It was a gay day in South Carolina!

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On Oct. 8, two Network groups and their allies from across South Carolina celebrated marriage equality at the SC State House after the historic court decisions paving the way for marriage equality in several states, including South Carolina. After a rally, LGBT activists and allies delivered a box of 5,000 petitions to SC Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office. Ignoring the writing on the legal wall, the governor and the AG vowed they will continue using taxpayer money to fight the issue.

Indeed, the next day the SC Supreme Court blocked the marriage license applications gay couples filed the day before in Charleston and Richland County court houses.

In spite of the stubborn response on the part of state leaders, marriage equality is inevitable, even in South Carolina. Congratulations to our member groups SC Equality and the Harriet Hancock Center for their dogged pursuit of fairness for all South Carolina’s citizens.

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More photos on Flickr.

Network Survey Shows County Voter Registration Offices Unclear About Law

Becci Robbins
SC Progressive Network Communications Director

If you are sent to prison in South Carolina, you lose the right to vote. By state law, that right is to be restored upon completion of your sentence. But a new survey of the state’s voter registration offices reveals that how the process for re-enfranchisement works — and doesn’t work — depends on where you live.

The SC Progressive Network has just completed a survey of the state’s 46 county voter registration offices, finding that 33 of them require people to provide documentation that they’ve completed their sentence in order to re-register.

“Talking with staff in each of the 46 offices, we found a selective application of the law that we believe violates the equal protection clause,” said Network Director Brett Bursey. “People who have served their time are being made to jump through bureaucratic hoops to regain the full citizenship granted by law. It is unfair, further depresses the state’s dismal voter participation rate, and affects twice as many black citizens as whites.”

While 13 offices do not require documentation from ex-offenders, Susie Edwards, Director of the Dillon County voter registration office, said her staff will ask for proof if someone “is acting sketchy.”

Saluda County voter registration office Director Dana Burdern said, “A letter from Pardons and Parole is not required by law but it’s asked for.”

Deputy Director Patrick Lee of Charleston said, “We go on their word. We don’t require more than that.”

The word Lee is relying on is the “voter oath” a person signs when registering swearing that he or she is a US citizen, is 18 years or older, and a South Carolina resident. Registrants also swear that they haven’t been found “mentally incompetent,” are not serving time in jail, and have completed their sentence.

“The only part of the oath citizens are being asked to provide additional proof for is the completion of a prison sentence,” Bursey said. “No law requires the counties to ask for further proof, and there is no established system for proving someone has served their time.”

The survey also revealed that 20 counties wrongly claim differences in the waiting periods between felonies and misdemeanors for voter registration, with felonies requiring additional waiting time.

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SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey and volunteer Bishop Shirley Raiford work a voting registration table at the bus transfer station in downtown Columbia.

“South Carolina’s voting system is a vestige of the Jim Crow era,” Bursey said. “The Senate was able to retain white power in 1895 by granting control of the election process to the counties, whose boards Senate members appointed. To this day, legislators appoint the boards, and each county is in charge of its own elections. This is why we have 46 counties interpreting the laws differently.”

The Network has introduced legislation that would require the state to inform people exiting the prison system of their voting rights. The bill has not advanced, but will be introduced again next legislative session.

“We think it is an important part of the reintegration of people back into our communities to ensure they regain their voting rights,” said Network Co-chair Virginia Sanders. “The state removes you from the rolls if you are incarcerated, and it should make sure that you can be reinstated once you’ve served your time.”

Sanders, who has spent years doing registration drives through the Network’s Missing Voter Project, said a common misconception, especially in rural areas, is that when people are sent to prison they forever lose their right to vote. “It’s sad that so many people don’t understand the law, especially those who are charged with enforcing it.”

The Network will use the survey as evidence in a case that is being prepared for federal court. Ex-offenders with relevant testimony about difficulties registering to vote are asked to contact the Network at 803-808-3384 or by sending email to network@scpronet.com. For more about the Network or its Missing Voter Project, visit scpronet.com.

New group works to raise funds to fight for marriage equality in South Carolina

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A grass roots group called The Will of the People has recently formed with a singular focus on South Carolina’s marriage equality fight. The mission is simple: To raise funds for non-attorney costs to support both a pending lawsuit as well as future marriage equality litigation in our state. The catalyst for the organization’s creation is the pending lawsuit by two women against the State of South Carolina in Federal District Court. The suit seeks an order requiring the state to recognize their 2012 legal marriage in Washington, DC.

The Will of the People is a volunteer organization; therefore, nearly 100% of the money raised will be used for filing fees, legal brief writings and clerical costs in the ongoing fight for marriage equality in SC. An account has been set up in the name of The Will of the People Fund at Wells Fargo Bank in South Carolina. All contributions are tax deductible. Send checks payable to The Will of the People Fund to The Will of the People Fund, PO Box 5006, Columbia, SC 29250.

Learn more about The Will of the People Fund on Facebook and Twitter @RealWOTPF.

SC Progressive Network part of college forum on third parties in South Carolina

American voters often think in two flavors: Republican and Democrat. But about a fifth of the candidates running Nov. 4 in South Carolina for state or federal offices are third-party candidates.

Columbia College is offering a forum for third-party candidates on Monday, Sept. 29, in the Breed Leadership Center. Beginning at 7 p.m. in Breed 201-202, third-party candidates will speak, each for five minutes, on their and their parties’ platforms. A brief moderated panel will follow, during which representatives of the third parties will discuss the effect on elections with representatives of the SC Progressive Network.

Afterward, time will be provided to personally meet candidates. The event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be provided.

Those attending and the offices they are running for include:

  • For the Libertarians: Victor Kocher, Libertarian chairman and candidate for the U.S. Senate; Travis McCurry, S.C. House of Representatives, District 26; and Curtis McLaughlin, 4th Congressional District.
  • For the American Party of South Carolina: Jim Rex, American Party chairman and co-founder; Jill Bossie, U.S. Senate; Ed Murray, state superintendent of education; and Donna McGreevy, S.C. House of Representatives, District 74.
  • For the United Citizens Party: Morgan Bruce Reeves, governor.
  • To discuss the election effects: Brett Bursey, director, and Marjorie Hammock, co-chair, SC Progressive Network.

Why do some S.C. candidates and voters gravitate to third parties? The candidates themselves will answer the question on Sept. 29, as may voters attending.

Rex, of the American Party of South Carolina, says that his party’s appeal lies in the “emphasis on problem-solving and not on ideological absolutes or extremes,” as well as candidates’ vows to abide by “mandated term limits, transparency and unprecedented accountability.”

Kocher, a Libertarian, says, “Libertarian candidates trust people with the freedom to make the best choices for themselves while the Democratic and Republican parties trust the state with the power to make choices for the people.”

The event is sponsored by the Writing for Print and Digital Media program, a major that provides students academic and professional experience in digital and print journalism, public relations, social media and creative writing.

Breed Leadership Center is located at 1301 Columbia College Drive, which is between Colonial Drive and North Main Street. Parking is available in Lots A and B at the corner of Colonial and Columbia College drives. For a map of the campus, go here.

For more information on the event, contact Claudia Smith Brinson at Columbia College, csbrinson@columbiasc.edu or 803-786-3153.

Ethics reform: when a bad bill is worse than no bill

John Crangle
Director, Common Cause South Carolina

The State’s readers were treated recently to the musings of a pair of rookie legislators, Rep. Kirkman Finlay and Sen. Thomas McElveen, joined by JoAnne Day of the League of Women Voters, a newcomer to ethics reform, who praised House bill 3945 and ridiculed legislators who opposed the purported ethics-reform bill as “perfectionists,” “concerned” or “unwilling” ( “We must move forward on ethics,” Aug. 14).

It is not surprising, perhaps, that three people so recently acquainted with State House politics should fall for a fake reform bill like H.3945.

In particular, Rep. Finlay’s brief tenure in the House would not encourage much confidence in his actual interest in reform. He was one of the chief sponsors of two looney bills designed to rescue House Speaker Bobby Harrell from the criminal probe by the attorney general into his use of some $300,000 of campaign funds for pay for his personal airplane. Finlay joined with allies to fix a bill to remove Wilson as prosecutor in the Harrell case and empower Harrell himself and the president pro tempore of the Senate to appoint a special prosecutor to take Wilson’s place; they even proposed a constitutional amendment to strip Wilson of his prosecutorial authority.

Common Cause of South Carolina opposed H.3945 when it came to a vote in the Senate at the end of this past session; it was defeated by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and progressives.

No honest analysis of H.3945 could conclude that it was a serious reform proposal. It failed to address the most critical ethics problems that have plagued South Carolina in recent years. It failed to clean up the chronic problem of the misuse of campaign funds for non-campaign purpose. Just in the past few years, a number of officials have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar: Gov. Mark Sanford used campaign money to go on a hunting trip in Ireland; Lt. Gov. Ken Ard was thrown out of office after he bought clothes; Rep. Harold Mitchell was fined more than $20,000 for misuses; and Sen. Robert Ford was referred to the attorney general for buying sex novelties.

Not only did H.3945 not stop the misuse of campaign money for non-campaign purposes; it even proposed to allow candidates to use such funds to pay for family members to go on trips.

The bill did nothing to stop legislative ethics committees from pretending to police their own members. The failure of the House Ethics Committee to do anything about Bobby Harrell’s out-of-control spending of campaign money on his private airplane clearly shows how conflicted and frightened the panel was.

Of course, H.3945 had no whistle-blower measure to protect government employees who report embezzlement, bribery and corruption, even though South Carolina is plagued by such crimes. It had no public integrity unit of the sort proposed by the attorney general to attack public corruption.

As bad as 3945 was, there were many legislators who wanted it to pass so they could say for the next generation that they has passed a wonderful ethics reform bill while they continued to misbehave for the rest of their careers.

In the end, Gov. Nikki Haley declared H.3945 an income-disclosure bill that didn’t address ethics, and Sen. Vincent Sheheen walked away from it, as both candidates for governor clearly saw that the bill fell far below their minimum standards for ethics reform.

The next two years will be a better time for passing a real ethics reform bill, as the 2016 elections will have both the House and Senate facing the voters. By then, perhaps another scandal will further demonstrate the need for a real ethics-reform law.

John Crangle is executive director of Common Cause of South Carolina, a longtime member of the SC Progressive Network.

SC Pride movement celebrates 25 years

The SC Progressive Network has supported Pride since our founding, back when doing so meant we would likely lose foundation money and certain community allies in the process. We’ve always tried to stay on the side of right, even when it hurts.

We applaud the gay community in South Carolina for its successes over the years, in spite of tough odds. Here’s a look back at Pride over the years.

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More photos in our Flickr photo album.

 

Network takes healthcare message on the road

logo3The SC Progressive Network is in the process of training crews of volunteers to launch its latest project, the Healthy Democracy Road Show, designed to educate and mobilize voters on the state of democracy and healthcare in South Carolina. Road crews will do door-to-door canvassing in targeted neighborhoods, and a show is being developed to liven up events in selected towns across South Carolina.

We spent the last legislative session targeting lawmakers on Medicaid expansion. Now, over the summer and early fall, we will focus on targeted communities across the state, taking our message to the people most affected by state lawmakers’ refusal to accept federal funding — our own tax money.

In July and early August, trainings for organizers are being held. For information, or to schedule a training in your area, call 803-808-3384 or email network@scpronet.com. The next training is on July 21 at the ILA Hall in Charleston.

This clip is from a training in Columbia, presented by Network Director Brett Bursey.

University Libraries offers glowing review of Network’s booklet about Modjeska Simkins

By Herb Hartsook
University Libraries South Carolina Political Collections
(posted June 30 on A Capital Blog and re-posted with permission)

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Modjeska Simkins was a remarkable human rights activist and a uniquely powerful speaker. Becci Robbins captures her essence in a new booklet, Modjeska Monteith Simkins: A South Carolina Revolutionary, just published by the South Carolina Progressive Network. The 38-page booklet is clearly a labor of love by Robbins, the Network’s Communications Director.

Mrs. Simkins’ voice is present throughout the booklet which features lavish quotations. Robbins places Mrs. Simkins both in time and place with a detailed biographical sketch. The booklet also includes rich illustrations and statements by people such as SC Political Collections donors Matthew Perry and Candy Waites who knew and were influenced by Mrs. Simkins.

Until a full-length biography is produced, this forms the best treatment on the life and important role played by this forceful human rights activist.

A June 26 reception at Mrs. Simkins’ Marion Street home, which houses the Network’s offices, celebrated the new publication. Brett Bursey, founder and director of the Progressive Network and devoted Simkins mentee, served as master of ceremonies and gave a stirring talk describing plans for the Modjeska Simkins School for Human Rights, a new endeavor by the Network which will train and encourage individuals to follow in the footsteps of Mrs. Simkins and “take on issues of economic and social injustice.”

3,000 copies of the booklet, which was made possible by a grant from the Richland County Conservation Commission, will be distributed to libraries around the state and interested individuals.  An electronic copy is available on the Network’s website.

Mrs. Simkins once noted, “Start each sunrise as a new day.  Start out believing there’s good to be done and people to do it for.”  That spirit still lives.

SC voters remain confused about photo ID

Brett Bursey
Executive Director, SC Progressive Network

Contrary to news reports, registered voters do not have to have a photo ID to vote in South Carolina.

There is widespread misinformation regarding the new state law. Numerous television reports leading up to the June 10 primary told voters they must have one of the five approved photo IDs to vote. Truth is, voters with none of the approved IDs can present their old (non-photo) voter registration card and cast a paper ballot.

Unlike the traditional provisional paper ballot that could be rejected by the county board of elections, the federal court ruled that the legitimacy of the paper ballots cast by voters without photo IDs is determined by the voter. The paper ballots will be counted unless evidence is presented that the voter lied about why they do not have a photo ID.

The two most salient points of the appeals court ruling were:

  • “As we will explain, South Carolina’s new law, Act R54, likewise does not require a photo ID to vote.” (pg. 2, second paragraph)
  • “First, to state the obvious, Act R54 as now pre-cleared is not the R54 enacted in May 2011.” (pg. 40 – Judge Bates’ concurring opinion)

The SC Progressive Network spent three years fighting this regressive law, and was a party to the appeal. We will not let state Attorney Gen. Alan Wilson, Gov. Nikki Haley and others go unchallenged in their claim that they beat the Section 5 ruling and that our new law requires voters to present a photo ID.

As we have said before, the photo ID campaign was a shameless ploy to suppress the vote — expensive political theater that only served to confuse voters. Unfortunately, they are still confused. Our work to educate South Carolina voters continues.

What ails the VA is chronic under-staffing

By J. David Cox Sr.
national president of the American Federation of Government Employees

The public’s outrage over excessive wait times and rigged record keeping at Veterans Affairs hospitals is more than justified. As a former VA nurse, I understand all too well that depriving veterans of timely access to care is a disservice to them and their sacrifice to this nation.

But cleaning house in the VA’s executive ranks will only treat the symptom. The disease plaguing the VA healthcare system is chronic under-staffing of physicians and other frontline providers.

Until we fill thousands of vacant positions, open closed hospital beds and provide more dollars for building and maintaining medical facilities, we will never heal what ails the VA.

Physicians are dealing with excessive caseloads and insufficient support staff. Since 2009, 2 million veterans entered the VA health care system for a net increase of 1.4 million new patients. Each physician should be responsible for no more than 1,200 patients at a given time, according to the VA’s own guidelines, yet many VA doctors are treating upwards of 2,000 patients each.

Simply put, there isn’t enough time in the day for the available doctors to treat every veteran who is seeking care in a timely fashion.

Compounding matters is a performance system that sets unrealistic goals and incentivizes managers to increase the number of patients served, instead of improving the quality of care. Rather than face the under-staffing issue head-on and risk poor ratings, many managers have taken the easy way out and have cooked the books to mask the wait times.

But blaming those managers for a performance system that was doomed from the start won’t help our veterans get the care they seek any faster.

Truth be told, there is nothing wrong with the VA that can’t be healed by what is right with the VA: the frontline providers who care for our veterans every day.

No one is complaining about the quality of care our veterans receive. That’s because the federal employees who look after our nation’s heroes work hard each and every day to provide them with world-class service.

Unfortunately, those same employees have lived in fear of speaking out about the problems they witness due to an established history of retaliation, including loss of duties and unfounded disciplinary actions. Our members have paid a heavy price for voicing concerns, submitting letters to agency leaders, raising issues in labor management meetings, and testifying before Congress on wait time issues and veterans’ access to care. When they have sounded the alarm, our members have faced retaliation and intimidation time and time again.

Employees shouldn’t feel afraid to speak up when they see managers more concerned with securing bonuses than providing patients with timely access to care for critical medical conditions. In fact, they should be encouraged to bring up these issues so they can be rectified before more veterans go without the treatment they so desperately need.

The waitlist and understaffing issues are one and the same. Until Congress gives the VA the resources to hire enough frontline clinicians to meet demand, our veterans will continue to face long waits. And to be clear, sending veterans to expensive health care providers outside the VA system on a massive scale will not fix the underlying resource deficiencies plaguing our veterans medical centers.

According to the Independent Budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs, developed each year by leading veterans groups, the Veterans Health Administration is facing a $2 billion funding shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year and another $500 million shortfall for fiscal 2016.

It’s time for the VA to get back to basics and focus on improving access to care for our nation’s veterans. The agency must cut excess management layers and use those resources to boost frontline staffing of doctors, nurses and others directly involved in patient care. The growth of middle management positions within the agency has ballooned to unprecedented levels, from fewer than 300 in 1995 to more than 1,700 by a recent count, costing taxpayers $203 million annually.

The VA long has been held up as a model healthcare delivery system that all other hospitals should emulate. The care our veterans receive is second to none, but that only counts when our veterans actually are treated.

J. David Cox Sr. is national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents more than 670,000 federal and D.C. government employees nationwide and Chair of the AFL-CIO’s Union Veterans Council.

Progressive Groups Stand in Solidarity with the Charleston-Area McDonald’s Workers Arrested in Chicago

960Protesters demonstrate outside McDonald’s headquarters in Oak Brook. (Chuck Berman, Chicago Tribune / May 21, 2014)

Seven Charleston-area fast food workers, including six McDonald’s employees, were arrested Wednesday during a protest at the company’s annual shareholder meeting in Oak Brook, Illinois. A delegation of ten workers from Charleston joined more than 2,000 fast-food workers, community supporters, clergy and elected officials at the corporate headquarters near Chicago to escalate their call for $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation. Wednesday’s protest took place less than a week after strikes and protests rocked 230 cities around the world in what MSNBC called the “biggest fast-food strike ever.”

Among the local McDonald’s workers arrested was Cherri Delisline, a mother of four. “I’ve been working for McDonalds for 10 years and my hourly paycheck is the same now as it was my first day on the job: $7.35,” she said. “It’s not okay for McDonald’s to rake in huge profits but pay us so little we can’t support our families. I went on strike and now I got arrested, and I will continue to protest until McDonald’s listens.” Delisline was among more than 100 McDonald’s workers to be arrested Wednesday.

The SC AFL-CIO, the Charleston Central Labor Council, the SC Progressive Network (Charleston chapter), the Carolina Alliance for Fair Employment, the Coalition (People United to Take Back our Community), and the International Longshoremen’s Association (Local 1422) stand in solidarity with the Charleston fast food workers and their efforts to form a union and raise the minimum wage. Last Thursday (May 15), more than three dozen workers went on strike at area fast food restaurants. They were joined on picket lines in front of Burger King (4709 Dorchester Rd., North Charleston) and McDonald’s (2988 W. Montague Ave., North Charleston) by dozens of community supporters.

“If you do the math it doesn’t add up to surviving,” said Erin McKee, president of the SC AFL-CIO. “You cannot live on $7.25 an hour.” McKee noted that many of the fast food workers are also parents. “I know what it’s like to wonder if you have enough to pay the bills or to worry about losing your job if you miss work because your child gets sick,” said McKee who has been a single parent for all of her adult life.

McDonald’s annual shareholder meeting, scheduled for Thursday, approaches as investors and company officials are increasingly realizing they need to respond to workers’ call for higher pay. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company admitted that the growing and focus on inequality might force them to raise wages. And in response to class-action lawsuits against McDonald’s that allege widespread and systematic wage theft, the company announced it was launching a comprehensive investigation.

Scrutiny on the company has intensified since the release of a report earlier this month by Demos showing that the fast-food industry has the largest disparity between worker and CEO pay. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said that excessive pay disparities “pose a risk to share owner value,” and that conversations around inequality should move into the boardrooms of profitable fast-food companies.

USA Today noted that the growing worker movement would be front-and-center at McDonald’s annual shareholder meeting, naming it “the issue that just won’t go away.” And Business Insider wrote that the company was barring reporters from the annual meeting because of “the pressure the company is feeling from shareholders, franchisees, and especially workers — who are planning to protest at the meeting in Oakbrook, Illinois.”

“The problems of pay disparity in fast food extend beyond the industry to affect the rest of our economy,” said Catherine Ruetschlin, Demos Policy Analyst and author of the report Fast Food Failure. “Even the industry leader, McDonald’s, has acknowledged that rising inequality is a risk to their bottom line, as companies see the negative consequences of pay disparity appear as operational issues, legal challenges, and diminishing worker and customer satisfaction. Those consequences pose a real risk to shareholders, who have a material interest in addressing the practices that drive income inequality, undermine the long-term performance of the firm, and inhibit stability and growth in the economy overall.”

As McDonald’s U.S. sales are slumping, the company is facing growing criticism from both customers and franchisees. A recent Harris poll found that McDonald’s reputation among customers fell sharply, and surveys show that a majority of franchise owners are upset with the company, describing their relationship as “poor” and giving McDonald’s the lowest ratings it’s seen in 12 years.

In the past year, McDonald’s was widely ridiculed for its sample budget for workers, which required them to get a second job to make ends meet; its employee advice site that told workers to sing away stress, take small bites of food to avoid hunger and not eat fast food; an employee hotline that encouraged workers to apply for public assistance; and findings that the company costs U.S. taxpayers $1.2 billion annually in public assistance for its workers.

McDonald’s workers who will protest at the annual meeting, and who have now struck six times in the past 18 months, are challenging the company’s outdated notion that their workers are teenagers looking for pocket change. Research shows that a majority of fast-food workers are adults, many of whom are struggling to raise children on a median wage of $8.94.

A campaign that started in New York City in November 2012, with 200 fast-food workers walking off their jobs demanding $15 and the right to form a union without retaliation, has since spread to more than 150 cities in every region of the country, including the South—and now around the world. The growing fight for $15 has been credited with elevating the debate around inequality in the U.S. When Seattle’s mayor proposed a $15 minimum wage earlier this month, Businessweek said he was “adopting the rallying cry of fast-food workers.”

The spread of the worker movement overseas should cause further alarm. International fast-food restaurants are expected to expand at four times the rate of U.S. businesses, according to a recent Merrill Lynch report. And while US sales slump, companies like McDonald’s are relying on growth overseas to boost their bottom lines more than ever.

For more on last week’s strike and protests, visit fastfoodglobal.org.

Truthful Tuesday defendants get day in court

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Over the three weeks that the South Carolina Senate debated a bill to “nullify Obamacare,” 28 people were arrested for blocking the legislators’ entrance to the State House garage. Twenty seven of those arrested requested a jury trial, and the City of Columbia’s response is expected to be announced in Columbia Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday, May 6, at approximately 9am. A 10am press conference will follow the hearing.

“We were arrested to bring attention to our state’s immoral refusal to accept Medicaid funding for our states poorest citizens,” said the group’s spokesperson, Rev. Tom Summers.

Then-interim Columbia police chief Ruben Santiago, who oversaw the first round of arrests, said recently, “Prior to the protests, I didn’t know that we had turned down a free Medicaid card for all the homeless people in Columbia. You can’t imagine what a difference that would have made, not only in the lives of our homeless citizens, but to the police who have to deal with them daily.”

Santiago said that a lack of medical care and prescriptions for the homeless have turned the cops into “social workers with guns.”

The SC Progressive Network and its Truthful Tuesday allies will continue working to get SC to implement the Affordable Care Act by launching a statewide “Healthy Democracy” campaign to educate the 123,279 registered SC voters living below the poverty level who were denied a free Medicaid card.

To put this number in perspective, the anti-ACA candidate Nikki Haley won the governor’s race in 2010 by 59,971 votes. If the people denied free health care turn out and vote, the next governor will support the ACA.