One word can sum up 2007 in political, cultural and sports worlds: unpredictable.
In the sports world, all kind of crazy things happened. First, my beloved Gamecocks went 6-1 and were ranked #6 in the country, only to lose five in a row and not be invited to a bowl game. Lowly Appalachian State beat Michigan at Michigan! Major League Baseball crowned a new home run king in Barry Bonds, only to see Bonds indicted for lying to a federal grand jury investigation steroids. After years of fans having a love-hate relationship with Clemson football coach Tommy Bowden, the coach and the school inked a multi-million dollar deal that will likely keep Bowden in Clemson for years to come, just weeks after fans were calling for his coaching head.
Politics took a lesson from sports. The big stories have been unpredictable, even to the most learned of political observers.
First, there was the Thomas Ravenel story. Who would have believed that the rising star in the Republican party and newly elected State Treasurer would resign in disgrace over a cocaine scandal? Outside of a few hardcore Grady Patterson fans, only those with intimidate knowledge of Ravenel saw anything close coming.
Then there is the Governor of South Carolina. Who would have thought that the man who portrays himself as the ultimate clean politician would get caught directing mixed state and private funds for the Governor’s Conference in Charleston to his private political movement organization? I have been a critic of the Governor, but even I could not foresee something so brazen and/or politically stupid.
Add to that the bar exam scoring controversy. With one apparently political tone deaf act, the South Carolina Supreme Court has the legislature talking about talking away the court’s exclusive control over lawyers. While I have contended that I do not believe that the court acted in an unethical manner whatsoever, it has to be noted that in the first time in our state’s history, a movement to redefine how lawyers are regulated is politically viable. Perhaps their very own non political nature got the best of the Court in his regard. It proves that even if a court acts judicially without regard to politics, politics can come back to undermine the court.
In the South Carolina House, with key retirements in 2006, Speaker Bobby Harrell solidified his power. Also, the Speaker began appearing in several “public service” announcements which look an awful like early gubernatorial campaign ads to get his name out statewide. The Speaker also had his own television show appearance on ETV when the legislature was in session.
Some political stories have been predictable, just to prove the unpredictable rule of 2007. The ongoing saga in Anderson County between County Council member Cindy Wilson and County Administrator Joey Preston took the usual twists and turns and as I covered this story more, I could all but write the sides each would take and how each would act. The same is true for the Governor versus the General Assembly. The Governor does not like them. The General Assembly in general does not like him. Yawn. We got it a couple of years ago.
Other stories, like some of the ones mentioned above have been more unpredictable and help define this year. Who would think that a hefty number of real property tax payers would see their tax bills stay roughly the same or even go up after the legislature added a penny sales tax to shift money for education from the local property tax to the state sales tax?
Who would have thought the Republican Presidential Primary would be so wild? While I admit I knew who Mike Huckabee was and especially liked his Fair Tax plan this time last year, I did not believe he would be the leader in the polls in South Carolina at Christmas this year.
John McCain faltered from front runner status to also-ran only to rebound a bit as the year closed. Rudy had surprising political staying power, only to fade a bit as the year closed out. Fred Thompson, who seemed like the Savior of the GOP right in the Spring, ended up being a political bomb of sorts so far. Thompson is fighting for his political life in Iowa as you read this.
The one that was easy to foresee in the Presidential race was something I stated earlier this year. Romney got nasty. He has the money and the people around him to get nasty and go positive at the same time. He did so not only in South Carolina but around the nation.
The last, and perhaps most significant unpredictable political story of the year is the subtle rise of the influence of President George W. Bush. The troop surge he pushed in Iraq appears to be working. The Democratically controlled Congress has approval ratings that hover in the low to mid twenties, a full ten to fifteen points below the President’s. As a result, the President, who was dubbed a lame duck and caretaker this time last year, has become a real player in the budget process this year. Regardless of whether it was something the President and his people done this year, or things like the hundreds of thousands of dollars Speaker Nancy Pelosi spent on flowers, one thing is certain, the President has a heck of a lot more influence than any pundit could imagine as 2008 begins. I still believe Bush will be all but politically radioactive on the campaign trail in most of the country this year, but his strong close of this year gives him a real seat at the table on governing issues.
I could go on with more political stories, like the resignation of Tommy Moore, the election of Converse Chellis as State Treasurer, and on an on. But, I have already been pretty longwinded. Let me know what you think the big political stories were in 2007. Between now and the end of the year I and the crack staff of Voting under the Influence will give our bold predictions of the political scene for 2008 Stay safe out there as you enjoy the holiday season and thanks always for reading and commenting.