member of the Freedom Caucus bother to attend.] 


The caucus also claims that S. 915 “would put in the hands of one person – either the Governor or an unelected bureaucrat – the authority to compel Sheriffs to enforce mandates and quarantines.” What the caucus refers to here, however, is an existing law that’s been in the code for decades. (See, Section 44-1-100.)  The bill blocked by the caucus would have removed this mandate. 

Finally, as to the caucus’ favorite epithet: “Health Czar.” This is perhaps the biggest lie of all, deployed with the cynical intent of leveraging the public’s understandable frustration with and distrust of the federal government’s responses during the Covid-19 pandemic. But the effect of S. 915, in part thanks to the amendments proposed by Senator Martin, would be the exact opposite of what the caucus claims to fear. Here’s why: 

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Powers held by an unelected bureaucrat would be devolved to the governor. The mandatory obligation of sheriffs to enforce healthcare mandates would be made discretionary. The powers by the state to impose quarantines would be limited to “persons exposed” to the infectious disease. And health department obligations to monitor the safety and efficacy of vaccines and to ensure an individual “has had time to thoughtfully and voluntarily accept or decline the vaccine or treatment free from coercion” would be created. 

Thanks to the so-called “Freedom “Caucus and its mindless obstructionism, however, none of those medical-freedom provisions will be included in the South Carolina Code. None of the existing powers of a healthcare bureaucrat to comply a sheriff to assist with enforcing mandates and quarantine would be curtailed. And none of the increased accountability for agencies to deliver public-health services in an efficient and cost-effective way would be created. The members of the FC knew all this because I explained it to them in person on the floor of the House on the last day of the legislative session, but they decided to block S. 915 anyway. 

These “freedom fighters” deserve nothing but our contempt for elevating their perceived political interests – and I say “perceived” because I believe their lies will ultimately catch up with them and get them booted out of office – over the interests of South Carolinians. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Phil Hamby)

Tom Davis represents Beaufort and Jasper counties in the South Carolina Senate.

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10 comments

jbl1a May 25, 2024 at 9:00 pm

Senator Davis at best you are part of the problem in Columbia. Just another liberal/lawyer/legislator. None of you work for the voters and taxpayers of SC you are derelict in your duties of representation and only serve special interests and big business. The SCFC is exposing the bs that goes on in the statehouse. Here’s a clue. We are tired of it.

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J Doe May 25, 2024 at 9:28 pm

Hell yeah! I don’t agree with everything Sen. Davis supports, but this column is spot on.

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davismcclam Top fan May 25, 2024 at 11:01 pm

RINO

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Balaboosta Top fan May 26, 2024 at 7:51 am

OUTSTANDING Senator Davis. You are spot on!

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AC Top fan May 26, 2024 at 11:25 am

Senator Davis and his ilk are THE problem with our legislature. More worried about pleasing lobbyists and enriching themselves than representing the interests of their constituents. I wonder what his net worth was prior to entering politics as opposed to now. Also of note is that the sheriffs were also opposed to this legislation but I guess be would say they are part of the problem. If he’s so straightforward why not give sled the authority to investigate ethics violations by legislators instead of policing themselves. It’s telling that criminal investigations like lost trust and more recently the lobbyists and politicians who were charged including the speaker of the house. Most people forget that the associates of those charged are still in the state house. One can only hope that maybe the justice department will get their priorities in order and start investigating real public corruption again, who knows maybe they can actually do something to make a difference. Amazing that solicitor Pascoe actually tried to make headway into the corruption and was stymied by our Supreme Court and AG and then was blacklisted by Graham and Tim Scott in his bid to be the US Attorney. I’m sure it’s because they feared he would start to clean up corruption in Columbia instead we ended up with a US attorney who goes out of her way to prosecute absolutely nothing

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LOL May 26, 2024 at 12:11 pm

Watching Republicans get eaten by the Tea Party, MAGA, “Freedom” fools they created is hilarious.

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NotFromHamptonCounty Top fan May 26, 2024 at 5:06 pm

The Freedom Caucus is the Quinndom under new management. RJ May pumps out the propaganda for them and THIS website gives them way too much oxygen.

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Mina Harrington Top fan May 26, 2024 at 10:03 pm

Senator Davis, you said a mouthful!! LOL Concerning quarantines, etc., I understand where it would be necessary to have certain people be quarantined if exposed to a dangerous disease such as Tuberculosis. We are being inundated with illegal migrants coming into the USA who are bringing in diseases. Tuberculosis is one of those diseases.

That being said, I am going to be blunt concerning how DHEC handled COVID. They indiscriminately passed on all the lies being told to us by the CDC. I especially see how bad it was when I compare Florida’s Surgeon General (probably the equivalent to a Health Czar). He has been WONDERFUL!!! He had a little bit of a learning curve right at first, but quickly learned all the facts concerning COVID and gave Florida citizens freedom. That was NOT done here in South Carolina. So, I became VERY leery about the idea of a Health Czar after seeing how ridiculous DHEC was concerning COVID. I would call it: fear mongering in order to help Big Pharma!! And,we could now be approaching a time where the WHO will try to rule over us which should NOT be allowed.

By the way, I never took a COVID shot because of religious reasons. And, I am so glad I didn’t after learning more about the MRNA shots. I also haven’t had a flu shot in almost 20 years. I take a natural supplement that has worked for me in building up my immune system to the point I haven’t even had a cold, COVID or the flu in those 20 years.

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JustCallMeAva Top fan May 27, 2024 at 6:18 pm

What exactly has the GOP done for this state in their 30-year plus reign in this state? Our roads are a disgrace. Our public schools are worse. Insurance costs have skyrocketed. And let’s not talk about the “ethics” of these jokers. They have none. Now the GOP are eating their own. Has the average citizen benefitted from any of this crap? Nope. The rich have gotten richer and the middle class has all but vanished in this state. And that’s exactly what they want. It’s my home state and my family has been here since the 1600’s. But seriously, what are we supposed to be proud of? What has the GOP ever done for anyone other than themselves? What do they offer the average voter? Anyone?

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Renee Romberger Top fan June 2, 2024 at 8:58 pm

Well said Senator Davis. As a recently retired hospital executive who spent 40 years working with DHEC in one capacity or another, your efforts to restructure DHEC in a meaningful way are greatly appreciated. I believe your work will benefit all South Carolinians. It will ensure that our state will focus on the right things related to health and our citizens will have a more streamlined system of care. Robby Kerr understands the system’s strengths and weaknesses better than anyone and I have complete faith that with him and you and the others who have worked so hard to create a better system, we will all be the better for it!
Healthcare is a complicated issue and when political leaders make decisions based on partial information, the system will never be successful in delivering the services so desperately needed in our state.

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