Monday, June 14, 2010

Editorial writers don’t get reality

Bluffton Today

Some of you may have noticed that after years of eating my lunch at every opportunity, the editorial board of “the other paper” seems to be warming to my legislative style. While they didn’t actually apologize for their often ill considered disappointment with me, their editorial of last Sunday was almost an admission that South Carolina politics is often about delaying or blocking the truly harmful, while engineering the opportunities to get some positive things done.

This is a fact that is simply the background radiation in Columbia. If they prefer to call it setting the legislative bar pretty low, or bemoan the fact that this simply might reflect the current community standard, so be it.

It also reflects the different worldviews that come with our respective jobs. An editorial writer can assume we live in a rational world and that good intentions will reap good results. They can conveniently overlook the fact that our state has historical and structural issues that seem to require we overcome a lot of foolishness before we even get to address the pressing issues of the day.

There is a facile tendency among some editorial writers to choose good guys and bad guys based on what would be if this were the best of all worlds. Consequently, when the clipping service comes around with a batch of editorials or political articles, especially during session, we’ll take a break and have a good laugh. Honestly, it’s often like the reality on the ground is being shoehorned into a framework of opinion that simply won’t fit.

My job, as I see it, is to represent the interests of my constituents as effectively as possible. We are a representative body with rules and protocols that shape how things are done. One member is as effective as his or her network of relationships allow. My effectiveness is based on my relationships and the ground upon which those relationships are built is jobs.

Everyone in the General Assembly knows what gets my attention: jobs. Constant readers of this column know my position on the primacy of meaningful employment. The pursuit of good jobs for District 118 and Beaufort County is also the filter that helps to make sense of the legislative noise.

This noise is the product of constant negotiation and shifting pools of alliances. The interests of the coastal areas are often in opposition to the inland counties. The Upstate has different priorities than the Lowcountry. The rich counties see things differently than the poorer counties. The Democratic caucus and the Republican caucus rarely move in concert. Overlay that with members who want to move up the food chain and need to stand out with an issue that they push, even if it is less important to the general welfare than other issues. I think you get the picture.

It is not the best of all worlds.

It is not particularly rational and certainly does not seem to be particularly coherent, at least to the uninitiated. It is a competitive mingling of all the economic, political and doctrinal elements of our state. As inefficient as it seems, we eventually sort out what is important, what we can agree on, what we can pay for, and who gets the credit. That is what becomes law.

Next week, commentary on the budget: what we did and didn’t do.