Fireworks Again at House LCI Meeting

January 14, 2015

Investigative Reports

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ExplosionAt last month’s organizational meeting of the state House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee, Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Oconee and the committee chairman, declared, after a failed attempt to remove him as the chairman, that “there will not be retribution.”

But at this afternoon’s LCI meeting, new committee member Rep. Ralph Norman, R-York, who led the unsuccessful attempt, accused Sandifer of going back on his word.

Norman alleged he was informed that after last month’s meeting, Sandifer went to new House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, and demanded that Norman and five others who opposed Sandifer’s chairmanship be removed from the committee.

“When you went to the speaker of the House to get the six of us thrown off, I took offense at that, and I hope this will not continue if we disagree,” said Norman, who sat at the opposite end of the table from Sandifer.

“Mr. Norman, let me stop you for a second,” Sandifer quickly replied. “That conversation never occurred.”

“You deny it took place?” Norman asked.

“Exactly,” Sandifer responded. “I am denying it, and I told you in this room in our earliest meeting that there would be no retribution toward any member,” adding, “That’s why you got your No. 1 choice (for a subcommittee assignment).”

In an apparent attempt to back up Sandifer, Rep. Mac Toole, R-Lexington, said he had heard there were “three or four people on the outside when Mr. Sandifer came through, and there were some people making comments about one thing or another. It wasn’t him.”

But Norman countered: “There were people who heard him. He was mad – saying, telling Speaker Lucas he wants the six thrown off. That’s what they heard.”

Sandifer again denied it, telling Norman that Lucas asked him in a meeting arranged by Lucas in the speaker’s office, “Would I accept you on this committee? and I said, ‘Yes,’” adding that House Clerk Charles Reid was present at that meeting.

“You would not be sitting here had I not approved,” Sandifer said.

Efforts by The Nerve this afternoon to reach Lucas were unsuccessful. As House speaker, Lucas makes appointments to most House committees, which choose their respective chairmen.

At last month’s meeting, Norman nominated Rep. Nathan Ballentine, R-Richland, to be the LCI chairman. That motion failed, with Ballentine, Norman, and Reps. Todd Atwater, R-Lexington; Eric Bedingfield, R-Greenville; Dan Hamilton, R-Greenville; and Deborah Long, R-Lancaster, voting for Ballentine.

Incumbent committee chairmen are rarely challenged by fellow committee members. The Nerve reported last month that the House committee leadership wasn’t likely to change much immediately under Lucas’ tenure, given that the new speaker was expected to reappoint previous chairmen to their respective committees.

Lucas was elected speaker after former longtime House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, resigned from office in October following his guilty plea involving the misspending of campaign funds related to the use of his private airplane.

As the LCI chairman, Sandifer is the gatekeeper of business-related bills that go through the 124-member House. He also has served as vice chairman of a legislatively controlled screening panel called the State Regulation of Public Utilities Review Committee, or PURC for short, which nominates Public Service Commission candidates for election by the General Assembly.

The Nerve in May 2013 reported that since 2002, Sandifer, a licensed funeral director and embalmer, had sponsored 10 bills – eight of which became law – that focused on governing aspects of funeral pre-planning.

In October last year, The Nerve reported over the past three years, Sandifer spent nearly $18,000 in campaign funds on credit card payments for unspecified conference expenses – on top of approximately $9,500 that the sponsors of 12 mostly in-state coastal conferences collectively spent on him over the same period.

“I can look in the mirror every day, and the guy looking back at me agrees with me every day,” Sandifer said at the end of today’s meeting.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.