Roger Finch is as nice a guy as you would want to meet, active in his church and civic organizations in his native Greenville. So why was the state Chamber of Commerce so opposed to his appointment to the Board of the S.C. Human Affairs Commission (SCHAC)? It turns out that Finch is employed by an organization that sticks up for workers rights.
To the Chamber, this meant that Finch wasnít qualified to sit on any board or commission in the state, and the organization encouraged the business community to launch an all-out assault to block his appointment. The Chamberís Web site instructed members to contact their senators. The Governorís Office reported getting nearly 50 letters from Chamber members opposed to Finchís appointment.
Sen. Larry Martin (R-Pickens) blocked Finchís appointment with the claim that Finchís job with the Carolina Alliance for Fair Employment (CAFE) constituted a conflict of interest because CAFE sometimes refers aggrieved workers to SCHAC.
In his defense, Finch pointed out that he would be replacing a pro-business Chamber member appointed by former Gov. David Beasley. "Iím a normal South Carolina Citizen wanting to be a representative on a citizensí Commission," Finch said. "Itís insulting to say that the interests of working people canít be represented on a commission dealing with human rights but that the interest of big business can."
Finch withdrew his nomination after the Chamber successfully blocked his confirmation this legislative session.
Castles in the Sky
Gov. Jim Hodges spoke at a meeting in June on affordable housing in South Carolina. He addressed Fannie Maeís S.C. Partnership Office Advisory Council on the importance of home ownership for low-income citizens. Fannie Mae is a federally sponsored lending agency.
Advocates for affordable housing were dismayed that the meeting was held in the private penthouse of the Capitol City Club overlooking the state capitol, a posh vantage point from which to consider the plight of working poor.
Think Itís Over? Think Again
The political fallout over the vote to raise the Confederate flag on the State House lawn is far from over. Groups on both sides of the issue are talking about which legislators to target for defeat in the coming elections.
The vote in the House was particularly painful to anti-flag folks, especially for those who hold look to the Black Caucus as their last line of defense against an overwhelmingly white power structure.
Three Caucus members voted in favor of the compromise bill ó Bessie Moody-Lawrence (D-Rock Hill), Brenda Lee (D-Spartanburg) and Willie McMahand (D-Piedmont). Two others, Fletcher Smith (D-Greenville) and Ted Brown (D-Georgetown), didnít vote.
With the final vote running 63 to 56, these five Democratic votes could have changed the long-term prognosis of race relations in South Carolina. Unfortunately, the bill these legislators helped pass not only moves the Confederate flag to the front lawn and lights it with spotlights, it requires a two-thirds vote of both houses to remove it, ensuring we will be grappling with this issue for many years to come.
If the flag bill had been defeated by a unified Caucus, the banner would have remained on the dome for another year. But at least there could have been a chance of truly resolving the issue. As it stands now, the flag will continue to chafe the racial wounds in this state. If the two-thirds provision for changing the law is ruled constitutional, the fight over the flag may be around for another 10 or 20 years.
"Itís going to take a change in voter participation, a change in demographics and frankly some folks just getting old and dying," said a member of the Black Caucus.
Regardless of the happy face the politicians, business community and local media are putting on the compromise, the fight over the flag and what it symbolizes remains.
The New York Times perhaps said it best in a recent editorial. "A flag that symbolizes racism and segregation has no place at all on state property, much less at the Statehouse door.
" If those who govern South Carolina fail to grasp this, the state will continue to suffer in the court of public opinion."
Send Beasley the Tab
For 15 years, residents near the hazardous waste dump near Lake Marion have been warning anybody who would listen that a disaster was in the making. They were pleasantly surprised when the board of the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) agreed with them in 1994 and ordered the company to post a $130 million cash bond to assure cleanup in the event of an accident.
But the next year, after Gov. David Beasley replaced several members of the DHEC board, that body reversed itself and voted to accept Laidlawís promise, in lieu of cash, that the company would clean up any environmental messes.
The same year, the dumpís owner was the biggest contributor on the political scene, spending $250,000 on lobbying and contributions to candidates.
A new DHEC board appointed by Gov. Jim Hodges recently ruled that the dump had to put up the cash. Laidlaw unfortunately filed for bankruptcy before the state was able to enforce payment. Responsibility for cleaning up the dump now seems likely to rest on state taxpayers.
Maybe we should forward the bill to Beasley.
Oh, Youíre From South Carolina
South Carolina developer James Chaffin is causing an international stir with his proposed billion-dollar development at Clifton Cay in the Bahamas.
Chaffin is well-known in South Carolina conservation circles as the developer of Spring Island in Beaufort County. "Spring Island is an exemplary project," said Dana Beach, director of the S.C. Coastal Conservation League. "Itís not perfect, but it is head and shoulders above anything that has ever been done on that part of the coast."
Beach calls Chaffin "a charming, reasonable and smart man who wants to make a lot of money." But Beachís take on Chaffin and Spring Island isnít making headlines in the Bahamas, where there is a big fight over Clifton Cay.
Opposition to the 531-acre project is being funded by super-rich neighbors in an adjacent gated community who have paid for Robert Kennedy Jr. to fly in for what are billed as community meetings opposing the development.
The Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council has been hired to oppose the development but seems uninterested in Chaffinís record in South Carolina.
Chaffin has been quoted extensively in the Bahamian press calling opponents of his development a "tyrannical minority attempting to hijack the moral high ground for personal, economic or political gain." He has referred to his project as a "benchmark for responsible land use in the Bahamas."
That much is arguable. Beachís group spent five years successfully fighting his Yandle Harbor project. The courts agreed that the environmental impact of a proposed man-made harbor and canals to expensive homes was unacceptable. Plans for Clifton Cay call for a similar harbor and canals.
Controversy over the project has become an issue in the election for the islandís prime minister, with the leader of the opposition party promising that he would halt the development if he is elected.
Adding insult to injury, the Bahamian press has used the Confederate flag to raise questions about Chaffinís moral fiber. One columnist, "deeply offended" by Chaffinís remarks, asked, "Is it because he comes from South Carolina, a state which apparently has yet to come to terms with the outcome of the American civil war?"
"Smart growth" didnít fly this year in the legislature.
A modest smart growth bill introduced by Sen. Phil Leventis (D-Sumter) would have provided $3 million to help communities develop responsible growth plans. The bill also called for educating public officials and citizens about the need for growth planning and for a central repository for government planning proposals.
"They acted as if we were communists out to take everything they had," Leventis said of the opponents of smart growth. Those opponents include the Chamber of Commerce, the Home Builders Association, the Realtorsí Association, the Manufacturersí Association and other development interests.
Leventis calls them the "property rights crowd." He said, "They call it property rights, but what they mean is the right to develop everything in the state."
As to why big business fights legislation it sees posing even the slightest threat, Beach of the Coastal Conservation League has a theory. "Itís lobbyist driven," he said. Lobbyists make more money when their clients are threatened, and lobbyists have made an art form of detecting threats. And every bill identified as a threat to business means more money for the lobbyist.
And that, boys and girls, is how state policy is made.
Name That Sleazeball!
This issueís Sleazeball award goes to most ambitious member of the Democratic Caucus. This legislator is conducting a nasty campaign against Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg), who is a positioned to become Speaker of the House should Democrats win in November.
(Hint: this Sleazeball has the gall to offer himself as the "compromise candidate.")
Be the first reader to identify this Sleazeball and win a free subscription to POINT.