Sunday, March 03, 2013

The Speaker King of South Carolina under investigation

That have been published reports that South Carolina House of Representatives Speaker Bobby Harrell is under investigation.  Allegations are that the Speaker used campaign funds for personal gain, among a few other things, such as abuse of his position as Speaker.   

Two political groups in South Carolina are making the most noise about Speaker Harrell.  One is the conservative group the South Carolina Policy Council.  The other is South Carolina Common Cause.  Harrell’s people have been quick to label the allegations as just politics.  However, Attorney General Alan Wilson saw fit to have the State Law Enforcement Division investigate the allegations. 

What has happened since then is interesting.  The Attorney General found his campaign under scrutiny for missing campaign donations in filed reports.  As one old political hand told VUI, “You do not piss off the King.”  

House members, of both parties, are either silent or supportive of Harrell.  There is a reason.  Speaker Bobby Harrell, innocent or guilty of the allegations, is simply the most powerful elected official in South Carolina and he welds his power with an iron fist. 

Here is how.  Up until the resignation of then Lt. Governor Ken Ard, President Pro Tempore of the State Senate Glenn McConnell was considered the most powerful man in Columbia.  With McConnell’s position and his knowledge of Senate rules and even House Rules and how to manipulate them, he was considered the one man in Columbia any issue had to be on its side.  When Ard resigned, McConnell shocked some folks, including VUI, by simply doing the right thing, and accepting, with a sense of duty, his elevation to the defanged office of Lt. Governor.  Since then, the power has been with Harrell. 

There are several reasons.  Harrell rules the House with an iron fist.  If a member gets out of his good graces, the Speaker will boot them from a committee or buttonhole a pet bill of theirs.  Governor Nikki Haley learned it first hand when Harrell booted her from a committee in the House for getting out of step with him when she was a member of the House.  The vast powers of the Speaker inside the House even make hardened Democrats tread carefully around him for fear they will lose whatever little he gives them.  Further, though President Pro Tempore John Courson is an able man in the State Senate, Courson and his people, and even the Governor and her people, simply lack the information, the savvy and the downright hardball tactics the Speaker and his people have when comes to not only the House but every aspect of state government. 

Further, the Speaker is politically unbeatable for his seat in the House.  With the money in his war chest, his family name in the low country, and his people, there is simply no way the man could lose a re-election to the House.

Then there is the investigation itself.  While Wilson did the right thing in calling for SLED to check into things, there is South Carolina law.  As SC Policy Council President Ashley Landess pointed out in sworn testimony, the House investigates itself.  The Speaker, with his powers, would it seems, oversee the investigation into his own alleged misbehavior. There is certainly no indication that the Speaker will recuse himself or his influence at this time.  Thus, South Carolina could find itself at a major struggle of powers.  What if SLED says there is wrong doing and the House says there is not?

Such a situation is very possible.  The system creates it.  The Speaker could just remove from the House Ethics Committee any member who he thought might find against him.  More subtly, it could be implied.  The rules of the House make the Speaker the Speaker until 2014.  But the members of any committee, including the Ethics Committee, have no set terms.  So, again, the power is with the Speaker.  And, the table is set for an incredible political power battle in Columbia. 

But, it could be avoided.  One advantage to being the King is that you can be gracious.  Everyone in Columbia knows that while Fox News and others drone on about Governor Haley, the real power lies with Speaker Harrell.  The Speaker could solidify that power by simply taking a different approach.  Instead of blasting people who question his ethics, he should thank them for their concern.  He should open the books, so to speak, show there is no wrong doing and pay out no retributions.  It is something a Sol Blatt would do, and well, they did name the House office building after him. 

But, even the strongest of Kings fall when they get bitter and worry about petty things. Indeed, VUI predicts that a huge political struggle over all this will get federal attention, and who knows what happens after that.  Whatever happens, with all the powers involved you can bet a lot of pols in Columbia, Democrat and Republican, are going to keep their heads low and their powder dry as all this unfolds. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

President's Day

President's Day is a day that the United States pauses to remember its Presidents.  Usually, names like Washington and Lincoln are remembered.  However, there are lesser known Presidents who had an impact on the history of the nation and on the office  John Tyler is one 

John Tyler became President of the United States after the death of President William Henry Harrison. Harrison served only thirty days as President of the United States, before dying from the ailments related to a bad cold. Tyler was the first Vice-President to ever take over for a President before a President’s term ended. There was debate about how Tyler should be addressed and what his powers were. In the weeks surrounding Harrison’s death, Tyler took the oath as President and secured support from the cabinet and the Congress to be the actual President of the United States. It set a precedent that dictated such transitions until the 25th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States provided such. President Tyler paid a high cost for setting such a precedent. Months after his rise to the Presidency, he was disowned by the Whig Party. Thus, Tyler became a rare President to serve without official party affiliation. 

Not having party affiliation did not prevent President Tyler from having a meaningful role as President. There are so many things about the Presidency today that we take for granted that pioneers like Tyler established. Tyler was the first President of the United States to send a diplomatic mission to China. President Tyler oversaw the resolution of one the last disputes with Great Britain, the Maine/Canada border issue, thus paving the way to the close friendship the two nations now enjoy. President Tyler applied the Monroe Doctrine to Hawaii, thus setting up the situation in which the once island nation would become part of the United States. President Tyler ordered the army to set up bases from the frontier of the time to the Pacific Coast, setting up America’s claim from sea to shining sea. In the last days of his Presidency, President Tyler signed measures bringing Texas and Florida into the United States. The annexation of Texas was by Congressional Resolution, not a treaty, something unheard of in those times. 

President Tyler had negative precedents as well. As the first President to wield the veto for policy matters, Tyler was the first President to ever have a veto overridden by Congress. Tyler also had four Supreme Court nominees defeated by Senate, the most by any President. Indeed, the Supreme Court process was so difficult for President Tyler he left office on March 4th, 1845, with a vacancy still left on the court. 

After the Presidency, President Tyler returned to private life. Yet, his sympathies for the South were ever present. Tyler’s appointment of John C. Calhoun, of South Carolina, to the post of Secretary of State showed Tyler’s feelings on sectional matters as President. In 1862, John Tyler, the former President of the United States, would show those views distinctly via his election to the Confederate Congress. Though he would only live a few months to serve in the Confederate Congress, he stands as the only President of the United States to serve as an elected official in another national government. 

Tyler’s tough stance on the Presidency would led his opponents to call him “His Accidenticy” Tyler’s decision to be a part of the Confederate Congress would cause others to call him a traitor. Indeed, it was not until the 20th Century that Congress would choose to honor his burial site as a burial site of a former President. 

As we honor and observe President’s Day and think of the likes of Washington, Lincoln and the Roosevelts, let us not forget John Tyler. Tyler was a complicated man with true faults, but as President, he set many of the precedents we now take for granted from a President. Tyler, as an elected Vice-President who became President due to the death of another President, took over the office full forced and, with no political party backing, used every ounce of its power to continue the United States on a course of growth.