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,

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.