Why a Little House Revolt Was a Big Deal

December 5, 2014

Inside Insight

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house of reps

A FAILED COUP MAY TELL
US A LOT ABOUT WHAT’S COMING

For the first time since 2005, Bobby Harrell (R-Charleston) isn’t the Speaker of the House. That’s a very big deal – and not just because he misused his power and his campaign money. No, it’s a big deal because Bobby Harrell exercised vast and in some ways unilateral power over the machinery of state government. He could control who becomes a judge in South Carolina, who regulates public utilities, who sits on public university boards, who controls K-12 assessments and curriculums – and a lot more.

So what does it mean that the Speaker is now someone else?

What it evidently doesn’t mean is that the new Speaker, Jay Lucas (R-Darlington), will clean House. As The Nerve was first to report on Wednesday, Speaker Lucas allowed the majority of Harrell’s committee assignments to stand. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg), Kenny Bingham (R-Lexington), and Chip Limehouse (R-Charleston) will all remain members of the Ways and Means Committee. And Brian White (R-Anderson) was reelected by acclamation as the committee’s chairman.

But something weird happened in the first meeting of the equally powerful Labor, Commerce, and Industry (LCI) Committee – and perhaps this is what’s going to change in the new post-Harrell regime.

Ordinarily, the incoming chairman – the one supported by the reigning Speaker – will be reelected as chairman. That’s what happened with Brian White and Ways and Means. But at the LCI meeting, the incumbent chairman – Bill Sandifer (R-Oconee) – wasn’t meekly accepted by obedient members. Instead, Ralph Norman (R-York) offered a different nomination: Nathan Ballentine (R-Lexington).

That made Rep. Sandifer very unhappy, but it was clear from the ensuing conversation – you can watch the video I took here – that the chairman’s happiness was not Rep. Norman’s top priority.

In the end, Rep. Ballentine lost by a vote of 10 to 6. The point, though, is that a significant number of members were sufficiently tired of the status-quo to risk angering one of the legislature’s most powerful members.

None of this would have happened while Harrell was still Speaker. Revolts almost never happened, and when they did, they were punished swiftly and ruthlessly by the Speaker and his allies.

That is changing, and I like to think The Nerve is at least partially responsible for it. Our reporters have tirelessly shown how legislative leaders abuse their authority and treat state government as a profit-making machine. Honest and well-intentioned legislators have had enough – at least it’s starting to look that way – and I don’t think I’m far off in claiming The Nerve had a major part in making that happen.

Which brings me to a final point. The Nerve is free. There’s no annoying paywall, and there never will be. We rely instead on the generous support of our readers. If you’d consider helping with a tax-deductible year-end contribution – a contribution that would help ensure The Nerve keeps the lights on in 2015 – we would be honored and grateful. Just click here to help.

Jamie Murguia is Director of Research at the S.C. Policy Council, The Nerve’s parent organization.