Be It Resolved: Politicians Love Their Names on Highways

October 13, 2011

Investigative Reports

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The NerveEver since David Beasley was governor of South Carolina in the 1990s, the state Department of Transportation has posted the name of the state’s chief executive on interstate “Welcome to South Carolina” signs.

The practice evidently began as a classic case of monkey see, monkey do.

In this instance, neighboring states were one monkey, and the General Assembly was the other.

“The signs were installed to recognize then-Governor David Beasley and to replicate what other states such as Georgia and N.C. were doing on their borders,” DOT spokesman Pete Poore wrote in replying to emailed questions.

But, Poore hastened to add in a phone interview, “We didn’t just do that on our own.”

No, the transportation agency started displaying the governor’s name on “Welcome to South Carolina” signs at interstate border crossings in response to a directive from the Legislature, Poore says.

The order came down in the form of a concurrent resolution, he says. “David Beasley’s name was the first one on there (the signs).”

Just in case you forgot (yes, who could forget Beasley?), he was governor from 1995 to 1999.

Unlike the fate of a bill, the outcome of a concurrent resolution does not involve the governor. If both the House and Senate approve such a measure, it passes – end of story. And, believe it, lawmakers just love concurrent resolutions, especially when it comes to naming roads and so forth after people. (More about that shortly.)

Answering other questions, Poore said the DOT installed seven placards bearing Gov. Nikki Haley’s name on interstate welcome signs on Jan. 13. That was the day after she took office.

The additions read, “Nikki Haley, Governor,” with her name in cursive.

The total cost of manufacturing and posting the seven signs, including removing those with former Gov. Mark Sanford’s name: $1,631, according to Poore.

But if the gov’s moniker being pasted onto “Welcome to South Carolina” signs isn’t a new thing, how to explain one or more of the marquees missing the addition – let’s say, Sanford’s name, for example.

“Probably because somebody stole them,” Poore says.

Really? Somebody might have stolen a “Mark Sanford, Governor” banner from a “Welcome to South Carolina” sign on the interstate?

“Yes, because they (remaining signs) were given to him just like everybody else when he came out of office,” Poore says.

That still doesn’t explain a missing sign, though.

“But my point is they were there,” Poore reiterates.

OK, so what does Haley think about all of this? After all, is it really a necessary function of state government? And is it not using public funds in a way that, intentionally or no, increases the governor’s name exposure?

Who can say as to Haley’s thoughts on the matter. Her press secretary, Rob Godfrey, did not respond to questions to that effect emailed to him Tuesday.

Poore says some DOT employees went digging for a copy of the concurrent resolution on adding the governor’s name to interstate welcome signs but could not find one.

We turn, then, to some legislators who were in office when it was passed.

“I don’t recall that,” says Sen. John Courson, a Richland County Republican who has served in the Senate since 1985.

Courson did note, however, that the Interstate 126 and Elmwood Avenue intersection in downtown Columbia is named after him. But of the concurrent resolution, he underscored, “I just don’t recall any debate on it.”

“I don’t either,” says Sen. John Land, a Democrat from Clarendon County who has been a senator even longer, since 1977.

In the Senate, the Transportation Committee likely would have had jurisdiction over the concurrent resolution. Land says he probably was Transportation chairman at the time, but does not remember such a proposal.

“I have no objection to it, as such,” he says. “I think it’s probably a waste of money, you know, to have to change those signs every four or eight years, and I don’t think anybody cares who our governor is.”

Motorists in all likelihood just blow past the signs without giving it a thought, Land says. “If it (the concurrent resolution) came through again I’d probably vote against it,” he says.

If so, that would run counter to the flow of resolution traffic at the State House.

Indeed, resolutions to name one thing or another after one person or another normally move through the Legislature with the ease of a proposal to congratulate the University of South Carolina baseball team for winning the College World Series.

More than two dozen concurrent resolutions seeking a naming were introduced in this year’s legislative session.

One that passed, H. 3302, names part of National Guard Road in Richland County after former S.C. Adjutant General Stan Spears. No fewer than 123 House members (all but one) signed onto the measure.

Giving some love to one of their own, the honorables also passed H. 4099 this session.

That one names the Interstate 526 and U.S. 17 North crossing in Charleston County after a sitting lawmaker, Rep. Chip Limehouse, a Republican from – you guessed it – Charleston County.

Regardless of the intentions involved, naming a road or bridge after someone is not cost-free.

As The Nerve reported in February, counties are forced to pay $500 per naming under a state law requiring the Department of Transportation to be reimbursed for signs and other expenses when the Legislature authorizes the projects.

The costs can add up. The Nerve tabulated at least $60,000 in 132 naming designations since 2006 alone.

Add “Stan Spears Drive” and the “Representative H.B. ‘Chip’ Limehouse III Interchange” to the total.

Rep. Mac Toole, R-Lexington, is sponsoring a bill to curtail the legislative naming habit.

The bill, H. 3355, would make it illegal to reimburse the DOT with public funds for naming a roadway structure after someone unless the designation honors “either a serviceman, law enforcement officer or fireman killed in the line of duty.”

Toole’s legislation was introduced and sent to the House Education and Public Works Committee, chaired by Republican Phil Owes of Pickens County, in January.

No action has been taken on the bill since then.

Reach Ward at (803) 254-4411 or eric@thenerve.org.