Commentary: S.C. student's plea overshadows governor's grandstanding

It's not every day an eighth-grade student gets the better of her governor, but Ty'Sheoma Bethea has pulled it off.

Ty'Sheoma didn't set out to embarrass Mark Sanford, the Republican governor of South Carolina. She only wanted to appeal for some stimulus money to fix up her junior high school, a place where students wear coats to class because there is no heat. The lights go out several times a day when freight trains thunder by.

The teenager had heard about the fight in Congress to get the stimulus package passed. The computers in her school – leftovers from a state prison – were unavailable, so she went to the Dillon, S.C., public library and typed out a letter that began "Dear Congress of the United States."

"People are starting to see my school as an hopeless, uneducated school which we are not," Ty'Sheoma wrote. Her principal e-mailed the letter to South Carolina's congressional delegation. Most of the members voted against President Barack Obama's stimulus proposal, but Ty'Sheoma's letter struck a chord at the White House. With the teenager and her mother looking on, Obama read parts of the letter during his address to Congress Tuesday.

Ty'Sheoma became the second South Carolinian in the space of a week to make political headlines. The first was Sanford, who's been saying that he might turn down some of the money allocated to his state in the stimulus package.

It's not likely that he'll turn down much. The legislation is written to prevent him from doing so, in fact. But Sanford's posturing has burnished his credentials as a darling of the shrink-government-until-it-can't-function-and-then-call-it-a-failure movement.

Ty'Sheoma's presence at Obama's speech called out the bankruptcy of her governor's principles. She attends the 111-year-old J.V. Martin Junior High School, a fixture in South Carolina's "corridor of shame."

The corridor, so named in a 2005 documentary, consists of 12 mostly black, rural counties along Interstate Highway 95. Unemployment in Dillon County, where Ty'Sheoma lives, tops 14 percent. The local tax base can't muster enough money to properly fund the schools.

To read the complete column, visit www.kansascity.com.