Wednesday, September 17, 2014

From the House

Bluffton Today

Thanks to all for the great responses to last week’s column. With all the sound and fury recently about economic development, and how we need to be prepared to put up vast sums of taxpayer dollars to attract good local jobs, I think it is important to offer an example of job creation done in a more traditional way. Not to say that incentives don’t have a place, but for me, the greatest incentives for entrepreneurs to locate or relocate to Beaufort County are our quality of life, our educational assets, and the fact that so many people are moving here and bringing their skills and education with them. With that in mind, we may need to begin retooling or expanding the scope of our economic development efforts.


Last week, I promised to update the educational situation in Jasper County. I am happy to say that there is good news to report.


You may recall that Senator Pinckney (D-Jasper Co.), in the waning hours of the last session, brought forth a redistricting plan for the Jasper School Board. His plan was also encased in a lawsuit by the ACLU that said the current districts violated the “one man, one vote” standard of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. When viewed by the rest of the Jasper legislative delegation, the plan also seemed deeply political and a vivid example of extreme gerrymandering. What we vehemently disagreed with was also the fact that it was done with zero input from the folks who will have to live with the consequences of the plan.


Representative Weston Newton and I derailed the Pinckney plan in the House, and requested that the House of Representatives intervene in the suit. We agreed the districts were malapportioned, but also felt that public input was critical to the drawing of new districts, rather than one person drawing the map and having the ACLU impose it through the courts. In our view, the most salutary part of any redistricting effort is hearing from the public. The Pinckney plan failed in that regard.


The result of the intervention of the legal staff of the House of Representatives was to place the ACLU suit before U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel for review. He granted the ACLU motion that the current districts were malapportioned. We agreed. Our plan was to allow the General Assembly to fulfill its constitutional mandate by drawing the districts. If we could not, then the courts could step in. He also enjoined the November elections until a new map was approved. Judge Gergel agreed with us that public hearings were crucial to the process. If this were a game of pool, you could say we ran the table.


As if to place an exclamation point on the public input portion of the matter, an incident occurred as Rep. Newton and I attended the Jasper School Board meeting of 9 Sept. At a packed meeting, the chairperson of the board, Ms. Bertie Riley, ordered the Jasper Sheriff’s Deputies to remove a resident for clapping for a comment the chairperson found disrespectful. Rep. Newton and I stood to defend the right of the resident to clap for whomever she pleased. The chairperson chose to also have deputies remove Rep. Newton and myself as well. Not only was she out of line, her egregious overreach and arrogance seemed to break the spell. There will be new districts, new elections, and I imagine there will be a host of new candidates. The era of failure after failure is over. The politics of the few, ill serving the many is done. This is the new beginning.

More details next week.