Looking back, 2013 was kind of dull. While 2012 was a big election year in South Carolina, one in which we saw political tides shifting along a fractured electoral landscape littered with scandals, not to mention a statewide election meltdown where scores of non-incumbents were kicked off ballots all over the state and a massive international hacking breach, this one kind of fizzled. Some dustups here and there but nothing too big. It seems like 2013 just kind of slid on by. Of course, big things did happen, and we’ve rounded up 10 of the most important. Don’t worry, though, none of them include how this year’s Miss South Carolina told the nation she was from a state where “20 percent of our homes are mobile because that’s how we roll.”
That time the government shut down
For 16 days in October, the federal government partially shut down after Congress was unable to reach an agreement on the budget. Republicans wanted to defund the president’s signature healthcare law, but Democrats weren’t hearing it. Unable to pay its bills by the Oct. 1 deadline without a continuing resolution of the budget, the government shut down, closing parks, curbing government programs, and generally making the United States appear unstable in the eyes of the international community. Each of of South Carolina’s six Republican congressmen and the state’s two GOP senators voted in a manner that helped shut down the government. Democratic Congressman Jim Clyburn was the lone holdout. Here in Charleston, Mark Sanford was one of the only members of Congress to come back to his district and hold a town hall meeting about the issue. He got an earful.
Nikki Haley didn’t expand Medicaid
In 2009, Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a Obamacare, and the president signed the healthcare overhaul into law. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the controversial legislation, but with a caveat: individual states didn’t have to expand Medicaid under the law if they didn’t want to. Republican Gov. Nikki Haley chose not to expand it in South Carolina. On Oct. 1 of this year, the federal healthcare exchanges opened up under Obamacare where the uninsured were supposed to be able to shop for affordable coverage on a crummy website that hardly functioned properly. But navigators working to help people get covered soon learned a heartbreaking truth: some of the state’s poorest residents could’t sign up because their income levels left them in a gap. And that’s because the state didn’t expand Medicaid.
SLED investigated House Speaker Bobby Harrell for abuse of power
In February, Attorney General Alan Wilson directed the State Law Enforcement Division to investigate whether the state’s most powerful politician, House Speaker Bobby Harrell, abused his power and enriched himself from his public job. The Post & Courier initially brought attention to Harrell’s campaign spending last fall with a series of stories, beginning with one exposing how he’d personally reimbursed himself hundreds of thousands of dollars from his campaign account. Much of that money went to operate a private plane he pilots. Harrell paid back about $23,000 in campaign money for which he couldn’t find receipts. And he denies any wrongdoing. Last week, SLED delivered a “voluminous” report on Harrell to Wilson. The ball is now in Wilson’s court to decide whether he’ll prosecute.
Tuberculosis outbreak rocked a small town
Over the summer, one of the worts outbreaks of tuberculosis in a decade ripped through the small Upstate town of Ninety Six. An infected custodian at a primary school there exposed the kids to the life-threatening disease. More than 50 of them tested positive for the airborne illness that causes chest pain and wheezing. However, the state health agency, DHEC, waited roughly two months before informing parents in the area. “I wish they had known sooner,” DHEC’s director Catherine Templeton said at the time.
College football in general
There had never been a better time to be a Gamecock than in 2013. They beat arch-rival Clemson for the fifth time in a row, and when both were Top 10 teams. Meanwhile, the Clemson Tigers are to play in the BCS Orange Bowl, and the football programs at Furman University and Coastal Carolina both got into the Football Championship Series this year. Furthermore, organizers put together an inaugural Medal of Honor bowl all-star game to take place here in Charleston in January, with the support of public funds from local governments.
That Republican lie about zombie voters
In 2012, Attorney General Alan Wilson couldn’t seem to stay off Fox News saying things like, “We found out that there were over 900 people who died and then subsequently voted.” It was around the time Republicans were trying to pass a Voter ID bill. The figure of 900 zombie voters came from a report by the state DMV showing there were around that many names appearing on voter sign-in sheets after those voters had died. That was enough for Wilson to run for the Fox News cameras, even though the State Elections Commission was pouring cold water on the dead-voter narrative. Officials at the elections agency said they had a good idea what had happened after looking into it: the names of allegedly dead voters were likely clerical errors or mistaken identities. Eventually, the elections agency got sick of it, and told the attorney general’s office if they wanted to keep up the nonsense they needed to investigate it themselves. So Wilson directed SLED to do just that. Then crickets. For more than 18 months. Finally, only after multiple Freedom of Information Act requests, SLED coughed up its report — the day before this year’s July Fourth holiday. After a year and a half, the agency found nothing nefarious and there were no zombie voters. Wilson had no comment. By then the Voter ID legislation had already passed.
Lindsey Graham’s primary race
It’s no secret that conservative resentment has been boiling up around Lindsey Graham for the past few years. The senior Republican senator from South Carolina irks the tea party because he works with Democrats on legislation and doesn’t have much respect for people like Ron Paul as leaders of the GOP. So it’s no surprise that Graham is facing a primary fight for 2014. What is surprising — and perhaps the larger story — is that he hasn’t drawn a credible, top-tier challenger. Instead, of the four candidates who are opposing Graham and his $7 million campaign war chest, only one has run statewide. Orangeburg attorney Bill Connor ran for lieutenant governor in 2010 and lost. Also in the race is Lee Bright, a wildly conservative state senator who is more than $1 million in debt because of his failed Spartanburg trucking company; Nancy Mace, a Citadel grad and political consultant from Goose Creek who has never run for office; and Richard Cash a largely unknown Upstate social conservative activist. A few years ago, when “Don’t Tread on Me” flags were in peak bloom at any GOP rally, Graham told a magazine reporter he didn’t think the tea party would be sustainable. He might have been right.
Mick Zais’ plan to deregulate classroom sizes
In South Carolina, state law caps the ratio of students to teachers in the public school system, 20:1 in prekindergarten, 30:1 for fifth grade math, and 35:1 in all eighth grade courses, among other examples. But in October, City Paper reporter Paul Bowers found out that state schools chief Mick Zais was quietly laying plans to eliminate those caps. He was trying to get the state board of education in his corner, and the board actually voted to do so without any media attention at the first vote. But before a second vote, and before the Legislature received the plan, media attention led to a broad public backlash that sidelined Zais’s efforts.
Lawmakers whiffed at ethics reform
South Carolina last passed a comprehensive ethics overhaul bill in 1991 in response to Operation Lost Trust, an FBI sting that nailed 17 state lawmakers for bribery, vote-buying, and other forms of public corruption. Almost 25 years later, it’s clear from recent events that the state once again needs to seriously revamp its laws. Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, herself no stranger to ethics violations, made an ethics overhaul a priority this year, as did legislative leaders. They formed task forces, study groups, and government panels. They held public hearings. In the end, they crafted a bill that would make lawmakers disclose their income, curb anonymous political spending during campaigns, re-shape oversight, and investigative panels for lawmakers, among other things. But at the end of the legislative session in June, the clock ran out before lawmakers passed the bill. They’ll take it up again in January.
Same-sex marriage couple sued the state; Democrat Vincent Sheheen still believes in banning same-sex marriage
In September, an S.C. Highway patrol trooper and her spouse, who were married in Washington, D.C., became the first gay couple to sue the the state in federal court. Katherine Bradacs and Tracie Goodwin of Lexington County are challenging the state’s same-sex marriage ban and a constitutional amendment that marriage is between a man and a woman. They want them both struck down. Their lawsuit came after the U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Because of that court decision, a same-sex couple in Charleston was able to obtain a marriage-based Green Card. Nonetheless, the state’s likely Democratic nominee for governor, Vincent Sheheen, renewed his opposition to same-sex marriage, stinging those in the gay-rights community.
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