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.