MY LAST NERVE: Monuments to Lawmakers

September 23, 2016

Inside Insight

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Campaigning is fine, but not with public money and not on the public dime

Take a trip down any major highway, back road, or waterway and you’ll likely come across the Senator So-and-So Interchange or the Representative So-and-So Frontage Road. State lawmakers love to name roads and structures after each other, with the result that every other road or building in the state has one of their names on it.

In Washington, these little vanity projects are called “Monuments to Me.” How many are there in South Carolina? I recently discovered that former Senator John C Land III has the distinct privilege of having not one but two boat landings bearing his name – one on Lake Marion and one on Lake Moultrie.* Who knows how many fishing trips have been delayed or thwarted by hapless fishermen showing up at the wrong John C. Land III boat landing.

A few other examples come to mind: the “Lt. Governor-Senator Andre Bauer Interchange” (Columbia), the “Glenn McConnell Parkway” (Charleston), the “Sen. Jon Courson Interchange” (Columbia), the “John W. Matthews Jr. Industrial Park” (Orangeburg), the “John N. Hardee Expressway,” and the “High K. Leatherman, Sr. Terminal” (Charleston).

Most taxpayers will probably agree that there is something wrong with politicians using public money to immortalize themselves. For a currently sitting lawmaker, it’s surely an electoral advantage when voters are made to see his name on their drive to work every day. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to interpret these monuments as taxpayer-funded campaign signs.

And that becomes a real problem when – as happens from time to time – that currently sitting lawmaker gets wrapped up in a scandal. I think of Hope Ferry Landing. In 2003 there was a resolution that renamed Hope Ferry Landing, in Lexington County, to the James R. Metts Landing. At the time James Metts was the sheriff of Lexington County. In 2015, former Sherriff Metts was sentenced to 12 months in prison for his part in harboring illegal aliens. Not surprisingly, shortly after the charges were announced, legislation was introduced that returned the James R. Metts landing to its original name.

Or take former Lieutenant Governor Earl Morris, from Pickens. There was once a highway named after him in Pickens County. Then, in 2004, he was convicted of securities fraud and sentenced to four years in prison. It has since reverted to its original name, Highway 153.

The important principle here is a very simple one: that politicians shouldn’t be permitted to aggrandize their names and reputations with taxpayer money. The same principle should probably apply to the “introduction” of local delegations from the floor of the House and Senate – a longstanding practice that amounts to little more than campaigning on public time.

If lawmakers want to name something after themselves, maybe they should do it with private money.

Oh, one other thing, in the interest of full disclosure. My late grandfather, Dr. Robert E Holman, does have a piece of public infrastructure named after him in Elloree, South Carolina. But he was not a politician. He was a medical doctor. And his memorial isn’t a boat landing or a highway but a parking lot.


*I’m grateful to The Nerve’s citizen reporter, Debbie Wise, for telling me about the boat landing on Lake Marion.

Phillip Cease is director of research at the South Carolina Policy Council

  • Laird

    No public structure should be named after a living person, and preferably the “honor” should be delayed until they’ve been dead at least 20 years or so, long enough to be reasonably certain that their reputation has held up sufficiently to warrant it. Absolutely never should anything be named after a currently serving politician.

  • Walter Shockley

    I completely agree with you. Why are we not naming these building, roads and bridges after our veterans. Those who have giving their lives for this country in our many wars.

    • Shoestring

      you really need to ask?

  • Rich39

    I see now they are naming bridges, interchanges, roads etc. after people killed in the line of duty. Law enforcement, workers killed while on their job etc.
    This is a great move.
    I bet the state has around 100 things named after Strom Thurmond.
    The signs use to be made by the SCDOT. Just a task performed by DOT workers.

  • upstate

    If a interchange needed to be named for Andre Bauer, why was it the I26/I77 junction. It should have been “Malfunction Junction” instead.

  • Maria-Erlinda Martinez

    It all is that societal pusillanimity of an abomination called CULT OF PERSONALITY that the most vile sectors of society –either sycophantically or subserviently or both– practice in great detriment to the ethos of a nation.