Monday, July 25, 2011

From the House

Bluffton Today

We had a ton of calls and emails about last week’s column. Many of you wanted to know more about Jeff Fulghum and how he is doing. I can only say that he is out and about but still needs some time to get reintegrated into Bluffton life. There is also the distinct possibility that he may have to heal a bit before he is his former active self. Nonetheless, when you see him, give him a handshake and tell him thanks.
There were also a fair number of calls concerning the budget and budget process, especially if the budget gives us any clues as to whether the state government is shrinking, expanding or staying about the same. The answer is that by most indicators, we are shrinking the size of state government. While the budget numbers have been declining for years, perhaps a better metric is the number of state employees.
In 2001, there were roughly 67,000 workers on the state payroll. In March of this year, the headcount was a little over 60,000. That is a decrease of around 11%. While that may seem like a smallish reduction, except that our state has traditionally run a very lean operation, and in that context, 11% reduction is profound. Needless to say, any deadwood that may have been there is long gone. In my experience, we have a pretty dedicated, competent workforce at the state.
One of our best, most competent state employees is my buddy Al Stokes, the site manager at the Waddell Mariculture Center here in Bluffton. Al and his crew do great work on a lot of fronts, including the various stocking programs and a number of research projects. Al was also one of the first folks I called when I heard about the problems on the Bluffton sandbars. Part of the Department of Natural Resources mandate is to monitor the rivers for potential pollution issues. Part of his response was to send me some info on what some of the other areas of the state are doing to protect their water quality.
One of the more interesting programs is being done by the City of Columbia and is called “Drains are not Dumps” to help folks understand that whatever goes into the storm drains goes directly into the river. Like us, they have a big problem with pet waste, motor oil, yard debris, and a host of other substances that residents choose to make “disappear” down the storm drains.
Our friends up in Horry County have a tremendous stormwater management problem that has resulted in beach water bacteria readings that far exceed safe swimming standards. Obviously, this has tremendous implications for their tourism industry. They are in the middle of a multiyear program to address the problem. The cost estimate for the effort is somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 million.
As more people move to our part of the Lowcountry and more folks discover what a great place this is to visit, the pressure on our waters continues to grow. If we can’t show an appropriate level of respect for our natural resources, we are in for some unpleasant surprises. We all want clean water and we all want low taxes. If we don’t do the right thing, we may find ourselves with neither. My brand of conservatism assumes a certain level of individual responsibility.

Monday, July 18, 2011

From the House

Bluffton Today

We finally got some relief from the heat and drought here in the Lowcountry with the welcome rains of last Thursday and Friday. Out where we live, the landscape seemed to issue a collective sigh of gratitude when the rain finally began to fall and the summer heat momentarily tapered off.

Speaking of relief and gratitude, my good friend Jeff Fulghum is back in Bluffton after another year’s deployment in Afghanistan. You may remember that I have written about Jeff from time to time over the years, not only because he is a great fellow and a good friend, but because he exemplifies so many of the aspects of personal courage and service that I admire. Modest almost to a fault, he told me his finest achievement was making sure all fourteen soldiers under his squad leadership are now safe at home. This was in spite of a year’s worth of tough patrols and missions, with more than a few enemy engagements.

When Jeff says that things were tough, my sense is that was something of an understatement, given the fact that he spent some time in Mississippi on his way back home having neurological exams for combat wounds. His vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED) on May 28, and he was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, concussion, smoke inhalation, and will probably have significant hearing loss. I’d say that qualifies as tough duty.

At a time when we hear far too much from blowhard chicken hawks and sunshine patriots of various stripes, Jeff Fulghum is a genuine patriot who stepped up and did hard, hazardous, and heroic service in a faraway place that is alien to our beautiful Bluffton in every way imaginable. For his efforts, he was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star, high honors both.

Jeff is back in Bluffton, so when you see him, be certain to shake his hand and let him know how proud we are of him and how thankful we are for his service.

Finally, the session should wind up in the House the week of the 25th with some added visibility on reapportionment. At this time, it looks like the House of Representatives remap will be pretty close to what you have read in this column. However, the state Senate and the federal House of Representatives are still in flux.

After what has been a particularly difficult and protracted session, I am looking forward to spending more time in the office and talking with you about what we need to be preparing for the next go-round as we reconvene after the first of the year. As much as I have come to enjoy the back and forth of politics in Columbia, my greatest pleasure is still listening to the folks back in the Lowcountry. If I can help bring a new business or manufacturing plant to our area, I feel like we’ve made progress. If I, or my staff can help a constituent find the right person to help them with a state benefit problem, it’s a win. If I can help lower your taxes, or resolve a regulatory issue, it’s a win. It just reminds me why we call it the House of Representatives.

Monday, July 11, 2011

From the House

Bluffton Today

I want to start this week by responding to phone calls and emails, beginning with all the good folks commenting on the election of Judge Malphrus. There seems to be a high level of agreement with the notion that Deborah Malphrus is going to make a terrific judge. She was impressive in all her interviews, candid with her answers to the many questions in multiple venues, and generally was the embodiment of judicial presence.

We are fortunate that the Lowcountry has another fine judicial asset to add to Solicitor Stone, Sheriff Tanner and Chief McAllister. We definitely have the cream of the crop.

In that same vein, congrats to Cpl. Mike Creason of the Bluffton Police Dept. for being named School Resource Officer of the Year in Region 4 for his work at McCracken Middle School in Bluffton. Cpl. Creason was also the winner of the inaugural Eric Bamberg Award as the Outstanding School Resource Officer of the Year for the entire state. Even before this recognition, Mike Creason was always, it seemed to me, the example of a caring, competent police officer that made us all proud. Outstanding work, Mike!

Another topic that got a lot of phone and email play was the sandbar issue. You may remember several years ago, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) came down pretty hard on bad behavior in the river and especially the sandbars. The issues were excessive drinking and uncontrolled dogs. In response to many, many calls, I had a meeting with my friends at DNR to ask them to back it down a bit, which they did. I was given assurances from many of you that we could take care of the matter locally, which, in my view, is the preferable way to go. In fact, for quite some time afterwards, the behavior on and around the sandbars was much improved. Folks seemed to take responsibility for keeping things under control simply by having the appropriate conversation with those that might not understand the local customs.

From what I heard from many of you this past week, I believe those conversations are about to begin again. As the representative of a rather conservative district, I know we can take care of this problem by setting a good example, and if need be, having the appropriate chat with visitors or newcomers who might not understand that we need to preserve and protect what nature has given us. One of the fundamental tenets of my brand of conservatism has to do with individual responsibility. I personally chafe when government decides to regulate that which I think we can do just fine regulating ourselves. The “nanny” state has no place in Bluffton.

Over the summer, I will continue to talk about the budget and some of the good things that come from keeping taxes low. The recent announcements of mid-size manufacturers locating in Jasper County have everything to do with our tax policies and how they affect our competitiveness. According to a finding of the U.S. Census Bureau Tax Foundation, our state has the lowest state taxes per capita in the nation. We are also in the top tier of several respected competitiveness rankings. How we got there and what it means are things you need to know.

Monday, July 4, 2011

From the House

Bluffton Today

Before we get to the statehouse activity of the week, I want to pause for a moment and reflect on the meaning of this Independence Day, the 4th of July on which we celebrate the beginning of our transition from a cluster of colonies in the new world to a new nation destined to reshape the political geography of the entire planet. With a simple declaration, we ultimately went from dependence upon Great Britain and all that implies, to an independent nation ruled only by the will of a people who put together a governmental process so powerful and durable that for over two centuries, we have served as an exemplar of the unlimited potential of self-determination. From every corner of the globe, the American model is lifted as a lantern of freedom by peoples struggling in the dimness of tyranny and oppression. Our Declaration of Independence is no longer only a statement of American values, it has evolved into something akin to a global affirmation of inspiration and aspiration.

By all means, enjoy your day off. Enjoy a day on the river, or at a patriotic celebration, but also give some thought to those ideas that gave us the beginnings of our place as the primary nation among nations. If, however, in the course of our daily political back and forth, we should lose our grasp on these ideas that bind us as a nation, we will in time, lose our place among nations. The necessity has never been more real.

Speaking of political back and forth, the session that seems to never end continued last week with a raft of vetoes from the governor and an almost equally tall pile of overrides. I got a ton of calls from you on the SCETV veto, as did many of my colleagues. While there is a good case to be made for SCETV having the benefit of some level of free-market input, the governor’s veto seemed to ignore the fact that the statewide television network has many functions, such as aiding in evacuations, Amber alerts, Wifi and Internet components, as well as educational and corporate duties. The role of SCETV should be a standalone debate and not simply a feature of the budget process.

Many of you were disappointed that the governor vetoed the funding for the Arts Commission, even after we had moved it over to Parks, Recreation and Tourism (PRT). The arts are such a well performing part of our tourism and job creation efforts that simply slashing the very modest funding seemed gratuitous and unsound. In addition, such a veto certainly sends a baffling message to companies that might be thinking of moving a component or even a headquarters to our state.

Finally, among the many phone calls we received this week, perhaps the most welcome was from my dear friend of many years and fellow BT columnist Carolyn Bremer. As a warm water swimmer in her precious “River Maye”, Carolyn, among many others, is concerned with the overcrowding and poor stewardship threatening our lovely sandbars. Friends, this is an opportunity for us to step up and take care of what may become an enforcement issue. If we, as locals, don’t set a good example, we really can’t expect others to do the right thing.

(Is it just me, or do the second paragraph and the last paragraph of this piece seem to be about pretty much the same thing?)