The House Republican Caucus published a propaganda piece titled "The Last Resort: SC infrastructure needs and how to address them." Spoiler: it's full of lies and disinformation.
“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.
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.
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:
- The Governor vetoes a bill? No problem. We’ll just override the veto, over and over again.
- A legislative corruption case goes before the SC Supreme Court? Not to worry, those judges know that they’re elected by the Legislature (many of whom are lawyers who also practice before them).
- Want to know what is going on in a government agency? Send a FOIA request - but not to a state legislator. They don’t have to comply.
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.
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.
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.”).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.”
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.
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.
I believe we can meet or exceed that goal by doing the following:
- Allocate 100% of gas tax and related fees to roads (currently about $640 million).
- Fund DOT overhead from the general fund at a reasonable level, and if necessary force DOT to streamline operations and cut costs.
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…
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.”
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.
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.
Lee Stranahan, a columnist for Breitbart, once said that “Human beings have an innate, natural drive to learn things. One thing can kill this: it’s called an ‘education system.’” We need education more now than ever. The problem is, our educational system ironically fails to teach students the knowledge and skills they need. Rather than teaching key subjects, life skills, critical thinking, and creativity, we’re teaching the student how to ace a test that the teacher and the school will be evaluated on. Worse, we’ve burdened the taxpayer down to the point that some parents are financially trapped and have no other option.
How do we begin to fix this?
If there was ever a sacred cow, it’s education. It seems that any waste is excusable if it is “for the children.” You, the taxpayer, are footing the bill and you deserve to get more bang for your buck.
We spend roughly $12,000 per child in Anderson School District 4, yet the most basic supplies (like paper) have at times been rationed. Neither teachers nor parents should be forced to furnish classroom supplies out of pocket.
We can fix this if we:
- Fully fund teacher pay and classroom supplies in the education budget first. If cutbacks are made, they should be made in administration, not where teaching happens.
- Eliminate unnecessary boards such as the State Education Oversight Committee and the Anderson County Board of Education.
- Save money on school facilities by creating a set of efficient, pre-designed architectural plans that can grow with district needs. Abe Lincoln learned math with chalk on the back of a shovel - we don’t need Taj Mahals to teach students effectively. Simple strategies like building in a second unfinished story that can be expanded into, and using metal roofing, can save school districts millions of dollars in the long run.
- Allow school districts to pool their buying power to purchase supplies at a discount.
- Examine the SC Education Lottery to see if that money is being used as promised to improve education and lower costs.
This country started going down the tubes when parents abdicated responsibility for raising their children to the public school system. Until parents realize that raising their children to be responsible members of society is their most important job, we will continue raising a generation with an entitlement mentality that expects everything to be handed to them on a silver platter.
That said, today we have a system that blames the teachers unfairly. We can fix this system and tilt responsibility back to the parents and students where it belongs.
- Restore effective, prompt means of discipline in the classroom and provide whatever legal protections are needed to allow this to happen.
- Reject merit pay and teacher evaluation schemes that operate according to student achievement, and instead create a work environment that attracts caring, self-motivated teachers and empowers them to do their job.
- Teach students that there is no such thing as a free lunch. If the parents cannot or will not pay for school lunch, provide ways for students to earn the money to pay for their meal.
Excessive red tape is driving our better teachers to an early retirement. Why collect 20 years of records that no one will look at, only to have them trashed in the end? That paper, and more importantly, that teacher’s time, could have been used better elsewhere.
To the extent that the state is responsible, we need to drastically reduce the amount of paperwork teachers have to spend time on. If we can’t do that, maybe we should eliminate some of administration’s assistants and use that money to hire teacher assistants to handle the paperwork.
Decentralized control provides better results - our nation’s history is proof of that fact. So why would we think that letting Washington, or even Columbia, micromanage our schools is a good thing?
We’ve put ourselves on the hook for so many Federal regulations simply by applying for Federal funding. Given that Federal funds comprise a mere 10% or less of the overall funding stream, I think the return in flexibility that we would get by giving up that funding would be worthwhile.
Furthermore, each region is different and I would much rather have South Carolina deciding what is taught in South Carolina’s schools than have Washington, California, or New York decide.
We need to:
- Resist Federal experiments on our children like Common Core.
- Reject proposals that consolidate school districts.
- Support more community-based charter schools.
- Support an historically honest and academically effective curriculum, including civics, economics, American history, phonics-based reading, traditional math (not Common Core math), and practical life skills.
- Support the arts, logic, and speech and debate as key components in school curriculum.
Simply put, we test too much and we make too many important decisions on flawed test results.
Standardized tests are measuring tools designed to measure one specific thing: a student’s grasp of information relative to other students. To the extent that standardized tests reveal where a student’s needs are or where progress is being achieved, they are useful.
Attempting to measure educational quality through standardized tests is about as smart as trying to measure temperature with a spoon. When this becomes the axle which the school curriculum revolves around, standardized tests bring serious downsides to both teachers and students.
We have forced teachers to teach students how to pass a test or the teacher will pay a price. Both the Bush and the Obama administrations have been guilty of pushing us down this road, first through No Child Left Behind and more recently through Race To The Top, Common Core, and NCLB waiver requirements.
Standardized testing recently drove a Boston teacher to retire prematurely in protest:
- Encourage our Federal delegation to overhaul No Child Left Behind by passing the National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing.
- Reduce the number of standardized tests administered, as Texas did in 2013.
The only thing worse than a failing educational system is a failing educational system that traps parents and students and leaves them no other choice.
If you are a wealthy parent, you have other options such as private schools. But many parents cannot afford any other option besides the public school in their district, regardless of whether that school is right for their children or not. That’s not ok.
We need to:
- Allow public school choice. If you live in District 4 and want to send your child to a school in District 5, you should be able to do so without paying extra provided that there is room available.
- Allow parents to opt-out of the portion of their taxes that they would pay into the school system if they choose a different educational system such as charter, private, homeschool, or online virtual schools.
Barton Swaim at the SC Policy Council stated that “the exploding costs of sending your kid to a public college has nothing to do with state budgets. It has everything to do with the university budgets.” I agree.
A college degree is now yesterday’s high school diploma, since many employers put more weight on real-world experience. Overcharging for an under-valued diploma is adding insult to injury. Just as the State of South Carolina must live within its means, we should hold our state universities accountable to live within their means.
We need to:
- Accelerate college by CLEP testing high school students before they graduate. This can allow a student to skip the first two years of college and get to work on their major right away after they graduate high school.
- Hold our universities accountable for tuition price gouging and wasteful spending.
- Stop funding speculative, wasteful “research” projects such as Innovista - a set of empty buildings in Columbia that came with a $150 million price tag.
- Encourage our universities to develop and expand into low-cost online and distance learning programs similar to MIT and Stanford.
Fixing our education system is a complex, long-term endeavour, but at the end of the day it is a question of priorities. Do we care more about the system, or about the students the system exists for? If we are willing to start putting our students first, we can have the best education system in the nation.
All it takes is a little common sense and responsibility.
Guns don’t kill, people do. Any discussion about guns has to start with the fact that self-defense is a God-given right. No government, federal, state, or local, has the right to get in the way of that. What part of “shall not be infringed” does the Federal government not understand?
Guns of all types are simply tools. They can kill, and they can save lives. I'm thankful that SC has a Concealed Weapons Permit program that allows people to carry for self defence and that you can own just about any firearm in the state.
We fall short of where we should be, though. There are far less regulations restricting the ownership and carrying of guns in other states, such as Oklahoma. Here are some measures we should enact in South Carolina:
- Constitutional Carry - Citizens should not need a permit to carry concealed weapons. Our CWP program gives us reciprocity with other states, so while it should be maintained, it should be made optional.
- Campus Carry - If students are of age and have a Concealed Weapons Permit, they should be allowed to carry on college campuses. A recent study showed that one in five girls in college are sexually assaulted - and they should be able to defend themselves here, too.
- Gun Safety Education - We need to educate children in school about gun safety and respect for firearms. Children raised in a gun-owning household who have been taught gun safety bring a much more mature perspective to handling guns than those who haven't had that kind of upbringing.
- Teacher and Parental Carry on School Grounds - The reason we have so many school shootings is because criminals know they're gun-free zones. Parents and teachers should be allowed to carry concealed weapons for their own protection and the protection of the children.
It’s time to stop infringing on the rights of law-abiding citizens, and start holding criminals accountable for violent crime. If you get right down to it, you can kill someone with a rock (or a fork). Wanna start regulating rocks? Good luck with that.
Any discussion on job creation must start from the premise that politicians don’t create jobs, businesses do. Government should maintain an environment where businesses can grow and thrive. Here is how we can do that in South Carolina.
Let businesses keep more of their own money
It takes revenue to grow and expand a business. Every dollar we take from a business is a dollar that could be used to hire someone. Here are some practical ways to relieve the oppressive financial burden on businesses:
- Reduce or eliminate the property tax, and instead rely on a flat retail sales tax. We might not even have to raise the sales tax rate - 6% is probably enough if we just flatten it out and eliminate all the special exemptions that have been carved into it.
- Cut the income tax, and flatten it rather than rely on antiquated tax brackets that haven’t been adjusted for inflation in decades.
Cut regulations and red tape
It should be simple and easy for businesses to operate. Let’s stop putting the proverbial lemonade stand out of business with excessive DHEC permits and fees.
Where government does have to be involved, it should function in a professional and effective way. There should be clear checks and balances on state agencies, and a clear line of recourse for the business if that agency isn't doing their job or is abusing their power.
Businesses also need the ability to hire new workers without fear of financial consequences coming down from the government in the form of higher unemployment insurance. They should be able to hire and train underprivileged and uneducated people without worrying about what happens if they don’t work out. Self-employed entrepreneurs should be allowed to opt-out of the state unemployment insurance. And we need to quit punishing businesses for firing people they can't use!
Stop making businesses pay for their own competition
Finally, business owners need to know that their tax dollars aren't going to pay for their competition's new factory or their utility bills.
Certainly no relocating business will choose South Carolina’s 10% manufacturing tax rate over Georgia’s 6%, but the problem that our politicians (including our Governor) have so far ignored is that our high tax rates are the problem. South Carolina has the highest manufacturing property tax in the nation. Instead of fixing this, they would rather play investment banker with your money and go after the big companies that make nice headlines, while leaving the little guys out to dry.
Not only are tax incentives unfair, they are unsustainable. Trying to run an economy on tax incentives is like trying to run a car on starter fluid. It may work at first, but it’s going to tear your engine up eventually because it was never designed to be run that way. If we do this long enough, we will become a state where you have to have a politician in your back pocket to get ahead in business.
At the end of the day, government just needs to get out of the way and let the free market do its thing. When the Pilgrims landed, they didn't have government assistance, and yet through hard work, perseverance, and courage, they pressed on and built not just a community, but a nation.
South Carolina is full of those kinds of heroes. All we need is a government that will get out of the way and let us operate.