Photo by Bre Smith on Unsplash

Over the 20 years that the Conservation Voters of South Carolina (CVSC) has been scoring legislators on how green they vote, one thing is clear: They’re voting greener. Perhaps that indicates how the mere act of grading them every other year leads more of them to support environmentally-friendly positions. Let’s hope so.

“Scores continue to increase over time since CVSC first started scoring the legislature in 2003,” confirmed Meagan Diedolf, the organization’s government affairs director. “When we need legislators to step up, on both sides of the aisle, they do!” 

Of course, the issues and players change every year, but during these times that partisanship rules and the great political divide in South Carolina festers just like across the rest of the country, it’s pretty remarkable our state lawmakers actually improved their environmental conscience over the years, at least based on scores on key votes.

The scorecard, Diedolf said, “shows that the voices of conservation voters are heard by legislators. Despite the challenges of the last two years, conservation issues continue to bring both sides of the aisle together showing strong bipartisan support for conservation with 38% of the members of the General Assembly (65 of 170) scoring 80% or more.”

The latest scorecard is surprising in other ways. First, you might be startled that the state legislator with the highest score is a Republican House member from Pickens County. Rep. Jerry Carter of Clemson, a retired nonprofit executive, scored 121 out of 100.  (The CVSC ‘s scoring method gives extra credit to lawmakers who are primary sponsors or co-sponsor to targeted environmental legislation.) Just four points behind at 117 was Rep. Nathan Ballantine, R-Lexington. The top House Democrat in the ranking was Rep. Spencer Wetmore of Folly Beach, who scored a 111.  

In the S.C. House, eight Republicans and 11 Democrats out of the 124 in the chamber scored 100 or better. And more than half of the chamber — 65 members — scored a 70 or better on the eight bills that the CVSC used to make its ranking. Among the votes were measures on solar property taxes, reform of Santee Cooper, funding the Conservation Bank and offshore wind.  

The Senate, where scorecard rankings were based on six similar votes, had a decidedly more partisan outcome. Eleven Democrats and two Republicans scored 100 or above. At top was Sumter Democratic Sen. Thomas McElveen, who got a 113 out of 100. But as with the House, a majority of senators — 27 out of 46 — scored 70 or higher. A dozen are Republicans.

Of the 65 House members who scored 70 or better, 18 live along the coast. In the Senate, seven of 27 live along the coast.

“Coastal and Lowcountry legislators continue to lead proactive efforts to protect the South Carolina we all love,” Diedolf said. “[The scorecard] also shows increasing support for conservation as a whole, with only 15% (25 of 170) scoring less than 50%. 

With the success of CVSC’s scorecard, maybe we need more scorecards to hold lawmakers accountable, helping them to see the light in new ways. There are a lot of public measures that advocacy organizations could launch. Some ideas:

  • A Democracy Index of S.C. legislators’ votes to rank them on how they support representative democracy over authoritarianism.
  • A Pork Primer on wasteful projects that find their way into the state budget.
  • An Economic Index to measure tax fairness.
  • A Social Fairness Register to document non-economic positions on helping all South Carolinians, not just the precious few.

Groups could make scorecards about votes on education, health care, road quality and even support of free speech as indicators of how they’re doing. 

Let’s encourage groups to use the CVSC’s model to give lawmakers more grades. Maybe it will move the General Assembly in a direction to better keep up with the times.

Andy Brack is editor and publisher of the Charleston City Paper and Statehouse Report. Have a comment? Send to: feedback@charlestoncitypaper.com.

This story also appears in Statehouse Report.


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