Got nuclear mail? Here’s why

You may be one of the 700,000 SCE&G customers scratching their heads over getting a legal document in the mail that appears to be from the SC Public Service Commission. The lengthy notice, packed with dense legalese, lays out in blunt language SCANA’s plans to keep charging you for the next 60 years for the cost of building and tearing down their ill-conceived investment in two nuclear reactors.

The notice reads like it could have come from the Sierra Club, as it casts the power company in a rather bad light. But that’s unlikely because the mailing cost more than a quarter-million dollars.

What happened? The power company had asked for a PSC hearing on getting its money out of ratepayers after abandoning the reactors. State law requires utilities to notify their customers prior to hearings on rate changes. Those notices are usually sent as a little slip of paper along with your bill. In this case, there was no billing cycle to meet the deadline for notice of the hearing, so the power company sent the notice as a separate mailing.

Anyone paying attention to the inner workings of the power company has noticed that its  corporate attorneys are recent hires. It’s a good guess that someone will be looking for a new job, as a post card with a “notice of hearing” would have sufficed. The 700,000 letters to outraged customers made it clear that SCANA plans to continue to bill our grandchildren for electricity they will never receive from a plant that will never be built.

The SC Progressive Network will file to be a party in the PSC’s decision to bill the ratepayers for SCANA’s bad investment. “We will target the business-friendly religion that South Carolina lawmakers worship at the expense of reason and fairness,” said Network Director Brett Bursey. “This mess we’re now in is a direct product of a political culture that allows regulatory agencies to put profits over people.”

We won! Help us celebrate a rare victory in Lower Richland

“You’re doing God’s work,” Mary Posey told Network Director Brett Bursey when he called to share the good news that the small plot of land in Lower Richland she started paying for in 1997 was finally hers. On Aug. 8, she signed papers to make it official.

Nobody thought it would happen. The two took on one of the county’s largest landowners and won, after months of work and against all odds.

Brett Bursey and Mary Posey, holding the plat to her land.

When Rep. Joe Neal died suddenly in February, the SC Progressive Network made a rare endorsement to support Wendy Brawley in the special election to fill his seat. We wanted to ensure that Rep. Neal’s replacement would continue to advance the work and vision he shared with the Network, an organization he helped found.

Brawley’s main opponent was Heath Hill, who inherited 68 square miles of Lower Richland from his father, Harold Hill, who died in 2002.

During the campaign, Bursey learned of Heath Hill’s reputation for questionable ethics. When he discovered that the mother of a longtime mutual friend was one of his victims, Bursey paid Ms. Posey a visit. They made this three-minute video, which was circulated online and on CDs across the district.

It was a brave move for the woman who didn’t want to make waves and had intended to let the matter go. Bursey, however, could not. After Brawley won the election, he went on a campaign to pressure Hill to follow through on the deal his father made with Posey in 1997, when she began making payments on the land she wanted to buy for her grandchildren.

When the elder Hill died, Posey owed $300 on the $4,920 debt. While the contract required Posey to pay off the note in 18 months or forfeit the land and money, Hill told her to pay what she could as she was able. But when she tried to make the final payment to Heath Hill, he said she’d waited too long. He kept the money and the land.

Without bank records to prove payment, lawyers advised that there was no legal recourse. But never one to give up without a fight, Bursey went to Hill directly and asked him to do the right thing, and shared with him some of the stories and research he’d uncovered during the campaign. Bursey then took the information to Hill’s attorney.

On Aug. 8, Posey took $300 to the attorney’s office, signed the deed and, after 20 years, took ownership of the land.

•  •  •

We think this is an excellent reason for a party!

Help us celebrate a rare win over big money. Join friends on Tuesday evening Aug. 22 beginning at 6:30 for a casual get-together at the Fish Line restaurant – owned by Posey’s daughter – at 4201 Bluff Rd. The event is free, but you can enjoy a fish dinner for $10 if you RSVP by Aug. 18. The restaurant, which is usually closed on Tuesdays, needs a head count.

Call 803-808-3384 or email network@scpronet.com for information or to make reservations. You can also share/RSVP on Facebook.

Forum to explore causes and cures of SC political corruption

May 17 • 6-9pm

Marriott, 1200 Hampton, downtown Columbia

Free and open to all.

Is political corruption endemic, or can it be treated? That’s the question at the center of a public forum on Wednesday that will offer three panel discussions with some of the state’s experts.

As yet another political scandal threatens a growing number of South Carolina lawmakers, it is clear that we have a problem. The bad news is that our system is broken. The good news is that we believe reform is possible if enough people demand it.

The SC Progressive Network has been working on reforms to reduce the causes of corruption for more than 20 years. We’ve concluded that unless we can make serious structural and cultural changes in the way we practice democracy in South Carolina, we will keep repeating the same patterns of abuse that will only further erode public trust.

It is no surprise that money and power are the interrelated causes of our lack of representative democracy and the resulting corruption.

Historically, our incumbent legislators, who win office with the existing rules and voters, have been disinclined to change a system that is working fine for them. They have resisted efforts to make it easier to vote, and ahve ignored legislation that would create a system of public financing for the General Assembly. A young Sen. Clementa Pinckney and Rep. Joe Neal were the bill’s prime sponsors, which has been introduced every session since 2000 but has yet to make it to the floor.

While voter participation continues to shrink, bills for universal voter registration have likewise languished without hearings. Last November, fewer than 14 percent of registered voters elected 77 percent (131) of the 170 members of the SC General Assembly. The winners in 94 of these districts faced no opposition at all, yet raised over $4 million. What did they do with all that money?

The purpose of the forum is to initiate an honest discussion about the state of our democracy in South Carolina. How did we get here? Whose interests are now being served? Can we reduce the influence of money in politics? Join us for a timely conversation. The event is free and open to all. RSVP/Share on Facebook.

•  •  •

Welcome and statement of purpose: Marjorie Hammock and Kyle Criminger, SC Progressive Network Co-chairs

Panel I – Modern History of Political Corruption

Moderator: Jack Kuenzie, WIS-TV

Rick Bundrett, The Island Packet

John Monk, The State

John Crangle, SC Progressive Network

Sen. Mike Rose, R-Dorchester, Ret.

Panel II – Causes of Corruption

Moderator: Ken W. Gaines, USC School of Law

Sen. Mike Rose, R-Dorchester, Ret.

Cassie Cope, The State

Lynn Teague, League of Women Voters of SC

Ashley Landess, SC Policy Council

Brett Bursey, SC Progressive Network

Panel III – Reform is Possible!

Moderator: Brian McConchie, WACH-TV

Sen. Phil Leventis, D-Sumter, Ret.

Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, Ret.

Rep. James Smith, D-Richland

Octavia Williams-Blake, Florence City Council

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg

Family and colleagues of Rep. Joe Neal endorse House District 70 candidate Wendy Brawley

“The SC Progressive Legislative Caucus has picked Wendy Brawley as the best candidate to shoulder the heavy burden left by the death of our dearest friend and colleague Joseph Neal,” Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter announced at a State House press conference Thursday.

Representatives Cobb-Hunter and Neal worked closely for the 23 years they served together in the State House before Neal’s untimely death last month. The two founded the nonpartisan Progressive Legislative Caucus in 2015 to focus on promoting state policies that improve the lives of working people and their families – not just in rural, black and poor District 70 – but across the state. “Joe was a true and rare servant of the public,” Cobb-Hunter said, “and the Progressive Legislative Caucus is pleased to lend our support to Wendy Brawley, a true fighter and seasoned leader to take up Joe’s work.”

Neal’s older brother and a longtime Columbia physician Dr. Green B. Neal said, “Of all the candidates, Ms. Brawley is the one I saw over the years working with Joe and our community, and doing good without any expectation of reward.”

SC Progressive Network Executive Director Brett Bursey said, “Joe was the heart of our organization. He helped establish the Network, and was our strongest champion inside and outside of the legislature. He cannot be replaced, but we expect Ms. Brawley to keep true to his mission.”

Brawley said she was humbled and honored by the support. “Joe Neal dedicated his life to helping those who were often overlooked and lived in the shadows. He will be sorely missed, but he leaves with us an incredible legacy of servant leadership. I look forward to the opportunity to continue Rep. Joe Neal’s work of caring, compassionate and effective leadership,” she said.

Wendy Brawley

John Crangle: This week in the State House

The SC Progressive Network has instituted a weekly briefing with our new government relations director, John Crangle. (Read about our good fortune in The State.)

The conference calls are open to members interested in keeping up with bills we are tracking in the State House. The calls are every Friday at 5:30pm, and last about a half-hour. To participate, send email to network@scpronet.com, and you will be sent the call-in number and code.

Friday’s call included discussion of these four items, summarized here by Network staff.

1. Legislators Water Down Money Laundering Law
Calling it “one of the more ludicrous events in the past week,” Crangle unpacked a story that involves House Judiciary subcommittee members realizing at the last minute that they were about to pass regulations to a statute that would criminalize legislators taking kickbacks – like those currently being investigated in association with Richard Quinn and Associates (RQA).

The money laundering law originally passed in 2016 with the intended purpose of criminalizing “illegally sourced money,” which the legislators took took to mean money from prostitution and drugs. When the legislature creates a law, the state agency charged with implementing it comes up with regulations to enforce it. In this case, it was Attorney General Alan Wilson’s job to submit the regs to the legislature for approval, but the AG’s office never got around to writing them. Crangle suggested the AG may have been distracted by the fact that he, his father, the former AG and current governor Henry McMaster all have given tons of money to RQA. Furthermore, Wilson appointed the special prosecutor that is digging into kickbacks from RQA to legislators and state agencies.

Rep. Alan Clemmons (R-Myrtle Beach), concerned about prostitutes and drugs on the Grand Strand, proposed an amendment to speed implementation of the money laundering law – before the regulations were written to implement the law. Clemmons’ amendment was on the agenda at the subcommittee meeting when a reporter asked Crangle to comment on the amendment. After Crangle told her that the money laundering bill could apply to legislators taking kickbacks from their consultants, she began asking the subcommittee members if the law could be applied in the current campaign finance scandal. Crangle said legislators were running around like the Keystone Kops when they realized they were about to pass a law to criminalize the redirection of campaign donations into the pockets of their Republican colleagues. Clemmons pulled his amendment, apparently to ensure the new law prevents legislators from being defined as prostitutes.

See story in The State.

2. Independent Redistricting Commission (H-3339: Funderburk, Cobb-Hunter)
This would establish an independent body of seven non-legislators to draw new political districts. The current 170 legislative districts and seven congressional districts have been drawn by the majority party of the legislature, and have resulted in the nation’s least competitive elections. The current districts established a majority-white, Republican rule that insures that Republicans will draw the new districts in 2020. It’s a good guess that the Republicans will not draw competitive districts that would require them to address the concerns of all the people in their districts. Our politically gerrymandered districts result in 78 percent of South Carolinians having only one candidate to chose from in general elections. The current situation allows the majority party to chose who votes for them, rather than giving the citizens a choice.

The chances of the bill passing are slim to none. But the Network is using the bill to help people understand the true gravity of our broken democracy. The Network’s spring conference on April 15 will focus on this problem. (As they become available, details will be posted on our web calendar and Facebook event page.)

3. Special Election Restitution Act (S-533)
New state senator, Progressive Legislative Caucus ally, and longtime Network member Mike Fanning introduced this bill less than a month after taking office. It requires elected officials who are removed from office due to a criminal conviction to pay the cost of the special election to replace them. The bill has gotten national attention, as it appears that no state has such a provision. Crangle got the idea for the bill after state Treasurer Thomas Ravenel was busted for cocaine and a special session of the legislature was called to replace him. Crangle convinced federal Judge Joe Anderson to add $28,000 to Ravenel’s sentence to cover the session’s costs. Crangle has lined up Judge Anderson to testify in favor of the bill. The only opposition to this reasonable bill will be legislators fearing indictment or planning a criminal enterprise.

4. Dark Money Bill
This was introduced by Sen. Hugh Leatherman this year after he was targeted by the deep-pocketed political action committees of the Koch Brothers. The Kochs dumped money into primary campaigns of Tea Party candidates to oppose Republicans who supported increasing SC’s gas tax. Since the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that corporations have free speech rights and SC doesn’t require disclosure of donations to independent advocacy organizations, liberals are being swamped by right-wing money. In a turn of the screw, Koch front groups like Americans for Prosperity and the Club for Growth have been targeting Republicans who dare to suggest a tax increase of any kind. Leatherman, arguably the most powerful politician in SC, was in a tight race against a dark-money fueled opponent. Sens. Wes Hayes and Larry Martin both lost their seats to dark-money candidates because they dared to support a gas tax.

It was bizarre theater at the hearing. The cast of characters included Koch-supported veteran organizations, Tea Party representatives, and anti-choice activists who testified that their supporters would be afraid to donate to their organizations if their names were disclosed.

Rep. Jeff Duncan stops payment on memorial to Rep. Joe Neal

When Rev. Joe Neal died unexpectedly on Feb. 14, his family asked that any donations in his memory be made to the SC Progressive Network, which he co-founded and led for 21 years.

Congressman Jeff Duncan‘s office sent a $25 check, as the two had served together in the SC House. But when Duncan became aware that the donation was going to the Progressive Network, he stopped payment. Adding insult to injury, the Network was charged $20 in bank fees.

Network Director Brett Bursey called Duncan’s office to clarify whether the congressman was indeed that petty. For the record, he is.

When Joe’s sister, Wilma Neal Garren, was told about the incident, she said, “Anybody who touched Joe’s life knew that, as a founder of the South Carolina Progressive Network, that the organization was near and dear to his heart. To step forward to honor Joe and then take the donation to Joe’s favorite charity back is the height of hypocrisy, and shows that he didn’t know Joe.”

The check came from Duncan’s 2016 campaign account, which spent $715,207 to beat Democratic opponent Hosea Cleveland, who spent $9,166. Duncan’s campaign ended with a balance of $65,285. Duncan is a member of the Freedom Caucus, a collection of the most conservative lawmakers in DC, and was most recently in the news defending his bill to make it easier to buy gun silencers.

Modjeska School graduate talks about lessons learned

Rep. Joe Neal congratulations Kyle Criminger at the 2015 graduation ceremony for the inaugural class of the Modjeska Simkins School for Human Rights.

As the Modjeska School prepares for its Spring 2017 session, we thought it timely to share Kyle’s thoughts about the school and lessons learned there. The School is accepting applications through March 13. Classes run March 20-June 12 at the Seibels House in Columbia. Some scholarships available; call 803-808-3384 for details.

•  •  •

We got perspective at the Modjeska Simkins School: a big-picture analysis—a Modjeska Simkins analysis—of South Carolina’s history.

We learned that there is a direct line of malice from John C. Calhoun, who defended slavery as “a positive good,” to Ben “Pitchfork” Tillman’s white supremacist state Constitution of 1895 (under which our state continues to operate to this day), to the coded racism of Harry Dent and Lee Atwater’s Southern Strategy. Always the substance of South Carolina public policies has shown that black lives don’t matter here.

The imbalance of power in South Carolina is no accident. Because of unprecedented partisan gerrymandering, we have the least competitive legislative elections in the United States. Three out of four representatives faced no major party competition in the 2014 general election.

“Most of our legislators in South Carolina are winning with 99% of the vote,” said Brett Bursey, Executive Director of the SC Progressive Network. “The old Soviet elections we used to make fun of? Well, we now have that here.”

South Carolinians have the lowest combined state and federal tax burden in the country, yet our legislature tells that us we’re broke when we’re not. In fact, we leave more money on the table in special interest tax exemptions than we take in. We get immoral budgets and refused Medicaid Expansion for 250,000 of us because of petty partisan politics.

It’s maddening, but our problems aren’t new. “The names and faces have changed,” notes Progressive Network Communications Director Becci Robbins in Modjeska Monteith Simkins—A South Carolina Revolutionary, “but the political and social dynamics of exclusion, extremism and institutional racism remain stubbornly intact in South Carolina. We share Modjeska Simkins’ frustration and sense of urgency.”

Time and again, South Carolina history shows us how Modjeska Simkins and so many others have resisted. We are not alone, you see. Have you heard of the Yemassee War, or the Stono Rebellion? Denmark Vesey, or the Grimké sisters? What about Robert Smalls and our state’s Reconstruction legislature, which was the only majority black House of Representatives in the nation? The Lighthouse and Informer newspaper, Judge J. Waties Waring, or the Rev. J.A. Delaine?

Maybe you don’t know these names, events and institutions because the “winners” have written our textbooks. Generations of South Carolinians used Mary Simms Oliphant’s infamous history text into the 1980s. The book spoke of “happy slaves,” and was sympathetic to the Ku Klux Klan. (In the 1920s, as a teacher at Booker T. Washington High School in Columbia, Modjeska Simkins refused to use the Oliphant textbook, deeming it racist.)

So we have on the one hand a state that has lived and died by the Golden Rule. Everybody knows the Golden Rule: regrettably, he who has the gold makes the rules. But beside that Rule, we also have stories of rebellion and revolutionary spirits, a South Carolina “people’s history” of organizing. And the task Modjeska Simkins and so many other South Carolinians like her have laid out before us: we must organize to form a community of shared values.

That is 24-7 work. It’s a process.

Organizing means preparing for opportunities. It entails building an organization that returns phone calls, pays staff, and fosters relationships in the community based on trust and confidence. And it is strategic, a disciplined use of collective energies on effective projects, not by simply being reactive. The best organizers leverage already-existing, well-thought-out organizing tools, and tap into the collective wisdom and experience of those who have come before, just like Modjeska Simkins did.

We must connect the dots to see that there is only one struggle, and it is for human rights. “If you have enough sense in your noggin,” Simkins once said, “you’re going to know a fight is there—and not just for black people, but for all mankind.”

The need for exploring our history has never been more critical. The Modjeska School provides an education like none other in South Carolina, one that benefits not just the students but the larger community, as well. As a graduate, I can attest to its value.

•  •  •

Kyle Criminger, a Spanish-language interpreter, serves as Co-chair of the SC Progressive Network. He was one of 35 inaugural graduates of the Modjeska Simkins School for Human Rights. You can support the school by making a secure donation here, or by calling 803-808-3384 or sending an email to network@scpronet.com.

Memorial services set for Rev. Joe Neal

Rep. Joe Neal at a SC Progressive Network press conference in 2001 launching our campaign for voter-owned elections.

Rev. Joseph H. Neal, who co-founded the SC Progressive Network in 1996, died unexpectedly on Feb. 14 at age 66. Joe served as as the Network’s Chair for 12 years, and continued to lead us as Chair Emeritus until his untimely death. While he represented Lower Richland County in the legislature, he truly represented all who work for justice and equality.He was more than our hero, he was our friend and brother. Joe always provided wise counsel, and taught us that love and compassion are powerful weapons. By example, he also taught us to never give up.

Memorial Service
Sunday, Feb. 19, 2:30pm at Calvary Baptist Church, 130 Walnut St., Chester, SC

Funeral Service
Monday, Feb. 20, 1pm (viewing at 11:30am) at First Nazareth Baptist Church, 2351 Gervais St., Columbia (803.254.6332) Burial will take place at St. John Baptist Church, 230 J.W. Neal Circle, Hopkins, SC.

SC Progressive Network Celebration of Joe’s Life
Tuesday, Feb. 21, 5:30-7pm, Modjeska Simkins House, 2025 Marion St., Columbia.
We will share stories to remember and honor our dear friend. Casual dress; all are welcome.

Keeping Joe’s Spirit Alive
At the Neal family’s request, those wishing to further Joe’s mission of fighting the good fight can make a tax-deductible donation in his name to the SC Progressive Network Education Fund.

Being “business friendly” makes South Carolinians work sick and cheap

Just when you thought South Carolina couldn’t be more business-friendly, the Senate passed a bill on Feb. 8 to ensure that we not only work cheap but also work sick. The bill passed by a 32-8 vote, with six Democrats voting with Republicans.

Introduced every session for the last five years, the bill would prohibit local governments from requiring businesses to provide any employee benefits, such as sick leave. If it becomes law, the “work-sick” requirement will be tacked onto a “work-cheap” law passed in 2002 that bars local governments from setting a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum. (South Carolina is one of five states with no minimum wage.)

If it’s hard to see how such legislation benefits ordinary South Carolinians, it’s because that was never the intent.

To put the issue in perspective, at least 145 countries provide paid sick days, with 127 providing a week or more annually. The United States is among the few countries that doesn’t require paid sick leave for all workers (McGill University’s “Work, Family, and Equity Index”), which is what’s prompting cities to act and big business to react.

Both the “work-cheap” and the “work-sick” bills can be traced back to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the corporate-funded bill mill where “business-friendly” conservative legislators and corporations craft model state legislation that benefits the corporate bottom line. A paid sick days preemption bill, originally passed in Wisconsin in 2011, was shopped around at an ALEC meeting that year by the National Restaurant Association, and similar bills were subsequently introduced in at least 13 other states, including South Carolina.

The bill was rushed through the Senate in 12 days, and is now on the way to the House, where we need to insure that it is given a thorough public vetting.

The ALEC task force behind the bill is co-chaired by YUM! Brands, Inc., which owns Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. Fast food and lodging corporations are leading the fight against sick leave. Not surprisingly, these corporations are among LCI members campaign contributors.

A study by the Food Chain Workers Alliance “The Hands that Feed Us” found that 79 percent of food industry workers do not earn paid sick days. Another study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, found that more than half of all outbreaks of the stomach flu can be linked to sick food service workers. Numerous economic studies show that paid sick days are a benefit to employers who want to retain a skilled and dedicated workforce, save more than it costs in medical expenses, and reduce the impact of communicable diseases.

The “work- sick” bills target cities in Republican-controlled states that might consider sick days ordinances. Ironically, these bill are an example of the very “big government” that these same Republicans rail against.

Imagine that the Hilton Head town council decides that its well-heeled visitors deserve some assurance that they are not being served by sick workers and puts the issue of sick leave to a referendum. This bill would prevent Hilton Head voters from passing an ordinance ensuring that workers who take a few, non-paid, sick days a year not get fired.

Under current law, more than 600,000 people in South Carolina must choose between working sick, staying home with a sick child, or getting paid. To many, making the responsible choice means getting fired. This bill will make sure that nothing changes.

The folks from ALEC, who brought us the photo ID law to restrict who gets to vote, are now pushing legislation to restrict what we get to vote on.

The six Democratic senators who voted to keep you working sick are: Gerald Malloy, Thomas McElveen, Nikki Setzler, Kent Williams, Floyd Nicholson and Glen Reese. Full campaign disclosures on senators voting for this bill to follow.

Brett Bursey is the Executive Director of the SC Progressive Network. Email him at network@scpronet.com.

Thousands brave stormy weather in Columbia to rally in solidarity with people around globe

SC Progressive Network Co-Chair Marjorie Hammock welcomes the overflow crowd at Music Farm, the rally’s rain location. See more photos in our album.

• • •

Thundershowers didn’t dampen the spirits of the thousands who gathered in Columbia on the first day of the new administration. The rally was held in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington, held in cities across the state and around the globe.

It was more than a rally. It was a call to action. Saturday’s post-rally strategy summit opened with this video from Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter.

It was followed by speakers from some of the summit’s 43 partnering organizations, spoken word artists, gospel, and drumming. The mood was electric.

The extraordinary poet Nikky Finney and Dr. Akan Malici offered powerful moments.

Daniel Deweese of the New Legacy Project challenged the young people in the crowd to get busy and “dream dangerously.”

The day concluded with participants breaking into issue caucuses and planning next steps.

Follow-up meetings are being planned for Columbia, Charleston, and Greenville. Bookmark the Network’s web site to stay in touch. If haven’t signed up yet, subscribe to our e-list.

Finally, please read Meeghan Kane‘s piece and watch Betty Benns‘ video at Auntie Bellum. It will inspire you.

Keep the faith. As the James Brothers reminded us on Saturday, “all things are possible, if you only believe.”

Amen.