Monday, September 28, 2009

Another legislative good intention backfires on the Lowcountry

Bluffton Today

This past week was filled with productive meetings and a lot of highway miles.

There was a leadership meeting in Columbia, which was the classic good news/bad news scenario. It looks like we won’t have to cut the budget almost five percent, as we thought. The bad news is we are looking at a cut of around two percent. Either way, I’m making the rounds of my colleagues (again) trying to get support for a comprehensive overhaul of the tax system. It seems that I have engaged that thankless task more than a few times already in my political career. Maybe this time…

I met with the Hilton Head Homebuilders Association for the purpose of giving them an update on pending legislation. We also had a good discussion on some of the fallout from Act 388, which as you remember was a law that replaced a part of school supporting property tax with a penny sales tax, as well as imposed a cap on increases in certain property taxes.

We have been in the process of trying to sort out some of the unintended consequences of Act 388. My friend Steve Tilton was right on the mark when he commented that recent events have only served to exaggerate the inequities we in the Lowcountry endure relative to state funding of education.

Believe me, we get it. There are currently three mutually supporting strategies in play to address the problem.

I am working the House version; Senator Davis is working the Senate, and Beaufort County Council, under the leadership of Chairman Weston Newton, is producing a local plan. You will hear more on this as we roll out early next session.

I also had a chance to meet with the Sun City Republican Club for an eye opening question and answer period. It’s always a productive experience for me to sit with this group of well informed, engaged folks. They come from all over the country and have a variety of life experiences and political wisdom. As always, I am grateful to Rachel Buie, Sherri Zedd and Lou Herzog for putting the meeting together.

Jobs were the only item on the agenda when I met with my friends Tom Zinn and Matt Green with regard to the Tech Park. We are in the process of revising our recruitment strategies for participation in the Tech Park. While we have had success in attracting potential tenants among the intermediate and larger companies, and are currently in negotiations with some outstanding firms, we have decided to also focus on the small shops or post garage startups, as well.

We are developing a system to identify and contact these companies with an eye toward offering tailored incentives to get them down here. The prospect of the next Apple or Adobe Systems getting started in 600 square feet of the Tech Park in Bluffton is certainly exciting.

This is an attractive part of the country. We have great climate and a superb quality of life. We have two local institutions of higher learning ready and able to train specialty workers. We even have more fiber-optic cable already in the ground than any other city in the state. If you work for that exceptional company that just might benefit from a move to the best part of the Sunbelt, give me a call or shoot me an email and I will get the ball rolling.

Monday, September 21, 2009

S.C. 46 work nearly complete; DOT digs in on Bruin Road

Bluffton Today

I want to thank all of you who called or emailed this week regarding my comments last week on the cultural aspects of our beautiful piece of the Lowcountry.

The idea that a rich and interesting culture is good for business is not original with me but it is something that I have managed to leverage from time to time. I think the fact that even with serious downpours last Friday, the Art in the Windows and the Old Town Art Walk were successful says a lot about what people value and want to support. This value is what accounts for many of the new businesses opening in Bluffton.

Another thing that helps to define our community is the value we place on our natural resources. Every time the Friends of the Rivers has a river cleanup, there are always crowds of folks there to lend a hand. Every time I ask you to show up at a meeting to help our state regulators understand our community’s insistence upon meaningful oversight of development, you are there in overwhelming numbers. Your commitment to this cause is my commitment as well.

As your representative, I express that commitment to conservation and preservation of our natural heritage within the General Assembly on every possible occasion. In fact, I was in Columbia this week to accept the “Legislator of the Year” award from the Conservation Voters of South Carolina at their annual Green Tie Luncheon. This is an award I accepted on your behalf.

For those outside the town limits of Bluffton, and especially my friends out in Sun City, I want you to know the bulk of the roadwork in Old Town is coming to an end. They have been working 24/7 to finish the section of May River Road in the Historic District. While it is not absolutely complete, it is pretty close.

There have been a few issues regarding the streetscape that I have been able to work out by providing good offices between my pal, Buck Limehouse, Secretary of SCDOT, and the Town of Bluffton. I recently spoke with Mayor Lisa Sulka, Assistant Town Manager Marc Orlando, and newly installed Manager Anthony Barrett about Bruin Road and how the town and DOT might work together to get beyond some troublesome technical matters. It was a good meeting and it also helped to keep the lines of communication working between the different levels of government.

Lastly, many of the calls this week had to do with Congressman Joe Wilson. The feeling is obviously running high on this topic. So high, in fact, that much of the commentary was about how people were feeling, and not so much about what they were thinking. I’m going to hold my thoughts on this matter for a while until things cool off and perhaps a bit of perspective can reenter the conversation. I will say this: Congressman Wilson has a staffer in his Beaufort office that is the wizard of visa and passport issues. Chris Steele has been able to work administrative magic (the hardest kind) on a number of cases I have referred. Her number in Beaufort is 521-2530.

Don’t forget the Bluffton Jazz and Blues Festival on Saturday, 3 Oct. Also, the Historic Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festival is 18-25 Oct. All will be big fun: More info later.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Save the May River Theatre Co.;buy some tickets to the show

Bluffton Today

It has been a productive “off season” from the legislative session. I have made some very promising contacts with businesses looking at Greater Bluffton and southern Beaufort County as places to expand or relocate businesses, or possibly establish a new corporate headquarters.

One of the things that always impresses these business folks is the interesting cultural aspect of Bluffton, especially the arts and artists that we support in our area.

Sometimes, they need to leave the rust belt or the high real estate costs of the big city, but they are reluctant to move key employees to a place without a certain level of cultural amenity. A tour of the arts district of Old Town Bluffton is a huge selling point for potential new business neighbors.

A particularly impressive part of the art community is the May River Theater. Now in their 8th season, artistic director Jodie DuPuis and business manager Ed DuPuis have created a charming and successful amateur theater company. Housed in the Ulmer Auditorium of Bluffton Town Hall, the May River Theater is an institution of which we can all be justifiably proud.

Unfortunately, the recession has not spared this worthy outfit, and they find themselves behind in their financial projections for the year. Consequently, they are holding a classy fundraiser at Cork’s Wine Bar on Sunday, 27 September, from 4 ­ 7 p.m. Entertainment will be by “The Great Pretenders” with support from the talented May River Theater performers.

Tickets are $50 each and will be available at the door or by calling 837-7798. I hope you will join me for this fun event.

There is another arts event this weekend right here in Old Town Bluffton. Called “Art in the Windows” and spearheaded by the talented and hyperkinetic Diane Dean, this event will feature displays of two and three dimensional art in the windows of the businesses around the Promenade, as well as an art walk including the usual venues in the Arts District. There will be artists working on the streets, as well as an after-school chalk art contest for the kids. Suzette Surkamer, former executive director of the SC Arts Commission, will deliver the keynote address.

The art will be in the windows all week but the fun officially kicks off early Friday and will include a wine tasting, music all over town, a treasure hunt with prizes, and the art walk will continue until at least 8 or 9. Bring your kids and have some quality family fun time-- right here at home.

Speaking of fun, I had breakfast with the ROMEO s out at Sun City last Wed. The ROMEO s (Retired Old Men Eating Out) are a great bunch of fellows and I want to thank Ernie and the crew for their good work. There was good conversation and an ample ration of laughter to go along with the astute questions and sound opinions from guys that have been around.

Don’t forget about the jobs fairs at the Beaufort campus of Technical College of the Lowcountry (TCL) on 3 October. I have been working hard with Senator Davis and Representative Erickson, along with the good folks from Employment Security Commission, to assure that this is a productive event.

There were a few calls wanting to know why we didn’t have the fair at the Bluffton campus. It’s a fair question and the answer is: We flipped a coin.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Should Sanford be impeached?

Bluffton Today

This column will cover aspects of both my favorite and least favorite matters. First, I’d like to discuss some job-related topics (favorite) and end with a recitation of what was decided at the caucus meetings last week in Myrtle Beach relating to our governor (least favorite).

A couple of week’s ago, I told you about Reclamation by Design, a business in Bluffton that is doing interesting projects in the area. In my enthusiasm, I neglected to mention that Jim Johnson, a Bluffton resident, is the CEO of the business and one of their creative spark plugs. This is doubly regrettable in that Jim is a good friend and a fellow for whom I have great admiration and respect. It seems that even Bluffton Today’s runner-up “Best Politician” is not immune to error.

Greg Gilbert is head of the Beaufort office of the SC Vocational Rehabilitation Department. Greg’s office was recently rated number one in direct placement in the state. They are having an open house 21 October in recognition of National Disability Employment Month. They get rehab done efficiently and get folks back in the job market. Their number is 843-522-1010. This is a state program that works.

Sen. Tom Davis, Rep. Shannon Erickson and your representative have put together a job fair at the Technical College of the Lowcountry in Beaufort on the 3rd of October. Under the auspices of the SC Employment Security Commission, this job fair will be a good opportunity for those needing to connect or reconnect with what is currently available. You will be surprised at the new possibilities.

So many of you have asked about the Republican caucus meetings last week, particularly about the future of our current governor. Here is my take:

Regarding the governor, we had a wide-ranging and open discussion. As a group, we are angry, disgusted, and disappointed with the governor and the choices he has left us. Significantly, no one rose to defend Mark Sanford or his actions or his explanations. On the contrary, my colleague Rep. Greg Dellaney gave a speech, perhaps an oration, which seemed to move the group toward active consensus.

Rep. Dellaney explained that if the governor had been a military officer and had gone AWOL for a week, he would likely be in Leavenworth by now. If he had been your employee and disappeared for a week, he would be unemployed. Yet the governor wishes to be excused-- to be made the exception to rules that would surely apply to you and me. The logic of Rep. Dellaney’s words was compelling and persuasive.

The caucus agreed to send a letter to the governor asking him to resign. If he refuses, the next conversation will be about impeachment. As a practical matter, impeachment is a political neutron bomb. It will unleash a level of distracting and toxic politics the likes of which we have rarely seen. The succession, whether by resignation or impeachment, is also freighted with peril.
However, if the governor is about brinksmanship, he will be disappointed. I have heard from you loud and clear on this. As your representative, I promise to do your will. Having said that, I also know that we have so much work to do to get our unemployed back to work, our children decently educated, our environment properly protected, and all the other things that will languish while we are distracted by impeachment and its aftershocks.

Given the above, you and I need to have a calm, rational dialogue. The stakes are high and the impact will be long lasting. Give it some prayerful thought and let me hear you.