Yesterday I participated in a press conference calling on my opponent to take a stand regarding the current Speaker of the House who is under investigation for some very serious charges of corruption. A state judge recently decided that the Attorney General does not have the authority to prosecute Harrell (here's the scoop), or even to investigate using a State Grand Jury. A transcript of my comments is below. Folks, it’s a great day to be a legislator in South Carolina!
According to Judge Casey Manning, they now have bulletproof armor that protects them from criminal prosecution!
As unprecedented as it is, Manning’s decision is just a symptom of a larger problem: the Speaker of the House has too much power.
This power extends over all areas of our state government, including who gets to be a judge, thanks to South Carolina’s Jim Crow-era 1895 Constitution and over an hundred years of lawmakers who prefer to keep this good-old-boy system intact.
We've seen Speaker Harrell abuse his power in four ways:
- We saw how the Speaker uses his power when he retaliated against then-Representative Nikki Haley by stripping her of committee assignments because she believed that lawmakers should vote on-the-record.
- We saw how the Speaker uses his power when he made state history by passing budgets with unprecedented levels of spending in a down economy.
- We saw how the Speaker used his “Drive for 75” to elect a veto-proof majority of House members who would be loyal to him and enable him to foil any line-item-veto Governor Haley makes at will.
- Finally, we saw how the Speaker uses his power when he led the campaign to re-elect Jean Toal as the Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court - the very court who will now rule on who may investigate the Speaker for corruption.
We’ve needed a new Speaker for a long time. At an October 2010 forum hosted by the Anderson TEA Party, Rep. Don Bowen (who I am running against today) was asked if he would vote for a change in House leadership. His response was, and I quote:
Let me tell you how it works down there. I’m going to be perfectly honest with you. The commitments for Speaker of the House were taken probably in March. Everybody in there committed to him... Ralph [Norman] was not even running when that took place, and at that time I committed to Bobby.
Why would Rep. Bowen commit to the Speaker of the House months before the election, long before any potential challengers would enter the race? Was it because he stood to gain something from this Speaker, like his appointment to the House Judiciary committee?
There is significant evidence that Speaker Harrell is guilty of corruption. This evidence has been reviewed by Attorney General Wilson, the Chief of SLED, and a judge, and all three agreed that it should be sent to a Grand Jury.
Make no mistake: Judge Manning’s decision on Monday to send the case to the House Ethics Committee is a decision to let Speaker Harrell pick his own jury.
It’s past time for new leadership in Columbia. I will vote for a new Speaker of the House, I will vote to change the way we elect judges in South Carolina, and I call on my opponent, Rep. Don Bowen, to call for Speaker Harrell’s resignation immediately and to take a public stand in support of Attorney General Wilson’s Grand Jury investigation.
Failure to disavow this corrupt Speaker will reveal where Rep. Don Bowen's true loyalties lie.