Just when you thought South Carolina politics couldn't get any more bizarre, the most conservative groups in the state endorsed the same candidates for the House as the most liberal group. The "No Votes for Turncoats" coalition that met in West Columbia Sept. 30 included the far right and the farther right: the SC Heritage Coalition, the Conservative Alliance and the League of the South.
These groups are the last defenders of the latest round of the lost cause keeping the Confederate flag on the State House dome. They are out to punish Republicans who voted for the compromise measure that put the flag on the front lawn.
Three of the four House candidates they endorsed have been also endorsed by the S.C. Progressive Voter Coalition. "It doesn't matter where they stand on anything," said League of the South organizer Lake High. "What matters is that the candidates are running against turncoats."
Both groups are rooting for John Wilde to beat Jim Klauber (R-Greenwood) and for Jimmy Leland to beat Chip Limehouse (R-Charleston). Both Wilde and Limehouse are candidates on the United Citizens Party (UCP) ballot, along with Ralph Nader. The UCP is a third party that has its roots in the civil rights movement.
The other two House races the conservative group targeted are Rick Quinn's (R-Richland) who is being challenged by Andrew Johnson, and Edie Rogers' (R-Beaufort), who is being challenged by Fred Kuhn.
Maurice Bessinger, who made money catering Piggy Park bar-b-que at the event, was the guest of honor. He told the crowd that they were not only defending the Constitution but were "fending off the apocalypse."
"The Antichrist cannot come on the scene until the Constitution is destroyed," Bessinger warned. "That, my friends, believe it or not, is the fight."
And you thought it was about a flag.
Of Pigs and Prejudice
Bessinger's racist past got his buns in a crack when he replaced the U.S. flag with the Confederate flag at his nine Piggy Park restaurants.
In a surprising show of corporate morality, major grocery stores, with the notable exception of Piggly Wiggly, pulled Maurice's products off the shelf.
When Maurice put his sheet in the street, it wasn't his support of the Confederate flag that whacked him in the wallet, but his ideology on slavery.
While it may be news to many people, Bessinger has been a white supremacist since he put a sign up in his Piggy Park eatery after the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. It read: The law makes us serve niggers, but any money we get from them goes to the Ku Klux Klan.
When corporate grocery chains learned that Maurice was currently providing customers with biblical tracts proclaiming slavery was okay with God and that black people actually benefited from it, they pulled his products.
If you are wondering why Piggly Wiggly doesn't feel the same sensitivity to its minority customers as the rest of the stores, take a look at who's on its board.
Henry Brown (R-Berkeley), a 15-year member of the House (currently running against Andy Brack in the first Congressional District) is a retired Vice President of Piggly Wiggly and a member of the board. Brown was also a leader of the fight to keep the Confederate flag on the dome.
Marion Carnell (D-Greenwood) lists his primary occupation as president of two Piggly Wiggly stores in his district. Carnell was one of the House's most flamboyant defenders of the flag.
Now you know why it's called the Pig.
Packing up Kevin
With polls running against a state lottery, the governor's folks are trying to make the best of a bad political situation.
Gov. Jim Hodges, who opposed the lottery as a legislator, may consider an 11th-hour conversion, similar to the one Gov. David Beasley had on the flag.
Since God seems to have weighed in against the lottery, it seems reasonable that He might whisper in the governor's ear before Nov. 7.
As the "Education Lottery" looks less and less likely to win, the optimistic spin around the governor's office is, "This may be the only way we can get rid of Kevin Geddings."
Rad Waste Still Hot
Remember when South Carolina was the nuclear dump of the nation? That was before Gov. Hodges proclaimed an environmental victory by entering into a new nuclear waste compact.
Who the victors are in the governor's plan depends on who you ask. The Chem Nuclear web site currently touts the dump as "a viable disposal option for the entire nuclear industry." The dump will stay open to all comers until 2008. The compact doesn't limit the amount of radioactivity to be accepted, but decreases the volume that can be dumped over the next eight years.
The dump will close in 2009 to all but the three states in the Atlantic Compact, South Carolina, New Jersey and Connecticut.
What rankles environmentalists the most is that the dump will continue to operate, as it has for the past 30 years, by dumping nuclear waste in an unlined hole and covering it up with dirt. This practice was abandoned years age by the Department of Energy in disposing federal radioactive waste.
Meanwhile, the dump's license expired July 31. Just as Hodges and crew want the issue to go away so they can enjoy their victory, an ugly fight over relicensing the facility is looming. The matter is complicated by the fact that Dura Tech bought the Chem Nuclear dump in April. Dura Tech is a national metals recycling firm that turns yesterday's radioactive scrap into tomorrow's toasters.
The staff at the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) isn't rushing to approve or deny Chem Nuclear's permit renewal. Meanwhile, the dump continues to operate on an interim license.
At the urging of the Governor's office, DHEC is planning on public hearings before a staff recommendation on licensing. The public comment period on the dump's license begins Oct. 20, with hearings expected next summer.
Who's the little bald guy?
Westinghouse hosted a party to honor Gov. Hodges at the hotel where the South Carolina delegation was staying during the Democratic National Convention. Westinghouse's nuclear divisions have long been one of the state's largest employers and political contributors.
Westinghouse buttons and T-shirts, as well as a free food and drink, failed to attract a crowd.
Delegates from West Virginia, who didn't have a clue who Jim Hodges is, outnumbered South Carolinians at the event.
"It was sparsely attended," one South Carolina delegate noted. "There was a big party of Hollywood types at the Sony/Warner Brothers studio that most delegates decided was much more interesting."
Run, Jim, Run!
Like many of you, our staff watched the debate between Al Gore and George Bush. When it was over the choice for president, we agreed, was clear. POINT endorses moderator Jim Lehrer for president!
The Other Race
There is another race going on, for Speaker of the House, a position chosen by a majority vote of the House. The party that controls the House always gets to choose the speaker. That's how it worked in the past, anyway.
It is tradition for Minority Leader to become Speaker if the minority party (currently the Democrats) becomes the majority party. This means that Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg), who has led House Democrats for the past three years, is in line to be Speaker.
Cobb-Hunter became Minority Leader at a time when the Democratic Party was on the ropes. Beasley was governor and Republicans had taken the House, with the help of defecting Democrats. Nobody wanted the job, and Cobb-Hunter stepped up to the plate.
"We were 20 seats down when Gilda became the caucus leader," said Rep. Joe Neal, who shares an office suite with Cobb-Hunter. "If it were not for Gilda Cobb-Hunter, the Democratic Party in South Carolina would be dead."
On Nov. 7, Democrats only need to win four additional seats to take control of the House.
On Nov. 28, the House will meet to organize and choose its Speaker. If the Democrats are the majority party, Cobb-Hunter will be challenged by Rep. Doug Jennings (D-Marlboro). Jennings has been running for Speaker since well into the last legislative session.
In a recent interview, Jennings' carefully avoided sounding sexist or racist, and instead argued that Cobb-Hunter is not able to effectively manage the House because she is too liberal and too "confrontational."
Neal thinks Cobb-Hunter is getting a raw deal. "It comes down to the [Democratic] Party and the governor fearing that they cannot control her," he said.
Cobb-Hunter thinks that being a woman legislator poses a larger obstacle for her than being black. "The exclusion of women has been so historic and complete that gender has never even been an issue."
Cobb-Hunter is hoping that women who live in Democratic districts (such as Reps. Joel Lourie's and Jim Smith's) will tell their representatives that it is time for a woman Speaker.
Jennings has reportedly been testing Republican support for his bid for Speaker. An alignment between Democrats and Republicans to keep a black woman from power would mark a low point for modern politics in a state with a surplus of low points. Democrats have relied on the support of women and blacks for the past 30 years. Rather than accept a black woman leader, top Democrats seems to be considering forming a race-based coalition with Republicans in an orchestrated effort to keep power in the hands of white males.
When asked to comment on his ambition to be Speaker, Jennings said, "I'm really not ready to talk about that. My focus is on House races and the Education Lottery."
Other Democrats aren't so reticent. At a Party event at the convention in Los Angeles, U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings recognized Jennings as the next Speaker of the House. After hoots from the audience, Hollings also recognized that Cobb-Hunter was in the race.
Given last year's ugly fights over the Confederate flag, MLK Day and other battles with racial overtones, the historic implications of having a woman of color as Speaker are obvious to Cobb-Hunter. "We do a lot of historic things in this state," she said. "Unfortunately, few of them are positive."
Name that Sleazeball!
This issue's Sleazeball Award goes to the bipartisan panel of entrepreneurs who got on board the Burroughs and Chapin train for the "Green Diamond." The developers who paved Myrtle Beach have a half-baked plan to build 6,000 homes in a floodplain next to Columbia's sewer plant, and they got Columbia's movers and shakers to shill for them.
The B&C flacks include Democrats Tim Rogers, Don Fowler, Rick Silver, Sen. Darrell Jackson and Republican consultant Richard Quinn. The McNair Firm, which can be counted on to have a well-paid dog in all fights, is also on the B&C dole.
The future of the Green Diamond project now hinges on the Richland County Council having the backbone to stand up to the lobbyists and their rich client and call a swamp a swamp.
Correction: In the last Loose Lips column, we said that the S.C. Coastal Conservation League spent five years successfully fighting James Chaffin's Yandel Harbour project. What we meant to say is that the project is similar to one Chaffin is planning for the Bahamas.