Wednesday, December 31, 2014

From the House

Bluffton Today

On this last day of 2014, I am pleased to share with you, my last column of the year. This is also the 624th iteration appearing in this space over the past 12 years. During that time, I have tried to provide some insight into the legislative process we undertake each year, beginning officially on the second Tuesday of January.

The most important thing we do is prepare and execute a spending plan. It is important, in my view, for constituents to understand how much we spend and how much we put aside. The budget is a pretty clear statement of what we think is important. The column goes a long way in telling you why it’s important.

Another thing I like to do with the column is to spotlight certain issues either locally, or statewide, that need attention. We have rallied support to protect Pinckney Point, for example, from unwise development. We organized public meetings with the proper regulatory agencies to draw attention to the issues that made its development unwise. Years later, I used the column to encourage popular support that prompted Beaufort County to finally purchase Pinckney Point using their highly regarded Rural and Critical Lands Preservation Program.

I have deep trust, that given the basic facts and a coherent rationale, the electorate and their representatives at all levels will do the wise, just, and productive thing, nearly every time. Whether it is a matter of discouraging the legislature from allowing our state to become the nuclear waste dump for the world, or encouraging our Jasper County constituents to demand positive change to their education system, the column has been a valuable tool.

That said, having a megaphone for my views is far from the most important feature of the column. Of exponentially more value, is the fact that this column is the beginning of a weekly conversation with you, the informed and engaged electorate. Each Wednesday, usually around noon or so, I start to receive comments, suggestions, requests for further information, and sometimes criticism or occasionally, outraged criticism. There are always at least 10 emails or calls, with a maximum of around 300-350 responses, with an average of 30-50 well-reasoned, articulate contributions.

For this representative, to be able to consistently tap the information, experience and wisdom of our extraordinary community is valuable almost beyond measure. To take the most conservative, low-ball estimate of serious weekly comments, say 30, and multiply by 624 columns, we get a big number. That big number is not only a weekly sample of community concerns, it also is powerful evidence for support when we are putting together the budget.

To take a very simple example: When the entry to Sun City from Highway 278 became a dangerous intersection, then-Beaufort County Councilwoman Margaret Griffin brought me in immediately. When the next budget supplement was being researched and debated in committee, I could put 500 coherent, articulate, constituent emails on the desk of each member in the room. It was a strong piece of evidence that the state and the county needed to address the matter. It took far longer for Margaret and me to coordinate the response between the jurisdictions than to make the decision.

The upcoming session will likely be focused largely on ethics and transportation infrastructure. As I start to report the different measures working through committee, I will get a volume and quality of commentary that will effectively drive a big portion of the deliberation.

The weekly conversation that started over twelve years ago has allowed us, for many years, to punch above our weight. Now that we, as a region and a delegation, are legitimate heavyweights, I’m confident you will see a stronger return on our tax investments, and more of our conservative, Lowcountry values reflected statewide. Let’s keep talking.