Election update: working a rigged system – and winning!

In keeping with the Network’s analysis that there are few races that aren’t preordained in South Carolina, through gerrymandered districts and other tools that rig the system, SC ProVote, the Network’s C-4, picked two campaigns on which to spend our resources.

In the campaign for Senate District 17 (Fairfield, Chester and York), we supported Mike Fanning, a progressive candidate who we thought had a solid chance at winning. In the other campaign, our mission was to remove the Lee Bright from Senate District 12 (Greenville, Spartanburg) by promoting his Republican opposition.


Mike Fanning speaks to at the Network’s annual fall conference at Penn Center.

We are pleased to report that our preferred candidates won in both races.

Progressive Network member Fanning forced a run-off and beat the longtime Democratic incumbent Creighton Coleman. Network volunteers made hundreds of phone calls and our Rock Hill chapter knocked on many doors in the York County portion of the district. We are thrilled that he will be an ally in the State House.

Sen. Lee Bright, the indefatigable bigot who wages futile battles against civilization, will not be going back to the Senate. Our upstate members made calls to Democrats encouraging them to vote for Spartanburg attorney Scott Talley in the June primary. We know Talley from his time in the House and consider him rational. While we don’t expect Tally to be progressive, we are reminded that there are no permanent friends, or permanent enemies in the legislature, only temporary allies.

Crossover voting in the primary has long been a taboo. But now that political districts have been drawn to insure Republican dominance of the legislature, Democrats in these districts won’t have a say in who represents them unless they vote in the Republican primary. 75% of the 170 legislators are chosen in the primary, so the majority of citizens only have one person to vote for in the general election – like the old Soviet style elections we used to make fun of.

The Network has long argued that we can’t rely on an electoral system that is driven by money and corporate influence to solve our problems. We must take on and sustain, the long, hard task of building a popular movement with the power to make real change.

Network staff part of lawsuit against Turbeville’s long practice of “highway robbery”

SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey and Communications Director Becci Robbins have joined in a lawsuit against the town of Turbeville for writing municipal traffic tickets Bursey claims are unconstitutional. He estimates Turbeville has been writing these tickets since 2003 and bringing in about $1 million a year.

Read full story in The State.

Sheriff Leon Lott says Network’s racial profiling project boosts accountability


Richland County Sheriff Lott shared the progress and challenges on racial profiling in South Carolina at the Network’s spring strategy conference in Columbia.

Brett Bursey, executive director of the SC Progressive Network: Sheriff Lott has been a friend of the people for quite some time now. He participated with Joe Neal and I in television work about racial profiling databases in 2001. And Richland County has taken the lead on that. And the sheriff has taken a little bit of time off from campaigning for his, how many terms?

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott: Sixth term.

Bursey: For his sixth term, so he’s obviously doing a good job as Richland County sheriff. So let’s hear it for Leon Lott. (applause)

Sheriff Lott: Thank you.

The problem with all that data is nobody really looks at it, half the agencies don’t turn it in, and it’s not enough data. Back in ’99 and 2000 we were looking at racial profiling and being transparent and creating a citizens advisory council. We required that every deputy, when they stop somebody, they have to call in the stop, location where they stopped them, and why they stopped them. And when they get through with the stop, we have to get the age, race and what they did.

So we have the whole picture, and then our dispatcher takes that and – through the computers we’ve got – we have each officer’s name with the data. And we have somebody look at it; it doesn’t sit there like the state’s data. We have supervisors look at it, and we check our officers. Is this officer working in a Latino community? Who is he stopping? Is he in a white community? Is he in an African -American community? We have to look at what community they work in to determine who’s being stopped. Then you have to look and see are they just stopping one race? One sex?

We actually identified an officer who was stopping Hispanic females, and we saw that there was a problem. So we started pulling his tapes and we found out he was profiling Hispanic females, and actually had him on tape assaulting one. We didn’t just terminate him, we arrested him.

What we were doing in 1999 and 2000 had been so successful with us—Rep. Joe Neal and Brett [Bursey] said we need to do statewide. They started off modeling after what we were doing, but by the time [the bill] got passed it was so watered-down it was basically ineffective. One of the most blatant things that made it ineffective was that people weren’t forced to do it. We had so many agencies that just weren’t turning in the information. Why isn’t there some penalty for not doing it? There wasn’t.

So the law really hasn’t been effective. Rep. Joe Neal, a Richland County representative and one of my close friends, we started back again trying to do something to require agencies to do it. And to give us more information. If you’re just doing it for people who get warning tickets, what about people who are stopped and don’t get a warning ticket? Or that you give an actual ticket to? Where’s the data on them?

So we’re not getting the data on everyone who’s stopped, and that’s what we need-not just a snapshot of a few people who are stopped, but everybody that you stop-and then have it examined. You have to look at what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. And when you do that, you’re able to determine if you have racial profiling. That is the only way you’re going to be able to stop it.

We go through the education part of it with our deputies. If they know that we’re not going to tolerate anything like that and that you will be arrested and you will be terminated if they do stuff like that, then they have it in their mind that they can’t do it. But if an agency allows it or doesn’t check, then there’s going to be some officers that are actually going to do it. So you have to start at the agency’s head—the ones who put the word out that this is not going to be tolerated in our agencies.

One of the things we did to help do that was our citizen’s advisory council—27 citizens who represent the diverse community we have in Richland County. We’ve had it for 16 years. They come in and look at all of our internal affairs complaints, all the police shootings, all our policies and procedures, they look at every single thing we do. They have a voice in the sheriff’s department, which is the voice of the citizens of Richland County.

I can’t go around and talk to all 500,000 residents of Richland County, but I can talk to their representatives who represent their community. They see what we do in real live time, not six months later, 10 months, not one year later, but they see it as it happens. If we have a shooting, they’re getting information as soon as I’m getting information so they can take it back to their communities and let communities know what actually happened. They sit on our hiring board.

When you go through to be a deputy, the last thing you do is go before an interview board. There’s five deputies and two representatives from the citizens advisory board, and each one has an equal vote. We want the citizens to see everything we do. The agencies that hide the information are the agencies that are doing something wrong. If you’re not doing anything wrong, there’s absolutely no reason we can’t be open and honest and transparent with every single thing that we do. That’s what we do at Richland County, and I get criticized for it. I get criticized for it by other sheriffs and other chiefs who don’t believe in it. They don’t believe in collecting data on racial profiling. They don’t believe in having a citizen’s advisory council. They’re totally against it.

Sen. [Marlon] Kimpson from Charleston County and Sen. John Scott from Richland County introduced two bills in the current session. One bill was for SLED to have a citizens advisory council. The other bill was for agencies over 300,000 to have a citizen’s advisory council. That got shot down immediately by the Sheriff’s Association and other law enforcement associations because the sheriffs and chiefs said, “We don’t want the citizens to have oversight of what we’re doing.”

That to me is absolutely ludicrous and crazy, and I’m ostracized by my fellow sheriffs because I believe in that. I ain’t changing. I’m not.


Three years ago, I was elected to be president of the South Carolina Sheriff’s Association, and I was to take office this July, so I would have been president in ’15 and ’16. After Sen. Kimpson introduced the bill on citizen’s advisory councils, the Sheriff’s Association had a special meeting where they voted me out. They didn’t believe in what I was doing and what I was saying. So I’m not going to be the president, so I can’t help you out on there. But I am going to be your voice and will speak out loud and clear and publicly that we need to do something about the problem in our communities with our law enforcement doing the wrong thing. And we need the citizens to help us police the police. That’s what we need to do. And when we do the right thing, we don’t have to worry about it. And by working together, we can do that.

The racial profiling bill is not going to go anywhere this year. Hopefully by next year we will be able to strengthen it and make it effective like it needs to be. But what you’re doing [through the Network’s racial profiling project] is a start, because if it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t have anything. We’re doing what we’re doing because it’s the right thing to do. But without you, we weren’t going to Spartanburg, we weren’t going to Greenville, we weren’t going to these other agencies and asking them the hard questions.

So keep doing what you’re doing, because the good cops don’t mind it one bit. Thank you.


This May 14 speech was transcribed by SC Progressive Network Member Liaison Kyle Criminger and has been edited for length.

Sunday Social May 15 to discuss SC student leaders in 1940s-1960s

youthe conf

Sunday, May 15

The Modjeska Simkins School for Human Rights
presents guest speaker
Dr. Bobby Donaldson
at its Sunday Social series
held on occasional Sundays at The Carriage House at the Robert Mills Mansion
1616 Blanding St., downtown Columbia (next to Township Auditorium)

USC Associate Professor of History and lead historian for the Columbia ‘63 Project Dr. Bobby Donaldson will talk about student leaders from the 1940s-1960s, the work of the SC Progressive Democratic Party, and the Southern Negro Youth Congress.

Donaldson will discuss and take questions about the civil rights movement in Columbia in the early 60’s, including the 187 black student’s arrested for praying on the grounds of the State House in 1961, at a time when blacks were not allowed to gather on the grounds. These arrests were the basis for the US Supreme Court ruling Edwards v. SC, which continues to protect citizens’ right to assemble on the State House grounds.

The SC Progressive Democratic Party of the 40s was organized as a multi-racial alternative to the whites-only Democratic Party. The PDP was two decades prior to the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party that pushed for racial inclusion, with Fannie Lou Hamer gaining the national spotlight at the 1964 Democratic Convention. Modjeska Simkins worked with Osceola McKaine and John McCray, and was the strategist for the party.

The Southern Negro Youth Congress at the Township in 1946 was a highwater event of the human rights movement and a precursor to the modern civil rights movement. W.E.B. DuBoise gave the keynote speech that evening “Behold the Land,” considered his most powerful address. His words are as relevant today as they were then.

Sunday Socials are a free, public component of the Modjeska School, a project of the SC Progressive Network. For details, see http://www.scpronet.com/modjeskaschool, email network@scpronet.com, or call 803-808-3384.

Modjeska School kicks off Sunday lectures with Ben Tillman scholar Vernon Burton

The Modjeska Simkins School for Human Rights

Sunday Socials
on occasional Sundays 4-6pm
The Carriage House at the Robert Mills Mansion
1616 Blanding St., downtown Columbia (adjacent to Township Auditorium)

•  •  •

April 24


Nationally renowned scholar on Pitchfork Ben Tillman and the Jim Crow Constitution of 1895, Dr. Vernon Burton, will lead discussion about our state’s most racist governor and how the rules he championed still affect life in South Carolina.

•  •  •

May 1


Noted author of The Orangeburg Massacre, Jack Bass, will lead discussion after a screening of the hour-long 2009 film Scarred Justice, about the 1968 killings at SC State College.

•  •  •

May 15


USC Associate Professor of History and lead Historian for the Columbia ‘63 Project, Dr. Bobby Donaldson, will lead discussion about student leaders from the 1940s-1960s, the work of the Progressive Democratic Party, and the Southern Negro Youth Congress.

•  •  •

Sunday Socials are a free, public component of the Modjeska School, a project of the SC Progressive Network. For details, see www.scpronet.com/modjeskaschool, email network@scpronet.com, or call SC Progressive Network at 803-808-3384.

Celebrating 20 years of speaking truth to power in the Palmetto State

Reps. Joe Neal and Gilda Cobb-Hunter stopped by the Modjeska House after our regular monthly meeting to toast the SC Progressive Network‘s 20th birthday. They have been our strongest allies in the legislature, and we are grateful for their service in that dysfunctional body.

We are proud of the progress we’ve made, and look forward to many more years of agitating, educating, and mobilizing a people’s movement in South Carolina.





Bullying children in your name

transgender_symbol_poster-r9521e24e98224b29918414be606aee6c_wvw_8byvr_324Dr. John Ruoff
The Rouff Group

There is great kerfuffle around a bill filed last week by Sen. Lee Bright, mirroring North Carolina’s HB2, that would prohibit local governments from legislating on bathroom access for transgender [1] South Carolinians and would require that multiple-occupancy restrooms and changing rooms “shall be designated for and only used by a person based on his biological sex” defined by what is on the person’s birth certificate. It also requires schools to enforce the same limitations.

The bill was assigned to the General Committee because it was drawn to Chapter 9 (Equal Enjoyment and Privileges to Public Accommodations) of Title 45 (Hotels, Motels, Restaurants and Boardinghouses). It amends our laws intended to prohibit discrimination in public accommodations. It includes only two members, Bright, and Joel Lourie. Lourie was doubtless recruited because he is not running again and has demonstrated courage to say “No” to crap like this. If we assume that Lourie will vote “No”—call him anyway, where is the majority vote to get this out of committee?

I know that many of you turn to these pages for trenchant analysis laced with biting humor. You can find that on the Internet on this. You can find the Arial cartoon labeling Bright as a horse’s ass. You can follow @PeeWithLee and #PeeWithLee on Twitter. But, frankly, I find not one thing funny in this.

How long in this country will we put up with legislators who think that they can file and pass bills to put the agency of the state at work to deny other people’s humanity? As a cisgender male, I can’t imagine anything more terrifying than to realize as a young person that my gender identity and my sexual equipment were mismatched especially while trying to figure out who I am in the hostile environment of school and with the school required to enforce that mismatch. No wonder so many trans kids suicide.

Aside from the local ordinance preemption, the only enforceable part of this legislation, assuming that we will not station genitalia and birth certificate police outside public restrooms, is the portion affecting schools. In your name and mine, the state would bully children.

And then to stick it in the Code section that only in 1990 put South Carolina on record as outlawing “White” and “Colored” restrooms. It is too scary that if Bright had filed this earlier … which would have taken more imagination than he has demonstrated, it would have flown through this pack of cowards. I don’t think this bill will pass this year. Hopefully, Gov. Nikki Haley saying “I don’t believe it’s necessary” will give some of, to use Rep. Gilda Cobb Hunter’s phrase, “the spinally-challenged” members the cover not to feel compelled to once again deny someone’s humanity—to bully children—in order to ensure reelection.

[1] A good guide, especially for cisgender persons, about how to talk and write about these issues is provided by GLAAD. http://www.glaad.org/reference/transgender.

The Ruoff Group produces a weekly report of State House activities that is indispensable for activists and organizations following legislation. Go to https://theruoffgroup.com/ for more information or email JRuoff@theRuoffGroup.com for subscription information.

Happy birthday to us! Here’s to 20 more!


April 1996, Penn Center, St. Helena Island, SC

Twenty years ago this month, the SC Progressive Network held its founding conference. The weekend was the culmination of a year of networking, with grassroots activists meeting and talking by phone to organize a statewide coalition.

The idea was to build a unified front to fight the erosion of gains they had worked decades to secure, believing that by joining forces they could leverage each other’s work and strengthen the progressive community in South Carolina. You can read about that weekend in a story that ran in the May 1996 issue of POINT newspaper, one of the vehicles for Network organizing.

That piece quotes Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, who was at the conference, along with Rep. Joe Neal, who served as Network co-chair for the first dozen years. He said, “My first philosophy is: don’t agonize; organize. I think this is the first step toward doing that. In the work I do [as a social worker for battered women] we talk about breaking the silence to end abuse. That’s what we have to do here; it’s the same analogy. We need to break the silence.

“We need to get beyond our own groups… and challenge these crazies spewing hateful stuff. You cannot allow them to outwork you. Stop whining and complaining; get out and do something.”

The piece noted that while conservatives have monopolized the public debate, it is power that had been abdicated, not earned. “In truth, most South Carolinians do not participate in the political process. Less than half of us are registered. In the 1994 general elections, according to figures from the state Election Commission, only 34 percent made it to the polls. In the gubernatorial election, David Beasley won with just 17 percent of the state’s voting age population.” [Gov. Nikki Haley won with similarly low numbers.)

“The task for the Network is to reach – and mobilize – the other 83 percent. Once the numbers are crunched, the idea of shaking up the status quo seems a less daunting task.”

The Network has not just survived 20 years, but has thrived. We have done tremendous work on a shoestring budget, and have created a solid foundation that will serve the progressive community well into the future. With your continued help and support, we look forward to many more years of shaking things up and speaking truth to power in South Carolina.

“I’ve never been self promotional,” said Network Director Brett Bursey, “but after 20 years of good and productive work, I think it’s time to take a bow. I’m realizing that my reticence to blow our own horn limits our reach, our recruiting and our fundraising.”

Come help us celebrate at our monthly meeting in Columbia April 12, 7pm, at the Modjeska House, 2025 Marion St. After a brief update on the work we’re doing, we’ll have cake and hoist a glass to toast our success. If you can’t join us, you can let us know you care by sending a gift. Details here.

Thanks, everyone! See you in the trenches.


Network Director Brett Bursey, center, and Reps. Joe Neal and Gilda Cobb-Hunter. See more photos from the Network’s first statewide gathering in our photo album.

What’s news and what’s next in April?

Mark Your Calendar for the Network’s Spring Strategy Conference May 14

This year marks the SC Progressive Network’s 20th year of educating, agitating. We invite you to join us for our annual Spring conference on Saturday, May 14, at the American Postal Workers’ Union Hall in Columbia. The conference will run from 10am through 5pm, with socializing and dinner to follow. Stay tuned for details.

Modjeska School spring classes are in session, and YOU can take advantage of online study guide

The Spring Session of the Modjeska School started March 21, with 31 students enrolled in the 8-week session. While we are working towards having organized, online classes in the coming year, everyone is welcome to the study guides for the eight classes that are being posted HERE. We invite you to take advantage of the readings and videos compiled by the school faculty.

Sunday Social Justice School is a chance for the public to share a deep dive into SC history with the Modjeska School. On April 24, Vernon Burton, the authority on Ben Tillman, leads our discussion about Tillman’s Jim Crow legacy. On May 1, a screening  of “Shattered Justice,” a recent film about the 1968 Orangeburg massacre, will be followed by a discussion about racist violence led by Jack Bass, author of The Orangeburg Massacre. The free gatherings are 4-6pm at the Robert Mills Carriage House, across Henderson street from the Township Auditorium in Columbia. Stay after class for a reception. Questions? Call 803-808-3384.

Photo ID Arms Race

Network Director Brett Bursey testified at an Election Laws Subcommittee in March on a bill to allow concealed weapons permits to serve as voter photo ID. The Network has long argued against the requirement for photo IDs, seeing it as a tool to suppress the vote, especially of elderly black voters.

Bursey pointed out to the committee that 90% of the civilians packing concealed guns in South Carolina are white males over 21. You don’t even have to live in SC to get a CWP, just own property here.

After debate, subcommittee chair Rep. Rick Quinn (R-Lexington) agreed to add, along with CWP permits, government-issued IDs to the list of approved voter IDs. Should the bill make it through the legislature, it will add CWP permits and public school IDs and local government IDs, as acceptable IDs. We’ll consider this a victory.

Racial Profiling Project Update

The Network’s Racial Profiling Project teams have been meeting with sheriffs and chiefs of police across the state to solicit their support for strengthening racial profiling monitoring in SC. A bill written in 2001 by the Network’s director and sponsored by Network Co-chair Rep. Joe Neal to require all cops to report all stops was finally passed in a watered-down version in 2005. The current “Public Contact” law only requires all cops to report warning tickets. Go HERE to see the lists of stops by your local cops on the Dept. of Public Safety web site.

Rep. Neal’s new bill (H-3993) requires all stops be reported, and requires SLED to analyze the data annually and report to the legislature. The new legislation fixes the problem that no agency monitors compliance with the law, and will require the legislature to suspend funding to any police agency not in compliance.

While we need more information about each stop than the race, gender and age than is currently reported, we’ve decided to focus on getting “all stops” legislation passed this session. We have learned that all the police agencies in the state are moving toward an electronic ticketing system that will automatically gather the data we want shared. Nearly 80 of the nearly 300 police agencies that stop citizens already have the laptop, scanner and GPS equipment in their cars that can plug into the “E-Citation”system. A bill has passed the Senate and is in the House to fund the outfitting of the all police cars by 2019.

Our strategy to get the bill passed has been to get the cops’ support first, pointing out that it helps build community trust, lower racial tension and make their jobs safer. The president of the Police Chiefs Association, Lancaster Chief Harlene Carter, and the incoming president of the SC Sheriffs Association, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, have agreed to testify in favor of the bill. The Head of the Dept. of Public Safety and the Highway Patrol has also agreed to support the bill.

Kudos to everyone who has been working on this project. We’re making sound headway.