Monday, December 29, 2008

A year's worth of thanks

In keeping with my promise of little or no politics over the holidays, I want this column to be something of a thank-you to all the good folks who have contributed to my efforts to represent District 118 in an effective manner. I don’t do this as often as I should because usually there is some pressing issue that this column needs to address.

Obviously, my most serious gratitude is reserved for my caring and patient wife, Mary. There are so many times I have to leave our family time to help a constituent or rush up to Columbia for an urgent strategy session. Mary is much more tolerant than I would probably be if our situations were reversed, which, of course, they might be o­ne day.

Cathy and the legislative staff do a tremendous job of keeping up with the communications part of my job. They make sure that your calls; letters, emails and appointments are handled in a professional and efficient manner. o­n average, they deal with at least 300 contacts a week, and during busy times in session, it may be twice that number.

My friend, Jacob Preston has helped pull the column together every week for six years. I take seriously my commitment to provide you with the most up-to-date and accurate legislative information. Consequently, I generate a ton of content each week. Jacob helps me schedule and prioritize what you ultimately read in the 600 or so words you hear from me every Monday. No matter how heated the politics get in Columbia, Jacob makes sure, at least, all my subjects and verbs agree.

There is also a worker bee in Bluffton (Moss Creek), who wishes to remain anonymous, who assures that the web site,, is the best in the General Assembly. It is an archive of my past opinions, achievements, and even a record of where I may have fallen short of the mark from time to time. It also has a load of cool South Carolina stuff. Check it out-- nearly all my legislative colleagues have.

When I have needed counsel o­n law enforcement and judicial matters, Solicitor Stone, Sheriff Tanner and Bluffton Police Chief McAllister have been available, forthcoming and outstanding.

I want to thank Bill Miles, President and CEO, and Chris Long, VP for political action, of the Hilton Head Island/Bluffton Chamber of Commerce. They have done great service in our struggle to attract good jobs to the Lowcountry, not to mention their recent efforts o­n behalf of the Waddell Marine Research Facility in Greater Bluffton. (Note: I am floating a name change for this outstanding facility, to more accurately reflect its function).

I also want to thank, in advance, our outstanding Beaufort County delegation. We have not always faced our challenges as a unified, effective force. But with the addition of Senator Davis, and Rep Erickson coming into her own, with Reps. Chalk and Hodges in strong support, I’m confident we will begin an era of legislative achievement o­n the first day of the new session.

Mostly, however, I am grateful for the continued confidence and support I get from you, the citizens and taxpayers of District 118. I hear from you an average of 300 times a week, year in and year out. There are a few complaints, but mostly it is advice and encouragement. You always make me proud to be your representative. Thank you. I won’t let you down

Monday, December 22, 2008

Tax cuts would help holidays

It’s coming down to the last few days before Christmas, and Mary and I are consciously focusing our time and efforts o­n family and friends. This season is primarily a religious holiday that also happens to have a big social component. We are blessed with healthy children and a vigorous, large extended family, as well as a group of the best friends imaginable. Gratitude is the foundation of all our festivity.

Not a lot of political ferment during this special time. I did, however, have a good conversation with my fellow Rotarians this past week. They always help me put things in a proper perspective. It may be true of all Rotarians, but my Rotary group is made up of some of the most generous, civically engaged, tirelessly philanthropic folks I have ever had the privilege of knowing.

There is also a tremendous reservoir, within the group, of economic common sense. Out of last week’s get-together, there were a few points of consensus that I have taken to heart, which I will share with you: While we are in a serious economic downturn, recessions are not corrected by tax increases. If anything, tax cuts are called for, wherever possible. Secondly, the o­nly sure way out of a recession is to grow out of it. This means preserve the jobs we have and create more jobs as soon as we can.

Ben Bernanke and Hank Paulson would do well to attend a few Rotary meetings.

As it happens, the next economic stimulus from the feds is probably coming in the form of infrastructure spending. Our state has more than its share of roads to be built and bridges to be rebuilt, not to mention water and sewer projects to be completed. Many of these projects will be managed at the county and municipal level. I have been in consultation with Beaufort County Council Chairman Weston Newton and County Councilman Jerry Stewart regarding our most promising infrastructure possibilities. I’ve also talked with Bluffton Mayor Hank Johnston and Mayor-elect Lisa Sulka regarding which projects they might consider "shovel ready."

My view, shared with many of the leaders of area government and commerce, is that jobs created in both the public and private sectors will ultimately return our economy to soundness. January will find us with a new federal administration as well as a new session of the General Assembly. I look forward to doing my part in this great work.

For today, let’s do what we can to take care of o­ne another. Jenny Haney at Bluffton Self Help could certainly use your help. Down times make for a bigger need for their services. If you have a good coat you aren’t wearing, donate it to Outside Hilton Head for their coat drive. And at the risk of sounding like your momma, please don’t have that extra cup of eggnog without a designated driver.

Finally, from Mary and I, and Cathy and the legislative staff, and all the good folks over here at the Promenade, please have a merry Christmas and a happy and safe holiday.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Local Legislators Gain Some Plumb Appointments

Last week, there was some discussion of my appointment to the House Ways and Means Committee. This is, in truth, a pretty big deal, especially for a member beginning his seventh year of tenure in the legislature. It’s also been some time since we had anyone from Beaufort County o­n this committee. The last time Beaufort County had representation o­n this all-important budgeting body was in 1992 when the highly respected Harriet Keyserling from Beaufort held a seat. I am humbled and gratified that both the speaker and chairman Dan Cooper (R-Anderson Co) expressed their confidence in me with this appointment.

There is further good news in that my good friend and hardworking ally; Representative Shannon Erickson from Beaufort has made the extraordinary step up to the Labor, Commerce and Industry (LCI) Committee. o­nce again, the Beaufort County delegation has been lifted up with a plum assignment. This is, no doubt, a recognition of the tremendous work ethic we have all seen in Representative Erickson. She is smart, tenacious, and creative, and is now well placed to help bring good jobs to Beaufort County. This is particularly important with our friend, Tom Davis, heading to the Senate. As many of you know, Tom was instrumental in working out many of the kinks in the process that brought the Jasper Port agreement to fruition.

The division of labor within the delegation is shaping up to give us a lot of coverage across the entire spectrum of legislative activity. This is made more plain as both Curtis Brantley from Jasper County and Richard Chalk from Hilton Head return to Medical, Military and Municipal Affairs (3M) and my friend Ken Hodges from Beaufort is tapped to serve o­n Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

If the legislative session could be likened to a baseball game, Beaufort County scored some runs in the first inning.

Many of you called with congratulations after reading the press release from the South Carolina Chiropractic Association that named your representative the 2008 Legislator of the Year. I am a big believer in using all our tools, both traditional and non-traditional, in securing the best health outcomes for the fewest dollars. You may remember I was the National Legislator of the Year for the Oriental Medical Association in 2006.

Judging from all the activity as Carey Wandall’s Yoga Studio in Old Town Bluffton, I’m not the o­nly o­ne interested in a more holistic approach to good health. We are fortunate to have Carey in our community, as she is a rising star in the Yoga world. She is not o­nly an excellent teacher and practitioner; she is a teacher of teachers.

In closing, I want to remind you to visit the web site, Not o­nly will you get a sense of the issues coming up in the 2009 session, there are a raft of cool links and informational goodies. If they still taught civics in high school, it would also be an excellent resource for research papers and reports. As it is, surf by and take a look, you will be pleasantly surprised (and informed).

Monday, December 8, 2008

Beaufort County Now Has 'A Seat at the Table'

By any measure, the Bluffton Christmas Parade was a resounding success. The after-parade event was also a fitting completion to a great day. It was a pleasure to see all the families out and about, enjoying the festivities. Adding to the celebration in the Promenade, my neighbor Patty, at Pottery in Paradise, did more than her share to put together fun activities for the kids of all ages. She has become, in a relatively short time, a true Bluffton asset.

The Organizational Session of the General Assembly last week produced some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that we are officially in recession. This is from the state economist, Dr. Gillespie. While this may not be a startling revelation to most of us, especially in the business community, Dr. Gillespie also shared that he had never seen economic indicators quite so vivid as we now have. Apparently, we entered the recession around December of 2007, but were spared the most serious symptoms until fairly recently, when the bottom dropped out of employment, as well as tax revenues.

The economic forecasting business is not a precise science, but there are some relatively good things working in our favor. Interest rates o­n mortgages have dropped below 5.5 percent and could go lower if the feds use some of the tools they are currently considering. Also, the price of oil has moderated considerably, with implications for home heating over the winter and for transportation costs. The good Dr. pointed out that recessions, especially bad o­nes, have a tendency to reverse rather dramatically as they come to an end. As to when that time might arrive, he was not willing to say.

In the meantime, I want to encourage you to spend your dollars, to the extent possible, in the local economy. Buy from your neighbors so they can afford to return the favor. This thing will end sooner or later, and we will be glad we supported o­ne another during the down times.

The good news I promised is this: your representative has been appointed to Ways and Means Committee. This doesn’t mean that the dump trucks will be backing up to unload tons of cash in Beaufort County anytime soon. What it does mean is that your issues and your concerns are being articulated closer to the center of influence in Columbia. We have a seat at the table. At the very least, this means that our status as a donor county will be diminished somewhat. More of our tax dollars will come home to Beaufort County.

While I am the senior member of our delegation, I am o­nly beginning my seventh year in the legislature. This tenure is relatively brief in the House and usually would not merit a Ways and Means appointment. Because our delegation does not have much seniority, I have had to work, out of necessity, with other legislators to accomplish what we have done. I credit that cooperative spirit, as well as a modest talent in creating professional and personal relationships with colleagues, for this appointment.

Next week, a little more about my appointment and a lot more about other members of our delegation, as far as committee appointments are concerned. You will be pleased at how the delegation is shaping up. We have some good people who are assuming positions, balanced across the spectrum of committees, with real potential to do great things for the home folks.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Treat Yourself to a Unique Bluffton Bash This Weekend

I sincerely hope your Thanksgiving holiday was what you wanted it to be. Mary and I are both very serious about celebrating the holiday and giving thanks for our blessings, particularly having to do with family, both immediate and extended. In that spirit, I would like to dedicate most of this column to our Bluffton family and how we, as a community, are helping each other to enjoy this important time of year.

Regardless of faith or denomination, we are instructed to care for o­ne another, to lift up the needy, and spread the joy. To that end, I want to remind you that our friends at the Bluffton Fire District are putting o­n their 4th Annual Boston Butt Fundraiser at Tanger Outlet o­ne, o­n the food court. Please call Crystal at 757-1948 before Dec. 5 to order your Boston Butt, which can be picked up Dec. 12. Not o­nly will you get some spectacular dining, the proceeds go to support the brave, three-year-old Olivia Custer, in her struggle with Mitochondrial Defect.

On the celebration front, don’t forget that Saturday is the famous Bluffton Christmas Parade. If you have not experienced o­ne of these events, you are in for quite a treat. In addition, the Bluffton Old Town Merchant’s Society is holding a Post Parade Party around the entire Old Town from 1 til 4. This is your opportunity to support the local merchants as well as have a great time. Santa will be riding the Holly Jolly Trolley around the Old Town providing photo-ops for kids of all ages. Myrtles Restaurant and the Downtown Deli will be serving food along Calhoun Street, and Scott’s Meats, Sippin Cow, Squat and Gobble, and Cora Bett Thomas Realty will be serving food and drink along May River Road.

Thomas Viljak’s Carson Cottages o­n Calhoun Street will be hosting a Christmas tree raising and lighting, with an chance for kids to decorate ornaments for the tree. Also, Amos Hummell is back in Bluffton with a new gallery space and a performance of his "Living Color" troup. And if that were not enough, there will be caroling with Sarah Ghys directing, and Tommy Beaumont o­n keyboards.

Bluffton Self Help o­n May River Road will be collecting unwrapped new toys, as well as donations. Let’s all help with the great work they do.

This Saturday will be a full day of family-friendly fun. I hope to see a tremendous turnout for the parade, and an equally tremendous turnout for the party. Bluffton needs to not o­nly celebrate the season, we need to celebrate ourselves and what we have created here is this lovely corner of the Lowcountry.

I will be in Columbia most of the week for our annual organizational session of the General Assembly. This is important as committee assignments are made and agenda items of the various caucuses are set. I will be back, of course, for the parade and the party afterwards.

Next week, I will be back with legislative business, as well as some interesting announcements.