Opinion

Commentary: The problem with S.C. politics

I got a call last week from a Republican friend who shares many of my concerns about the way government in our state works. I don’t take issue with anything you’ve written about Nikki Haley, he said, but you really need to write about this mess with Vincent Sheheen’s income.

“What mess?” I asked, hoping he had seen something I missed. Nothing that rises to the level of not filing your tax return until eight months after your extension had expired. Twice. But something that clearly needed criticizing.

Obviously, I’m not a closet Haley fan. But I have grown increasingly uncomfortable as more and more things emerged about Ms. Haley that demanded critique — and nothing even remotely close came out about Mr. Sheheen. I’ve never experienced anything like it in the 12 years I’ve been an editorial writer.

I supported David Beasley’s re-election bid, but I also wrote a few critical pieces. I even more enthusiastically supported Mark Sanford’s first campaign, writing glowing endorsements and numerous columns supporting him and criticizing then-Gov. Jim Hodges, but I also took issue with some things he did. (Four years ago, I had problems with both candidates.)

Unfortunately, my friend didn’t have anything new. Just a difference of opinion. He honestly believes it’s a scandal that state senators represent clients before the Workers Compensation Commission, since commissioners have to be confirmed by the Senate. I’d prefer to live in a world where they didn’t, but it never has made, oh, my Top 100 list of things wrong with the Legislature. The governor appoints the commissioners, subject to confirmation by the Senate, and a 1991 law effectively prohibits senators who practice before the commission from voting on confirmation.

(It’s true, as my friend suggested, that the money Mr. Sheheen’s law firm made from workers comp cases increased after he was elected to the Senate — from $70,000 in 2003 to $119,000 in 2004. Then it dropped to $105,000, before climbing to $172,000, then $178,000 — and dropping back to $98,000 last year. The law firm says other lawyers handle more cases than Mr. Sheheen and workers comp represented 4.7 percent of its income last year.)

When I combine my longtime ambivalence about this subject with the fact that Ms. Haley got paid by a state contractor for work neither of them has fully explained and then took a job her local hospital created especially for her after she sided with it in an important, ongoing legislative fight, I find it hard to get excited.

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

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