Wednesday, December 25, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

Merry Christmas, friends. There will be no politics or policy today. There will be more than enough time for that as we approach the final session of the 120th South Carolina General Assembly. Today, I want to expand a little on my favorite topic, one that gets larger and more important for us as we see our children grow up and the gray hairs, at least for me, become more numerous. Readers of this column know that topic is, of course, gratitude.
Over a decade ago, Mary and I started on this political phase of our lives. I think that I might have been a little full of myself, maybe possessed of that kind of confidence which business success seems to impart. Motivated by the sense that we in our lovely portion of the Lowcountry were politically on the dark side of the moon, for all the attention we attracted at the statehouse, we decided that I would stand for election. We survived a tough campaign and managed to win. I represented Old Bluffton, Sun City, and Daufuskie Island.


My orientation to the House of Representatives was information dense to the point of being disorienting. I studied, sought advice, and learned all I could, but still made mistakes and fell short of my own expectations. But, as I started to make a few talks around the community, speaking to Rotary and the various clubs at Sun City, a peculiar phenomenon began to occur—the folks were helping their representative understand what they expected of him. You were giving me the tools to be successful on your behalf. The process was so inspiring and so successful that I continue to use it today.


Friends, when I ask for your opinions and your wisdom, you never fail me. In truth, any political success I have enjoyed is because of your generosity and patience. I don’t know if that is what Lincoln meant when he spoke of “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” but it sure seems to fit.


Needless to say, I continue to be grateful for your active and eager participation in our state government. Our team seems to be scoring a few runs these days as well.


Somewhere along the way, nearly all my political associates have become personal friends. Your issues are more than just political for me. When I go to the mat at Ways and Means to preserve the “special needs” budget, it is because I know many of you with children or grandchildren who count on care provided by those dollars. When your representative pieces together a budget for the Waddell Mariculture Center, it’s not just the right thing to do, or a piece of the economic strategy, it is also because I personally know so many folks whose livelihoods, whose house payments, are tied to clean water and healthy fish populations. You have shared the stories that I can use to help my legislative colleagues understand when the state can help, as well as when the state should get out of the way. I am grateful.


Mary and I are overwhelmed with notes and cards, emails and calls, both to the office and the house. To my friends in Sun City (you know who you are), thanks so much for the cookies and cakes. There are enough to last either until July, or until I can no long fit into any of my clothes. We hope to see as many of you as possible over the holidays.


Finally, please think about safety during the holidays. With all the parties and the kids being out of school, there is such a small margin for error. When in doubt, call a cab.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

The number of calls and emails we received on my last column was amazingly high. The possibility of an Article Five convention process seemed to resonate strongly with a lot of folks for a number of different reasons. Most were excited about the prospect of a balanced budget amendment, or at least something that would make the federal government more likely to live within its means. Many folks think that the relationship between the federal and state governments has gotten out of whack to the extent we need to revisit our current version of federalism.


There were, however, more than a few wise souls urging caution and the provision of safeguards against allowing the process to be highjacked by extremists of various stripes. The operative thought here was to “be careful what you wish for.” There will be more information on this as the session evolves.


It is only a few weeks before we reconvene the session at the statehouse. My meeting schedule is starting to really tighten up as we put the final pieces of our delegation strategy together. We are certainly going to build on the successes of last Spring, especially with regard to funding parity for our local university and technical college. We mounted a full court press with Dr. Jane Upshaw and Dr. Lynn McGee adding their persuasive arguments to the mix. We did make good progress, but the goal of genuine per-student parity is certainly achievable for next year.


We are also going to be looking to make realistic progress in reducing our infrastructure deficits. We heard loud and clear, the message from the South Carolina Business Roundtable regarding our crumbling roads and bridges. They made a good case, particularly for the I-26 corridor, complete with cost estimates and timelines. Although there were some fiscal gestures made in the direction of roads and bridges in the budget, in my view, we need to get serious.


My colleague, Rep. Weston Newton, did a ton of driving during the off-season. He was somewhat chagrined at the contrast between our roads and bridges and those of our regional competitors. He has considerable experience from his county council chairman days in getting on the right priority lists and finding road dollars in federal cubbyholes. He is also very energized about being a part of the whole infrastructure conversation.


I am certainly on board, but each year I think this will be the time we get serious about this part of our economic package, only to be disappointed. As a businessperson, I look at our transportation infrastructure as a gigantic investment, which we have allowed to languish. We are past the point where we can delay for much longer and still remain in the game with Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina. Your delegation will have more specific proposals as the session moves along.


This is the time of year when I have to remind everyone to be smart about holiday parties and celebrations. As a parent, I seem to reflexively need to talk about having a designated driver, calling a cab if you find yourself in a potentially bad situation, or having some thought to how things can get out of hand before we know what’s happening. Nothing would damage a family holiday more completely than a party-related traffic mishap, or worse.
Nonetheless, Mary and I hope you all have the best Christmas ever, complete with the best family time, football watching, and plenty of good food. Family, football and food. What could be better? Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

I am certain that everyone enjoyed the Christmas parade last Saturday in Old Town Bluffton. From our perch atop the back of a nice convertible, Mary and I had a great time seeing old friends, many from Sun City and the surrounding communities. We threw a little candy, but mainly we waved and simply appreciated the fine day, and the even finer community in which we are privileged to reside. After the parade, like many of you, we walked and chatted with a lot of good folks, visited some shops and galleries, and had a nice lunch at our favorite pizza place in the Promenade.


It is such a pleasure to see all the people patronizing the businesses in Bluffton. In fact, the economy here is pretty much where it was before the Great Recession, at least as far as retail is concerned. While Bluffton is atypical in many respects, we are always a leading indicator, economically, of what will be happening sooner or later in the rest of the state. Our state budget has almost recovered, and many aspects of our local and state governments are headed in a positive direction.


Unfortunately, we cannot say the same for our federal government. I won’t get much of an argument from anyone when I say our national political structure is broken. This is not a partisan statement, simply a fact. Both parties own a piece of the blame for the gridlock. Both parties are culpable in doing their own political business and ignoring the needs of the citizens. This would not be a big problem except for the fact that we have run up a staggering debt, allowed our roads and bridges to deteriorate, and are experiencing a negative trajectory in many other areas relative to both our friends and our opponents in the wider world. Something must be done, and I think the states must consider all options to restart or reform our national government.


Readers of this column know that from time to time, I will put important matters before you and ask for your opinions. This is one of those times. There is a conversation taking place in many of the statehouses around the country, having to do with Article Five of the U.S. Constitution. It has to do with methods for amending said document. Usually, the congress will pass a joint resolution proposing an amendment, and when passed by three-fourths of the states, either by the legislatures or properly constituted conventions, the proposal becomes an amendment to the constitution.


It also states that amendments may also arise from a convention, if requested by two-thirds of the states. While this method has only been used to pressure congress into doing certain things, such as popular election of senators, it offers a chance to bypass the gridlock in Washington. Imagine a convention called to propose a balanced budget amendment, or any of an array of amendments limiting the power of the federal government.


This week, both South Carolina and Virginia will request that an Article Five Convention be called. When there are 34 states approving, the congress must call the convention. If three-fourths (38) of legislatures, or conventions approve, the proposed amendment(s) become law.


If you think this method of creating and passing constitutional amendments has potential to return our federal government to the people, let me know. If you have ideas of what amendments are most urgently needed, let me know. Since this is an important poll, please send to my work email, schsdistrict118@aol.com.


Friends, when I have asked for your opinions, you have always spoken. I expect this important matter to receive your thoughtful consideration. Let me hear you.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

Mary and I hope each of you had a fantastic Thanksgiving holiday. It is certainly one of our favorites. There is something about a holiday that is dedicated to gratitude, to being thankful for all that we so often take for granted, which really strikes a chord with our family. There is great family time, traditional food, and after a nice walk, some holiday football on television.


Down here in the Lowcountry, in Bluffton, Hilton Head, Sun City, Hardeeville, and all the areas around and between the creeks and estuaries, Thanksgiving is also the start of almost six weeks of festivities, culminating on New Year’s Day with Hoppin’john and a little more football.


For those of you who may be new to the area, the Bluffton Christmas Parade is an event you will not want to miss. It is the first Saturday of December, which this year, falls on the 7th. The magic begins at 11 a.m. In truth, the magic actually began months ago, as Parade Maven and Bluffton Town Clerk, Sandra Lunceford hammers out the final details and burnishes the parade organization to a high luster.


To the 20,000 or so folks who will line the route, the parade is an extravagant celebration of our town, our people, and all our friends who come to help in the festivities. Each year, it’s a little different than the last, a little better in that we have more new neighbors who either watch or participate. If the Bluffton Christmas Parade was the only thing you knew about Bluffton, you would know a lot. You would have a good idea of how we feel about our place, about ourselves, and what it takes to be a community. You would feel as welcome as each of the merchants and restauranteurs make you feel when you enter their establishments. You would also know that fun and efficient organization are not mutually exclusive.


After the parade, I urge you to have a late lunch at one of the many fine eateries in the Old Town, or take a stroll through the great selection of galleries and shops. Even during the Great Recession, Old Town grew its business community, and now that we are on the mend, it is really standing tall. One of the new businesses is May River Toys, located on Calhoun Street in one of the wings of Miss Babbie’s The Store. Proprietor Jaja Epps and husband Chris Epps seem to me to exemplify something quintessentially Bluffton in their business approach. Even before these young entrepreneurs made a nickel of profit, they donated stuffed animals for Bluffton Police cars, for any domestic violence cases that might involve small children. Friends, these young folks are our business neighbors. They get it.


Next week, it’s back to policy and politics. Preparations for the new session are well along. That said, I believe that we should be attentive to all aspects of our society, not simply our political organization. A little gratitude might even smooth over some of the rough edges of current politics. For this politician, it’s worth a try.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

Many thanks for all the good comments on my last, as well as to our friends from Jasper County who turned out for our recent legislative delegation meeting. Sometimes, our Jasper delegation meetings seem to become unfortunately and unnecessarily contentious, with issues that should have been sorted out generations ago. In my opinion, this is because some folks are just stuck in the 60s and 70s and don’t want to change. So be it. Time always cures such conflict.


I had a lot of calls about H.3290, which is the Flow Control Bill, but which has been misleadingly dubbed the Business Freedom To Choose Act by those anxious to benefit from this ill-conceived measure. The misnomer may sound pretty good, but truthfully, it doesn’t promote competition or freedom, but simply allows out-of-state concerns to bring their trash to our state rather than absorb the bother and expense of utilizing their own facilities.
If this all sounds familiar, it’s because this legislator fought a similar bill almost a decade ago, only it was nuclear waste that out-of-state concerns wanted to dump in our state. We fought it tooth and nail and finally prevailed. Friends, we are not going to allow our state to become a dumping ground for other’s waste, whether it is medical, nuclear, or household and commercial trash.


The current iteration of this boondoggle was sold to many in the legislature by claims that it only had to do with Horry County, which is patently untrue. I have tried for some time to have a conversation with the trash industry people behind this, but have met only silence. In this case, what is great for New York and New Jersey is bad for South Carolina, and particularly bad for Beaufort County.


Here’s the deal. Landfills are a somewhat necessary evil. Their locations have to be carefully chosen, their construction has to be almost perfect to avoid environmental contamination, and they have a limited lifespan. Our current landfill is in Jasper County and is less than ten years away from the end of it’s useful life. Beaufort County has no appropriate locations for landfills, so the county and municipalities are gearing up to have to haul our trash to installations farther away. If we welcome trash from all over to be trucked to our state, a supply and demand situation will dictate our disposal costs will rise, probably substantially. County and municipal budgets are all strained as it is, and we should not be raising our taxes for the convenience of New York and New Jersey.
I am not that happy with the current level of our taxation as it is, I certainly would not be for any bill that would essentially allow our tax dollars to flow to out-of-state trash haulers and landfill operators. Not surprisingly, Weston Newton and I have fought this bill, and will continue to do everything we can to kill it. One problem is that the bill is extremely convoluted, which allows the trash lobby to focus on this or that section and hope we will overlook the main thrust of the measure, which is detrimental to our state’s interests.


Before I get too worked up, I want to wish you all a great holiday. We have so much to be thankful for, living in this beautiful part of the South Carolina Lowcountry. If there is a bright side to this landfill matter, it might get us to think a little more about being careful with what we discard. Maybe recycle or compost more, or work to attract an innovative group of companies doing creative recycling, creating jobs and less need for landfills. That’s something we could all be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

Many thanks for all the good comments on last week’s column. The Waddell event and all that was said about it seems to validate my position that this state facility is of great importance to the local economy. Friends of Waddell is also a great adjunct to the facility which should allow Al Stokes and company to expand some of the offerings on the property. I’m hoping we can get some trails blazed, and perhaps some camp sites and other amenities. These will not only be a fine addition to our visitor possibilities, but they might well provide some potential revenue above what we can allocate from the state.


On the local scene, a lot seems to be about the Old Town. The election was almost a referendum on how the town has handled the quality-of-life issues raised when the bar scene cranked up this summer. Obviously this is a difficult issue and opinions are quickly hardening. This evening at 6, there will be a workshop in the auditorium of town hall to allow staff and Planning Commission to review the recently completed noise survey, as well as to solicit feedback and recommendations from the community. I hope that we will have an overflow crowd for this important meeting. The fact is that controlling noise in a historic area with older structures that may not be well insulated for sound is difficult. It is made more difficult by the level of expectation that the residents in the Historic District have with regard to, not only the noise, but the increased impact of having lots of late- night strangers wandering the streets, perhaps looking for where they may have left their cars.
Having said that, I am convinced that the more of us that participate in the conversation, the better chance we have of coming up with a good solution, or at least something that everyone will be equally unhappy with.


There was something that newly elected councilman Larry Toomer said during one of the candidate forums, something to the effect that “if we had known how loud they would be (meaning the bars), we probably wouldn’t have permitted them.” The fact is that they were permitted, and dollars have been invested because of those permits. We are just going to have to work it out. If two bars have created so much criticism and complaint, imagine four or six bars.


One of the advantages we had in designing the Promenade was that we threw it open early in the process for public comment during many, many workshops. Not only was it an opportunity for folks to throw rocks at me, it was also a chance for my team to see what people wanted, where they wanted it, and what expectations they might have about any impacts. As much as I don’t enjoy being pelted with rocks, rhetorical or otherwise, what we received in public comment was what is now referred to as crowd-source wisdom. Not only did we heed advise about our stormwater system, which is among the best in the state, but we also heard how the community wanted a place for larger crowds to gather, often for civic and charity events, and how they wanted bars and restaurants that were lively, but not a threat to public order. Even the oval configuration of the layout of buildings assured that any noise would be largely contained, like our stormwater, on the property.



Friends, please show up at the town hall tonight for the noise workshop. Remember that all of us are neighbors, who will still be neighbors long after this conflict is resolved. Please be respectful and neighborly. One day, this will all be another of those outlandish Bluffton stories, like the one where the mayor dressed up like a buzzard and rode atop the town garbage truck during the Christmas parade.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

The reports are mostly in on the 6th Annual Taste of Waddell. The fundraising aspect of the event exceeded all our expectations, while the entertainment, the educational value, and the quality of the fresh, local seafood was simply over the moon. Those of you familiar with Chef Michael Sigler and his popular Sheridan Park bistro certainly knew what was in store with his fabulous shrimp dishes. Larry and Tina Toomer’s May River oysters are always the best you have ever had.


Dr. Denson’s assessment of the local cobia fishery had all the serious cobia fishermen (and fisherwomen) just mesmerized. The cobia fishery here is almost an industry unto itself. About the only thing better than landing one of these large, athletic fish, is tackling a cobia steak just off the grill, or sitting at one of our local restaurants that once in a while have these beautiful fish on the menu. The Waddell Mariculture Center is the primary reason that we even know about this fishery. They also make certain, through their research and propagation programs, that we are able to not only possibly land one of these amazing fish, but also share it with friends and family at the supper table.



Some of you tire of me singing the praises of the Waddell Center and all they do. The fact is, that as a businessman, I look at many aspects of government in terms of return on investment. Not all aspects, but a great many. The work of my friend Al Stokes and his fellow scientists at the Waddell Center is the type of investment that Warren Buffett would buy and hold. The fact that it is a part of the government of South Carolina, under the aegis of the Department of Natural Resources, makes me proud. Many of you obviously agree, as Friends of Waddell is a large, thriving organization of folks who get the fact that without these dedicated state employees, our local fishing industry and all the ancillary businesses that benefit from their activity, would be much smaller and far less prosperous. Our return, from a state revenue standpoint, is simply far beyond Mr. Buffett’s best investment.


Many of you are aware that I relinquished the chairmanship of the Beaufort County legislative delegation when I assumed that same position in Jasper County. Senator Tom Davis is now chairman in Beaufort County. Interestingly enough, both delegations have identical seats to fill at our respective delegation meetings. On the Jasper County side, we are looking to fill the position of Veteran’s Affairs Officer. Our meeting of November 20th will, with good fortune, allow us to appoint a person to serve in this important position. In Beaufort County, we hope to appoint a veteran to serve in the same position. This appointment was made necessary by the unfortunate passing of Mr. Edward Ray. There are some criteria for this position other than veteran status. If you are interested or know someone who should be considered, please call or email me, or Senator Davis for more information.


Finally, congratulations to my pal, Larry Toomer, for his election to Bluffton Town Council. There are serious issues in the Old Town that saw seven candidates contest two seats, which in itself is somewhat unusual. Larry was by far the highest vote getter, with the next highest vote getters being both friends, Fred Hamilton and Mike Raymond, who will be tested in the run-off on November 19th. They are good men and will bring experience and wisdom to the final contested seat. I wish them good luck. We are fortunate to have what in baseball might be called a “deep bench.”

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

I have really been enjoying the lovely fall weather, and how the folks are out and about in the Old Town. Things are really happening in the neighborhood with good retail and a ton of folks looking for property, and/or places to live. We recently sold an apartment to a couple from New York who are so impressed with Bluffton, they are considering moving down full time. The phenomenon may be centered in Bluffton but it is certainly a feature of the entire Lowcountry of South Carolina. I don’t have to tell any of you that we live in a very attractive place, with more folks finding us every day.


I have been keeping limited office hours at our new Moon Mi Pizza restaurant in the Promenade. It is pleasant and I like to be able to offer an iced tea to visitors, who usually stay for lunch or dinner. As I have mentioned before, Congressman Sanford also holds his office time in Bluffton at Moon Mi whenever possible, for pretty much the same reasons. It is always gratifying to have either new locals or visitors from the Northeast comment that we have the best pizza this side of New York.


Much of the credit for that goes to my friend Mat Stone, who consistently turns out a great product at Moon Mi. In addition, he also is great at training all the local students we like to hire. Whether they are washing dishes, making the pies, or serving the customers, they get a good education from an all-around pro. I’m willing to wager that some of those well-schooled students will be our competitors in a few years. As a believer in the free market, such an outcome makes us all better, not to mention makes the Old Town consumer have more and better choices. Forgive the analogy, but the economic pie just gets bigger and we all get a better slice.


All this food talk reminds me that this coming Sunday, November 10th, from 3 to 7 p.m., is the 6th Annual Taste of Waddell. It is sponsored by the Friends of Waddell, Hilton Head Sportfishing Club, Bluffton Marine Rescue Squad, and Glidden Professional Paint Stores. Because this is such a popular event, there are only a limited number of reservations available. I have mine, and I suggest you either call Dave Harter at 785-4106, or email www.friendsofwaddell.org and get yours today.


If you are new to the area and want to know more about this world-class research facility, this is your opportunity. If you are a fisherman and want to support the outfit that makes your home waters some of the most productive in the world, you want to attend. If you are interested in keeping our rivers and estuaries healthy, and protecting all the critters, great and small, that thrive in them, you want to be at this event. Also, if you are one of those folks like me, who love to eat well-prepared local seafood, then this is the Sunday afternoon you want to be at the Waddell Mariculture Center, near the end of Sawmill Creek Road, which is across from Tanger Outlet 1, off highway 278 in Greater Bluffton.


The afternoon will also feature a presentation by Dr. Michael Denson, one of the nation’s leading cobia experts. He will speak on the state of our local cobia fishery. Also featured will be Chef Michael Sigler’s famous shrimp dishes, along with Larry and Tina Toomer, of Bluffton Oyster Company, with buckets of succulent May River oysters.
Tickets are $30, which includes everything but wine, beer and oysters.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

Bluffton lost one of its patriarchs this last week with the passing of my friend Jerry Reeves III. Jerry was a brilliant man whose business savvy brought prosperity to his family, and whose good works changed the economic and social landscape of Bluffton. In truth, it was the example of this fine man that helped me understand the crucial importance of good, decent jobs to the stability of families, which has formed the basis of much of my work in the legislature.


The Reeves’ family business, Resort Services (RSI), has provided employment for literally hundreds of our neighbors over the years. His efforts in founding and nurturing The Children’s Center has allowed his employees and many, many other parents the security of knowing their children were in a secure, safe environment during the work day. Among Jerry and Mary Reeves’ many contributions to the community, the impact of RSI and The Children’s Center is probably the most profound. Our love, gratitude and admiration for this genuinely humble and kind man will always endure.


Shifting from the inspirational to the mundane, I want to remind you that your credit monitoring, provided free of charge by the state, is moving from Experian to a new company, CS Identity Corp. This move requires that you sign up with the new company as soon as possible. You need to go to www.scidprotection.com or call 855-880-2743 and enroll in the new program.


You may remember that last year, the Department of Revenue data system was hacked. This resulted in the loss of financial and personal information of millions of individual South Carolinians and businesses. We hired Experian on something of an emergency basis as we worked through the system to assess the damage. This year, we went through our normal acquisition process to choose the contractor to provide this service. For their own reasons, Experian did not respond to our Request for Proposals, but did begin to market their services to folks on the list of people and businesses they were hired to protect. The resulting confusion resulted in literally hundreds of calls to this office, to which we patiently responded.


Again, I would like to apologize for the lack of proper security in our handling of your tax information. We fell short of the mark and we will make up for it the best way we can for as long as we can. I urge you to email or call the new contractor as soon as possible and sign up. A gap in your coverage is not a risk you want to take.


Don’t forget the 6th Annual Taste of Waddell is coming up Sunday the 10th of November from 3 to 7 p.m. A little over a week away and sure to be a big party for a good cause. Chef Mike Sigler will be cooking his signature shrimp dishes, “Admiral” Al Stokes will be conducting tours of the facility and this representative, along with Representative Weston Newton, will be on hand for some news on the upcoming session and the prospects for the Waddell Center’s financial future.


Finally, Mary and I have signed on as sponsors for the Bluffton Historical Society’s Christmas Gala at the Colcock-Teel House in Old Town Bluffton. Tamela Maxim is chairwoman of the committee putting this fabulous event together, along with Maureen Richards, Executive Director of the Heyward House. Expect excellent food by Reeves Catering, lots of fun and prizes, as well as a semi-spooky walk down the nature trail to the Oyster Factory Park. Save the date: Friday, December 13th, and remember to take out your period costume and make sure your gaiters are clean and your bustle is plumped.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

The 9th Annual Historic Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festival finished with a flourish as thousands of people mobbed the Old Town for the juried fine arts event along Calhoun St. Even with some iffy weather, the event was a roaring success. Again, we all need to give Mary O’Neill and her staff a big pat on their collective back for pulling off another stellar event.


I had the privilege of sharing a boat with my friends, County Councilman Tabor Vaux, and my statehouse colleague Representative Weston Newton. The Blessing of the Fleet was an exciting event on the opening Sunday of the festival. It was made doubly pleasurable by the fact that my good friend Al Stokes, manager of the Waddell Mariculture Center, was the honorary Admiral of the Fleet. Al is the consummate example of a high-achieving state employee, whose competence and dedication protects our state’s local waters, and by extension, makes our local fishing industry as prosperous as it is.


Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Dockmaster Chris Story from Wilson Landing for providing Palmetto Bluff’s green Hinckley power launch for our benefit. The boat was probably the most beautiful craft I have ever seen up close.
When Tabor, Weston and I get together, the conversation is usually about what we can do better for Bluffton, and Sunday afternoon was no exception. We each have active constituent service programs and talk with a lot of local folks. We mostly compare notes of what we are hearing and how the different levels of government can work most effectively together.


In high school civics, we all learned about federalism, how each level has different responsibilities and different tools to service those responsibilities. The truth is, there are multiple, overlapping jurisdictions where the state and the county share functions, or towns and counties and even property owners associations (POAs) share in different service obligations. Consequently, when Tabor, Weston and I get together, we are talking about how we can work together to achieve what the folks have requested, by coordinating the efforts of state and county. It is how we can get the most done for our respective constituents. It is why Congressman Sanford has his local meetings at my restaurant in the Promenade. Federalism is an ideal, but is flexible enough to accommodate a level of rational creativity.


One important difference between Washington and South Carolina has to do with the way we do our respective budgets. In my view, the federal government might learn from us on this one particular. In South Carolina, we are constitutionally required to have a balanced budget. We cannot run a deficit. Obviously, this is not the case with the federal government. In my view, our state has it right. We would benefit from a constitutional amendment to require a balanced federal budget, perhaps with exceptions for times of national calamity, such as world wars or economic collapse. The usual business of the federal government would benefit from the discipline of spending no more than is taken in. It would put a stop to a lot of mischief, as well as have a calming and regularizing effect on the capital markets.


I think of all the hundreds of hours I and my colleagues spend on Ways and Means Committee, doing the hard work of prioritizing our spending to conform to our revenue. I wish our federal colleagues were forced to make those decisions as well. I have said in this space that we fund what we care about, what is important to our constituents. It is hard because we only fund what we agree is most essential. The feds are currently denied the benefit of that disciple.


Perhaps, one day the wisdom of federalism will be bottom up, rather than top down.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

For those of you who called the legislative office this week and didn’t get an immediate callback, I apologize. Mary and I headed south for the week to meet our children for their Fall school break. The office fielded over 300 constituent contacts for the week, and they were just swamped. We are back and our turnaround time will be getting back to normal as we work through the backlog. As important as constituent service is to me, as well as to all the members of our delegation, family time has to be respected. Our kids are very nearly full-fledged adults and we want to enjoy every moment with them we possibly can.


This past Sunday was the kickoff for the Historic Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festival. Once again, Mary O’Neill and her crew did a fantastic job of rounding up an entire week of cool events and exhibitions for visitors and locals alike. Sunday began with the Friends of Bluffton Artists Showcase. It was a very well attended event with what appeared to me to be a ton of business being transacted. Low-key and casual does not mean amateurish art. On the contrary, it is just astounding to me that we are blessed with the number and variety of art makers and galleries in Old Town Bluffton.


The Blessing of the Fleet and the boat parade was also on Sunday afternoon. My pal, Al Stokes, the head of the Waddell Mariculture Center, was the Admiral of the Fleet. He was in the first boat, which was piloted by another good friend, Larry Toomer, who, along with his wife Tina, own and operate the Bluffton Oyster Company. Al Stokes has been such an important part of the effort to support the local fishing industry, as well as doing the science that assures the water quality in our rivers and estuaries is as good as it can be. It does my heart good to see long-time state employees, like Al, get the recognition they deserve for the superb job they do, often without the financial support from the state that would seem appropriate for such a world-class operation.


Fortunately, the Waddell Mariculture Center has been pretty much adopted by the local sport fishing community, led by Sport fishing Club president Dave Harter. Dave created an organization called “Friends of Waddell” many years ago to essentially raise private dollars for Waddell, as this representative assured that there was some meaningful state support, even during the Great Recession. Now, due to redistricting, Waddell is in the new House District 120, which is fortunately represented by my friend and colleague, Representative Weston Newton. As many of you know, Weston was the chairman of Beaufort County Council for over a decade and is intimately familiar with the profound contribution that the Waddell Center makes to the local economy and the local ecology.


What I’m leading up to is this: The primary fundraiser for the Waddell Mariculture Center is the “Taste of Waddell.” This year the event is being held on Sunday, November 10th, from 3 to 7 p.m. at the house on the high bluff overlooking the Colleton/Okatie River, inside the Waddell Center property, near the end of Sawmill Creek Road in Greater Bluffton. There will be fantastic local seafood prepared by a wonderful local chef/restauranteur, with remarks by Weston and I, having to do specifically with the state renovation dollars desperately needed by the facility. Hint: The news is good. For definitive information on the event, email Dave Harter at daveh@hargray.com. This is going to be the social highlight of the season, especially for those who care about local seafood, local fishing, or the purity of the local marine waters.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

I want to thank all of you who came out last weekend for the Beer and Brats event at the Promenade. This superb festival is the Bluffton version of Octoberfest (albeit a little early) and was attended by close to a thousand folks. It was easy to see that everyone was having a good time, enjoying our early fall afternoon, excellent food and a good and varied supply of the highlighted beverage, as well as the variety of live music. Also, I’m happy to say there was no shortage of parking, no untoward behavior, and no complaints from the neighborhood residents.


We are proud of our capability to host lively events. In fact, we planned the layout of the Promenade for just such forms of civic entertainment. Many of you may remember the numerous workshops we held to involve the community in the planning phase of our project. Many of those sessions were hardly lovefests, but in the end, the importance of the Promenade in terms of size, location and proposed uses mandated serious community input. That input is largely responsible for the fact that we can handle things as smoothly as we did with Beer and Brats.


Next week, we have another big shindig with the Bark in the Park, brought to you by the good folks putting together the much-anticipated Bluffton Dog Park. This pet-centric event will feature children and dog games, pet related vendors, pet rescue groups, live music, low-cost dog and cat vaccinations, great food, and a silent auction. All your contributions are tax deductible. You are also invited to bring your well-behaved dogs on a lease, so they can join in the fun.


Speaking of fun, we at the Promenade are about to kick-off “Fridays After Five.” We are inviting all the folks from Greater Bluffton, Hardeeville, Sun City and Hilton Head to join us for these family-friendly, end of the week celebrations. There will be bands playing music of the 60s, 70s, and 80s and the restaurants will be running Fridays After Five specials. We hope to bring our communities together in the spirit of Bluffton neighborliness. Watch this space for more details.


At least twice a year, the Bluffton contingent of your statehouse delegation meets informally with the Sun City Republican Club. For years it was your representative and Senator Tom Davis. This year, we were joined by my pal, Representative Weston Newton, as he also speaks for a part of Sun City. This year was something of a tag-team affair as at least 100 members of the club asked questions that were fielded by the one of our delegation most qualified to speak to the question. I was able to clear up some issues with our golf cart efforts, as well as some others of my projects. Tom handled constitutional issues and the questions dealing with the Senate side. There were a number of questions and suggestions dealing with ethics and transparency, which were ably answered by Weston. In fact, Representative Newton, even with his brief tenure in the statehouse, has become among the most competent and respected members of Judiciary Committee in this complex, important, and timely area of legislation.


As always, we probably learned at least as much as we imparted to the audience. I think they were impressed with the fact that their delegation had such a broad spectrum of expertise and experience. I was impressed with the quality of the questions and suggestions, as well as how much fun it is to speak before a group of politically engaged and informed residents.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

Although my last column was factually correct with regard to the information on the state funded identity theft program, I had some lingering doubts as to whether I had given the full picture of this large, ongoing project. Consequently, I had correspondence, both verbal and in writing, with members of the Ways and Means staff, Department of Revenue, and most authoritatively, with Speaker Bobby Harrell. I’m afraid it’s one of those “good news/bad news” situations.


Here’s the deal: The good news is that we have, provisionally, a new vendor for your free identity theft protection. The bad news is that the original problem is still some distance from solution. The reason is that the state has a number of databases with differing ways of securing information. We are seeking a comprehensive solution that will involve all our data. The requirement is complex and will take some time to accomplish. In the interim, we are committed to protect you from the consequences of our myriad short-term fixes that each department cobbled together. At the end of this process, we will be a modern, secure repository for the data we, of necessity, need to possess in order to do our job of accurately and fairly computing your taxes.


The good news is that the state has selected a new vendor to supply the services we have committed to. We have arrived at this decision by our normal procurement process, with all the safeguards and protections built into the system. The new vendor is CS Identity Corporation (CSID). Absent any protest during the mandatory 10-day protest period, they will become the new vendor effective October 4th.
Even if you did not sign up for the free (to you) monitoring program, you are still eligible to receive this standard coverage. You will receive the information on how to sign up for this free coverage as it becomes available.


Here are the services CSID is contractually committed to provide beginning October 24th:


1. Daily trans-union carrier monitoring
2. Change of address monitoring
3. Payday loan monitoring
4. Criminal records monitoring
5. Social Security number trace
6. Cyber monitoring
7. Sex offender monitoring
8. Child identity monitoring


In addition, and most importantly in my thinking, is a $1 million identity theft insurance policy, per person, and a full-service identity restoration service. Eligible South Carolina businesses can also sign up for free real time alerting of compromised credentials, malware instances, and monitoring of information concerning business main names, credentials and static IP addresses.


While my colleagues and I in the legislature continue to work with state agencies to establish new data security protocols, you can be assured that the protection of your data is our highest priority. As we work through this laborious process, we could use, and would appreciate, your help spreading the word that CSID is the new company providing these no-cost services to you. Please tell your neighbors and friends to look for the forthcoming sign-up information if you are not presently signed up. Also, if you are solicited by Experian, the former vendor, to sign up, please politely decline, as they will no longer be our vendor of these services. I can say this with good confidence as my information comes from the most unimpeachable source, South Carolina House of Representatives Speaker, Bobby Harrell.


Finally, please plan your family activities around the upcoming Arts and Seafood Festival from October 13-20, in and around Old Town Bluffton. Additionally, don’t forget the Taste of Waddell from 3 to 7 p.m. on November 10, at the Waddell Mariculture Center at the end of Sawmill Creek Road in Greater Bluffton.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

The Beach Sweep/River Sweep was a huge success. As always, my friend Kim Jones of the town of Bluffton was superb. Also, there were a ton of local folks, including a hug contingent from Sun City, on hand to clean up our river. This has traditionally signaled the start of a round of fall festivals in Bluffton, several of which I’d like to tell you about.


First, however, I’d like to clear up a matter that many of you have called about, which is the free credit monitoring and identity theft protection currently provided to residents of the state by a company called Experian.


In the wake of the hacking of the Department of Revenue database last year, we hired Experian to provide immediate credit monitoring and identity theft protect. This was a no-bid emergency measure designed to allow us time to evaluate our data security and put new policies in place to prevent such disasters. In continuing the safety measure, this year we issued a Request for Proposals (RFP), as part of a regular, prudent procurement process. For their own reasons, Experian did not respond to the RFP and will not be continuing as our vendor after their current contract expires at the end of this year. They have, as some of you have found, started to market their service to individuals in our state, even though they were aware we would award a contract after the competitive bidding process was complete, probably by next week. If Experian solicits you, please politely decline, as you are still covered by the free state-paid protections. There will be no lapse in your coverage, and probably some additional benefits as well. I would like to think that this is a miscommunication between the state procurement system and Experian, and not simply a company seeking to use our misfortune as a marketing ploy. Make no mistake, we did not adequately protect your data, and we will assume the cost of cleaning up the mess. I want to reiterate that it is already paid for in the current budget, and any offer you receive from a third party is redundant and unnecessary. However this shakes out, I am still a big believer in the private sector approach, but as Ronald Reagan famously put it, we must “trust but verify.”


On a more pleasant local note, we in the Promenade are hosting “Bark in the Park” on Saturday, October 12th as a fundraiser for the Bluffton Dog Park. This fun, pet-centric event will feature games for children and their pets, pet related vendors, low-cost vaccinations for cats and dogs, as well as food, music, and a silent auction. Friends, the dog park group has experienced several serious setbacks in their good efforts. I believe this event will put them back on a positive footing. Hope to see you there.


One of the signature events in Old Town Bluffton that combines two of our best things is the Arts and Seafood Festival. It is held from Sunday, the 13th of October through the following Sunday, the 20th of October. The fun begins at 11 a.m. on the first Sunday with a Friends of Bluffton Artists Showcase, a new feature that was hugely successful last year. The festival culminates the last Saturday and Sunday with a juried, fine art show on Calhoun Street with 100 artists from 10 states set up in the street. In between, there are kayak tours, a run, a tour of the Waddell Mariculture Center, a blessing of the fleet, and a host of cool happening. I personally guarantee a great week.


Finally, don’t forget the “Taste of Waddell” from 3-7 p.m. on Sunday, November 10th. There will be amazing food on the high bluff over the Colleton River, tours of the facility, and a better understand of the contribution this scientific installation plays in the preservation of the health of our waters and the vitality of our fishing and recreation industries.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

Mary and I were off last week on a little R and R. We try to stay fairly close to home because I need to be available for both family and constituent emergencies. Not too long ago, I was able to help a local resident clear up some misunderstanding with Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). A few calls on my part and the constituent had the bed they needed. There was also a problem recently with a neighbor who needed to register a used car in South Carolina, but due to the list of former owners, the usually efficient state employees at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) at Sheridan Park could not immediately get it done. I was happy to help.


It’s not that I am a miracle worker, but I do have a good idea of how state government is organized, as well as who the key people are in many of the offices. The workings of government can seem arcane and mysterious to folks who don’t often have occasion to seek information or service from the state. That is where your representative or another member of your delegation can really save you a lot of time and maybe some aggravation. It is a big part of our job, as well as being a source of great satisfaction to all of us.


When I am out of town, either on vacation or at the many legislative conferences we need to attend, our usually very timely constituent service can take a little longer than we like. Please be patient.


Returning to the local scene, I am very pleased that the upcoming Bluffton Council election is attracting so much interest and a huge number of candidates. Each of the candidates has either relevant experience or professional background to do a splendid job. It is also the appropriate venue to hash out the problems, both in the Historic District and Bluffton at large, that are the subject of so much discussion and commentary. When we talk of “redress of grievances” our electoral system offers a host of avenues to solution. I look forward to a spirited, positive campaign season and a flawless election.


Also locally, we got a number of calls and emails regarding the disease threat in the local dolphin population. We were impressed with the professionalism of the DNR’s timely reaction, as well as the response of the South Carolina Marine Mammal Stranding Network and their representative, Jennifer. Although we have not received the results of the full necropsy, Jennifer advised that those finding diseased dolphins should not touch them without rubber gloves, even if they are in distress. Also, if the animals are dead, you should not breathe the vapors coming from the carcass. These are reasonable precautions considering that the exact nature of the disease afflicting these animals is not fully known at this time.


This note of caution is very timely in that this Saturday, the 21st of September, is the 25th Annual Beach Sweep/River Sweep. We will meet at 9 a.m. at the Bluffton Oyster Factory Park and my friend Kim Jones from the Town of Bluffton will distribute bags and gloves, as well as suggest assignments. Also, those with boats and kayaks are encouraged to bring your watercraft. I hope to see you there, rain or shine. These waterways need our help and support. For more information, either call my office or Kim Jones at 706-4593 or email kjones@townofbluffton.com.


Also, remember the “Taste of Waddell” coming up November 10th from 3 to 7 at the Waddell Mariculture Center at the end of Sawmill Creek Road in Greater Bluffton.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

I appreciate your continued calls and emails on the recent matters under discussion in the column. This week, I’d like to place the politics and the various issues we are involved in under a temporary moratorium and speak to something very local and very personal to many of us.


Bottlenose dolphins are such an iconic feature of the Lowcountry, they cannot be separated from any discussion of our estuarine system or those things about our rivers that each of us feels strongly about. These majestic marine mammals seem to embody much of what we like about our rivers. They are playful, curious, and always seem to be having a good time. Any threat to these lovely creatures is something we all take very seriously.


Last Saturday, Mary and I were a little late meeting some good friends at the sandbar. When we arrived, we were met with the distressing news that a baby dolphin, obviously dead, had recently floated by the sandbar. I’d just been briefed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), that some of our local dolphins had been infected with what amounts to measles, and were likely about to suffer considerable losses. With that in mind, we call the DNR, whose officers arrived within ten minutes. They assessed the situation and asked if they could secure the carcass to our dock until they contacted NOAA and the SC Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Of course, we agreed.


The next day we were contacted by a young woman named Jennifer, who worked with the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. We learned that she had a master’s degree in marine biology from Coastal Carolina and had been with MMSN for some time. She explained that the rare disease that appeared to have infected the small dolphin was sweeping the east coast. What it might be was currently unknown but appeared to be some form of virus. She explained that there was much concern among her colleagues as the dolphins in our area tended to organize into what appeared to be family or small community groups, which would be vulnerable to the virus when or if it arrived in our estuary. This is not to say that all the dolphins exposed to the disease would die, but they would certainly be affected.
With some effort, we managed to help Jennifer get the young dolphin into the bed of her truck to be taken back to the lab for a full necropsy. She assured me that when they had definitive answers to our many questions, she would give us a full report. It goes without saying that when I have a report, you will have a full report as well.


We are, of course, distressed that these lovely mammals are in some jeopardy. If there is a bright spot, it would be that our DNR has some of the best marine scientists in the business, as well as a well developed network of government and academic resources to address this potential disaster. As it so happens, some of these scientists work at the end of Sawmill Creek Road in Greater Bluffton at the Waddell Mariculture Center, under the able leadership of my friend, Al Stokes.


In fact, the 6th Annual “Taste of Waddell” has been scheduled for Sunday, November 10th from 3-7 p.m. This is always an entertaining, informative and well-attended event put on by the “Friends of Waddell” headed up by my friend Dave Harter, who also is the president of the Hilton Head Island Sportfishing Club. For more information, please email Dave at daveh@hargray.com.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

I want to reiterate my gratitude for the many calls, emails and visits we continue to receive since my initial comments on the systemic failure of the Jasper School System. Each week, we seem to increase our number of constituent contacts relating to this important matter. However, I have to ask a favor that will help us continue to answer your calls and emails in a timely manner. If you can relay your information by email, please do so. As much as I like to have folks come by the office, sometimes we are just swamped. Much of this is, of course, my fault, as I enjoy your visits and especially hearing your take on the happenings of the day. The trouble is, we are committed to return calls and emails within 24 hours if at all possible, and my pleasure in your visits, and my occasional long-windedness makes it difficult for staff to honor our commitment to timely turnaround. Please indulge me in this.


I also want to remind everybody that as far as the legislative delegation, both for Beaufort and Jasper counties, we don’t have purview over the education department. We can hold hearings, we can reform the electoral process, but we cannot mandate that this or that local official be hired or fired. Those are matters of local control and that is the way it should be. That said, we are there to listen, we can also express our opinions, but the local officials are tasked with hiring and firing.


With all that on the table, I must say we in the delegation are profoundly impressed with the way the parents and the other residents of Jasper County have met the challenge of responding to the latest ratings of the local school district. There comes a time when excuses and rationalizations just don’t cut it. I will say this: If you think Jasper County schools are doing a good job, then you shouldn’t complain. If you think that graduates of Jasper County schools are finding and keeping good, family-supporting jobs, there is no need to ask any hard questions. If you think the pool of potential workers is helping to attract new jobs to Jasper County, then you should be happy with the status quo. However, if you see the chronic unemployment, the year-after-year economic malaise with no change in sight, and still think the schools are doing a good job, then perhaps you are part of the problem.


As the local Bluffton Council race heats up, especially with quality of life issues in the Historic District looking to be the primary issue, I’d like to offer this observation: the Promenade was designed with lively entertainment in mind. We have zero complaints because all the stakeholders have signed on to our bars and restaurants having reasonable levels of music and spirited conversation, that perhaps the Historic District residents might find a little much. I know there is a way we can accommodate a wide spectrum of entertainment options if we listen to the folks. The town has established a mixed-use district that worked for years because it pre-supposed that all residents and businesses would strive to be good neighbors. When that social agreement breaks down, the magic quickly drains out, to be replaced by acrimony and ill will.


At the risk of seeming self-serving, we designed the Promenade not to mimic the Historic District, but to complement it. We can provide that which might not be entirely suitable for our neighbors to the South. I offer this observation in the spirit of maintaining the interesting, diverse, and economically prosperous little village we all love so well.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

I want to thank the many of you who called and emailed regarding the Jasper School System. There were a number of calls about the Beaufort County School District but, in my view, we need to compare apples to apples and treat what we are seeing in Jasper County as something of an emergency, with all that that status implies. Calling me is one thing, but to truly execute the proper change, you must be on the phone or on the street corner with your School Board representative. You need to call the State Superintendent of Education, Mick Zais (803-734-5800), or the Governor’s office (803-734-2100). Each class that cycles out of a failing school or school system will cost us all dearly. That said, the most profound costs of this failure are paid by those who leave these schools without the tools to achieve success in our increasingly competitive world.


In order to assess our choices of what we might recommend, Rep. Newton and I will meet with Dr. Zais the first week of September. Given the degree and duration of failure, one of the choices will be a state takeover of the system. While this is an option, I feel it should only be the most extreme last resort. My reasons for this have to do with the fact of I believe the parents in Jasper County should be afforded the opportunity to take responsibility for moving their elected officials to reform their system. The more direct the lines of accountability, the better. If the local elected officials are found wanting, there is an electoral remedy. Only if the local stakeholders are incapable or refuse to productively address the issue, then and only then, should there be consideration of intervention. I firmly believe that the parents and other residents of Jasper County, if presented with a clear choice, will do what it takes to make certain their children receive the education they deserve.


In a different but somewhat related area, this representative, along with Rep. Newton, Sen. Davis and Sen. Pinckney, met with Jasper County Council for the latest update on the Jasper Port situation. A group of well-regarded consultants has been examining this issue for some time. Their findings were both enlightening and alarming. They were alarming when taken in a context of the infrastructure deficits we are currently facing with both highway and rail construction. In a mere 14 years, it is conservatively projected that the ports of both Savannah and Charleston will be over capacity. In 27 years, it is projected that the ports of Savannah, Charleston, and the still un-built Jasper Port will all be at or over capacity. Still, we allow parochial concerns to stall the new port, as well as delay the supporting infrastructure.


Perhaps the most startling projection delivered at the meeting was the fact that by 2040, assuming all three ports are operational, there will be around 240,000 jobs directly or indirectly associated with our Georgia and South Carolina ports. Our area of the coast is uniquely situated to take advantage of industries either locating or moving to this relatively snow-free part of the country. On paper, we should be the center of the economic universe.


Unfortunately, we are still arguing over who pays for the new bridge over the Back River. We are facing legislative resistance to bringing our state’s Interstate Highways up to a decent standard. Perhaps most sadly, we are in an emergency situation because the school system near the heart of all this potential prosperity cannot figure out how to teach reading, writing, and basic arithmetic.


Friends, we have some decisions to make. Do we allow our historical limitations and little arguments to consign us to eventual irrelevance? Or, do we forge the agreements and make the investments that will lead to a brighter and more prosperous future? We do have a choice.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

All I can say is “Wow.” The amount of feedback we received in favor of a better Jasper County School System was absolutely incredible. Last Wednesday when we got into the office, the phone was ringing and the computers were loaded with emails, all expressing gratitude for speaking the words that seemed to be on everyone’s minds. The dam broke that had been holding back all the disappointment, outrage and frustration with the arrogance, stonewalling and failure within and about the school district, and just flowed out. Folks understand at the deepest level the connection between a failing school system and the persistence of the historic cycle of poverty and all that entails.


We received calls from all around the Lowcountry as far up the road as Walterboro. I never really understood how many folks read the column, or how much they need to feel like someone gets the fact that the lives of their children will not improve until they have access to the kind of schools that prepare them for good jobs and good lives.


As many of you know, there was a rally at Turpin Park in Ridgeland last Saturday. There were many good people at the event who were concerned that unless they came together and demanded a positive change, the intractable status quo would carry on, and nothing of consequence would change—ever. I am always heartened when there is a significant fraction of folks who decide to become the change that will lift up their communities. Every volunteer should be welcomed. Every effort should be made, until we see a jammed parking lot at every parent/teacher night at every school. This representative will continue to report on this important situation as it unfolds.


While it is still blistering hot, at least for a few more weeks, there is a lot politically happening in our community. My friend, Congressman Mark Sanford held court for several hours at Moon Mi Pizza last week. Some folks remember only the untoward parts of Mark’s recent history, but the Congressman and I had a good relationship when he was governor and now that he is our man in Washington, I want to continue that productive partnership. If you need to speak with our congressman, either call me at 757-7900 or local Sanford staffers Carri Fuge or Chris Steele at 843-521-2530, and we will see if we can get you on the schedule.


Also, I was happy to learn that my pal Mike Raymond has filed to run for re-election to Bluffton Town Council. As you probably know, there are some issues being hashed out in the Old Town, with excessive noise, illegal parking, and assorted bad behaviors among them. Mike, in my view, is a levelheaded fellow who will add a lot to the discussion.


My friend and colleague, Weston Newton, recently returned from a state legislator’s conference in Chicago. I am very interested to hear what he learned. Fortunately, Weston and my pal Andy Patrick (R-Hilton Head) and I will be carpooling to the Republican Caucus meeting in Greenville next week. I have no doubt that Andy and I will benefit from Weston’s conference experience as we make the drive to the Upstate. The caucus meeting will enable us, along with Rep. Shannon Erickson, to present a united and coherent agenda for the benefit of our individual constituents, as well as the general good of our state, as we reconvene the session on the second Tuesday of the New Year.


Finally, next week we will roll out some cool stuff about to begin toward the end of September that will interest the business community in Greater Bluffton.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

Thanks to all the people who called about my columns on local business creativity and success. We have managed to find the balance between a good business environment and a great place to live. This summer has not only been the most productive in a very long time but we also included a large number of summer jobs for younger folks, including our children. Many of these summer jobs will morph into part-time employment, as school gets under way.


Speaking of schools, we received the latest school report cards for the various school systems. As chairman of the Jasper County delegation, I am chagrined but not surprised that once again, the Jasper County School District received an “F” for every school and the district as a whole. This was not just a nearly passing grade that fell slightly below the line; it was the lowest in the state.


Admittedly, there were some political problems with the Election Commission that may have been an indirect part of the problem, but the delegation instituted a good reform that should at least allow for a fairer school board election next time around. We also had some unsettling revelations during public comment, concerning the perception of an atmosphere of fear and intimidation within the school district. Given an opportunity to explain, the district superintendent and her crew chose instead to try and make it a racial issue.


Those who know me, know that I grew up in a household with half a dozen brothers, as well as, over the years, at least twenty-five foster brothers and sisters of every size, shape, race or creed. Automatically dropping the race card doesn’t play with me. We simply put it back in the deck and start over. Also, if your intent is to intimidate, you might as well pack a lunch, because you are in for a wait. What cannot wait is for the Jasper County School Board to do what should have been done already, which is to replace Superintendent Vashti Washington.


Two years of excuses do not excuse, or explain such a dramatic, dispiriting and intolerable record of failure. I have heard the dozens of calls and read the emails of frustrated and fed up parents who are simply furious that their children cannot receive a decent education in the public schools their taxes support. Those who can afford private school have long since gone, and grudgingly accept what amounts to double taxation.


Consequently, I am calling on the parents of Jasper County to contact the members of their school board and demand a change. Call the Secretary of Education, Dr. Zais (803-734-5800). Call the governor’s office (803-734-2100). Write letters to the papers that detail the litany of grievances so that every voter will demand reform of this failing school system.


Friends, I talk a lot in this column about the importance of jobs and job creation-- about how good jobs support stable families and wholesome communities. This presupposes that potential workers can read, write a sentence, do basic arithmetic, and have the social skills that will allow them to be trained as productive employees. These are the very skills that are not being successfully taught in Jasper County.


We have a vast, and largely untapped resource in Sun City. The number of folks who are willing to mentor, to tutor, to provide the models for successful livelihoods and lives is virtually unlimited. They need to be welcomed and incorporated by a forward-looking school district. We don’t have a single minute or a single person to waste.


Finally, this legislator challenges any who would accept this failure and its inevitable consequences. Our children look to us for the tools to build a good life. The least useful of tools are excuses. It’s time for change.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

It was busy in Old Town Bluffton this week. Along with the usual influx of visitors and local customers, we also had the groundbreaking for the new Corner Perk in the Promenade. Josh Cook and his lovely wife, Kali, have been planning this project for a couple of years and it’s about to come to fruition. The new Corner Perk is going up at the corner of May River Road and the extension of Calhoun St. in the very southern part of the Promenade.


Most folks know Josh as the purveyor of great coffee, good food, and a fierce dedication to the idea of Bluffton community and culture. The first Corner Perk was a small, out-of-the-way place, which nonetheless became something of a cultural hub and meeting place for morning bicyclists, study groups, and civic gatherings. Josh is also the originator of a well-received series of innovative “Love Bluffton, Buy Local” posters.


The new building and new business are the very essence of local Bluffton. The plan for the attractive 2800 square foot, two story Lowcountry structure was drawn by James Atkins of local Bluffton architecture and planning firm, Court Atkins. The financing was by the great team at Palmetto State Bank, which is about a seven iron shot from the new building. When my friend Josh says “buy local” he means it.


I am personally pleased that these good folks and this excellent business idea are a part of both the Promenade and the Old Town Bluffton family. I imagine in a couple of years, this Corner Perk will be the flagship of a franchise entity, serving locals in various parts of the country. The combination of great idea and creative, energetic ownership is just about unbeatable.


Another highly motivated person working for the future of Bluffton is my friend, Kathy Corley. Dr. Corley is the principal of Red Cedar Elementary School, just on the outskirts of Old Town Bluffton. Whether you have children in school, or are just concerned about the future of our culture and our country, I urge you to call or email Kathy and set up a time to visit the school for a tour. Not only will you be impressed with the school, the teachers, and the level of organization, you will understand that these folks are serious about each of the children in their charge. You will also be impressed with the non-nonsense dedication of the principal and her way of getting the best out of her faculty, staff and students. The emphasis here is not to just pass on these children to the next grade, but to prepare them to be good students and good citizens, with a strong future twenty or twenty-five years down the road.


So call Principal Corley at 843-707-0604 or email her at Kathy.corley@beaufort.k12.sc.us and make your appointment. That said, you may be asked to volunteer in any way that you feel you can make a positive difference at Red Cedar Elementary. If you have an extra hour or two a week, and you really want to pass on a little of what you have learned in your life, or if you want to contribute to the success and prosperity of your community, join Dr. Corley in this good work. You may find you get back way more than you give.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

We have experienced a major uptick in activity at the office the last few weeks. One of the areas having the biggest increase is the number of applications for Notary Public. We usually have 10 or 15 a week, but the numbers have been up around 60 for the last several weeks. My speculation is that this is connected to the revival in the real estate sector.


The processing of Notary applications is one of the legacy functions of the delegation, dating to the time before home rule when many of the functions of local government were handled by the legislative delegation. We take the applications, along with the $25 filing fee, verify the information through a fairly complicated but thorough inspection, then pass them along to the office of the Secretary of State. Over my years as head of the delegation, we have worked out a very efficient system to place the verified applications with the Secretary of State with a minimum of delay and a maximum of accuracy. Our delegation office has a stellar reputation with not only constituents, but also the state offices with whom they routinely communicate.


At this writing, we are still planning a meeting with both Beaufort and Jasper County delegations, along with the governing board of the Academy of Career Excellence (ACE), with an eye toward its governance and funding, and possibly to take a look at the direction in which this institution might need to proceed.


In older times, ACE would have been known as a trade school. It is where young people, for the most part, go to learn a trade. While there is still some validity to that definition, the fact is that most trades are now so technical, much of what is taught at ACE is highly technical, bearing no resemblance to trade schools as they used to be. When we can finally get our meeting organized, I will give you an update on how this valuable job-filling resource is progressing.


Turning to Bluffton events and business, we are experiencing a surge in building in the Promenade. The new Moon Mi Pizza is hitting stride with a good number of regular customers. Wells and his crew are turning out some serious pies for folks who know what pizza should be about. Within a week or two we will have whole grain and gluten-free pizza doughs, as well as some new, very creative chicken dishes.


With the addition of the upscale dress shop Chica’s and Danielle’s fabulous Salon Karma to the Promenade family, weddings and showers are becoming a big part of the local offering. This is complemented by the fact that the mysterious Midnight Baker is finally permanent in the upper section of the neighborhood.


Finally, I want to say a few words about a fairly new business in Bluffton over in Bluffton Village. It is the Village Pasta Shoppe, owned and operated by Connie Rockwell. Connie does a great business in frozen pastas, breads, and specialty Italian spices and condiments. Some of her Sun City customers asked about some low salt versions of her great products. Connie got with her suppliers and came up with no-added-salt ingredients for sauces and toppings, which she adjusted to maintain proper taste and balance. Get on her email list, and when a batch of the low-salt fare is available, get yours.


Friends, I am a businessman, not an economist. That said, these business stories illustrate how the market responds to demand. In Bluffton, we take time to chat with our customers. We listen to what they want and how they want it. A good conversation with a potential customer is worth a hundred market surveys. In Bluffton, we prove it every day.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

I continue to get a lot of calls from our friends over in Sun City regarding the gambling legislation. I am happy to report that this representative is working on the matter, with the able and necessary collaboration of Chief Keel of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), the Attorney General’s office, Senator Tom Davis and Representative Weston Newton. The substance of our work is a set of definitions that allow the type of harmless social activity we have been asked to allow, while not opening the door, even a crack, to admit the proponents of pernicious “video poker” type activity.


If we are to judge by a recent editorial in a local newspaper, a bill to allow ladies at the country club to have a glass of wine while playing Canasta, Hearts or even Go fish would somehow be a pathway for the clever legal minds of the industrial gambling complex to reinstate the dreaded video poker. I have even gotten two emails agreeing that the danger is just too great to chance it. We must endure what all agree is silliness in order to protect ourselves from this horrific specter.


By contrast, we have received, in total, several hundred calls, emails and notes stating that silliness is silliness and they want it to stop.


My take on this is that we can, in concert with the exceptional minds referenced above, come up with a good bill, with proper definitions, to allow card or dice games to coexist with alcohol in appropriate settings, without irrational fear that the world will end. It is an issue, in my view, of freedom. Playing the video gambling card, while rhetorically effective, should not justify 19th century mores, and law, for 21st century citizens.


Continuing in matters of interest to Sun City, My pal Weston Newton and I were guests of Tom Favor in the studio of Sun City Television. We did a two-part series answering questions on the first half of the 2013-2014 legislative session. We got to visit with my friend Marty Caprillian, as well as enjoy the famous Sun City hospitality. I hope you will make an effort to catch the programs as they give you some interesting insight into what happened this go-round in Columbia and what you can expect when we reconvene in January of 2014.


Another interesting insight that you might glean is how your two statehouse representatives embody different, yet complementary styles of law-making. I tend to be interested in the broad strokes of government, how we balance the needs of the commonality with the freedoms of the individual. My friend Weston Newton has a somewhat different perspective, probably because he has, for the last ten years, been intimately involved in the particulars of building roads, the details of environmental protection, and unfortunately, making the best of some of the less than stellar lawmaking that has come down from Columbia. As an attorney, he reads every word of every bill, and is the person who knows exactly where the devil is in the details of any bill.


As you know, predictions in the political business are rarely a good idea. But I predicted that Weston was the missing piece to our delegation and he has proven to be exactly that. I am not the only one impressed by Weston Newton. He makes your delegation stronger, more effective, and more likely to support legislation that is well constructed, and less likely to contain unintended features. It is the perfect complement to my experience, seniority, and positioning.


Next week, I want to return to local issues, as well as make a few comments on the job producing aspects of the Beaufort Jasper Academy for Career Excellence.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

Thanks to all who called or emailed comments, questions and suggestions on last week’s column. I am always gratified that so many folks out there are paying attention to what’s happening in our state and to the thoughts and information I share with you every week in this space. We have evolved a good working partnership that is greatly benefiting the residents of District 118.


I had several questions from people interested in possibly running for office. I am always excited by the prospect of having more folks involved in the political process, and running for elective office is the highest form of that involvement. That said, I would urge those with the desire to become involved to first volunteer for one of the many boards and commissions in need of serious and committed participants. Whether on the municipal, county, or state level, there are always a number of openings for those wishing to serve. Not only will you get valuable experience in the mechanics of government, your efforts will fill the important gap between professional staff and the elected decision-makers. For town boards, call the Town Secretary at the Town of Bluffton or Town of Hardeeville. For openings at Beaufort County or Jasper County, call the office of County Secretary. And for state openings, call my office at 757-7900. It may be the most important call you make this year.


The reason several of you wanted to talk about elective office was the debacle we experienced last time around when hundreds of qualified candidates were removed from the ballot. While anger is a legitimate reason to run for office, in my view, a better reason might be simply a willingness to serve your community. Also, no amount of anger will get you through a five-hour budget meeting.


Running on a platform of electoral reform might also be a little late in that early in the current session, we amended the process to eliminate the sources of miscommunication and ambiguity that were the cause of the unfortunate ballot removals. To that end, current law mandates that all the necessary filings and attestations and payment of necessary fees be done at specified government offices. The role of the parties is no longer required. In addition, statements of economic interest are no longer under election law, but are the province of ethics law, which is appropriate.


One of the big issues we are likely to face as we reconvene in January will be our glaring deficits in transportation infrastructure. Our roads and bridges have been neglected for so long, they have become an impediment to the pace of economic development, not to mention a source of potential peril to those who drive on those roads and bridges. Although our long-term infrastructure liability has been estimated at just shy of $30 billion, we managed to make a small down payment this session. It is also, in my view, a gesture of good faith and the seriousness with which we regard this problem.


We allocated $150 million toward transportation and infrastructure improvements--$100 million recurring and $50 million non-recurring. The House eliminated all the fees and taxes, both state and local, that were proposed by the Senate Finance Committee. The Department of Transportation (DOT) will use $50 million recurring General Funds to replace the supplemental funds that can be instead directed to the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) to bond $500 million for bridge and interstate projects. We have also directed half of the state sales tax on cars, some $83 million, to the maintenance and repair of secondary roads.


Relative to the very large $29 billion bucket, it’s only a drop, but it is a good beginning.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

The 4th of July holiday in Bluffton was, as always, spectacular in every way. The river and sandbar were filled with boaters and mostly well-behaved folks whose boats flew more than a few celebratory flags. The weather was what we expect, with a hit or miss showers here and there. The prevailing attitude was gratitude for living in the greatest country on the planet, as well as being fortunate enough to have found our little jewel of the Lowcountry. Life is good.


The office was a bit crazy with the number of constituent contacts soaring well about the 275 or so average weekly calls and emails we usually receive. The vetoes accounted for a lot of the calls, as did the necessity to explain the whole matter of DHEC and the Certificate of Need Program. We have a somewhat older population in District 118, and there is a lot of interest in how our health care is to be delivered. I will have some comments on the CON program as its trajectory becomes clearer.


There was also a lot of interest in the early voting legislation. We have created a program where you can vote up to nine days before the election, excluding Sundays. Each county must establish one early voting center, which is supervised by Election Commission employees and located in a public building in the county seat or another centrally located place. This legislation requires that the election be conducted on one of the following days: second Tuesday in March; second Tuesday in June; second Tuesday in September; or the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Also, fusion voting is no longer allowed. That means you cannot be on the ticket for more than one party.


Although the Senate did not pass ethics reform, I think it is important to know that the House put in a great deal of good work on this important issue, and passed a strong bill which will be the starting point as we reconvene in January. It is important to know that your delegation was in the leadership on this, with my colleague and friend, Rep. Weston Newton emerging as the voice of common sense on Judiciary Committee.


Another forward-looking feature of the last session was our directing $83 million of automobile sales tax revenue to the Department of Transportation, in a good faith effort to begin the long haul of bringing our state’s roads and bridges up to a good standard by addressing long-deferred maintenance. Those dollars from this pot now directed to the Education Improvement Act (EIA) mandate are not affected.


While I don’t usually get a lot of calls from younger folks, this week was something of an exception. There is a lot of interest from young people now that we have passed a measure where you are allowed to show proof of insurance on a mobile device, not unlike showing a boarding pass at the airport on your I-phone or other mobile device. State government is rarely on the cutting edge of new technology, but in this area, we are making some progress. This is one of my reasons for encouraging younger people to become a part of the political process. While many of us have learned to be semi-competent in the newer technologies, younger folks have grown up with these devices just being a regular part of life. The enormous data hack at the Department of Revenue was a kind of rude awakening to the necessity of taking these things seriously.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

This last week was a tough veto session at the statehouse. We saved what we could and really did pretty well. Probably the strongest up side was that folks who were paying attention to our local legislative issues got a pretty good idea of what we are confronting in terms of the governor and her often indecipherable motives for her vetoes. On the one hand, we are supposed to be about economic development and job creation, and on the other, we get consistent vetoes on a stellar state asset like the Waddell Center.


Even those who don’t follow these things too closely are aware of what Waddell does and the hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars worth of economic activity it supports. This is discounting the quality of life issues residing in the water quality research done by these hard-working state employees. I love my state and am a strong believer in our political process, but sometimes I am simply at a loss to explain how we seem to want to serve certain political abstractions at the detriment to those things that actually work for us. When I placed the line-item veto of the Waddell operations dollars before the House, we overrode the veto by the largest margin of any of the overrides. Senator Tom Davis did his part in the Senate and Waddell is still in business and Al Stokes and his crew will carry on their mission.


With the current dollars in hand, we are going to begin repairs at Waddell. We are going to make it safe, bring the electrical up to code, fix the ponds, fix the roofs, and make absolutely certain that none of our employees or visitors are put at risk by the fact of a thirty-year-old facility, starved of maintenance dollars, is an imperfect work environment. Rep. Newton and I have pledged that we will secure the appropriate renovation funding when we reconvene in January.


My thanks to the many of you, including Jimmy McIntire, Dave Harter, head of the HHI Sportfishing Club, Collins Doughtie, columnist, and all the others who called and emailed to help my legislative colleagues understand the extent of local support for this productive installation of the SC Department of Natural Resources.


The budget process was somewhat kinder to the parity funding for USCB. Although we are still somewhat below complete parity with other USC students around the state, the efforts of Chancellor Jane Upshaw, Vice Chancellor Lynn McGee, and USC President Harris Pastides, made a huge impression on the General Assembly. We will resume this good work on the second Tuesday of January.


We will carry over a few bills of local concern to the second part of our two-year session. The golf cart bill will be passed next time. It makes sense for Sun City and for our neighbors on Daufuskie Island and for all those around the state in similar circumstances. The reform of the gaming statutes will continue as we make our laws congruent with other forward-looking states that see little harm in playing cribbage or dominoes while drinking a glass of wine.


On a more serious note, our failure to enact meaningful ethics reform was a huge disappointment--same for the failure to reform the FOIA regime. The good news here is that my colleague and friend, Rep. Weston Newton has emerged as the voice of responsibility with regard to these matters on Judiciary Committee. His commonsense contribution to the process will ensure that when ethics reform does pass, it will be real reform, not simply optical change.

Friday, June 28, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

Many thanks to fellow columnist, Babbie Guscio, for her nice piece on the efforts of my wife, Mary, in creating a visually interesting interior to our new Moon Mi Pizza. I don’t know if it was the painted pie pans, but something certainly kicked off the fantastic initial response to our latest Promenade offering. We are grateful also to the good folks who came by and shared summer work stories with us, as well as enjoyed a well made and cheerfully served pie. Locals serving locals a quality product is always a good deal.


The budget conference, as far as we are concerned, is a mixed bag. We did well on the parity funding for our local college, USCB. There is some room for further improvement but your delegation worked with Chancellor Jane Upshaw and Vice Chancellor Lynn McGee and brought our per student funding up to parity with most other branches. Dr. Upshaw and Dr. McGee were pleased with the progress, but are ready to carry on when we reconvene in January. I have committed to the Chancellor and to our students that full parity is the goal, and we will not rest until all our students are valued as highly as those in Union or Columbia.


Waddell is also a work in progress. We passed the line-item for operations, but only a portion of the renovation dollars. The reasons had to do with the scope of the work as well as the distribution of the total budget. Rep. Newton and I have promised our friend, Al Stokes, Waddell manager, that we would put on the full court press for the remainder of the renovation funding when we reconvene in January.


The Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management, chaired by my friend Wes Jones, finished the first draft of our report in January. We had a 30-day comment period and presented to the DHEC board in April. You can read the final report at: www.scdhec.gov/environment/ocrm/blue_ribbon.htm. It is a pretty good read and speaks to many of the issues we are confronted with as we try to balance the rights of property owners and the common good, in this time of rising sea levels and more damaging storms.


While DHEC/OCRM and DNR are working to preserve and enhance our water quality and protect our fishing industry, there is a local business on Burnt Church Road that is helping us fishermen and boaters get the best out of our time on the water. Bluffton Marine Sports and Supply is owned and operated by my friend Aaron Dowell and aided in the summers by his wife, Jan, who is an AP Calculus teacher at Hilton Head Prep. Aaron is the go-to guy for bait and tackle, as well as rigging advice when you are serious about your fishing. These young entrepreneurs work hard and deserve their success. Stop by Bluffton Marine Sports and Supply on the way to the river. You will be impressed.


The 4th of July is coming up, and for my family, that always means barbeque. Since my buddy Ted Huffman, of Bluffton Barbeque, makes better barbeque than I could ever dream of making, he is always a part of our holiday. He, and wife Donna (publisher of Bluffton Breeze) are our business neighbors, on the same street as Captain Woody’s and Margie Fox’s Garden Gate. Interestingly, we are all located on State of Mind Street. It says just about everything you need to know about business in Old Town Bluffton.


Next week, I’ll have a few comments about Beaufort County’s recent acquisition of Pinckney Point.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

As always, I appreciate your calls and emails on last week’s column. I also got at least another hundred or so calls on the Waddell situation. This thing has really hit a nerve with folks who cannot fathom how the maintenance of such a dramatically well-performing asset such as Waddell is not a slam-dunk. It also seems to be resonating with people who see the parallel with our roads and bridges, especially considering the plan to essentially divert general fund dollars to the Infrastructure Bank in a tepid effort to address our looming $30 billion transportation shortfall. While I don’t think the analogy is entirely apt, I believe we should get serious about our roads and bridges before we reconvene in January. There should be some real proposals on the table for debate when we return.


As far as Waddell is concerned, at this writing, the conference committee is still working over the budget. Your delegation members are making calls and trying to be certain that this thing doesn’t fail because of lack of information or effort. In fact, on the last day of session, the speaker turned us loose early to avoid the tropical storm. Even so, Rep. Weston Newton and Sen. Tom Davis remained in Columbia long enough to make and distribute copies of the House budget page detailing the Waddell renovation funding to their respective colleagues on the committee.


Events around the Old Town this weekend were another indicator that Bluffton is becoming the center of the universe, at least as far as civic pride and big fun are concerned. The Friday Blues and Brews fundraiser for Palmetto Animal League at the Oyster Factory was absolutely packed with locals and visitors. A perfect evening for well-behaved people and animals.


The third annual Shag and Drag on Calhoun St. and inside the Promenade was another over-the-top success. Saturday afternoon, Calhoun St. was lined with cool cars and car folks. The party moved to the Promenade in the early evening with music from City Lights that had the hundreds of revelers literally dancing in the streets. The combination of open space, interesting commercial buildings topped with stylish residential lofts has become even better than we imagined years ago. The parking and pedestrian flows accommodated the crowd easily, leaving merchants and fun-seekers alike enjoying a productive and entertaining evening.


This weekend also marked the opening of the newest Promenade offering: Moon Mi Pizza. The reviews have been fantastic as any potential production glitches were worked out long before the doors opened. We are also proud of the fact that this is a local operation, managed by local folks, and providing full and part-time employment for 22 to 25 of your neighbors. Managed by Brandon Hughes, with back end by Matt Stone and Harlan Kendrick, Moon Mi Pizza features summer helpers Shelby and Cole Herbkersman, as well as a California transplant, Christian Quick.


We enjoyed all the big smiles and the good comments from our first several hundred customers. In addition, there is something about creating jobs for local people that goes beyond simply numbers on a P and L statement. My brothers and I were all expected to get and do well at summer jobs each year from high school until we finished our education. I can tell you we got a lot more out of it than a paycheck. When I see these cheerful, competent young folks learning the rudiments of business success, I feel good. Knowing that among them are our two beautiful children, makes Mary and I feel great.