The main problem with the Legislature’s habit of naming roads, bridges and other infrastructure after living people (usually legislators or their supporters) is that this self-aggrandizing/patronage system opens the state up to all sorts of embarrassment should those honorees get into trouble later in life. And indeed, we’ve seen a smattering of such instances, most recently with former Comptroller General Earle Morris.
But while individual legislators do occasionally try, they rarely succeed in naming public property after people who already have embarrassed our state. Which probably explains why Andre Bauer’s friends didn’t even bother trying to go the usual route of pushing a resolution through the House and Senate when they decided that our outgoing lieutenant governor needed to be honored in asphalt.
Instead, they turned to a little-used procedure of having the request made by the Lexington County legislative delegation — that is, all the legislators who represent parts of Lexington County, or at least a majority of them. That meant that aside from those who attend or read minutes from the meetings of the Transportation Commission, no one would know — or object — until after the deed was done.
And so it was that on the afternoon of Dec. 21, while much of the state was preparing for Christmas, the Department of Transportation posted notice on its Web site of a dedication ceremony later that day for the new “Lt. Governor-Senator Andre Bauer Interchange” at Interstates 77 and 26.
To call this procedure and its application in this case inappropriate is to demean the word. Procedurally, it’s appalling that we would allow the names of such a significant interchange (or any infrastructure at all) to be decided by a county legislative delegation, which in some cases is no more than two legislators. And although Mr. Bauer has many wildly devoted fans (perhaps as many as 53,000, or 12 percent of this year’s Republican primary voters), he is, to put it mildly, a controversial figure.
But he’s leaving office, after getting shellacked in the primary. And it’s Christmastime. Can’t you just be nice, and let it go?
In a word, no.
This is not merely a matter of the state inappropriately honoring a politically divisive figure. And so let’s just skip right past the “don’t feed the strays” remark, and the way Mr. Bauer once intimidated the Transportation Department into paying him more than double its original offer (the equivalent of $1.3 million an acre) for a sliver of land needed to widen a highway, and a litany of other headline-grabbers.
This is about highway safety. This is the man who got caught driving 101 miles per hour on a wet highway, used the police radio in the state car he was driving home from a political event to try to call off the trooper who was chasing him, and then used his position to get out of a ticket when he finally was stopped. This is the man who did get a ticket — for running two red lights at speeds up to 60 mph on Assembly Street — from a Columbia police officer who was so worried by Mr. Bauer’s aggressive behavior that he felt the need to pull a gun on him.
How even his most ardent fans could believe it is appropriate to attach Mr. Bauer’s name to any sort of highway structure in a state that has among the most deadly roads in the nation is simply beyond me.
Although I wish they had the backbone to say no, it’s hard in our political system to blame the members of the Transportation Commission, who voted unanimously in October to approve the request from Lexington legislators. Since the governor doesn’t actually control the agency (and the fact that the panel would agree to honor one of Gov. Mark Sanford’s most celebrated political foes should put the lie to those ridiculous claims that lawmakers actually did put the governor in charge a couple of years back), panel members know the Legislature in general — and more dangerously, in some cases, individual legislators — easily can exact revenge if the agency doesn’t do its bidding.
This is why, as far as agency officials know, the commission never has turned down a request from the Legislature, or any of the less-frequent requests from legislative delegations. (This was one of two such requests in 2010; the other, from the Richland County delegation, was to name the interchange of S.C. 277 at Sunset and Beltline after Elliott E. Franks III, who died in 2008. The commission also approved 34 namings that had been authorized by the full Legislature.)
So here’s something legislators might want to put on their to-do list when they return to town next week: Prohibit the commission from naming anything after anyone, dead or alive, without the specific authorization of the full Legislature. I promise you this wouldn’t hamstring the commission, which hasn’t done any namings at its own initiative in years; if anything, it would protect the commissioners from having to do things they probably don’t want to do anyway, like this.
Although it wouldn’t stop the practice of naming our infrastructure for living politicians who might turn out to be embarrassments, it at least would force those decisions to be made in the light of day — when public, or at least legislative, outrage has a chance of derailing them.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Cindi Ross Scoppe is an Associate Editor with The State in Columbia, S.C. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.