Identity of the Next Speaker Matters – A Lot

September 12, 2014

Inside Insight

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house of representativesIT’S ABOUT MORE THAN PRESIDING OVER THE HOUSE

Wednesday’s grand jury indictment of Bobby Harrell was a massive blow to the credibility of the State House power structure. Without question, the people earned a victory that many thought impossible given the Speaker’s power over all three branches of government.

Even so, citizens shouldn’t be satisfied that one corrupt politician was made to account for his conduct in office. Now is the time for politicians who’ve long claimed they favor reform, and citizens who’ve fought for years against the concentration of power in Columbia, to come together and redefine the role and power of the Speaker’s office.

The position of speaker is not a statewide elected position. That holder of that office is a district representative like any other, and he can only be held accountable by the constituents in his district. The Speaker should not, therefore, control statewide appointments. Whomever the House of Representatives elects as its next speaker – at this point it’s pretty safe to assume that Bobby Harrell won’t be returning as Speaker, however his trial turns out – will control more than 70 executive branch appointments to various state boards and commissions. He will be one of four lawmakers that collectively account for more than 150 appointments to the executive branch. That has to change, and there’s no better time than now to make it happen. Lets make the governor fully accountable for the executive branch.

The next Speaker will be responsible for half of the appointments to the committee that screens the majority of our states judges. Creating a system resembling the one the Founders created at the federal level, in which judges are nominated by the executive with the advice and consent of the senate, should be top priority under the new leadership of the House. One branch of government should not have unilateral control over another brach. Furthermore, although the nine-count indictment did not specifically address the Policy Council’s allegation that the then-Speaker Harrell appointed his brother in violation of the law, it’s not disputable that he did. That instance of unlawful nepotism should be remedied immediately – the former Speaker’s brother should be removed from Judicial Merit Screening Commission.

As the leader of the House of Representatives, the Speaker has vast control over the body’s legislative agenda. The officeholder can control whether or not these reforms even get a hearing. That’s true of other relevant hearings, too: full income disclosure, independent review of ethics violations, gubernatorial control of executive powers, substantial FOIA reform (including the elimination of the legislative exemption from the law), a shorter session, and adherence to the state budget law.

These reforms would eviscerate the system of concentrated power and secrecy that allows lawmakers to use their authority for personal profit. Only when they’re accomplished will we see serious debate on the elimination or substantial lowering of the personal income tax. Only then will we have an open discussion on genuine school choice, statutory spending limits, and regulatory reform.

The next Speaker of the House will have a lot of say in whether those reforms happen – or not.

Jamie Murguia is Director of Research at the S.C. Policy Council