In some ways, editorial cartoons are like time capsules, preserving the then-current hot topics as small artifacts of pen and ink. As we kick off 2015, it’s a good opportunity to revisit some of 2014’s Stegelin! cartoons and look back at the year that was.
Following a renewed, bipartisan focus on gun control in 2013 — including South Carolina’s own Boland Bill — the topic had become increasingly partisan by the start of 2014. So when the Republican-controlled S.C. General Assembly reconvened, it was no surprise that an NRA-approved, pro-gun measure topped the agenda rather than a much-discussed ethics reform bill. On the ethics front, this strip proved prophetic, as years of allegations would finally catch up to then-House Speaker Bobby Harrell by the end of 2014 (more on that later).
Charleston kicked off 2014 with an ice storm that closed schools and bridges; there was even a website with the sole purpose of telling you if the Ravenel Bridge was open. And for good reason. The Ravenel was particularly troublesome, dropping chunks of ice from its thawing double diamonds and damaging cars as they crossed the Cuzway. In a somewhat related story, Thomas Ravenel, former state treasurer and son of the bridge’s namesake, returned to headlines, starring in the Bravo reality TV show Southern Charm. Once again, everyone was reminded of the events that seemingly ended his political career.
In the 2014 legislative session, four Republican bills targeted abortion, including one that banned abortions after 20 days and another — a so-called “personhood” bill — that recognized life as starting at fertilization. Of course, given that these issues were taking precedent over more important matters like addressing our state’s education and healthcare woes, it was fairly obvious where our legislators’ priorities were.
Last year was a particularly rough one for the College of Charleston. Feeling a budgetary backlash from legislators for selecting the gay-themed Fun Home for the school’s annual College Reads! program and fighting pressure from the Statehouse to merge with MUSC, CofC hit the trifecta when its presidential search ended with the seemingly preordained selection of Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell. The opposition from students and faculty — concerned about McConnell’s lack of educational background and his affection for the Confederacy — was loud but ultimately unheard.
Spoleto made its annual return to Charleston, but the most noticeable art downtown wasn’t even on its playbill. Rather, the Halsey Institute hosted a gallery showing and several art installations (some official, some renegade) from Holy City native and renowned street artist Shepard Fairey of Obey Giant fame, whose work seemed to overshadow the Spoleto agenda.
Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. and City Council ruffled feathers thanks to their attempt to halt the growing number of bars downtown, an effort to appease local neighborhood associations and woo tech businesses. The initial push included a permanent midnight curfew for all new bars in the newly minted Entertainment District Overlay Zone, but in the end, council approved a moratorium on new late-night bars downtown for one year. Targeting the F&B industry seemed particularly ironic given the fact that its development helped drive the city’s status as a tourist destination and revitalized the areas now impacted by the moratorium.
Although the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown have received more national attention, Charleston had its own controversial police-involved shooting of a young black man with the death of Denzell Curnell. Publicly, the Charleston Police Department refused to discuss the matter, citing an ongoing SLED investigation into the shooting, and in turn fostered a lot of speculation and conspiracy in the community, with only Mayor Riley offering blind assurances that the shooting was on the up and up. The coroner would ultimately rule Curnell’s death a suicide by his own gun, although some questioned how the left-handed man shot himself in the right side of his head.
The nation spent the latter half of the year lathered in extra antibacterial gel thanks to the Ebola virus. Despite only a small handful of cases in the U.S., including a false alarm at MUSC and guarantees from the CDC that there was no need to panic, Americans panicked all the same, ignoring scientific facts in the process.
Palmetto State politicians continued to write their own soap opera material in 2014, none more so than House Speaker Bobby Harrell, U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, and former Treasurer-turned-Southern Charmer Thomas Ravenel. Facing ethics charges, Harrell ultimately resigned from office in October as part of a plea deal that required him to inform on other state politicians facing similar charges; Sanford announced he had broken up with his mistress-turned-fiancée on Facebook; and Ravenel returned to politics in the race against U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (a bid he ultimately lost).
For Attorney General Alan Wilson, 2014 was a big year. No sooner did his endless crusade against Bobby Harrell finally pay off, Wilson went all-in on another cause: fighting same-sex marriage. Despite same-sex marriage bans being overturned in other Fourth Circuit states — of which South Carolina is a part — Wilson vowed to oppose the inevitable.
Election Day came and went without much of a change. Nikki Haley won a second term as governor, Mark Sanford ran unopposed for another term, and South Carolina remained firmly red. On the national stage, there was some significant change as Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate, giving them control of both chambers.
Despite claims to the contrary that America is now “post-racial,” 2014 held evidence that both the nation and South Carolina still suffer from strained race relations. In Charleston, the Academic Magnet High School football program was criticized for a post-game celebration involving the smashing of watermelons. As a result, Charleston County School District Superintendent Nancy McGinley removed — and then reinstated — AMHS Coach Bud Walpole. The politically driven Board of Trustees then seized the opportunity to force out McGinley, a move met with outcry from educators, parents, and even Mayor Riley himself.