Editor’s note: This article continues a series of profiles on The Nerve’s Citizen Reporters. See a companion video report to this piece, by Nerve videographer intern Katie Geer, in the embedded clip at the end.
Seneca-born Larry Barnett says he joined The Nerve’s Citizen Reporter program because it gives South Carolinians an opportunity to “make a huge contribution” to the betterment of their state.
“As Citizen Reporters, we hope to get the truth on issues out to the public,” says the 65-year-old Barnett, a Fort Mill resident and president of the GPS Conservatives for Action political action committee.
Rooted in participatory democracy, the Citizen Reporter program offers grassroots activists like Barnett a venue to reveal the inner workings of state and local government in South Carolina.
Citizen Reporters contribute to The Nerve in a variety of ways, including writing and assisting on news stories, interviewing public officials, filming public meetings and sending Freedom of Information requests to state and local government entities.
Through the Citizen Reporter program, The Nerve seeks to build a collaborative, statewide network of engaged South Carolinians who gather and share information in an effort to foster government transparency and accountability in the Palmetto State.
“I’ve always had an interest in politics,” says Barnett, who graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in mechanical engineering. He has run several small businesses over the years, including an engineering consulting firm he started in 1989.
Barnett, who retired last year, is well traveled, having served in the military in Vietnam and worked extensively in Algeria and Indonesia. He met his wife, with whom he has 30-year-old twins, in Saudi Arabia.
Barnett says working in Third World countries helped him “understand the economic advantages and freedom we have had in this country will be lost if we don’t change our direction.”
In the 1990s Barnett joined the Libertarian Party, and around 2008 he became a member of the Tea Party, causing him to become even more invested in state and local politics. Barnett has worked with The Nerve’s parent organization, the South Carolina Policy Council, for three years.
He contributed significantly to a Nerve story on a bill, H. 3235, that would have strengthened the S.C. Freedom of Information Act, which is widely regarded as one of the weakest state government sunshine laws in the nation.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, died in the Senate in June when Sen. John Scott, D-Richland, attached a minority report to the legislation, bumping it to the chamber’s contested calendar. Subsequently the Senate did not get to the bill before the legislative session ended.
“The leadership did not want this bill to pass,” Barnett says, adding that he thinks there was an inside political deal to kill the measure.
“The rest of the Senators can now say they supported this bill and blame Scott for it not passing,” Barnett explains. “That is complete baloney, but typical of the way these narcissistic, power-grubbing phonies do business in Columbia.”
Scott did not respond to two phone messages left at his workplace earlier this week. A third call there went unanswered.
In a previous video interview with The Nerve, Scott said he did not feel comfortable advancing the legislation until a subcommittee could review and there was “real discussion on the bill.”
“If you ask most of the members of the Senate about the bill, they couldn’t tell you anything in the bill,” said Scott. “It was just not the right thing to do for South Carolina.”
Barnett says he is eager to get more involved in the Citizen Reporter program and add stories to his resume. Among the issues he wishes to tackle are school choice, the S.C. Senate’s operating rules and government restructuring.
Barnett says many members of the General Assembly are “masters of deceit,” who “consistently deceive the public as to what they say versus what they are actually doing. The restructuring bill is a prime example.”
The restructuring bill, also known as the Department of Administration bill, was ostensibly designed to eliminate the Budget and Control Board and replace it with a Department of Administration in the governor’s cabinet.
Barnett says many legislators touted the bill as one of change, “when in reality all they did was move things around and use different names while actually changing almost nothing.”
The Budget and Control Board (BCB) remains, and Barnett says it “has way too much power.”
The BCB is an agency and a five-member board consisting of the governor, treasurer, comptroller general and the chairmen of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees.
Barnett’s ideal government looks very small. “All levels of government are way too involved in our lives,” he says, citing the Museum of York County as an example.
“If a museum can’t stand on its own, then it shouldn’t be there,” asserts Barnett. “I’m all for a museum, but not one funded with taxpayers’ dollars.”
Barnett says his top priority in the 2013 legislative session will be the Senate rules, which various members of the chamber often use to block efforts at reform. He says the House rules could also use improvement, but they are not as bad as the Senate’s. Senators “have got to stop hiding behind these silly rules,” he says.
That would require change, and for that to happen, Barnett says, “We need to get more grassroots activists out here to push for change.”
Reach Weston at (803) 254-4411 or firstname.lastname@example.org.