Wednesday, December 26, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

Last week’s column was composed before the big news out of Columbia concerning the replacement for retiring Senator Jim DeMint. Our hearty congratulations go to our Congressman Tim Scott, soon to be Senator Tim Scott. This is particularly good news for those of us in the Lowcountry, as the presumptive senator has excellent ties to Beaufort County, having attended numerous functions in Bluffton and Hilton Head. He has also been the weekend houseguest, several times, of our newest Representative Weston Newton and his lovely wife, Rose. Politically speaking, things just keep getting better for this region, as well as our state.


Traditionally, the week between Christmas and the New Year has been busy and productive for the merchants of Bluffton. My conversations with the Promenade business owners confirm they expect the upcoming week to be at least as profitable as those leading up to Christmas. You know, the pressure is off. Most of our out-of-town guests have departed and it’s time to redeem some of those gift cards we received. It might be time for some spa services, followed by a great dinner and a quiet stroll around the Old Town.


One of the young people making a mark in the Bluffton business community is my friend, Josh Cook. Josh is the owner of The Corner Perk. He is a purveyor of fine coffee and a variety of food items. Josh is also a fellow with a lot of good ideas that benefit, not only his group of loyal customers, but the Bluffton community at large as well. You may be familiar with his creative “Buy Local” campaign and his very interesting “Love Bluffton” posters that seem to be everywhere. The next time you find yourself at the corner of Burnt Church Road and Bruin Road, drop in at the Corner Perk, get a coffee and a sandwich and have a chat with this outgoing young man. You will leave more optimistic about the future of our town and maybe even less pessimistic about the prospects for our upcoming generation.


In somewhat the same vein, I have been talking quite a bit with my friend, Beaufort County Councilman Jerry Stewart. Jerry is anxious to engage with our Department of Commerce with some ideas about job creation and economic development. Jerry was the point of the spear involving County Council’s recent efforts to partner with other jurisdictions in the region in attracting businesses and light industries to the area. Our communication has always been excellent, and I look forward to working with Jerry and County Council as we revive not only our port project but other economic drivers as well.


I attended a good meeting last week with our state and local tourism experts. They think 2013 is going to be a banner year for the visitor economy in our region. Not only is the Heritage on stable financial and sponsorship footing, but also the remnants of the Gulf oil spill are still making us relatively more attractive than some of our traditional competitors. Also, the devastation in New Jersey, New York and New England will likely enhance our tourism prospects. While I have no wish to benefit from the misfortunes of others, those folks have got to have some place to go for vacation, and South Carolina, particularly Lowcountry South Carolina, has everything a visitor might desire.


One more time—Don’t drink and drive. Please have a designated driver and take care of yourself and your friends. Next year is going to be a great one—don’t miss it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

From The House

Bluffton Today

Today, as always, is a great day in Bluffton. The traffic I see in the old town is heavy but not overwhelming. I try to walk around over my lunch break and chat with folks I don’t recognize. Candidly, I guess I’m interviewing people with an eye toward a little market research. What I hear is never startling or astonishing—it’s almost the same every time. If people are visiting, they are always pleasantly surprised by the variety of shops and restaurants. If they have just moved here, often they have made a run at the big boxes and just gotten tired of the crowds and the sameness, the artificial urgency and the impersonal service. What they experience here is the exact opposite. Most of our businesses are sole proprietorships and the people behind the counters are interested in not only selling merchandise, but also making sure the shopper has a good experience which will likely repeat itself.


Let me follow up just briefly on last week’s comment about the new location for Jim Buser’s business, Sports Addiction. We had quite a few people, mostly Sun City Cyclers, call in about the new store in the Food Lion shopping center by Sun City. The comments were good and most appreciated the heads up on the new place. Both the good weather and Jimbo’s great mechanics keep those bikes on the road.


I know I beat the “Shop Local” drum hard and often, but it wouldn’t matter how pleasant a visit to old town was, if the shops, galleries and restaurants did not do good business. While the docents at the Heyward House and the Church of the Cross are volunteers, those of us that have a more commercial interest may seem like docents sometimes, but without paying customers, our great little community would not be nearly as interesting.


Today is also a special day for a more personal reason for me. It is my beautiful wife Mary’s birthday. She is the center of my personal universe and I don’t have nearly enough opportunities to demonstrate my gratitude and my husbandly regard. Consequently, I try to make it a special time and remind her that she is truly one-of-a-kind. All her birthdays are very important but this one is something of a milestone. All I can say is she is over thirty, but not by much. People have always teased me a bit for being something of a cradle robber when we are together in public. In truth, it has always been a mystery to me how she can be so elegant and so gracefully put together, regardless of the event, be it a formal venue or an oyster roast at the Toomer’s.


It has been kind of a slow week as far as constituent contacts, with only 272 here at the office, including calls, emails, and walk-ins. I image it will probably remain slow for the next week or so, then pick up considerably right before we go back into session. Also, I want to remind you we will be closed a half day for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, and closed on Christmas and New Years Day. Regardless, we do check email and calls, and try to get back to folks the same day, if at all possible.


Finally, at the risk of seeming to be a nag, please be responsible about your holiday celebrations. Our local law enforcement personnel are focusing their efforts on alcohol violations until after the first of the year, for which I am grateful. Getting a DUI is bad, but far, far from the worst things that might happen if you don’t have a designated driver.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

With the blockbuster announcement recently by our retiring Senator Jim DeMint, I immediately began receiving call after call from folks claiming to wonder if I was on the short list for appointment to the soon-to-be-vacant seat. To pre-empt any more wonderment as to my status, here is the official response: With regard to the Senate seat in question, if I’m called, I will not pick up. If appointed, I will not serve. End of story.


Seriously, folks, the one thing you can say about South Carolina politics is it’s never boring. Sometimes it’s bizarre and always provokes a fair amount of head scratching, but never boring. In truth, with the new configuration of the Beaufort/Jasper delegation, especially after the announcement of committee assignments, I am pretty excited about the upcoming session. We have a strong team with a lot of experience, and thanks to redistricting, we include a couple of new players looking to make a big difference right away.


In particular, Rep. Shannon Erickson returns to Labor, Commerce and Industry (LCI) but moved up to a subcommittee chair. Rep. Andy Patrick moved up in Education and Public Works. Long-serving member Rep. Bill Bowers has moved up in LCI and assumed a subcommittee chair. The surprise (that surprised no one) was the appointment of freshman Rep. Weston Newton to Judiciary, usually reserved for members with at least two or three years of service. The plum appointment speaks to the high expectations placed on the shoulders of my friend Weston after his many years as chairman of Beaufort County Council and especially to his long list of achievements in service to the home folks.


As we get ready for the new session, your delegation is already in mid-season form after our organizational meetings. Even our desks in the House chamber are situated so that we can readily confer on any matters that may arise. You can expect to hear from me on the details of our current efforts to bring fairness to education funding, not only K-12, but as was noted last week, in the fiscal treatment of our local post-secondary offerings as well. You will also learn more about the healthcare exchanges that are part of the Affordable Healthcare Act, especially as we get our cost calculations refined. Of course, your delegation is always seeking to raise the banner for economic development in our area.


In that vein, we recently saw the opening of a new big-box store in Greater Bluffton, as Dick’s Sporting Goods finally rolled out in the Target Shopping Center. There was some concern that local stores would feel the pinch of the new store. What happens is that weaker businesses may indeed be hurt, but stronger outfits with solid management simply adjust, refine their business models and carry on. A great example of this forward-looking strategy comes from my friend Jim Buser, who many of you know as the owner of Sports Addiction. Jim and his crew are now located in the Food Lion shopping center out by Sun City. Reports from a number of Sun City Cyclers are that the new store is great, with more bikes and gear, more fitness equipment, and the same great service you expect from a local firm with deep roots in the community.


Finally, we are at that time of year when Christmas parties and New Year’s celebrations are coming up. Please be smart about your safety and the safety of your friends. I urge you to have a designated driver. I want everyone to have a good time but to be moderate in the consumption of adult beverages. Unwise celebration can have very bad outcomes.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

Many of you newcomers to the Bluffton, Hilton Head, Sun City and Beaufort areas got a pretty good introduction this past weekend to what a real, functional and lively community looks and feels like. Friday afternoon and evening, the Old Town Merchant’s Society put on another of their outstanding events with their “Light Up the Night” promotion. Santa made an appearance at the Promenade, along with a ton of children, with parents and grandparents in tow. The Holly Jolly Trolley ferried shoppers and sightseers around town, which was illuminated by hundreds of luminaries lining the sidewalks. The shops and restaurants were hopping and big fun was happening.


Another success for Merchant’s President Rodney Vaughn, Events Chairperson Lisa Cappano, and information guru Diane Dean. Good Job

!
Saturday, of course, was the much-anticipated Bluffton Christmas Parade. If you were there, you were among 10,000 or more revelers-- complete with families, friends, visitors and fun-seekers of all stripes. From my spot in the procession, it looked like a huge collection of family reunions, often ten deep along the parade route. For a couple of hours, we were all simply neighbors sharing a community spectacle of friendship and unity. For me, it is always a powerful antidote to the division and strife we confront daily in our various media. I enjoy the precision of the military bands, the almost precision of the Junior ROTC units, the civic organizations, and yes, even the local politicians. For a couple of hours, the focus is on what we all share in common, the things that bind us together, rather than those things that too often divide us.


I hope you enjoyed the parade as much as Mary and I. I hope you also stayed around for a while and availed yourself of some of the fine food and libation available in Old Town Bluffton. Perhaps you found some special things for loved ones among the diverse bounty of our shops and galleries. Even if you left empty-handed, I know you left with a good feeling for our lovely part of the Lowcountry.


As we approach the second Tuesday of the New Year and the reconvening of the General Assembly, those of us in leadership are already deep in planning sessions. As a senior member of Ways and Means Committee and subcommittee chairman, your representative is in the thick of it. This week, I met with representatives of Clemson and Dr. Harris Pastides, President of USC. Along with our usual conversations about wish lists and enrollment trends, there is a new topic on the table: parity. While the legislature always does what it can for higher education, this legislator is not altogether happy with the fact that our local four-year, degree-granting institution, University of South Carolina-Beaufort, is perennially at the bottom of per student support from the home office. I have met with my friends USCB Chancellor Jane Upshaw and Vice-Chancellor Lynn McGee on this matter and the status quo is unacceptable. Our local scholars are no less deserving than those attending other state colleges and universities.


In truth, we have worked this issue from the K-12 side for years, and only as our delegation has become more senior and more coherent, have we begun to have success in bringing our state funding to parity with other regions. With the addition of Weston Newton to our delegation, I am confident we can begin to bring additional attention and additional dollars to lift us to equal status in the higher education community. In an ideal world, fairness would not depend solely on political calculus. Sadly, our world is still a click or two south of ideal.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

We received an extraordinary number of calls and emails in response to last week’s column. We were heartened by all your kind expressions of support for Mary’s dad, John Kinzer, who continues his rehabilitation under the care of the good folks at NHC. Our portion of adversity has had the salutary effect of bringing the family closer, with a greater appreciation of all the blessings we enjoy. Gratitude truly seems to be the key that unlocks family happiness.


My modest proposal to change the designation of the day following Thanksgiving from “Black Friday” to “Bluffton Friday” also stirred a bit of commentary as well. The consensus was that more often than not, holiday shopping has become a chore, rather than the preparation for a family celebration. The idea of removing the stress, and emphasizing the fun parts of the holiday, certainly picked up a ringing endorsement from our callers.


For whatever reason, the weekend following Thanksgiving was pleasantly busy in Old Town Bluffton. There were a goodly number of folks who all seemed to be having a great time as well as making purchases and enjoying our fine restaurants. The perfect weather seemed to be appropriate to the occasion. The art walk put on by the art gallery sub-group of the Merchant’s Society was well attended with more than a little local art changing hands. The “Buy Local” campaign is a pretty easy sell in our community.


In truth, there are a host of things about Bluffton that are somewhere between extraordinary and amazing. Our churches appear to compete to see who can have the most effective outreach. Bluffton Self Help is on course for record donations and distributions. When there is a need, Bluffton folks step up.


When the Bluffton/Jasper County Volunteers in Medicine needed funding, my friend Joanie Heyward stepped up with a fabulous party that did the trick. Joanie also is a new board member of the Technical College of the Lowcountry. When the various local boards and commissions have vacancies, Bluffton folks step up. When redistricting created a new seat for our region in the statehouse, my friend Weston Newton stepped up. He put together a very effective campaign and managed to defeat a very smart, qualified opponent in the primary, and ran unopposed in the general election. He will join the Beaufort/Jasper delegation for the next session.


Now, my friend Tabor Vaux has stepped up and announced for Weston’s old seat on County Council. Most of us only know Tabor as the well-mannered, attractive son of Mary and Roberts Vaux. In truth, he is a successful lawyer, freeholder and responsible married man, who just happened to have served for years as an assistant solicitor under Solicitor Duffy Stone. It’s difficult for many of us to reconcile the image of the kind young fellow who grew up in Bluffton, and the current reality that Tabor Vaux is a hardnosed former prosecutor who is in the vanguard of a new generation of Bluffton leadership. He has stepped up for one of the hardest, most crucial jobs around, a seat on Beaufort County Council.


My hat’s off to Tabor, to Joanie, to Weston and all those community-minded folks who give of themselves so we can continue to enjoy the benefits of living in this lovely part of the Lowcountry.


Finally, if you want a demonstration of what kind of community we are, turn up around eleven this Saturday for the outrageously entertaining Bluffton Christmas Parade. It speaks volumes about who we are and how we can have a ton of fun and still take care of business.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

The security issue at Department of Revenue and other state business will be there for us next week. Today, I want to say a few words about tomorrow’s Thanksgiving celebration. I also have a modest proposal for dealing with the dreaded “Black Friday.”


I really hope all your families are intact and things and moving in the right direction for you. For us, this Thanksgiving will be the first without family members who have gone on before us. We are, nonetheless, filled with gratitude for the chance to be with family, and celebrate our many blessings.


None of those blessings are more elevating than having Mary’s father, John Kinzer, back with us after his health mishap in Scotland. John is undergoing rehabilitation at NHC out on Highway 170 here in Bluffton. Wade Taylor and his superb staff are seemingly going above and beyond to return John to vigorous health, although from conversations with the families of other NHC patients, “above and beyond” is pretty much what they do every day. Obviously, part of our celebration will involve watching sports in John’s room on the big flat screen TV.


The day after Thanksgiving is usually called “Black Friday” for reasons both accurate and distressing. In truth, the kickoff to the Christmas shopping season doesn’t seem to bring out the best in us. Tempers get short and car horns get a little too much use as we prepare for the next holiday while trying to get over that last extra slice of pecan pie with chocolate chips. Allow me to proffer this modest proposal:


Instead of Black Friday, let’s make it Bluffton Friday! Instead of lining up in front of a big box and waiting to be herded into a cavernous building with hundreds of other inpatient shoppers, try spending the day in old town Bluffton and doing your shopping with folks who are happy to see you and treat you like a treasured friend. Don’t get up before daylight and dash out of the house. Sleep in. When you are good and ready, head over to Bluffton and be prepared for a nice day. Park in the Promenade, or on May River Road, or Calhoun St. or in the parking lots of the many churches. Shared parking is an old Bluffton tradition.
There are lots of lunch possibilities. There’s Captain Woody’s or The Cottage or The Sippin’ Cow, and a host of tried and true winners. For something a little different, there is a new Jamaican restaurant, The Red Stripes, behind the famous Squat and Gobble on Pin Oak. Red Stripes is inexpensive, pleasant, and really good. Spicy Jerk Chicken with rice and peas is perfect for a cool afternoon in November.


This year, instead of another noisy video game, why not give your kids a colorful book? There are two wonderful bookstores in old town. How about a beautiful antique wooden treasure box from the McCracken’s at Stock Farm Antiques? Or a Steve White soda-fired mug from Pluff Mud Gallery? When you do business with your neighbors, those dollars stay in your community, as opposed to ending up in Arkansas so the Waltons can buy another Gulfstream 5.


Here’s the deal as I see it: Holidays are to remind us to be kind to each other, to appreciate our loved ones while we still have them. We also need a reminder to take care of ourselves so our loved ones can enjoy us as well. Do we really need more shiny, Chinese-made, digital gadgets? Put some mindful love into your gifts. Shop as though you value where you live and care about your truly local businesses. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Be thankful, then enjoy Bluffton Friday.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

We are still having quite a few calls regarding the security debacle at Department of Revenue. I am concerned that as we get further into this mess we continue to find more lapses and more potential problems. Also, a number of folks have been having difficulty accessing the Experian site to sign up for the credit monitoring. A friend from Sun City, Dave Capp, was one of those folks. He finally was able to get to the site through Internet Explorer and not through a server such as AOL Desktop. He was eventually able to log on and sign up. He was kind enough to share his strategy. However you get there, please sign up. This thing has the potential to be a years-long inconvenience.


We have also heard your displeasure at the number of candidates removed from the ballots because of problems in the electoral process. This confusion has made a significant impact on the election, sometimes not for the better. I have had conversations with the new chairman of Judiciary Committee, Rep. Greg Delleney (R- York County). He is confident we will have this matter corrected in short order. Elections are hard enough to coordinate without the level of confusion we endured this time. I will keep you up to date on this important matter.


As I reported last week, the signage confusion at Buckingham Landing is about to be cleared up. There was also a fair amount of curiosity about the connection between the work of the late Bill Marscher and your representative’s most recent development, namely a million dollar’s worth of stormwater infrastructure at the Promenade. Here is a very brief summary:


Bill Marscher came up on my radar in the mid-1990s as he and a group of volunteers called the Clean Water Task Force began investigating why the water quality in the Colleton-Okatie River was deteriorating. Their efforts led to the creation of a Special Area Management Plan (SAMP). One of the plan’s strong recommendations was the creation of the now operational Stormwater Utility for Beaufort County. The SAMP also highlighted the work of a South Carolina researcher, Dr. Fred Holland, who demonstrated how certain development activities led to deterioration in water quality in the adjacent estuaries.


Veterans of the Clean Water Task Force went on to form Friends of the Rivers, founded by Nancy Schilling but included Dave Harter and Dr. Chris Marsh, among others. As I was considering my first run for the statehouse, members of Friends of the Rivers tutored me on the basics of coastal ecology and stormwater management, including how to do development in an area such as Beaufort County, which is over half water at high tide. The science and the related engineering was quite an eye-opener for me, especially since I had in the back of my mind the idea for a great development in Old Town Bluffton.


Around 2005, that idea began to materialize into the Calhoun St. Promenade. One of the things I committed to was making certain that my development was not going to add to the growing problems in the May River. Consequently, we utilized the key ideas that emerged from the Clean Water Task Force as a defining feature of the Promenade. The gold standard for stormwater management is to keep all your runoff on your property and infiltrate it back into the groundwater. With miles of pervious pipe under the development, that’s exactly what we did. We treat not only our runoff, but a huge portion of the surrounding properties’ runoff as well.


In a nutshell, Bill Marscher’s efforts helped us understand the relationship between development and water quality. That understanding is buried deep under the Promenade, helping keep the May River clean. The upfront cost was about $1 million; the benefit is beyond measure.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

By the time you read this, the bulk of the election will have been concluded, we will know how our local candidates and issues fared, and with luck, our friends in the storm ravaged Northeast will have been able to exercise the sacred franchise.


First, a note of explanation to our neighbors out at Buckingham Landing. The name of your excellent neighborhood has not been changed. Unfortunately, my three-year effort to have the boat ramp renamed in honor of our friend, Bill Marscher, has culminated in signage that can charitably be described as misleading. I have spoken with my friends over at Department of Natural Resources (DNR). They are aware of the mistake and will make every effort to make it right. If it looks like it’s going to take another three years, I’ll find the old sign and put it up myself.


Bill Marscher was such a gifted and profoundly influential person; he amply deserves to be remembered in some water-related fashion. I will devote a column to his water-quality efforts very soon. I will also try to explain how this good man, through his efforts to educate the development community, of which I am a member, in the newest and best ways to manage stormwater runoff, cost your representative’s development a million dollars ­that I was happy to spend.


We had over 600 calls to the office this week, mostly concerning the security breach at Department of Revenue (DOR). The papers have been doing a creditable job of covering the event and explaining what you should be doing. This is what I know:


About three weeks ago, thieves hacked the South Carolina Department of Revenue and gained access to your tax returns back to 1998. If you have a business that files sales or use tax, they have your info as well. You should assume that by now your information has been sliced and diced and distributed among the criminal community that specializes in identity theft and all that implies. We are talking about Social Security numbers, bank routing numbers, and credit and debit card numbers—everything.


If you have not done so already, please go to www.protectmyid.com/scdor and enter the code SCDOR123. Under a deal struck with Experian, you will be eligible for credit fraud resolution for life. The Protect My ID program is designed to detect, protect and resolve potential identity theft and includes daily monitoring of all three credit bureaus.


If you are a businessperson, in addition to the above, you need to know the state is providing credit monitoring through Dunn and Bradstreet. Either call 1-800-279-9881, or visit www.dandb.com/sc to sign up. You also need to inquire of your financial institutions what protections are in place on their end.


In an effort to see that this will not happen again, the governor has signed an executive order directing all her cabinet and agencies to designate someone to coordinate with the State Inspector General, Patrick Maley, in a new effort to improve the state’s cyber security. She indicated the state government’s fragmented approach to IT security makes South Carolina vulnerable to serious cyber and information breaches.


In reality, these measures are prudent and worthwhile but ultimately you have to stay on top of your own situation. Credit monitoring simply tells you when you have been attacked and with luck and a quick response, you can limit your loss and inconvenience. The price of paying taxes and bills online is a certain risk of being a victim of cyber crime. Unfortunately, our desire for convenience and amenity has outrun our security capability. Wish this was as easy to fix as the Buckingham Landing sign.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

The phones really lit up last week with so many of you wanting to know more about the Rural and Critical Lands Preservation Program, and the work of the Open Land Trust. Many people wanted to know where the protected lands were located and which properties are accessible currently. There is an excellent web site, www.ruralandcritical.org, set up by the Open Land Trust to help answer those questions. It’s a great site and the many gorgeous Lowcountry photos alone are worth taking a look.


Last Friday, I was at the candidates’ forum at Pinckney Hall in Sun City. Several folks had copies of emails they had received which stated the county was buying property under Rural and Critical with plans to develop the land on their own. Fortunately, the Chairman of County Council, my friend Weston Newton, and the conservation director for the Open Land Trust, Garrett Budds, were seated next to me on the dais.


After a short conference, we decided the emails were either simply misinformation, or more likely they were campaign related mischief intended to mislead the voters. The truth is the county has never had plans to develop any of the Rural and Critical properties and could not if they wanted, because it would violate both state and federal law, violate our agreements with both Department of the Navy and Department of Agriculture, as well as betray the trust of all who voted overwhelmingly to support the first two land preservation referendums. Those emails are clearly false and meant to deceive. Those responsible deserve your contempt, not your vote.


The point man for Rural and Critical is the aforementioned Garrett Budds. During his relatively short tenure, Garrett has compiled a very impressive record of strategic land acquisitions as well as gained the admiration and confidence of both participating landowners and County Council alike.


And speaking of rising stars, our state is once again being recognized in the business press as an excellent place to do business. The national magazine, Area Development, has ranked South Carolina as the second best place to do business in the nation. Citing the $3.4 billion worth of investments in new and expanding businesses announced in 2011, as well as business friendly tax policy and 11 other objective criteria, our state moved from #4 last year to the second spot behind Texas this year.


We are fortunate to have in place and operational, state programs such as ReadySC, which has trained or retrained more than 250,000 workers for more than 2,000 companies. We are cited as 3rd in the country for infrastructure and global access, as well as #5 in leading the economic recovery. When you combine these attributes with our resurgent tourism industry, whose foundations are our dedication to Clean and Green, our walking, bike and water trail systems, and our clean water and excellent fishing, we are on the verge of becoming an economic powerhouse.


Somehow there is this notion that economic development and good conservation practices are at odds with one another. Nothing could be further from the truth. Business people won’t ask their key employees to move to a wasteland, either culturally or environmentally. They want to do business as part of a clean, green community, with good schools and a culturally rich environment.
When I pledge to continue as a pro-business, job creating legislator, it by definition also means I am a big proponent of land conservation, water quality, cultural enrichment and all those things we have had such good success with in District 118 and Beaufort County. Garrett Budds and Rural and Critical are job creators and protectors no less than your legislator supporting business-friendly tax policy in Ways and Means. It’s all part of the big picture we call prosperity.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today


With the election less than two weeks away, I want to encourage each of you to vote. There are so many things to be decided on the 6th of November, I’m hoping for a massive turnout to give those decisions the weight of support commensurate with their importance. While there are many things to be decided, none is more important, in my view, than the referendum to recharge Beaufort County’s land preservation effort. At issue is whether we want to allow Beaufort County to borrow around $25 million to continue one of the most successful conservation programs in the nation, the Rural and Critical Land Preservation Program. For those voting absentee, be sure to turn the ballot over because the referendum questions are on the back. Twice before, we have supported these referendums overwhelmingly, and I urge you to make it three times. My reasons are a combination of ethical, economic and personal.


As a developer, I know better than most that there are simply places that shouldn’t be developed. What kind of development would we allow on the Altamaha Indian village site near Callawassie Island? Would we knock down Fort Fremont for the sake of some waterfront condos? I think not. We developers are business people, not vandals. My entire career has been about creating value, not destroying or diminishing that which makes our community culturally and environmentally rich.


Much of the work of Rural and Critical has been around Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, and done in partnership with Dept. of the Navy. Not only does it secure the future of the largest source of jobs in the county, it is done with at least a 50% federal match. The same is true in partnering with the Dept. of Agriculture to purchase development rights on and around St. Helena so that farmers can remain farmers and not be forced to sell out by development pressure. The program has kept those jets in the air, jobs on the ground, and local food on the table. That’s a powerful case for building on more than ten years of Rural and Critical successes.


Rural and Critical has also been protecting the headwaters of the Okatie River for years and is now working around the headwaters of the May River. If we are ever going to get a handle on our water quality situation, the headwaters of our estuaries are where it begins. One of the reasons I, and our delegation, worked so hard to keep the state Conservation Bank intact was to have more potential partners for Rural and Critical. Half of Beaufort County is under water at high tide. If we let our pristine water quality slip away, we will, in effect, drive away our visitor base.


Finally, both our children are currently off at school. Mary and I would love more than anything to have them decide to make their lives in our community, to raise their children where we have raised ours. It may be wishful thinking, but we know they are moved, as are we, by the beauty of our place, the pristine waters, and the greens of the marsh and the maritime forests. Rural and Critical, along with the other land preservation programs, allows us the chance to keep what brought us here, what sustains us, and literally what feeds us. On November 6th, please do your part.


Next week, more water quality news from Capt. Dave Harter about the 5th Annual Taste of Waddell Celebration. It’s your chance to experience fresh local seafood prepared by one of the best chefs around.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

We got a good number of calls and emails on last week’s column, particularly with regard to the essential role that volunteers play in our community. Without the volunteers manning the various boards and commissions, the workings of government at all levels would grind to a halt. Without volunteers, the animal rescue shelters wouldn’t be able to do a tenth of the good work they do. The many service groups from Rotary and Lions to the United Way all depend on the generosity of community spirited folks to give of that which we value most, our time.


One of those public-spirited folks who has, over the years, volunteered much time and been extremely effective in protecting and preserving our waterways is my good friend and neighbor, Wes Jones. In fact, Wes and I were at the latest meeting of the Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Change in Charleston recently. Our committee, chaired by Wes Jones, is very close to issuing a report that will help guide the state’s efforts to effectively and fairly manage the shorelines of South Carolina.


From a historical perspective, you can draw a straight line from our task today on the Blue Ribbon Committee to the work of the SC Coastal Council (now SCDHEC-SCOCRM) which was, incidentally, chaired by our own Wes Jones, some twenty years ago. The charge then, as now, is to use the best science, harnessed to the best engineering practices, to protect the waters and the adjacent lands that are so critical to the quality of life and economic viability of our state.
You might have heard that DHEC has recently reopened a significant portion of the May River that had been closed to oyster harvesting. It comes as no surprise that the chairman of the Town of Bluffton committee that labored several years to identify and implement ways to return the status of the river to the shellfish standard was, of course, Wes Jones.


On a different but related topic, the Historic Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festival is nearing the halfway point. We had a great kickoff Sunday with the Friends of Bluffton Artists Showcase, featuring my buddy Kelly Graham, followed by the Blessing of the Fleet and finishing with the first official oyster roast of the season at Larry and Tina Toomer’s Bluffton Oyster Company. The weather was perfect and there were a ton of folks for each event. Once again, volunteers get it done.


Friday night from 6 to 9 p.m. is Family Night at the Promenade and it’s going to be the coolest thing yet. Miss Judy and Miss Paula at Booksalicious are going to be reading Under Sea books and telling great stories for kids of all ages. Parrott Cove Ice Cream CafĂ© has specials, but they had me at “ice cream”. There will be art and nature projects, sidewalk chalk drawing, and if that wasn’t almost too much, there will be a family movie shown in the park. So bring some folding chairs or blankets, get some ice cream and sprinkles from Parrot Cove, and have a large portion of fun. As a side note, I heard that there may be some pirates in the area, so watch out and be prepared to protect your ice cream.


Next week: my take on Beaufort County’s land preservation program and why it’s one of the best in the country.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today


We found the boat, made sure everything was OK and that the rescue dispatcher didn’t send the helo from Tybee. You see, Carlos is a member of the Bluffton Marine Rescue Squadron. When he got the call, he left the game, got in his boat and proceeded to help folks in need. This time, it was only a navigational error and a little inconvenience. Next time, it might be much more serious. You don’t hear too much about the Marine Rescue Squadron, but they are local folks with boats and local knowledge and experience and training in helping boaters, kayakers, swimmers or anyone in distress on the water. Give these good neighbors a pat on the back and remember them when it’s fundraising time. They deserve it.


Sunday the 14th of October is the kickoff of the week long Historic Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festival. This is the work of another group of public-spirited volunteers. This year, Mary O’Neil is the President of the organization and Brooks Williams is the Chairman of the Festival Committee. This is the 8th iteration of this event and these folks have gotten so good at it, the event just appears to run itself.


There is a new feature to the Festival taking place this Sunday, which is a showing of local artists called the “Friends of Bluffton Artists”. There will be 75 or so local artists who have been invited to set up on the porches and in the yards of the various galleries and shops around town. This will be a laid-back showing, with time to meet the artists and have a chat or whatever. They will be exhibiting from 11a.m. to 4p.m. on Sunday, followed by the Blessing of the Fleet, and then a serious oyster roast at the Oyster Factory.


A particularly interesting highlight of the show will be the unveiling of an arts and seafood themed sculpture by renowned artist Kelly Graham. This will take place on the grounds of the Bernie Haag Gallery on Calhoun St. around 2 (ish) p.m. This represents a new, and from all accounts, exciting departure for the multi-talented Mr. Graham. The unveiling will be a dramatic event and should not be missed.


Incidentally, Kelly Graham is also doing the concept design and execution of one of the new, creative restaurants currently under construction in the Promenade next door to Capt. Woody’s.


I think it’s great that we can incorporate the arts in the look of our community. It’s also fortunate that we have such a strong cadre of volunteers to plan and execute the festivals and other venues that showcase the artists, craftsmen, and creative merchants that make Bluffton such a distinctive part of the Lowcountry.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today Three events last week placed members of your House delegation in a favorable spotlight. On a perfect, early fall evening, at the lovely Sea Pines home of Rita and Dudley King, a good crowd of Rep. Andy Patrick’s friends and supporters gathered for fellowship and to hear Andy and various political luminaries comment on the issues of the day. One of the highlights was a talk given by House Speaker Bobby Harrell in response to a question about his legislative agenda for the upcoming session. Aside from the usual comments on fiscal prudence, he spoke about the need to add specificity and common sense language to our ethics regime. We will also revisit the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) matter, especially since the House passed a strong reform bill that was killed in the Senate last session. The speech was brief, humorous, and definitive. It included just enough “inside baseball” to satisfy the attentive crowd. All in all, it was a great event, with good attendance, superb company, and a rousing tune-up for the opening of the next session of the General Assembly. Friday evening was the much-anticipated “Thank You” soiree for Weston Newton supporters after his primary victory for the newly created House District 120 seat. The weather could not have been better as several hundred hungry well-wishers descended on Rose and Weston Newton’s gorgeous Myrtle Island compound. Cars were parked from the bridge to the circle and young Reedy Newton was pressed into service with the golf cart, ferrying attendees to and from cars and the party. The barbeque was expertly produced by the legendary Broken Arrow Group, a consortium of senior pork cookers who might give the famous Ted Huffman of Bluffton Barbeque a bit of competition were they to relinquish control of most of the economy of the south end of the state and become professional pit men. The presumptive Representative Newton made a few brief, very well received remarks, followed by an equally brief invocation by Congressman Tim Scott. The well-organized buffet was appreciatively assaulted. I left long after my usual bedtime and there was still a huge crowd of happy folks scattered over the yard. Rose and Weston certainly raised the bar for political celebrations. Finally, the Community Matching Grant Fundraiser at the Pine House was as elegant as one would expect from hostess Joanie Heyward. The house is a showplace and the appointments, the food and the beverages were perfectly situated and attended. The turnout, as expected, was huge and represented a good cross section of prosperous Bluffton. I don’t know the final accounting, but I am certain the goal was easily reached. The Bluffton/Jasper County Volunteers in Medicine (VIM) clinic is such a well run and supported operation, folks are eager to help. An interesting sidebar to this good story is the fact that because the new VIM clinic also includes dental and other services, there are some regulatory hurtles to work through, which are similar to those encountered by Dr. Jack McConnell as he organized the original VIM facility on Hilton Head. Fortunately, this representative and other members of the delegation are perfectly positioned and more than ready to help in navigating the state regulatory regime. If good people want to volunteer their services for the betterment of the community, we must make it as effortless as possible for them to get the paperwork and credentials in order. Next week, more policy and less partying (even for good causes).

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today Thank you very much to all who called in about last week’s column, especially the kind words about the Tom Herbkersman Commons. There were several more stories about what kind of man Tom was and how he will be remembered. The excellent pocket park is a great and lasting tribute to Tom’s life, and the dedication was very touching and emotional for my family. We are grateful. There was also a fair bit of commentary on the pushback from the Hospital Association over my comments on the Affordable Care Act. Let me just say that the healthcare conversation in our state, as well as in the nation, will continue to evolve for many years. Obamacare was so dramatic and so seemingly radical that the conversation became hyper-political almost instantaneously. As with so many issues that are emotional and involve so much of the economy, we are just going to have to keep at it until we are finally grappling with the true issues: how to provide a suitable level of care for our citizens; how and who will pay for it; and who will make the final decisions about allocation, quality control and cost control. I predict we will climb this mountain for a generation. The Bluffton/Jasper County Volunteers in Medicine (VIM) clinic in Bluffton is a local part of that national conversation. We are a compassionate people and we will not knowingly allow our most vulnerable residents to live without a level of basic care. VIM does great work and deserves our support. This is a roundabout way of reminding you that the Community Matching Grant Fundraiser for VIM is this Thursday (tomorrow) from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Pine House in Old Town Bluffton. Our hostess will be my good friend Joanie Heyward, who is rightfully famous for her hospitality and exquisite southern charm. There is already an impressive list of community leaders who have stepped up as sponsors, but donations at all levels will be gratefully accepted, even after the event. For more information, call Joanie at 757-3354 or email donnamartin941@gmail.com. While we are in gratitude mode, we all owe a big thank you to Kim Jones of the Town of Bluffton, and her boss, Town Manager Anthony Barrett. The May River part of the Beach Sweep/River Sweep was a huge success, in large part due to the organizational efforts of Kim and all the good people who showed up last Saturday morning and did what needed to be done. I was there with my good friend and current Chairman of Beaufort County Council, Weston Newton. Weston is not only an aggressive trash picker, he is also the presumptive House of Representative member from the new District 120. Forgive me, but I felt a small twinge of pride in the event for reasons beyond the fact that my community comes out in force to protect what is ours. I was also proud that the Beaufort County Delegation, as part of the Coastal Caucus, played a big role in saving the Sea Grant Consortium, one of the overall sponsors of the clean-up. Folks, we simply must do what we can to save our rivers-- certainly the May River, but also the Colleton-Okatie River and the New River, and all the little tributaries that make up our amazingly productive watershed. As we get closer to the election, I will do a column on how the Beaufort County Rural and Critical Lands Preservation Program has been and will continue to be essential in protecting and preserving those areas of our community where development would be inappropriate. There is a referendum question on the November ballot and I want to make the case for an overwhelming YES vote.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

From thre House

Bluffton Today

Last week’s column generated a good bit of interest, not only locally, but from around the country. As you recall, I gave you some facts and figures we are working with in regard to the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare). Most of the local comments were in favor of South Carolina’s likely non-participation. However, I did have a good conversation with a member of the Hospital Association who disagreed with that position. We had what is usually termed a “frank exchange of views” and agreed to disagree.

As I reviewed our chat, it occurred to me that our disagreement was not so much about the numbers and what they meant for the fiscal health of the state or the ability of our residents to access affordable health care, it was about how far into the future we were projecting. It also had to do with the different roles that government and private corporations should play in the economy.

Hospitals, and the companies that manage them, face their stockholders every quarter and are judged on their performance by how much profit or loss they realize. Our state has a much longer timeline. We also have an element that corporations rarely consider, which is the issue of sovereignty. In South Carolina, we have little desire to become essentially a part of the federal government’s healthcare regime. The dramatic expansion of Medicaid, even considering the federal match, will dominate our budget long after the enhanced transitional matching dollars are exhausted. Having said that, the conversation is still technically open. This legislator, however, would be mightily shocked if we, after all, were to embrace Obamacare in anything remotely close to its present configuration.

Continuing in the healthcare vein, I want to remind you that a week from tomorrow is the Community Matching Grant Fundraiser for the Bluffton/Jasper County Volunteers in Medicine. It is Thursday, Sept. 27th, from 5:30 to 7:00 at the Pine House, which is the lovingly restored, historic home of my good friend, Joanie Heyward. The Pine House is at the very southern tip (appropriately) of Boundary Street in Old Town Bluffton. A lot of good folks worked a long time to make our Volunteers in Medicine clinic a reality. This is an excellent opportunity to make a difference in our community while also having a fine party in a beautiful place.

For sponsorship information, please give Joanie a call at 757-3354 or email donnamartin941@gmail.com.

Finally, I want to thank the many good people who attended the dedication of the Tom Herbkersman Commons, and the grand opening of the Hilton Head Island/Bluffton Chamber of Commerce office. Both are located at the four-way stop in Old Town Bluffton, or what Chamber CEO Bill Miles characterized as “the corner of Main and Main” in Bluffton.

It was an emotional event for me, and the many members of my family in attendance as we heard speakers recall with fondness the many good qualities of my late brother Tom. We are especially indebted to my great friend, Mayor Lisa Sulka as she shared stories of Tom’s kindness and resolute support when I decided that I should run for the statehouse over a decade ago. It was Tom who originally envisioned the pocket park on the parcel our family donated at the southeast corner of the Promenade. Tom and I, along with Bluffton Assistant Manager, Marc Orlando, drew the original design for the park on a napkin over lunch at Capt. Woody’s. Tom would have been pleased.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

Much of last week was spent in Charleston in Ways and Means and other legislative business meetings. In a prudent measure, we as a committee are seeking to get smarter about the Affordable Care Act, how our state looks to meet the general healthcare challenge, and what our position should be relative to the Healthcare Act.

Currently, South Carolina Medicaid’s monthly enrollment is around 937,000 people. The Department of Health and Human Services projects that very soon our program will top the 1 million mark, which means roughly one in five South Carolinians are Medicaid recipients. We should note that Medicaid pays for about half of the births in our state, as well as a huge portion of the nursing home care received by our disabled and seniors. With the aging of the Baby Boom generation, we see this segment of the program expanding dramatically. As of today, our Medicaid match accounts for 18 percent of our general funds and nearly 25 percent of our total funds.

Despite the virtual avalanche of information on the Affordable Healthcare Act made available as a few paragraphs of the Act came into play, it is still widely seen as a mysterious behemoth. It is 2000 pages of highly specific, densely written legislation with many parts still to be articulated. It was signed into law March 30, 2010, as the largest reform to American healthcare since the passage of Title 119 of the Social Security Act, which created Medicare/Medicaid. It is an expanded coverage. Our state joined with 24 others to challenge the constitutionality of the law, 11 states supported the law, while 12 took no position.

On June 28, the US Supreme Court published its opinion on the Act. The two prevailing findings were that the individual mandate was a tax, and therefore is constitutional, and the federal government cannot withhold Medicaid matching funds if states choose to expand or not.

Where does this leave South Carolina?
Even without expansion, Medicaid in South Carolina will grow by the Act to an additional $160 million. That is $75 million for inflation enrollment for growth, $25 million for eligible but not enrolled resulting from the Act, $52 million from reduced cigarette funding, and $8 million supplement loss of tobacco allocation funds. While mine is only one vote and one opinion, at this juncture, I believe we will say NO to the Affordable Healthcare Act. Having said that, we are about to elect a huge number of federal officials. In addition, the new Congress will be charged with filling in many of the gaps in the current law. Even the repeal of the whole law is not unthinkable if the stars align.

However, as a prudent body, Ways and Means will continue to study and weigh what is best for our citizens, what is best for our state, and ultimately where the future of our nation is headed. But friends, if I were to place a wager on the matter, you probably can guess my inclination. Regardless, check this space in your Wednesday Bluffton Today for periodic updates.

A reminder that tomorrow is the dedication of the Tom Herbkersman Commons, as well as the opening of the new offices of the HHI/ Bluffton Chamber of Commerce offices at the four way stop in Old Town Bluffton. The little pocket park is jewel, with comfortable benches under shade trees, with an interesting mapping feature which says a lot about how we feel about our community. Try to arrive a little before 11 for some refreshments, then brief remarks at 11, followed by BBQ. Tom would have loved it.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

We are continuing to get a great deal of commentary from you on the river-related topics, but I’m going to shift the focus for a week or two to other areas while we digest and organize the information. As we begin the planning for the new session, I want to compare my constituent contacts with some from other legislators with an eye toward those areas that seem to be most common around the state. Please continue to comment. This issue is far from completion.

With the start of schools around the area, please be aware that early morning and mid-afternoon traffic congestion is going to be more prevalent. Please be patient. School buses always have the right of way, so be on the lookout for slow traffic and frequent stops and starts. A moment of inattention can lead to a lifetime of regret.

Speaking of schools, we are starting to get a fair bit of feedback from our Virtual Schools program. This alternative is part of the state Charter School District and is enjoying a lot of positive attention from parents and education analysts. Being relatively new, all our data are inconclusive at this point but there is good potential, especially with motivated parents. I have some friends over on Daufuskie Island who are utilizing the Virtual Schools protocols with good success. In my view, it is important to have a spectrum of sound education possibilities to allow parents to find what may be optimum for their children or their circumstances. It is just a commonsense approach to tailor the schooling to the child rather than force all kids into the same old choices, especially since the old system is not currently enjoying universal success.

Having said that, we are still pursuing parity of funding for our local schools relative to the rest of the state. While we make incremental progress, it is a little frustrating when I think that I have been working on this simple issue for almost ten years.

This year, because of redistricting, my legislative responsibilities extend to a fairly large area of Jasper County in addition to Bluffton and Greater Bluffton. To that end, I have been speaking with a fair number of parents in Hardeeville and the unincorporated parts of Jasper. I am hearing a good deal of concern that there are elements of entrenched educational bureaucracy that are not as open to positive change as they might be. This is not a feature that is isolated to one county, but seems to be the rule rather than the exception, particularly in the more rural parts of the state. These areas seem also to be more likely to underperform in the educational metrics we value.

This points to the challenge of providing remedial specialists where required, without sacrificing opportunities for the average and advanced students. It seems clear that the older models of educational organization are simply not geared to effectively handle the requirements of such a wide spectrum of divergent needs. We may well be in for a generation or more of educational experimentation. Because our economic success is so closely tied to how well we prepare the next generation, the urgency of this mission cannot be overstated.

We all wish this were as simple as appropriating more dollars. It is not. We must be prepared to try different approaches, to keep rigorous metrics, and finally arrive at a system that enables each child to find their best life.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

Once again, Al Stokes and his crew at the Waddell Mariculture Center are in the news. Unfortunately, it was sad news in that a pair of dead dolphins were found in the May River. The ever-vigilant Jimmy McIntire observed the dolphins while out fishing. One of the beautiful creatures was located and taken to the research station at the end of Sawmill Creek Rd.

One of the many things Al Stokes and his scientists do is perform necropsies on sea mammal corpses that turn up in area waters or on our beaches. Information gleaned from this important work helps to give an early warning if diseases or parasites are impacting local fish or marine mammal populations. This is in addition to the great work they do with the various restocking programs they maintain.

As many of you know, the Waddell Center has done superior work for years in supporting the billion-dollar sportfishing industry in our state. It is one of this legislator’s proudest achievements to have finally gotten a fairly predictable appropriation schedule to allow this outstanding facility to continue to do what it does. For years, Al and crew made do with what grants, appropriations, and single-year provisos we were able to send their way. This year, I was able to secure additional dollars for this high-performing asset. If you and I got a return on our investments like South Carolina gets on our contributions to the Waddell Center, we would be playing bridge with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

We continue to get a big number of calls and emails concerning my request for your comments on the unsafe boating issue. To your credit, most of what we are hearing now is not simply complaints, but suggestions about how we can effectively address the issue without diminishing the pleasure we all get from an afternoon on the river. A great example of how things should work in Bluffton comes from my good friend Carolyn Smith and her All Joy Beach Committee. They have been vocal in their disapproval of the general deterioration of courtesy and good practice on the waterway. They also have volunteered to help structure any changes to the applicable law that we might be considering. Friends, this is how it’s supposed to work.

I want to give you a heads-up on some cool events. Newly elected Old Town Merchants Society President Rodney Vaughn announced that “Beer and Brats” will be held Saturday, 22 Sept. at the Promenade. Rodney is also featured in the hilarious May River Theater production of “The Producers” which runs through this Sunday, 26 August. As always, Jody and Ed DuPuis put on a great show.

Coming up on Sat., 15 Sept. is the annual Beach Sweep/River Sweep, put on by the Sea Grant Consortium and South Carolina Dept. of Natural Resources. Be at Oyster Factory Park at 9 a.m. prepared to do some good for the river. If you have boats or kayaks, bring them. For details, call Kim Jones of the Town of Bluffton at 706-4593 or email kjones@townofbluffton.com. Please join me, and presumptive House Seat 120 Representative Weston Newton, along with other delegation members, for this important workday.

Finally, most of you know that Bluffton is now actively promoted by three Chambers of Commerce: the Hilton Head/Bluffton Chamber, the Greater Bluffton Chamber, as well as the Beaufort Regional Chamber. Three chambers, three approaches, with one mission: grow and refine local business.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

As always, when I ask for feedback, we get prepared for the consequences. The combination of Sunday’s front-page BT article and the column made for an interesting week of constituent contact. We got over 300 contacts and the phones and email are still burning. Suffice to say that many of our calls were from folks with bad stories to tell. There were stories of damaged docks, damaged boats, near-death situations on the water, and the whole gamut of complaint having to do with bad behavior on the water. In truth, the level of anger over the lack of courtesy from boaters was a little unsettling.

On the other side, we heard from a fair number of people who didn’t relish the idea of possibly being ticketed or inconvenienced for being on video doing that which they probably knew they shouldn’t be doing anyway. I suppose it’s the old tree falling in the woods question, except now it’s more like “if I do something out of sight of law enforcement, did it really happen?” It is a peculiar line of reasoning but buried in there someplace is a point.

The anger and the back and forth over whether cameras are a fair tool for law enforcement is exactly why I asked for your take on the situation. The truth is, when we make law out of anger, it is rarely good law. We don’t think it through. It is all about the emotion of the moment. My thinking is we should hash it out in the paper, at the Squat and Gobble, or over a rib plate at Bluffton Barbeque. Sometimes you just have to get mad when the other folks’ bad behavior seems to be the normal mode of acting. When the anger subsides, then we will make a good faith effort of come up with a solution that is fair, even-handed, and doesn’t feel like the government is putting the hammer down. My fear is that probably sooner than later, there will be an avoidable tragedy, someone will be hurt or killed, and then the calls for action will be as irrational as they are unstoppable. The resulting laws and subsequent enforcement will likely be an overreaction that will remove much of the joy of a day on the water for all, whether they are habitual violators or careful, courteous boaters who wouldn’t dream of tearing up a neighbor’s dock with an errant wake.

I have said before that the bulk of this problem is about visitors and newcomers. One of the rites of passage for my children and for many Bluffton folks was that first time at the helm of the family boat. Whether your boat is an aluminum jonboat with an ancient Evinrude, or one of the big, offshore fishing machines, we as parents enjoy the teachable moments that come from those beginnings of individual responsibility in our children. Accountability is a lesson that most of us learned at a young age. If you don’t do your school work, maybe there is no baseball. If you rattle your neighbor’s dock, you turn around and apologize. Such has been the tradition along the May River, along the Colleton/Okatie, and all the estuarine rivers and creeks that are the jewels of the Lowcountry.

Unfortunately, there are ten times as many of us as there used to be. We don’t all share the same local traditions of courtesy and respect. So enough of the horror stories and anger, enough of the “big government” paranoia: Let’s figure this out together. What do we need to do to solve this problem before the solution gets caught up in a bad event? I need to hear from you. I will also share what I’m hearing from the good people in law enforcement.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

After being out on the water for most of the day, I’d like to return to the issue we broached a couple weeks ago having to do with bad boating behavior on our waterways. We are still getting lots of calls and emails on this matter. The range of comment is pretty extreme. Most folks are just interested in safe, respectful boat operation. They understand that things can go bad quickly if you combine boats, big horsepower and alcohol. As for me, I have no interest in extending the nanny state to the river, but I would rather preempt egregious violations rather than see people hurt and property abused or destroyed.

From my observations, as well as what I am hearing, it seems as if it is not Bluffton boaters causing the bulk of the problem, but those from surrounding areas who trailer into either All Joy Landing or the Oyster Factory boat ramp. Peer pressure works well with friends and neighbors, but is not too effective with visitors, especially if they have had a few adult beverages.

In the last few weeks, I have had conversations with a couple of DNR folks and members of the Coastal Caucus up in Columbia. Unfortunately, this is vacation time and several of the key people I needed to speak with were unavailable. I do know that our situation here is not isolated. As more visitors decide to make the move to the coast, the problems on the water have increased considerably.

One idea that I have run by several of my legislative colleagues is drawing favorable comment. That idea is to allow video of seriously bad behavior to become part of the law enforcement toolbox. Most of us carry phones with video capability. It seems like a fairly common sense way to give our officers a chance to make good cases without actually seeing the offense. It might also help to compensate for the fact that our policing assets on the waterways are stretched pretty thin.

Before I start thinking in terms of legislation, I need to hear from you on this. Is this a good idea? What kinds of limitations would this necessarily involve? Should video be restricted to misdemeanor offences? Does the fact of everyone’s phone being potentially a law enforcement tool seem a little too “big brother” to you?

I am your representative and my success for the last decade in the statehouse has been due largely to the fact that you let me know what you require of your state government. Every time I seek your thoughts and opinions, without exception, you have come through in grand fashion. This is an important issue and I am confident you won’t be silent.

Incidentally, one of the benefits for this legislator of our recent reapportionment has to do with the fact that our folks want to have a say in their government. While I have been the beneficiary of your good ideas and opinions, the massive increase in our population has meant that District 118 was twice the size it was supposed to be. With the creation of the new District 120, I will be more able to render the personal service that you expect without working my staff overtime every week.

My friend Weston Newton will take over the District 120 seat the first of the year. You know him to be a seasoned and talented public servant. Together, we will make your voice heard loud and clear in Columbia.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

I believe it’s time for some more gratitude. I realize that for the last few weeks, we have been so caught up in the urgency of the extended session, as well as the foment surrounding the governor’s vetoes, I have failed to properly acknowledge the hard work of some very good people. My disappointments over what we failed to accomplish and my anticipation of what we are going to accomplish next session can wait. I want to issue some well-deserved kudos.

For nearly ten years, this column has been one of my most effective platforms for including you in the extended conversation that is reflected in how your business is done at the statehouse. Staff and I have a process for these pieces that often involves multiple drafts and levels of review before it shows up in the pages of the Wednesday Bluffton Today. Unfortunately, I have omitted the first step in the process each time I have sought to shine a light on how we go from a blank sheet of paper to 600 words of weekly column. Today, we begin at the beginning.

Whether we are in session or out, I try to call the Word Processing Center on late afternoon Thursday or early Friday morning. I dictate the first draft of the column to one of the efficient women who work at Word Processing. They are helpful and attentive as they transcribe my thoughts, often assisting if I am at a loss for the best word or phrase. From this roughest of rough copies, they create a draft and email it to Bluffton where staff and I boil it down, make changes, do a final rewrite or two, and finally ship it off to the editor. Without exception, these folks are pleasant, efficient, motivated to do excellent work, and handle a huge workload without complaint. If every employee of the state were like Word Processing, this representative might be working to expand instead of shrink our government.

I also want to commend the efforts of the Moss Creek Marines for their good work with our returning service members. They are in the process of designing the USMC license plates after we passed the bill granting their cause. The bulk of the dollars raised from this specialty plate will go to the Moss Creek Marines to further their mission of helping to aid our returning warriors. It’s a great cause and they are a superb bunch of men and women who remember when it was they who were returning from one set of challenges to another, often more perplexing experience. If you want to help, please contact our office. We will put you in touch.

I was chatting with a good friend and constituent the other day. He pointed out that about ten or fifteen years ago, the term “public servant” began to morph into “public official.” It was his contention that the changing of the words seems to have given a different meaning to public employment, with the change not being for the better. To his way of thinking, it was more about entitlement, or attitude, or some way of looking at employment that differed from public service. By no means does this change cover all public employees, but it does point out how sometimes words do really matter.

As I think about our conversation, I wish I could have offered more compelling examples of public servants. That’s when I thought about the ladies of the Word Processing Center. They are certainly public servants for whom I am personally grateful.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

Last week was an out-of-the-park home run, record-breaking week for your representative as far as constituent contacts were concerned. With your responses to my comments on the river and the enormous concern over the governor’s vetoes, we fielded 578 of your emails, calls and notes to our office last week. We also got a pretty vivid lesson on what the residents of District 118 care most about. None of what we learned was new or startling, but the passionate nature and the seriousness of the concerns were impressive to say the least.

We know you care about our natural resources. The veto of the Sea Grant Consortium funding was tantamount to running the lawn mower over a nest of ground wasps. Many of your messages spoke eloquently of why you chose to live in our part of the Lowcountry and how the clean water and the lovely, green landscapes captured you from your first visit.

We also heard from the sportfishing community, not only locally but from around the country. Sportfishing is a billion plus dollar industry in our state, which feeds into both hospitality and real estate. The Sea Grant Consortium has been a critical supporter of the science that helps to sustain and expand our policy successes in protecting the water quality upon which this industry thrives. As always, my thanks go to Dr. Chris Marsh from the Lowcountry Institute for his succinct and persuasive arguments in favor of our override of this veto.

Another of the areas where our understanding was reinforced had to do with how you feel about the arts in your community. Our state rarely makes the top lists in industrial development or educational attainment, but we are well known as a place where the arts are a vital part of every locality, none more so than Beaufort County. Even without such luminaries as Joe Bowler, Jonathan Green, or West Fraser, our state benefits greatly from the number and quality of working and aspiring artists contributing to a legion of shops and galleries that not only make for an interesting quality of life for residents but also attract visitors from the world over. The thought that we might do away with our Arts Commission was for many folks, pretty close to unthinkable.

Although many employees have not had a raise for a while, the veto of the teacher’s 2% raise created something of a firestorm. Teachers are a special class of public employee that has unique responsibilities in transmitting the best of our culture to future generations. The ability to compete with our neighboring states for the best teachers is a real competitive concern for this representative. While I supported the across-the-board raises, I would like to continue the inquiry into how to properly reward the best teachers while also identifying their less productive colleagues, with an eye toward perhaps directing them to other employment. That is an issue with which Secretary Zais has been tasked, about which we will hear more next session.

I was proud of the Beaufort/Jasper Delegation in the handling of these vetoes. We were in solidarity with each other as well as the overwhelming majority of our constituents in protecting the budgets of those entities we recognize as core governmental functions.

Next week, I will finish up the veto analysis. We will also look at some of the accomplishments of the last session, as well as look forward to next session with the new presumptive representative from District 120, my friend Weston Newton.

Friday, July 20, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

My comments last week in this space have hit a nerve around Bluffton. We received a huge number of calls and emails, largely on the river issue. We have been traveling, so at this point, I don’t have an exact number, but it is in excess of 200 contacts, almost all expressing some degree of outrage. While I stick by my original inclination to let this be a local “neighbor helping neighbor” enforcement model, we are nonetheless investigating what might need to happen if this untenable situation does not self-correct.

While my inquiry is still in the preliminary stage, it appears as though control of the estuarine rivers is a responsibility shared by federal, state and local authorities. There are interlocking relationships that define who does what. For example, the SC Department of Natural Resources has authority to declare “No Wake” zones, but they can share enforcement authority with both municipal police and county sheriff’s departments. However, before the police or sheriff personnel can enforce the state designation, they must be certified by the SCDNR. That certification involves 40 hrs. of training supplied by SCDNR. Unfortunately, the certification classes have been in hiatus for several years. This has had the effect of largely restricting the number of officers available to the various levels of law enforcement who might be available to help with the current situation.

As we follow the matter on the local waters, I will continue to help define our options. Again, my hope is that we will solve this in the community. Failing that, we will do what is necessary to ameliorate the problem before simple bad form turns into the inevitable tragedy.

Another aspect of my job that deals directly with our waters is the recent veto of the funding for the Sea Grant Program by Governor Haley and her crew of advisors. When I first read the veto statement, I thought it might have been a typo or simply a transcription mistake. Unfortunately, it was just a mistake.

Within hours of the veto announcement, I received an email from my good friend, Dr. Chris Marsh, executive director of the Lowcountry Institute, located on Spring Island. Chris has been one of my most insightful advisors on water quality issues for many years. He pointed out that the veto removed $420,000 from the state budget, but cost the state around $6 million in grants already in the pipeline. If the veto stands, the $6 million will not return to the federal treasury, it will go to other states, helping them protect their natural resources instead of helping protect ours. Many of these grants are continuations of research that may have been going on for years. The potential less to our state in useful, actionable knowledge would compound the current grant losses exponentially. In looking back over just my time in the House, the Sea Grant Consortium has brought grants to the state that total more than $50 million, at a cost of around $5 million. In my view, that’s a pretty good cost/benefit ratio.

If things go as planned, by the time you read this, we will have overridden not only this unwise veto, but also the Arts Commission veto, and all the other unfortunate “political messaging” coming out of the governor’s office. In truth, many of us are somewhat in sympathy with the governor’s intentions, but the veto is not the proper venue for those conversations.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

I hope everyone had a great Fourth of July holiday. That said, there is an issue of water safety that must be addressed. We were out on the water for the last few weekends and the level and amount of bad behavior was stunning. In the 35 years we have been in the Lowcountry, I have never seen anything like it. The combination of more boats, more powerful boats, and obvious alcohol abuse on the water makes for a very dangerous situation. With the number of children being pulled behind these boats on tubes or other water toys, we are likely to find ourselves with bad consequences.

It was about this time last year that I urged all you locals out there to help clean up some of the problems on the various sandbars. Sometimes new people or visitors just don’t understand what the limitations are when you get a ton of folks on the sandbars, including kids and dogs and cookout rigs of various sorts. I believe, as do most of you, in the power of constructive conversation among friends when it comes to addressing these kinds of issues.

Before this becomes a massive law enforcement situation, please talk to your friends, maybe your spouse, or visitors about the rules of the road when it comes to safety on the water. Right now, the wakes from hundreds of boats are seriously eroding areas of the shoreline, not to mention tearing up docks and floats. One way or another, this has to stop. I prefer the path of individual responsibility, which worked pretty well on the sandbars, instead of packing the river with contingents of Coast Guard, Department of Natural Resources, and other law enforcement entities. For me, it is better to have voluntary self-restraint in these matters. Otherwise, the inevitable tragedy will drive a government response. We can’t complain about the “nanny state” if we can’t act in a reasonable, safe manner out on the public waterways.

Obviously the big news last week was the Supreme Court decision regarding ObamaCare. I was disappointed that the individual mandate was not struck down. For my reasons, see above. While there was a great deal to be disappointed about, there were also features that offer the states some leeway in lessening the more onerous aspects of the law. For our state, had the mandatory expansion of Medicaid been upheld, I’m afraid the General Assembly would have become little more than a funding mechanism for indigent healthcare.

As a relatively poor state, Medicaid currently covers around a million out of the 4.6 million residents of South Carolina. Had the mandatory expansion been upheld, we would have added an additional 500,000 people to the program. That is something around 1 out of 3 South Carolinians depending on the government for health insurance. Just as we have gotten our fiscal house in better order, such a blow would have made a mess of our hard-won frugality.

The other feature of the ruling had to do with allowing the states to opt out of the expansion of Medicaid without fear of having the federal government punish us by reducing the current 70% match for the investment we make in Medicaid. Honestly, this was a huge concern. Our education budget is currently being diminished by the federal Dept. of Ed. for falling short of a mandatory level of support for special education. If the federal government was allowed this form of retribution on Medicaid, the whole notion of state’s sovereignty would be out the window.

There is much more to be said on this topic in weeks to come.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

“Endless Summer” was a great Beach Boys record from my youth. The Senate Boys are creating a less sonorous record, which might be called “Endless Session.” Nearly a month has elapsed since the official end of session and we are finally getting around to passing a budget. Following along with my rather shaky musical metaphor, it reminds me of a line from an old Elvis Costello song which posits “I used to be disgusted, but now I try to be amused.”

Try as I might, this representative cannot seem to work up even a little amusement at the Senate’s version of responsible fiscal management. The House has articulated a spending plan that provides, among other things, tax relief for small business in the state. We all know small businesses are the true “job creators” in our sputtering economy. The Senate has answered with a list of pet projects and general silliness that seems to have no real connection with the needs of the folks who sent them to Columbia. The projects, for the most part, were not vetted through the House process, but turn up in the reconciliation effort in the conference committee. Not remotely amusing, try as I might.

The compromise reached last Thursday was not to my liking, but sometimes you hold your nose and hope the governor will have the sense to veto some of the extravagant and unneeded items placed in the document. Our Senator Davis does what he can, but the Senate just seems to be so out of touch with the needs of the average South Carolinian, they might as well be “wasting away in Margaritaville.”

OK, I’m done for now with my little rant. I’ll have more particulars later. It is the 4th of July and we have celebrating to do. In line with getting out on our waterways and appreciating the holiday with a beverage and a light snack, I want to throw out a few look-sees for our local businesses.

Capt. Chris Shoemaker was born and brought up on the May River and can help you either catch fish or simply see the sights around our pristine estuary. Give him a call for your next adventure.

Those who might want to look into learning how to work a stand-up paddleboard, the fellow to call is Captain Ru-Ru (aka Capt. Rufus Weaver). Rufus is a great athlete and a gifted teacher. He can have you or your eight-year-old child up and paddling before you know it. Just don’t ask him about his Rugby career or you might learn more than you bargained for. Seriously, give Capt. RuRu a call for a great day on the water.

When it’s time to cook the steaks, Adam Simoneaux at Scott’s Meats is who you need to see. Prime meats cut by a third generation grocer and entrepreneur make for a celebratory cookout worthy of the birth of our nation. Adam, along with sidekick Murray D, is in the process of creating a Bluffton version of Whole Foods in his family’s strip of shops across from the Squat and Gobble. If you don’t see what you want, just ask. The thing I ask for is one of the chocolate chip banana breads made by Adam’s lovely wife, Lindy. Consequently, your representative has momentarily added a pound or two of banana bread weight. It’s too good to pass up.

Next week, less rant and more substance. Have a safe holiday.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

I was disappointed in the necessity of having extra session time, simply because we didn’t get our work done in the constitutionally allotted period. We did, however, get the state retirement system mess sorted out, among other things. Much of the heavy lifting on the House side was done by Rep. Jim Merrill (R-Charleston), Rep. Kenny Bingham (R-Cayce) and Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg).

State retirement system funding stability is important for this area, not only because we have a number of state retirees living in our neighborhoods. One of the things that companies look for when seeking a location to expand or relocate is any potential taxation surprises lurking in state government. With the new system configuration, we are able to go forward without billions of dollars of potential retirement liability hanging over our heads. This was the year it had to be done and we made it happen, even if it took longer than it should have.

Here is basically what it looks like:
We have created what is called a “Rule of 90” to define eligibility for state retirement in South Carolina. To retire under our system, you add your age and the number of years of service--if it adds up to 90, you can retire, assuming you met the other criteria. This primarily affects new hires, as current workers were hired under a different set of promises, which have to be kept. Employee contribution to the system will rise from 6.5% to 8%. This will be done over three years at .5% increase per year. If this is not adequate to stabilize the system, then employer (state) contributions will rise at an equal rate as employee contributions in the future.

The TERI (Teachers and Employees Incentive) program will be discontinued for new hires and allowed to run out for those for covered employees by 2018. Vesting changes to 8 years with an ability to purchase time into your retirement. That is actuarially neutral. If employees wish to return to work, they may do so, but if they earn more than $10,000, their monthly annuity will end for the year. The retirement system for law enforcement officers called PORS (Police Officer Retirement System) is largely similar to the regular retirement with a few minor exceptions.

One of the features that has been something of a concern is the retirement plan for state elected officials called GARS (General Assembly Retirement System). New members will now have essentially the same retirement as other state employees. Current officials will retain the GARS but will pay a higher premium. This, however, may be changed in the future as there is a study committee investigating legislative pay and benefits.

Another feature of the new system is the creation of PEBA (Public Employee Benefit Authority) to oversee and manage the system. This new authority has an 11- member board, with 4 members being public employees. It has an executive director charged with making regular reports. PEBA assumes one of the functions of the much-maligned Budget and Control Board.

This important reform is passed by the General Assembly with a high likelihood of being signed by the governor in the near future. While a functional and stable state retirement system may not directly affect many of you, it does indirectly affect us all in that massive, ill-defined fiscal liabilities ultimately drive up our borrowing costs as well as make it difficult to make accurate budget projections.
Next week, more restructuring updates.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

After being out of proper session for a week, I want to share my take on what has happened and, unfortunately, what has not happened. First, the good news.

We have a new delegation member with the primary win by Weston Newton. We all look forward to working with the new representative from District 120. Weston is a hard worker and has a good grasp on all the issues of local concern. His addition to the new Beaufort/Jasper Delegation will begin to pay dividends the second Tuesday of next year as the General Assembly reconvenes.

I was impressed by the quality of the campaigns of both Chairman Newton and Councilman Stewart. They are both friends of mine and I had very high expectations for the contest. With the number of well-attended debates, both candidates had the time and the ability to articulate their respective visions for the benefit of the new district. To my knowledge, neither campaign showed any interest in personal attacks, unfair tactics, or anything other than presenting the best they had to offer. I am proud of the example they set, and I sincerely hope their campaigns become the new norm for South Carolina politics.

What has not been accomplished can once again be placed at the doorstep of the “other” chamber of the General Assembly. While our Senator Tom Davis does a creditable job, it’s like he is the lone ranger when it comes to passing even common sense measures though the Senate. For example, the Senate killed two out of three major tax reform proposals passed by the House. The Senate killed the Freedom of Information Act expansion. This House-passed bill would have eliminated research charges and exorbitant printing charges for public records requests, as well as open the state email accounts of lawmakers to the public. After all the talk of “transparency” and open government, here is the real information: these folks have no interest in making our government more open. We pass what we believe in.

The School Choice Bill passed by the House this year died in the Senate. For the eighth time since 1994, the House passed strict spending caps on the state budget. For the eighth time since 1994, the Senate rejected spending caps of any kind. Even the Taxpayer Fairness Act was killed. This House-passed bill assured that law-abiding taxpayers are treated with respect and makes government agencies enforce the tax laws in a fair manner.

I was particularly steamed by the rejection of the Angel Investment Act. This is a bill that would offer tax credits to those that invest in small technology startup companies. We seem to talk a good game of job creation, but when it comes down to creative measures to get it done, somehow the Senate seems to fall short. There are a couple of companies being housed at the Don Ryan Center for Innovation at Buckwalter Place right now that are one or two angel investments away from success. Laurel Herter’s BottlesUp outfit in downtown Bluffton is one angel investment away from going global. Perhaps motivated by the tax credits of the Angel Investment Act, that last investment might have allowed Laurel to hire half a hundred folks instead of her current half dozen.

Next week, we will continue the session recap. In truth, there are some very positive things you need to hear about.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

I want to thank all who emailed, called or wrote with regard to our Jasper Port piece that appeared in the Savannah Morning News as well as several other outlets. Most of us understand the importance of the port as a future driver of the economy in our area of the Lowcountry. It’s pretty clear we are in for a long struggle. I’ve been on this for 10 years and it might take that long again to see this to completion. So be it.

The Marine Corps license plate passed this session. I am grateful for all the help and support from the Moss Creek Marines. This is a great group whose mission is to help Marines, especially those returning from deployment. If you want to know more, google Moss Creek Marines. They can use your support as they have much to do and not a lot of resources.

At long last, the Golf Cart Bill is now the Golf Cart Law. There are so many people and groups to thanks for the work they put into this multi-year effort. My good friend, Sheriff Tanner was instrumental in the refinement and passage of this bill, as was Senator Davis. The good folks over on Daufuskie Island made a lot of calls and wrote a ton of letters in support of the cause. Obviously, the Sun City Legislative Affairs Committee deserves a great deal of credit for visiting with a certain senator and helping him understand how misguided his hold on the bill was. I promise I will only call upon this posse when they are absolutely needed.

In truth, it is a little disappointing to have spent as much time as we did on such a commonsense piece of legislation. Golf carts, when properly outfitted and insured, are a great way to get around the neighborhood, go to the grocery store, pharmacy or doctor’s appointment. They are inexpensive to operate, don’t pollute, and allow us to have a little fun as well. Why it took years to get this through is tough to figure.

Last week I had the pleasure of honoring the Town of Bluffton as well as two of the excellent people who make the town as successful as it is. Marc Orlando was recognized by the full body of the House of Representatives for his unique contributions to the town, and especially his efforts in maintaining the character, integrity, and historical coherence of the Old Town. His role is often to mediate between those who want to keep Bluffton as it is and those who wish to develop their property to it’s best and most productive uses. It is a tough place to stand but Marc is known as an honest broker with credibility in both camps. He deserves this recognition.

The Town of Bluffton was recognized by the House for its good work in the May River watershed. The award was accepted by Town engineer, Ron Bullman. Ron came over from the private sector with a “can-do” attitude and gets things done. He also had talks with DHEC that will continue as we search for ways to finds grants to assist the town in restoring the river to full shellfish harvesting.

Finally, my good friend, Jeff Fulghum is out with his first book, called The Bluffton Experience. It is about the burning of Bluffton during the Civil War, among other things. Jeff, as you may remember, is a decorated Army veteran. He fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan and continues to serve as a staff sergeant in the National Guard. Expect to hear much more from this talented Bluffton native.