Issues

What Convention of States Proponents Aren't Telling You

constitutional-convention.jpg

“We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” No other statement in the last decade quite evokes the deep disgust many South Carolinians feel about the federal government today. Years of out-of-control spending, debt ceiling increases, and judicial activism have stolen the American Dream right out from under our children’s noses, and for the first time since Reagan, many no longer feel that better days are ahead. Yet, the only thing worse than no hope is false hope, for false hope will be dashed against the rocks of reality. Touted as the founder’s solution to reigning in the federal government, a Convention of States is really just a recycled snake oil cure for all that ails America. Recent advocates such as Mark Levin are neither the first nor the only ones to pitch this idea. As much as we wish we could believe it, the Convention of States sales pitch does not line up with reality. Here’s what they aren’t telling you:

A Convention will not be limited in scope. Even if states clearly define the purpose for which they call for a Convention, Article V of the US Constitution neither imposes nor allows any limitations on the subject matter which may be considered. Once called, the Convention may propose any amendments it pleases.

Congress will set the rules. Who the delegates are and what the rules are will have everything to do with the final outcome. Since only Congress has the power to call a Convention per the “necessary and proper” clause of Article I Section 8 of the Constitution, there will at a minimum be a terrific power struggle between Congress and the states over who makes these crucial procedural decisions and ultimately, over the outcome of the Convention itself. Congress will have a Constitutional basis for its claim to this power, so this is not a state’s rights battle we can win.

Nothing will change. The theory seems to be that amending the Constitution will force federal activist judges to stop ignoring original intent. The problem with this view is that there simply is no motive for them to do so. Sufficiently motivated judges, Congressmen, and Presidents have chosen at times to creatively reinterpret the Constitution, or to ignore it altogether, as President Obama has threatened to do with his “phone and pen.” Amendments will not magically change the political philosophy of those who preside over the federal government, and those who would suggest otherwise are delusional and dishonest.

For more problems with the Convention of States proposal, see Fact Checking the Convention of States.

What then should be done to reign in the federal government? If a Convention to propose Constitutional amendments is not the founders’ solution, what is? Simply this: states refusing to comply with illegal Federal actions. A balance of power exists not only between the branches of the federal government, which now seem to operate in unison despite the show made of partisan gridlock, but also between the federal government and the states. It is time for the General Assembly of South Carolina to begin weaning itself off federal funding and to reject as null and void any action taken by the federal government which is not authorized in the Constitution of the United States. After all, we took an oath to “protect and defend” the Constitution, not to sell our constituents snake oil.

Issue Spotlight: Corruption

Everyone knows that government is corrupt, but you might be surprised to learn just how corrupt it is in South Carolina. There are systemic changes needed, but first, some background.

A Legislature-dominated government

As the saying goes, power corrupts. That’s why we have three branches of government. It’s like a three-legged stool: each leg helps keep the others on balance. Those branches are the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judiciary.

 Corruption in South Carolina

Corruption in South Carolina

Here in South Carolina, the legislature rides roughshod over everything, the Governor is little better than a figurehead, and the judiciary is beholden to the legislature.

This isn’t overheated political rhetoric. Here are some actual examples:

For this, we can thank South Carolina’s Jim Crow-era 1895 Constitution and over an hundred years of lawmakers who want the good-old-boy system to stay intact and keep “ragheads” out of power.

It doesn’t have to be like this. But, there’s more.

Unaccountable state boards and agencies

A maze of boards and commissions has been created over the years to perform functions that are sometimes legislative in nature and sometimes executive in nature. These boards, since they aren’t elected, aren’t directly accountable to the citizens of South Carolina. For instance:

  • The Superintendent of Education vs. the State Board of Education vs. the State Education Oversight Committee vs. the local School District vs. the County School Board (is it any wonder our schools are failing?)
  • The SC Department of Transportation (SCDOT) vs. the SC Transportation Commission vs. the SC Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB)
  • The Department of Administration vs. the Bond Review Authority

This complexity both wastes money and allows our elected officials to shirk responsibility and avoid accountability. For a legislatively-run state, it’s amazing how little power they sometimes seem to have!

Now and then, the cry goes up for “restructuring,” but the result often looks more like a massive game of musical chairs.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Oh, but there’s still more.

The Judicial system

Currently, our judges are elected by the legislature, many of whom are lawyers who practice before those very judges.

Is this a problem? You bet.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell, under a grand jury investigation for serious campaign ethics violations, attempted to have Attorney General Wilson thrown off his case. The matter will be ultimately decided by the SC Supreme Court, whose Chief Justice Speaker Harrell actively campaigned for.

Solutions

Fixing this will likely take a generation or two, but here is a good starting place.

  • Judges should either be elected (like Probate Judges) or appointed by the Governor with confirmation by the Senate (like the Federal government). I personally favor letting the voters choose - I trust the people of South Carolina much more than politicians to pick good judges. This is what Texas does, and it seems to work very well for them.
  • Consolidate redundant boards, commissions and agencies.
  • Eliminate hybrid boards that give undue legislative oversight to executive functions, such as the S.C. Transportation Commission.
  • Remove legislators’ FOIA exemption. Lawmakers should have to respond to FOIA requests just as state agencies do.
  • Establish term limits and eliminate pensions for state legislators. We should not be rewarding politicians who make a career out of spending your money.
  • Shorten the legislative session. I favor the Texas model (a six-month session every other year). It seems to work great for them!
  • Close the party primaries. Democrats should not have a say in who the Republican candidates are, and vice versa. This is like letting USC pick Clemson’s football coach! Why do we allow this? Crossover may be a factor in how some corrupt Republicans continue getting elected.

Am I really going to be any different?

It’s a fair question, and one I get a lot. You’ve heard it all before. How do you know I won’t turn out like everyone else does?

For one thing, a lot of candidates don't know what they believe going into office. I do, and have tried to be very open and detailed on all the major issues.

This is not about making money or about a career change for me personally. I have a great career as a computer programmer. Nor is it about belonging to an “elite” group. I hate pretentiousness. I’m not a party animal and you won’t find me hanging out in Columbia drinking with lobbyists.

So why would I run for office? Because I want South Carolina to be the freest and most prosperous state in the nation, and because I believe that I can make a difference, and because my conscience dictates that I try.

Issue Spotlight: Life

Life.jpg

Life is the most fundamental of our God-given rights. It begins at conception and ends at natural death, and no person or government has the right to take it away without just cause and due process (hint: convenience doesn’t count as “just cause.”).

Abortion

How we treat unborn children and seniors tells what kind of society we are. While the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade officially allowed abortion, I believe that decision will be overturned eventually, hopefully in my lifetime.

Until then, we need to do all we can to reduce abortion as much as possible.

Here are some measures South Carolina should take to protect innocent life:

  • Do not provide any taxpayer funding to abortion clinics, either directly or indirectly through health insurance coverage
  • Hold clinics to ambulatory surgical center standards (as Texas has done)
  • Resist Federal intrusion into healthcare
  • Prohibit Planned Parenthood from providing sex education in public schools
  • Provide faith-based abstinence education in schools

The SC House just passed a bill banning abortion after 20 weeks, the point at which unborn babies are able to feel pain (some believe the ability to feel pain begins earlier). The legislation is  currently before the Senate and will hopefully pass. I would definitely support this and similar measures.

What about rape and incest?

Rape and incest are tragic situations that do sometimes result in pregnancy. However, the child in the womb is an innocent third party and does not deserve to die. The baby isn’t just “a constant reminder” or “a tragic memento.” It’s a life, and deserves protection just as much as yours and mine.

Additionally, abortion often causes severe trauma and depression to the mother that often takes years to recover from. Abortion doesn’t provide healing to a girl struggling with the aftermath of rape; it only makes things worse.

Seniors

As the tragic case of Terri Schiavo showed, it’s not just unborn children who are endangered by a lack of respect for human life.

Seniors, the disabled, and unborn children are our most vulnerable members of society and can be very prone to abuse from neglect, manipulation, or - as in Ms. Schiavo’s situation - outright murder because she had no voice. The state’s job is to protect their right to life, not to allow others to take advantage of their disability.

Sometimes family members do have very difficult decisions to make regarding true life support. But denying the basic necessities of life does not count as “life support” regardless of what the Florida Legislature says, and no family member has the right to deny basic care to a loved one.

The intrusion of the Federal government into our healthcare system has very grave implications for our seniors. When the provisions and mandates in Obamacare fully take effect, seniors and the disabled are likely to be denied the care they need, in favor of more “useful” members of society. This is a travesty we must avoid at all cost.

Rep. Bill Chumley and Sen. Tom Davis led the fight to nullify Obamacare in South Carolina over the last year, but were thwarted at every turn by corrupt politicians. I supported Chumley’s bill and if elected, I will do everything I can to fight the implementation of Obamacare in our state.

Conclusion

In the Declaration of Independence, the founders stated that “...all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”

The right to life is foundational to all our other freedoms. When that right is trampled on, our freedom is gone. Government’s job is to protect every innocent life, no matter how small or insignificant.

Issue Spotlight: Roads

Roads.jpg

South Carolina’s roads are a disgrace. Cross the border into Georgia or North Carolina, and the roads magically improve. This is one of the most basic and legitimate functions of our state government, and we can’t even get it right!

A Non-Solution

Some, including my opponent, suggest raising the gas tax would fix the problem. If only it were that easy… but did you know that the 2014 budget increases spending by about $600 million, and yet $0 of that extra spending is for roads?

Here’s a detailed list of $644 million we could have spent on roads this year. If we raise the gas tax, what makes you think we won’t blow that money too?

“‘Taxpayers understand that if they want better roads they have to pay for them.’ True enough. The problem is that South Carolina taxpayers are already paying for better roads – they’re just not getting what they’re paying for.”

Jamie Murguia, SC Policy Council

Our state budget looks like these gallon jugs that were used for target practice. Until we patch the holes in our budget and make road resurfacing a priority, raising taxes won’t fix a thing.

 Roads in South Carolina

Roads in South Carolina

Never underestimate the State’s ability to waste your money.

The Magic Number: $600 million

How much will it cost to fix our roads? It depends on who you ask.

The SCDOT says we need about $2 billion a year for the next 20 years to fund roads, mass transit, and everybody’s wish lists. Excessive? Maybe a bit.

That’s why the South Carolina Alliance To Fix Our Roads set a more achievable proposed funding level of $600 million per year over 10 years to get our highways and bridges in good condition.

 Road funding

Road funding

I believe we can meet or exceed that goal by doing the following:

In addition to state roads, we also have an obligation to our counties to fully fund the local government fund, according to the law, which will help counties allocate more funds to county roads.

It’s not just about how much we spend, though, it’s also about where and how we spend it.

Establish Proper Accountability

Who is responsible for maintaining and funding South Carolina’s roads?

If you said the DOT, you’d be partially correct, but while the DOT Secretary is appointed by the Governor, DOT is run by the SC Transportation Commission - a board appointed mostly by the state legislature.

This is a problem because it blurs the line between the legislative and executive functions of government and leads to less transparency and accountability. Besides, our District 3 seat on that board is vacant, so you aren’t being represented.

But there’s more…

Meet STIB

The SC Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB) was established in 1997. It isn’t really an agency, and isn’t subject to the debt limits that state agencies have.

STIB is responsible for doling out billions to Charleston and Horry counties, while most counties never got a dime for their roads. According to Sen. Harvey Peeler,

“[T]he bank is force-feeding asphalt to Charleston, while the rest of South Carolina is on a starvation diet.”

 Road money

Road money

STIB is independent and unaccountable to the SCDOT or to the Governor - in fact, it is not even bound to follow DOT’s project list, which is disturbing since the legislature took $50 million of road funding away from DOT and gave it to STIB as a basis to borrow billions more without legislative debates or on-the-record votes.

It’s time to abolish the SC Transportation Infrastructure Bank and the SC Transportation Commission, and make DOT fully accountable to the Governor’s office.

Additionally, given DOT’s track record, the legislature should mandate that DOT maintain a fund balance at all times, so that DOT never goes broke again like they did in like they did in 2011.

Conclusion

Roads are not a Republican issue, nor are they a Democrat issue. It’s one of the most important issues our state faces right now, and every day we wait costs us millions more as our roads continue to deteriorate.

No more excuses. We have the money. We can do this.