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.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

As the session comes to a close, I will begin to recap what was accomplished, what was carried over until next year, and what each is likely to mean. This will take a few columns, as I try to intersperse local items of interest into the mix. A steady diet of legislative detail is not in the best interest of steady readership.


If there was anything on our legislative agenda this session that might qualify as an emergency, it had to do with the reforms to our electoral system. We all remember the removal of hundreds of qualified and motivated candidates from the ballots last time around. It was truly a political debacle, which will impact elected councils for years to come. This procedural fiasco diminished the quality and the integrity of the system we use to choose our leaders, as well as having the appearance of an incumbent protection scheme. The error was so egregious; the necessity for reform was accepted across the political spectrum. The proof is that we actually passed and sent to the governor, a bipartisan, common-sense bill that she could sign. And we did it in an appropriately timely manner.


The reform removes the filing of statements of economic interest from election law and places it under ethics law. It applies to both incumbents and new candidates alike. The procedure for county candidates was also completely revised by the legislation so that involvement of party officials was no longer required. All necessary filings, attestations, and paying of fees are now conducted through government offices. The law also revises the rules parties must follow to nominate candidates by convention.


The general rationale we followed in this reform was that the fewer obstacles candidates face to get on the ballot, the better. By comparison, the new system is far superior to the old, both in terms of simplicity and fairness. That said, I personally believe the parties have a legitimate role in vetting candidates seeking to run under that party’s banner. My experience has been that party officials, in Beaufort County at least, have historically been well informed and very helpful in these matters.


In response to your wishes, we have also put together the first official early voting program for our state. H.3176 mandates that each county must establish one early voting center, which must be supervised by election commission employees and located in a public building within the county seat or centrally located in the county. The early voting period is nine days, excluding Sundays, before the election. The legislation also stipulates that election be held on the following days: the second Tuesday in March; the second Tuesday in June; the second Tuesday in September; or the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. It also ends the practice of fusion voting, which is running for office under two or more parties, depending on how many may have nominated you.


On a more social note, Shag and Drag is back for its third annual iteration in Old Town Bluffton, this coming Saturday, June 15th. Beginning around 4 pm on Calhoun Street, there will be a free classic car show where you can get up close with all those cool cars you wished for as a teenager. From 6 to 9, the action moves to the Promenade for dancing and toe-tapping to the music of City Lights, a show band from Columbia playing the best of rhythm and blues, rock and roll, and beach music. Please join Mary and I, along with a few thousand of our closest friends, for this fun evening. To reserve a table, call 815-2472. Summer fun in Old Town Bluffton!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Topday

This is the time, late in session, where we in the House have to hash out several matters with our friends over in the Senate. Like last year, we may end with an extended stay in Columbia to get things squared away. One of those unresolved matters, at the time of this writing, has to do with the renovation funding for the Waddell Mariculture Center in Greater Bluffton. This legislator was instrumental in assessing the needs at Waddell, which are extensive, as well as negotiating with my colleagues on Ways and Means to determine the lowest prudent appropriation where these needs could be met.


This is by no means an extravagant renovation. It has more to do with keeping the ceiling from falling on staff or visitors or making sure we don’t lose valuable research or a million cobia fry because of the failure of an ancient pump. It was a disappointment when the Senate version of the budget did not include those absolutely essential dollars to support the viability of this high performing state asset. It will go to conference committee and get sorted out. I am guardedly optimistic but the workings of the Senate are often hard to fathom.


Constant readers of this column know that Waddell has been a project of mine for over a decade. We have cobbled together funding from various sources over the years to keep Al Stokes and his crew in business. This is important because what they do is one of the key economic drivers of our local economy both because it supports fishery-based livelihoods, and because their research helps to protect the local waters from a host of threats. We have managed to get their operational budget line-item status, but the physical plant is just falling apart. The renovation may mean the difference between continuing to perform their vital mission or scaling back or maybe packing it in. Local folks, including your delegation, realize this is an important challenge that must be met.


Imagine my surprise as a local columnist urged readers to call or write me, or members of the delegation, to express concern over this potential disaster. Now, I know the columnist to be a good fellow, a good writer, and a good fisherman to boot. But to suggest that your representative was not sufficiently motivated over Waddell is simply wrong. It is doubly wrong to suggest that hearing from properly outraged residents would somehow ameliorate the situation. In fact, I had almost 70 calls and emails from people who took the aforementioned columnist seriously and wanted action, or from folks who were confused at my apparent turnaround. Bad advice is easy to give, but it cost me a lot of time and aggravation to clear up. I would be more upset if I didn’t know that his heart was in the right place. When the conference committee is appointed, you will then have some senators to call.


Finally, I want to express my thanks to friends Jimmy McIntire and Dave Harter for publishing letters to the editor indicating my strong and long-standing support for Waddell. Jimmy is a vocal and well-informed advocate for our waters and Dave is the president of the Hilton Head Sportfishing Club as well as past chairman of the board of Friends of the Rivers.


A note to my good friend, Karen Heitman of Sun City: Last week, Ways and Means had its first-ever hearing on the South Carolina Fair Tax. When you finally get finished in the garden, pop the cork on that bubbly.