Public invited to join SC progressives for a weekend of politics, strategy and fellowship

Penn Center

The timing couldn’t be better for the SC Progressive Network’s annual fall retreat at historic Penn Center Oct. 19-20, as political gridlock in DC and the mess over South Carolina’s refusal to participate in “Obamacare” has underscored how dysfunctional our political system had become. People are angry and looking for action.

“Our registration is already double what it usually is, and we are looking forward to a spirited and productive weekend,” said Network Director Brett Bursey. “Since the Network was founded, we have been organizing to build a progressive movement in South Carolina that can effectively represent the interests of working families. The dire predictions we have been forecasting have become real. This is no longer just an ideological discussion.”

South Carolina has been at the mercy of anti-government politicians who don’t believe in taxes and who claim that our state is too broke to meet the responsibilities of a civilized society. The truth is, that while South Carolina has the nation’s lowest combined state and federal taxes, and gives away more in special-interest tax breaks than it collects, our leaders claim we are too broke to fund our schools and government at mandated levels. Their refusal to participate in the Affordable Care Act means over 300,000 of our citizens will not get health care.

“We’re not broke; our leadership is morally bankrupt,” Bursey said. “We will take our fight to a new level in 2014, and we’ll be making plans to do that at Penn.”

Months before the threat of government shutdown, Network Cochair Donna Dewitt met US Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and invited him to Penn Center. He accepted, hoping to find answers to a question he’d been pondering: why working people in states like ours keep voting against their own interests.

In the past weeks, Sen. Sanders, has emerged as a leading voice of reason in the ideological war raging in Washington. On Saturday at Penn, the public is invited to hear him discuss the shutdown and other matters facing a country in crisis. Registration begins at 9am; the senator will speak at 10, followed by Q&A. This portion of the program is free, but all are welcome to stay for the rest of the day’s program and for the evening’s fish fry.Among the most progressive members of Congress, Sen. Sanders recently introduced the “Democracy is for People” bill for a constitutional amendment to establish that corporations are not people and money is not speech. He’s promoted progressive interests on the Hill since 1991, including Social Security, universal health care and workers’ rights.

Participants who don’t need accommodations or meals can register for $10. The Saturday night fish fry and entertainment is $15.The weekend package is $125, and includes conference materials, all meals, and accommodations in one of Penn’s refurbished dorms. It also covers Saturday night’s fish fry with all the trimmings and entertainment by singer/organizer Jane Sapp and satirist Dave Lippman.

Sapp recorded Carry It On, an album of movement songs, with Pete Seeger. She was a civil rights movement leader, former director of Highlander Center and established the first museum at Penn Center in 1971. She now heads the cultural committee of the Southern Partners Fund. She will be joined on stage Saturday by songster Lippman, who “afflicts the complacent, takes the air out of windbags, and updates worn-out songs with parody.”

The public is invited to come for the whole weekend, a day, or just part of the program. Call 803-808-3384 for details, or see www.scpronet.com.

Progressive Network helps South Carolinians navigate new healthcare insurance marketplace

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The SC Progressive Network is among the nonprofit organizations in South Carolina to receive a grant from the US Dept. of Health and Human Services to train and manage insurance marketplace navigators.

The Network’s navigators  are helping people understand their health insurance options, and purchase an individual, family, or small business plan as required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Network is providing this service because the SC legislature refused to set up a state-run exchange.

People who make between $11,500 and $46,000 are eligible for reduced price policies. But 280,000 South Carolinians who make less than $11,500 will have to pay full price for insurance. The ACA was designed to expand Medicaid to provide free health care to those in poverty.

South Carolina’s Republican leadership refused to take the $1.4 billion federal grant to expand Medicaid and provide healthcare for the poor. Gov. Nikki Haley led opposition to “Obamacare,” claiming that South Carolina couldn’t afford the 10% matching funds ($140 million) it would have to pay beginning in 2020.

We’d remind folks that eliminating just one of the state’s 80 sales tax exemptions could cover the cost of expanding Medicaid. Raising the $300 sales tax cap on luxury cars, yachts and private planes to the regional average would raise $160 million next year. That’s just one of the exemptions that leaves more than $2.4 billion in revenue out of our budget.

For information or help in applying for insurance through the federal health exchange, call the Network Navigators at 803-445-1921 or email navigator@scpronet.com.

 

 

Federal court judge throws out Republican lawsuit to close South Carolina primaries

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Federal Judge Mary Lewis dismissed the Greenville County Republican Party lawsuit against the State Election Commission Wednesday, ruling that the party did not have standing to bring the case to court. The state and Greenville County Republican parties filed the complaint in 2010, seeking to require primary voters to register as Republicans to cast a vote in that party’s primary.

The state party withdrew from the suit before the case was heard, contributing to the judge’s determination that the Greenville County party did not have standing to change statewide election laws. Voters in South Carolina do not have to register by party.

The SC Progressive Network  – along with 13 members of the SC Black Legislative Caucus, the SC Independence Party, the Constitution Party and the Columbia Tea Party – were defendant/intervenors in the case.

“For years now, we have successfully fought Republican-sponsored legislation to close the primaries,” said Network Director Brett Bursey. “They sued the Election Commission to get the courts to do what they couldn’t accomplish in the legislature their own party controls. The state party pulled out of this suit because it didn’t want to argue the merits of a rigged election system.”

Bursey argued against such legislation before the House Judiciary Committee in March 2012. “We presented the committee a list showing that 20 of its 25 members won their elections in the primary, didn’t have general election opposition, and won with around 99 percent of the vote. I think they tabled the bill because they couldn’t defend the current system, much less one that restricted participation in the primaries.”

South Carolina has the least-competitive legislative elections in the nation, with nearly 80 percent of 2012 elections for the State House having only one major party candidate. “This is not what democracy should look like,” said Network Chair Emeritus Joe Neal, an intervenor in the suit. “Today the South Carolina federal court has upheld the rights of voters in South Carolina, especially the minority community, to free and unfettered access to the polls.”

“What passes for representative democracy in South Carolina is a farce,” Bursey said. “It will take at least a decade to fix the mess created by our legislature, which has spent 20 years making ‘safe’ districts that discourage competition.”

The Network is doing its best to educate the public about the serious need to create competitive political districts that encourage politicians to represent everyone in their district, not just the partisan 10 percent that turn out in the primaries. We are working to broaden electoral participation, not narrow it.

Vote suppression is the real voting fraud

By Brett Bursey
Director, SC Progressive Network

When I saw Rep. Alan Clemmons’ guest column in The State, “Voting problems continue to haunt us” (July 21), I was hoping he’d explain his part in peddling the myth of dead people voting in South Carolina, and apologize to the people he misled. He did neither.

Instead, he again claimed an “undeniable presence of election fraud in South Carolina,” and took a cheap shot at the S.C. Progressive Network to make his point. He referenced an instance years ago when bogus forms were turned in by someone the network hired to do voter registration in Florence County. I caught the fraud myself and called SLED and the County Election Board the day the forms were submitted.

No fraudulent votes were cast. I testified against the perpetrator, and he went to jail. The system worked.

Clemmons’ column goes on to call the photo ID law he championed “a good first step” and said, “Now, to cast a ballot, you are required to prove who your are and that you are eligible to vote in that election.”

The truth is that Clemmons’ bill was interpreted — essentially rewritten — by the federal appeals court, which ruled that “South Carolina’s new law … does not require a photo ID to vote.” The state spent $3.5 million on private attorneys to defend a law against a problem that doesn’t exist — and lost.

While unable to cite a single case of in-person voter impersonation, Clemmons told the U.S. Department of Justice that “voter fraud in South Carolina is an unspoken truth.” Still today, he conflates absentee ballot and voter registration fraud, neither of which requires a photo ID, with in-person fraud at the polls, of which there is no evidence.

In the nine years Clemmons has chaired the House’s Election Laws Subcommittee, he has killed every bill the network’s legislative members have sponsored to broaden voter participation. He nixed our proposals to establish early voting centers and high school voter registration programs, to reduce the influence of money in elections, to re-enfranchise felons and to adopt voter-verified paper ballots.

Rather than working to make voting more accessible and inclusive, Clemmons has said voting should not be easy.

We do agree on one thing: South Carolina’s election system is dysfunctional. It was established by the 1895 state constitution, which reversed the democratic aspects of the 1868 constitution that empowered black citizens. It delegated authority to 46 county election boards, appointed by local legislators, with no centralized control.

County election boards interpret and enforce election laws differently, and are not accountable to the State Election Commission.

Clemmons proposes to fix the problem by putting the State Election Commission under the partisan office of secretary of state. But in Florida and Ohio, where they run elections, secretaries of state have been accused of disenfranchising thousands of voters.

More partisan control in a state already crippled by it would be a mistake. A better answer would be to empower our independent, nonpartisan State Election Commission to run elections.

The truth is, our democracy is not threatened by voter fraud but by legislators who have rigged the system. Around 10 percent of eligible voters are choosing our Legislature.

If Clemmons was truly concerned about the “sanctity” of our electoral system, he would address the fact that the S.C. Legislature has the least-competitive elections in the nation, with 80 percent of lawmakers elected with no general-election opposition.

Clemmons, for example, got 99.12 percent of the vote in 2012, when he was the only candidate on the ballot. He was swept into office by 6.1 percent of voters in his district.

The Network believes we can do better. We will continue to fight to make our democracy more representative, and invite anyone who shares our goal to join us. Call us at 803-808-3384, email us at network@scpronet.com, or find us Facebook or Twitter.

Former SC state Sen. John Hawkins has change of heart on gay marriage

By Charlie Smith
Charleston, SC

A few weeks ago while helping to organize a summit on affordable housing in the Lowcountry, I was catching up with a good friend who was to be a presenter at the event. I had noticed that since we had seen each other last she had begun using a hyphenated last name. During the conversation she told me that she had recently gotten married; but when I asked her about her husband, there was a bit of a pause.

Then she mentioned that her husband had once been involved in South Carolina politics. As soon as she said those words and I connected them with her new last name, I’m sure that my jaw bounced off the floor. My friend’s comment and hesitancy in her voice could only have meant one thing. My wonderfully gay-supportive and embracing friend had married the man who had led the charge to exclude the right of gay people to marry in South Carolina. Her new husband was John Hawkins, the man who had been the sworn enemy of South Carolina’s LGBT community in 2006.

In the fight which led to the passage of the anti-gay constitutional amendment, Sen. Hawkins had even done his best to prevent opponents of the legislation from being able to have so much as a hearing while the legislation was in committee. Even President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Glenn McConnell, saw this as unconstitutional. Others like Sen. Luke Rankin (R-Horry) had comments like this to say about their colleague’s efforts to hijack the hearing process and deny opponents of the anti-gay marriage amendment the chance to speak “Give them a fair hearing and then hang them.”

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That’s why it is so amazing today to see these comments from former Sen. Hawkins (R-Spartanburg) in response to yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court rulings regarding marriage equality. He led the charge in the South Carolina Senate to deny marriage to LGBT South Carolinians in 2006; but yesterday he renounced those actions, stepped up to the plate and had this to say about marriage equality:

“I just finished reading Passage of Power by Robert Caro. In the book, he details the efforts of JFK and in particular LBJ in the passage of the Civil Rights Act. At the time of this bill, in the 60s and before, the South went to great lengths to shamefully discriminate against blacks. Southern police turned water hoses on children, black women couldn’t find a bathroom traveling through southern states because of segregation. Blacks’ voting rights were curtailed (they still are in some cases today, regrettably.) I could go on and on. And most of us now regard that discrimination as an odious stain on the history of freedom in America.

In my past days as a state Senator, I was active in working for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. With time and much consideration, not to mention a dose of enlightenment and empathy, I realize my past positions in this regard were wrong, and I honestly wish I hadn’t been so strident against gay marriage. I have come to see discrimination against gay people as a great wrong, akin to discrimination against blacks, women and other minorities. I believe that if a gay couple desires to get married, they should have the same rights as me. One cannot undo the past, but there is time left in life to change one’s mind and reject discrimination of any kind, in any form, and against anyone.”

The most important words in his statement are these: consideration, enlightenment and empathy. They are the keys to moving the “movable middle” toward marriage equality in South Carolina. I would never in a million years have EVER considered former State Senator John Hawkins to be anywhere near the “movable middle”on the issue of marriage equality…and that is precisely my point…we NEVER know who is part of the “movable middle.” That’s why as LGBT South Carolinians we must come out, lead by example and always be willing to educate rather than alienate. These are the most effective actions we can take to allow the healing elements of consideration, enlightenment and empathy to work their magic on stubborn prejudices as they obviously have on former Sen. Hawkins. That’s what we should always be about. You never know what it is that gets through to people…even when they tell you to your face that they don’t want to hear what you have to say.

If John Hawkins can come around, anybody can!

SC health care advocates push Medicaid expansion

Medicaid Expansion Organizer’s Toolkit

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Overview

Gov. Nikki Haley’s refusal to accept Medicaid expansion for South Carolina must be challenged, whether we can win that battle or not. The numbers, common sense and decency are on our side.

In her refusal to accept the nine-to-one match in our tax money, Gov. Haley asks, “What good do the nine dollars do us when we can’t come up with the one?”

Truth is, South Carolina could raise the Medicaid match simply by eliminating the $300 sales tax cap on cars, boats and airplanes. It’s not the lack of revenue that may kill Medicaid expansion; it’s the rigid ideology that has promoted the idea that government is bad. That mindset threatens not just healthcare, but education, tax policy, environmental regulations, and so on.

If Medicaid is expanded, about 250,000 South Carolinians who make around $16,000 a year (138 percent of the federal poverty level) will be provided health coverage.

The Affordable Care Act cuts federal payments to SC hospitals by $2.6 billion. These cuts were supposed to be made up by the expansion of Medicaid to keep poor people out of emergency rooms by providing them with insurance. If South Carolina refuses to expand Medicaid, hospitals will lose this funding for the poor but still will be required to provide services to them.

Unless Medicaid is expanded, childless adults who are not disabled and make less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level – about 185,000 people – would be in health insurance limbo. They would not qualify for regular Medicaid nor the new federally subsidized insurance programs.

(Read more in a story in The State. See Health Care Fairness for SC for more information and links to your legislator.)

Democrats and hospital associations want the state to accept up to $11 billion in federal money over the next several years to expand South Carolina’s Medicaid program. Federal officials would pay 100% of the program’s billion-plus dollar annual cost for the first three years, gradually decreasing to 90% in 2020 . When our bill kicks in, it will be less than could be raised by lifting the 3% sales tax on cars, or by closing any of a number of other special interest tax loopholes.

House Republicans have an alternative plan that would pay hospitals up to $35 million to steer uninsured patients to community health centers, free health clinics and rural health clinics. Lawmakers also pledged to give those health centers and clinics an extra $10 million in state money to care for those uninsured patients.

This is part of a $83 million Republican plan created by Rep. Brian White (R-Anderson) to reduce costly emergency visits and to support rural hospitals and free clinics. His plan calls for only $8 million in new spending as part of next year’s budget. The remaining money would come from federal sources and cash the state Department of Health and Human Services has on hand.

While health care advocates welcome the proposal to increase support to community health centers, the Republican proposal is one-time-money, not a recurring budget item, and WAY short of the billions promised by Medicaid expansion.

Who Decides?

The House has refused to pass a bill that includes Medicaid expansion. Therefore, the focus of the debate on Medicaid expansion is on the Senate Finance Committee. Medicaid expansion has a better chance of passing in the Senate than the House, and we are focusing our immediate efforts on the Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee (see list below).

There are 23 members of the Senate Finance Committee – 14 Republicans and 9 Democrats. We need 3 Republicans to vote out a budget that includes Medicaid expansion.

The Senate Finance proposal will then go to the Senate floor for consideration, at which point all Republican senators should be lobbied.

If the House and Senate do not agree on their respective bills, the question then goes to a conference committee, which will try to reach a compromise.

Should a compromise that includes Medicaid expansion be reached and passed by both bodies, the next step is the Governor’s Office. Gov. Haley has pledged to veto any bill that includes Medicaid expansion. As a political face-saving move, she could let it become law without her signature.

If the governor vetoes the bill, the legislature can override her veto with a two-third’s vote of both bodies.

The state legislature decides whether to accept the expansion funds — and can do so only if it can muster the two-thirds majority to override the governor’s promised veto. Because all the Democratic legislators support the expansion, we must target Republicans.

Of the 124 House members, 83 must vote yes to override. With 48 Democrats and 76 Republicans in the 124 House seats, we must convince 35 Republicans to vote yes.

In the 46-seat Senate, 31 votes are needed for an override. With 27 Republicans and 19 Democrats, the override vote requires the support of 12 Republicans.

What can I do?

Arm yourself with the facts about Medicaid expansion. Health Care Fairness for SC, a coalition of hospitals and health care advocates that includes the SC Progressive Network, has a great web site with all the facts you need to understand the matter and lobby for it. There is also a link to send messages to your representatives here.

We are asking organizers to adopt a Republican legislator. Get outside your comfort zone.  If you don’t have a Republican in your district, find the closest one. Look in your county delegation. Recruit five of your friends who agree with you to do the same.

Find your legislator, or look them up by your district here.

Find your senator here, and

  1. Get that legislator to take a position on Medicaid expansion. Many Republicans are saying they are “looking at the options.” This is a way of saying they are waiting to see if a super-majority for the veto is possible before they decide how to vote.
  2. Go to your adopted legislator’s church and discuss the issue with congregants. Do the same with their fellow alumni and neighbors. A listing of Republican legislators, their churches and colleges is here.
  3. After a reasonable effort to solicit the legislator’s commitment to a yes vote, you may attempt to call him out on the question in public. Tactics ranging from letters to the editor, community forums, to pickets or leafleting may be considered. The Network can provide tactical and legal advice on such actions.
  4. Let us know who you’ve adopted, and their response, by calling 803-808-3384 or emailing network@scpronet.com.

If you have questions or need help, contact the SC Progressive Network at 803-808-3384.

To join an e-list for organizers working on Medicaid expansion, email network@scpronet.com.

See Health Care Fairness for SC for more information.

Goals

We want to get the Medicaid expansion passed.

Short of that, we want to:
•  Take the governor up on her position that community health care centers are a better alternative than “Obamacare,” and push for a recurring budget and increased funding for the centers and rural hospitals.
•  Use the opportunity to identify allies and broaden our base of support for movement for rational change in South Carolina.

See our web site for more about the SC Progressive Network. Join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Senate Finance Committee

List of Republicans on the finance committee. Click here for bio and local contact information.

Leatherman, Hugh K., Sr., Chairman (Florence, Darlington)
Peeler, Harvey S., Jr. (Spartanburg, Union, York)
Courson, John E. (Lexington, Richland)
O’Dell, William H. (Abbeville, Anderson, Greenwood)
Hayes, Robert W., Jr. (York)
Alexander, Thomas C. (Oconee, Pickens)
Grooms, Lawrence K. “Larry” (Berkeley, Charleston, Berkely, Colleton)
Fair, Michael L. (Greenville)
Verdin, Daniel B. “Danny”, III (Greenville, Laurens)
Cromer, Ronnie W. (Lexington, Saluda, Newberry)
Bryant, Kevin L. (Anderson)
Cleary, Raymond E., III (Charleston, Horry, Georgetown)
Campbell, Paul G., Jr. (Berkeley)
Davis, Tom (Beaufort)

Medicaid expansion would benefit SC’s small businesses

By Frank Knapp
President, S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce

The debate is underway over whether to expand the federal-state health insurance program, Medicaid, to more uninsured low-income South Carolinians.

Opponents of expansion, made possible by the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, are led by Gov. Nikki Haley’s director of Health and Human Services, Tony Keck, who runs the state’s Medicaid program. Mr. Keck’s public position is that the issue is not about cost but about making more of our citizens healthy. He argues that expanding Medicaid is an inefficient way of achieving that goal.

In December, I attended a forum where Mr. Keck explained that having health insurance was not a good predictor of health outcomes. Therefore the state would do better in promoting health by concentrating on education and jobs while encouraging our citizens to make better personal choices about their behavior.

But in response to a question I posed, Mr. Keck admitted that a low-income person’s health would be better if he had Medicaid than if he did not. “But at what cost?” he quickly added.

Mr. Keck’s almost reflexive response reveals that the tactic of arguing that Medicaid isn’t the best way to improve health is really an effort to misdirect the debate away from the real issue — cost.

If we remove the partisanship over Obamacare and admit that improving the level of education, size of paychecks and behavioral decisions of the state’s low-income citizens is an admirable but daunting goal that will take decades to achieve, the primary objection to expanding Medicaid to improve health today is cost.

Opponents of expansion say that the state can’t afford its eventual 10 percent share of the Medicaid expansion. Mr. Keck’s actuary projects that the cost to the state could be up to $1 billion by 2020.

Proponents of expansion point to a study that projects that economic activity in the state will increase by $3.3 billion and 44,000 jobs will be created from expanding Medicaid. This increase in economic impact would result in the state actually taking in more revenue than it would spend on the expansion through 2020, contradicting Mr. Keck’s analysis. After 2020 the state’s budget would experience a small net loss due to expansion.

Unfortunately, this cost debate has largely overlooked an important factor associated with not expanding Medicaid — the cost to our small businesses.

Many low-income employees work for our state’s small businesses, and expanding Medicaid will result in reduced costs to these employers.

First, there is a significant cost to a small business when workers are not on the job because they are sick or have to care for family members who are ill. Even employees who don’t miss work when they are sick are less effective. Workers with health insurance for themselves and their families miss less work due to illness and are more productive. Clearly expanding Medicaid to cover low-income workers will economically benefit their small-business employers.

Second, small businesses that want to offer health insurance to employees will find it more affordable under a Medicaid expansion. Small employers with Medicaid-eligible workers will have fewer employees to cover on a private group health plan and thus have less in premiums to pay. In addition, with expansion the cost of the employee’s private insurance will drop due to a reduction in the hidden tax on every health insurance policy, which pays for the uncompensated care for the uninsured. Based on projections by Milliman, the actuarial firm used by Mr. Keck for his cost projections, the reduced premiums could be up to $1,000 per year for family coverage.

The third benefit of a Medicaid expansion involves the requirement of the Affordable Care Act that businesses with 50 or more employees either offer health insurance or pay a penalty. Workers on Medicaid are not counted toward the total number of employees, so the Medicaid expansion would mean that even many small businesses with 50 or more employees could avoid paying a penalty for not offering health insurance.

While our state officials continue to debate the cost of expanding Medicaid, that debate must include the cost to small businesses for not doing so.

Activists from across SC to meet for Network’s organizing conference Feb. 23

Progressive Organizing Conference

Growing the grassroots in South Carolina

Feb. 23, 10am – 4:30pm
Brookland Baptist Conference Center
1066 Sunset Blvd., West Columbia

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See photos from last year’s conference here.

The SC Progressive Network and the SC Legislative Black Caucus are offering a day-long activist training conference Feb. 23 in West Columbia. Participants will focus on significant policy issues being considered by the legislature, with an emphasis on building a progressive movement.

“We must do more than lift up just and rational social and economic policies,” said Rep. Harold Mitchell, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus. “We have to build a popular movement with the power to make the necessary changes.”

The conference will address the challenges and opportunities posed by the increasingly conservative leadership in South Carolina that believes government is the problem.

Member organizations will offer brief reports on recent victories and current projects. This is an opportunity to share and inspire fellow activists with the good work going on across the Palmetto State.

RSVP for lunch ($10) required by calling 803-808-3384 or emailing network@scpronet.com. You can also RSVP or share on Facebook.

Medicaid Organizing Packet with Power Point presentation: $10 (optional).

PROGRAM

10am – Registration

10:30 - Brief reports from member groups and discussion led by community activists:

Reproductive rights: Will Biggers, Planned Parenthood
Ethics reform: John Crangle, Director, Common Cause SC
Environment: Bob Guild, environmental lawyer and Sierra Club activist
Labor: George Hopkins, labor historian and SC Progressive Network’s Lowcountry representative
Immigration: Ivan Segura, Council of Mexicans in the Carolinas
Education: Roger Smith, Executive Director, SC Education Association
Voting reform: Brett Bursey, Director SC Progressive Network
LGBT rights: Ann Wilbrand, SC Equality

12:30 – Lunch catered by Tio’s (optional). $10 RSVP at 803-808-3384

1 – Keynote speaker Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter

1:30 – Health Care and Medicaid Expansion: Former Columbia Mayor and Medicaid lobbyist Bob Coble, SC AIDS Task Force Director Dr. Bambi Gaddist, and health care economist Lynn Bailey will facilitate the discussion. The governor’s refusal to accept our federal tax dollars back in the form of a 90 percent match for expanding health care coverage to over 300,000 low-income South Carolinians provides a great opportunity to illustrate the cost of free-market ideology as social policy. Participants will get an organizing packet that will help them organize educational forums on this issue in their communities.

2:30 – Medicaid expansion strategy discussion. Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter will facilitate.

3 – Politics and power in the Palmetto State. A discussion about how political parties, elections and grassroots activism figure in to building an effective progressive movement. Former State Superintendent of Education Dr. Jim Rex will join the discussion. He helped launch the new Free Citizens Party. Should be a spirited session.

4 – Network business meeting. Nonmembers welcome.

Court rules that SC voter ID law does not, in fact, require photo ID

By Becci Robbins
SC Progressive Network Communications Director

Following the federal court ruling that approved a substantially modified version of South Carolina’s voter ID law, SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey called the venture “very expensive theater.”

The ruling begins by noting “South Carolina’s new (photo ID) law…does not require a photo ID to vote.”

While Gov. Nikki Haley crowed, “This is not just a win for South Carolina, this is a win for our country,” and state Attorney General Alan Wilson hailed the ruling as a vindication of Republican state legislators, the law the court approved is not the one that went to Washington.

District Court Judge Bates said in his opinion, “Act 54 as now pre-cleared is not the Act 54 that was enacted in May 2011,” when signed by Gov. Haley.

While the Court acknowledged “an absence of recorded incidents of in-person voter fraud in South Carolina,” it found that “preventing voter fraud and increasing electoral confidence are legitimate” reasons for the law.

“After several years of divisive and racially charged debate on this unnecessary law,” Bursey said, “after $2 million in taxpayer money spent defending it, and several million more dollars to implement it, our photo ID law will not require voters to have a photo ID to vote.”

The original law allowed a voter to claim a “reasonable impediment” to not having a photo ID, and left it to the county board of elections to determine whether the reason was legitimate. Today’s ruling said that the reason for not having a photo ID “is to be determined by the individual voter, not the poll manager or county board. So long as the reason given by the voter is not a lie, an individual voter may express any one of of the many conceivable reasons why he or she has not obtained a photo ID…voters with the non-photo voter registration card…may still vote without a photo ID.”

Judge Baker wrote, “It is understandable that the [Dept. of Justice] and the intervenors [including the SC Progressive Network] in this case, would raise serious concerns about South Carolina’s voter photo ID law as it then stood.”

The governor’s victory dance notwithstanding, Judge Baker concluded, “One cannot doubt the vital function that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has played here. Without the review process under the voting Rights Act South Carolina’s voter photo ID law certainly would have been more restrictive.”

Calling it political theater, Bursey said, “The grandstanding on this issue by the governor and the Republican majority of the legislature comes at a very real cost to taxpayers, voters and election workers. It is partisan politics at its worst.”

The law will go into effect in 2013.

Delores Freelon has been jumping through hoops for more than a year trying to obtain a SC photo ID. In August, she testified in front of the three-judge panel in Washington, DC.

Network Director makes case for voter-owned elections

In wake of SC House Speaker Bobby Harrell’s spending of campaign cash, SC Progressive Network invited conservative groups to join in a press conference on Oct. 9, 2012, to ask for an independent investigation of the matter. SC Gov. Nikki Haley just days earlier returned $10,000 in improperly used campaign funds. With public frustration and disgust growing, the time is ripe for real reform in SC politics.

Piñata Politics Just Tempest in a Tea Party Pot

By Becci Robbins

Talk about falling down the rabbit hole. At this time last week I was making a gift for my friend Donna Dewitt to celebrate her retirement from the SC AFL-CIO. And what says party like a piñata?

Yes, the piñata was my idea. I made it. I filled it with candy and Bobby Bucks. I videotaped its predictable demise. I sent the clip to friends to amuse them in these most un-amusing times. Who knew it would go viral?

The breathless response has been over the top, a sad commentary on the echo chamber that is the Internet.

Was the piñata in poor taste? Yes. Was it malicious? No. Am I sorry it caused some people to lose their minds? That’s their problem.

My only regret is having put a dear friend in the position of having to defend a piñata she did not know about or ask for. Donna works harder at a thankless job than anyone I know. She doesn’t deserve the heat she’s taken, including death threats and a promise from Gov. Nikki Haley on national TV to “continue beating up on unions.”

To fixate on unions instead of dealing with the critical problems we’re facing is to use the tired politics of distraction. I should have expected it from the governor, whose favorite posture is that of victim – first of racism, then sexism, now union thugs.

While Haley has made an odd habit of union-bashing, for me she crossed the line when she used her last State of the State address to proclaim: “Unions are not needed, wanted or welcome in South Carolina.” Instead of a message to unite all of us who call the Palmetto State home, she served up a campaign speech of red meat. It was inappropriate. And insulting.

When the governor bashes unions, she’s bashing my colleagues. She’s bashing my friends. She’s bashing my family. She’s bashing me. So forgive me for taking it personally, but I’ve had enough.

The piñata was intended as comic relief among friends after a long day of talking about the state budget, our election system and workers’ rights at the SC Progressive Network‘s annual spring conference. The party was a chance to unwind and honor Donna, our longtime co-chair. For the governor to use the incident for political gain is predictable but unfair, and more than a little ironic.

After all, Donna didn’t do anything as shameful as cut funding for education and mental health services. She didn’t gut environmental regulations or stack boards with corporate cronies. She didn’t show contempt to the Supreme Court. She didn’t campaign on a promise of transparency and then routinely sanitize her paper trail. She didn’t lobby for a corporation while being on their payroll. She didn’t use her power like a bludgeon.

Donna smacked a piñata. Which is, good people, what happens to piñatas. I made one of a Corporate Fat Cat for John Spratt’s retirement party, and it, too, got smashed. Why didn’t it go viral? Because nobody could make political hay out of it.

And that’s exactly what the governor is doing. Yesterday I got an email solicitation from her office inviting me to watch the video and contribute $250 to fight “Big Labor.” The email mentions President Obama twice. Talk about tasteless.

The governor will get no apology from me. But I offer one to Donna for putting her in an awful position. She could have risked hurting my feelings by refusing to play along at the party. Or she could have thrown me under the bus when she started catching heat. She did neither. As a labor leader, she knows something the governor doesn’t: solidarity matters most when it’s inconvenient.

Sorry if this flap has embarrassed any of our members. Please know that Donna and Network Director Brett Bursey have made the best of the rare media attention. (Watch Brett on Fox and Donna on CNN, for starters.)

It may not be pretty, but at least people are talking about organized labor in South Carolina. It’s a conversation that’s long overdue, and it’s up to us to keep it honest.

Becci Robbins is SC Progressive Network Communications Director. Reach her at becci@scpronet.com.

Note to Nikki: Unions do have a role in SC

By Erin McKee

President, Charleston Central Labor Council

In her State of the State address last week, Gov. Nikki Haley stated, “We’ll make the unions understand full well that they are not needed, not wanted and not welcome in the state of South Carolina.”

Gov. Haley was born in 1972. The Central Labor Union in Charleston was chartered in 1912. The majority of labor unions in this state have been on this Earth longer than our governor. Union members in South Carolina pay taxes (and her salary), and the majority have higher wages, health benefits and retirement, which enable them to take care of their families.

Unions are needed in South Carolina. Union members are the only workers protected from at-will employment. Union members want to work with management to make their companies safe, have a contract that everyone can understand, have a grievance procedure (like due process) and protect workers.

Unions are the anti-theft device for workers. Is our state better off with low-wage jobs and no benefits? What will that do to our tax base over time, what will that do to our children, what will that do to our middle class? When labor was strong so was our middle class. What will happen to small businesses when people don’t make enough money to shop? Do we really want the big business world to take over and have more companies keeping wages so low that the workers need public assistance while they make record profits?

Gov. Haley chose a union facility to have her inauguration. She works in a Statehouse painted by the Painters Union, gets her mail from the United States Postal Service, which has the Postal Workers Union, the National Letter Carriers, the Mail Handlers Union. Most of what she buys more than likely came through the Port of Charleston, where the International Longshoremen’s Association handles cargo. She likely uses AT&T which has the Communications Workers of America union.

UPS workers who deliver packages to her office are represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The power she consumes is provided from SCE&G whose workers are represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Some of our very large companies like Kapstone, Mead Westvaco, Bowater, International Paper are union as are our firefighters and lots of our construction workers.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers did the solar panel job at Boeing in the heat of the summer. Many in our wonderful symphony in Charleston are members of the American Federation of Musicians.

We’ve got union members at our military bases and VA hospitals. Gov. Haley should be representing everyone in South Carolina including union members.

We feel like we are being taxed without representation, yet you support right to work which makes us represent those who do not pay their share for the costs of the benefits they receive.

I ask the governor, as one mother to another, to please stop attacking union members as unwanted and unneeded as our children watch the news and wonder why you say bad things about their hard-working parents.

Campaign reform advocates call for clean elections measure on SC ballot

Most South Carolinians are now feeling the effect of unregulated corporate cash that has flooded the state with record numbers of nasty political ads. While most bemoan the devolution of the campaign system – including some GOP candidates – some are redoubling efforts to do something about it.

Advocates for campaign finance reform will hold a press conference on Jan. 20 at 1:30pm in the lower lobby of the State House on the second anniversary of the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that deregulated limits on corporate campaign donations and fueled record spending in the SC Republican presidential preference primary.

John Crangle, Director of Common Cause of South Carolina, will address the implications of the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.

“Most people disagree with the Supreme Court rulings that corporations are people and money is speech,” Crangle said. “Amending the US Constitution is going to take some time, but we can address this corruption on a state level now by passing clean elections.”

Rep. Joe Neal, Co-chair of the SC Progressive Network, will speak about the Clean Elections Act that he reintroduced this week. (See more at the Network’s web site.)

“The Clean Elections Act has been introduced in every legislative session since 2000,” Neal said, “but now I think people are waking up to reality that public offices are on the auction block.” Over 90 percent of the candidates for the state legislature that spend the most money win.”

“South Carolinians who are disgusted with the flood of unregulated cash that is corrupting our political system have a way to fight back,” he said. “The Clean Elections Act will allow people to run for office without having to accept corporate, private or PAC money, and still run a competitive campaign.”

Rep. Neal’s legislation calls for putting clean elections on the general election ballot this November.

Citizens who are concerned about money corrupting our political system are invited to attend the press conference.

Tell Them gears up for 2012

As the South Carolina Legislature resumes its legislative session, we at Tell Them, a member of the SC Progressive Network, are excited to begin a new year.

Tell Them reached a significant milestone in 2011 when the network grew to more than 10,000 members. Our focus on prevention has resonated with mainstream South Carolinians committed to creating a stronger, healthier state.

Over the past few months, we have made numerous updates to the Tell Them website in order to better facilitate direct communication between our members and our elected officials.

It now has a variety of new features, including:

  • Young People’s Bill of Rights: Tell Them believes that every young adult in South Carolina deserves the right to uncensored reproductive health education and access to services. We have developed 9 key rights that we strive to protect.
  • Get Local: Visit your regions’ page to learn more about the issues currently impacting your community and the actions you can take to have your voice heard.
  • Learn the Facts:  Use this new section get the facts about the economics of teen pregnancy, access to reproductive healthcare, comprehensive sex education, and more.

We will be using this new website, expanded field support, outdoor and print advertising and social media to educate the public, and ultimately lawmakers, about serious threats to basic individual rights.

One of these very real threats in South Carolina is the H. 3408 – The “Refusal of Care” Act, also known as the “Freedom of Conscience” Act. This legislation would give health care professionals the legal right to put their moral and religious beliefs before the health and well-being of their patients. You can also download some examples of how this legislation will affect patients in South Carolina. Our top priority this session is defeating the passage of this bill, and we need your help to be successful.

Click here to take action now on H. 3408.

It’s going to be a busy year for Tell Them and one we hope you will want to share with us.