Loose Lips

Take our Attorney General, Please!

Loose Lips

If you had any doubts about what President George W. Bush means by compassionate conservatism, consider who was recently invited to serve on his Justice Department transition team. Attorney General Charlie Condon has been asked to bring his special brand of grandstand politics to the new administration.

Condon is best known in national circles for championing jail time over treatment for pregnant drug users. This should not come as a surprise coming from a politician who campaigned on replacing the electric chair with an "electric couch" that would allow multiple executions. Condon is joined on the transition team by Greenville divorce lawyer and House Speaker David Wilkins, whose expertise is party loyalty.

Retaining Influence

Speaker Wilkins is a powerful politician who is not to be trifled with. Wilkins, known to throw his weight around, once banned POINT from the House chambers and legislative offices. Other newspapers in the Greenville area are cautious when it comes to Wilkins, and none of them wanted to look into a story making the rounds right before the last election.

The fight over developing downtown Greenville has been ugly and protracted. At the heart of most of the intrigue and scandal has been Greenville entrepreneur Tim Brett.

Brett, a former legislator, claimed that his company, Southern Infrastructure, had a contract to create the development proposal for the downtown area. When the Development Authority of Greater Greenville refused to pay Brett's bill, he sued. The records Brett filed to support his claim included a bill from Speaker Wilkins' law firm for $75,000 in legal fees.

Wilkins' retainer was paid in $15,000 installments last year, and was the largest expense in the $357,000 Brett claimed to have spent to develop his proposal.

"If Wilkins' doesn't have billable hours, there is a question of what he was being paid for," said John Crangle, director of S.C. Common Cause, a government watchdog group.

The only billable hours in the file from the Wilkins' firm was an invoice showing $1,436.50 for legal work done at $225 an hour in March. In April, the bills went to $15,000 a month, "as per agreement."

Crangle said that it doesn't appear to be illegal for Wilkins to take an inflated retainer unless he uses his influence to deliver for his client. If Brett wasn't buying Wilkins' influence, he was at the very least banking on it. Lee Simms, director of the Greenville Zoo, has been quoted saying that Brett used his friendship with Wilkins as a selling point for his proposal. Brett reportedly told Simms that Wilkins might help get state money for the expanded zoo envisioned in his proposal.

Wilkins faces ethical questions due to Southern Infrastructure being a registered lobby. State law prohibits a lobby or lobbyists from giving anything of value to an elected official.

Bringing Home the Bacon

Legislation sponsored by Sen. Glenn McConnell (R-Charleston) is referred to as the "Piggy Park" bill. It would prevent the state from doing business with any business that "discriminates or retaliates" against someone because of their heritage views, such as the grocery stores that pulled Maurice's bar-b-que sauce.

The heritage crowd has been mad at McConnell, the state's noblest neo-Confederate, since he voted to move the flag from the dome. We assume this is his way of working his way back into the clan.

Declaration of Independence...Sanitized

Sen. Joe Wilson (R-Lexington) is sponsoring a bill (S-11) that would require teachers to conduct an "oral recitation of a certain excerpt from the Declaration of Independence." The excerpt that Wilson wants recited is the part that says, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, etc."

That's an important civics lesson, but Wilson's creed stops in mid-sentence, ending right after how governments derive "their just powers from the consent of the governed." The conservative politician leaves out the next phrase that exhorts, "whenever any form of government becomes oppressive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it."

No point giving the kids the impression that there aren't limits to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness; they might get some radical ideas about direct democracy, the two-party system and corporate rule.

Green Power?

While Duke Power Company has received accolades for its contributions to the Jocassee refuge, Duke is still getting bad reviews from environmentalists. Duke is proposing to build a dam in Belise as part of a Canadian firm's luxury hotel development. The dam will destroy critical habitat of the endangered scarlet maccaw.

Duke is the only utility in the country that has signed on to the federal program to take plutonium laced nuclear fuel to run its reactors. The "MOX" (mixed oxide) program, where plutonium from nuclear weapons is mixed with uranium and used to generate electricity, will be tried out in the Catawba reactor, owned by Duke in Rock Hill.

Taxpayers will pay for the MOX to be made at the Savannah River Site and will foot the bill for cleaning up the radioactive mess made to process it. Taxpayers will then pay Duke to use the fuel, then the rate payers will pay Duke for the electricity. Activists are targeting Duke with a stockholder and ratepayer campaign to convince Duke to nix MOX.

Working Hard, Staying Poor

While politicians are concerned with moving people off welfare and into jobs, little attention is being given to the growing number of the working homeless. A recent study of homeless families in shelters in South Carolina and three other southern states by Volunteers of America found that 42 percent of the adults are employed and 28 percent have never been on welfare.

The median income of the working homeless families was $247 a week, above the minimum wage but below a living wage. "This growing trend of working homeless requires the attention of local and state policy makers," said Harriet Atkinson, director of Children's Garden, a child care center for homeless children in Columbia.

The problem indicates that a minimum wage doesn't generate enough income to adequately provide for a family. There is a growing movement to institute a "living wage" in place of a minimum wage. Ten states have set the minimum wage above the federal minimum, and many cities have established a living wage for paid municipal workers. There is an effort now underway to get the Charleston City Council to adopt a living wage for city workers.

South Carolina is one of seven states with no minimum wage. If you work for a company that does less than a half a million dollars a year in business, or one that isn't involved in interstate commerce, or do farm work, there are no wage guarantees at all. Most South Carolina workers are guaranteed the federal minimum of $5.15 an hour.

So what are our policy makers doing about the gap between the minimum and living wage? The Republican leadership, including Speaker Wilkins, Rep. Harry Cato, Rep. Bobby Harrell, and Rep. Jim Harrison, are sponsoring legislation (H-3289) that would prohibit any county or city in the state from establishing a wage that is higher than the federal minimum.

Legislative Briefs

The following is a sampling of bills which have been filed in the legislature that are frightening, amusing or otherwise deserve recognition. While much of the country is debating the death penalty, our legislature is debating new ways to apply it.

Sen Joe Wilson's (R-Lex.) S-90 provides that 10 members instead of all 12 members of a jury can vote to impose the death penalty. Altman's H-3223 adds death by domestic violence to the list of death penalty offenses.

Rep. Bob Leach's (R-G'ville) H-3054 would remove the decision on imposing the death penalty from the jury and give it to the judge.

Leach's H-3067 adds killing of a family member that you have previously assaulted to the list of death penalty offenses.

Rep. Becky Meacham-Richardson's (R-York) H-3056 adds stalking that results in murder to the list of death penalty offenses.

Rep. John Graham Altman's (R-Charleston) H-3159 would permanently bar felons from voting unless they receive a pardon. Currently, a felon's voting rights are restored at the end of his or her sentence.

Altman's "No Bull Bill" H-3204, prohibits selling malt liquor in containers larger than 32 ounces.

Sen. Bill Mescher's (R-Berkeley) S-39 & S-40 would authorize elk and deer farming.

Rep. Edie Rodgers' (R-Beaufort) H-3162 proposes to do away with the Blue Laws for everything except alcoholic beverages. Rodgers, who uses her Christian faith as a political asset, belongs to the Church of Perpetual Free Market Consumption. Christian Consumptionists believe that buying a chainsaw on Sunday morning is a more godly act than buying a bottle of wine for your afternoon nature communion.

Rep. Wilkins' (R-Greenville) H-3176 applies the Right to Work law (known also as the Right to Work For Less law) to public employees. State government workers are already prohibited from bargaining over wages or condition, but the bill will insure they are subject to the same organizing restrictions as private employees. Wilkins, along with Rep. Catoe (R-Greenville), has also reintroduced H-3142, which puts further restrictions on union activity.

Rep. Jake Knotts' (R-Lexington) H-3010 would give citizens the right to carry concealed weapons to church, a bill modeled after one signed by Gov. Bush in Texas in 1997.

Rep. Joe Brown's (D-Richland) H-3011 would prohibit people from being fired for being a biker or dressing like one.

Rep. Liston Barfield's (R-Horry) H-3088 would allow police to give speeding motorists a ticket for "careless operation" instead of a speeding ticket that carries points off their license. While the bill would save speeders money on their insurance, it would also allow police departments to run "point free" speed traps that would increase their revenue.

Sen. Wes Hays's (R-Rock Hill) S-18 would require the state employee health plan to cover "scalp-hair prostheses," which we believe are hair implants. It is not known if Hays, who is follically impaired, intends to file a claim.

Bills Worth a Second Reading

Sen. Joe Wilson's S-105 prohibits DOT from cutting trees more than two feet in diameter.

Sen. Robert Ford's (D-Charleston) S-84 & S-85 calls for the voters to elect judges.

Rep. Joe Brown's (D-Richland) H-3068 calls for twice as many toilets for women as for men in public buildings.

Rep. Alex Harvin's (D-Clarendon) H-3029 calls for equal funding for public schools and changing the state's obligation for "adequate" education to "equitable and high quality" education.

Rep. Jim Harrison's (R-Richland) H-3045 would allow judges to hand down a sentence that is below the "mandatory minimum" sentence, a practice that is exploding our prison population.

Rep. Bessie Moody-Lawrence's (D-Rock Hill) H-3092, the Fair Pay Act, would mandate equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender or race.

Sen. Robert Ford's S-58 would allow South Carolinians to vote by mail.

Rep. Edie Rogers' H-3130 would require that takeout food wrappers not be made out of styrofoam and be biodegradable. The bill doesn't address the plastic quality of the food.


© Copyright by POINT, 2000