Remembering Modjeska Simkins

On Dec. 4, 2012, the SC Progressive Network honored human rights matriarch Modjeska Simkins on what would have been her 113th birthday. Friends gathered for an evening of fellowship and remembrance at her home, which now serves as the Network’s headquarters.

James Felder read from his recently released book, Civil Rights in South Carolina, from Peaceful Protest to Groundbreaking Rulings, the following passage:

On April 25, 1995, Modjeska Monteith Simkins’ portrait was unveiled at the statehouse. In my capacity as executive director of the NAACP at that time, I delivered a tribute to Ms. Simkins on that occasion.

It is only fitting and proper that a portrait of Mary Modjeska Monteith Smikins be unveiled here today in this statehouse in remembrance of her. I remember Modjeska for being one of the founding members of the SC Conference of Branches NAACP.

I remember Modjeska for serving as the first field secretary of the SC NAACP and receiving no pay for her work.

I remember Modjeska for discovering that white teachers were earning more than black teachers in 1943, and she pushed for litigation that led to Thompson v. Gibbes and the equalization fo teachers’ pay in South Carolina in 1945.

I remember Modjeska giving civil rights seminars to students from Allen University and Benedict College from behind the teller cage at Victory Savings Bank on Harden Street.

I remember Modjeska, who would drive alone to Clarendon County for a mass meeting and then would have the last word in the debate after the meeting in Billy Flemming’s house at his bar.

I remember Modjeska, who cranked out more press releases and letters to the editor than all of the civil rights groups in South Carolina combined.

I remember Modjeska, who had a great sense of humor and was quite a crowd pleaser, but she was a fierce warrior for preserving freedom for all of us.

I remember Modjeska, who was just at ease registering winos to vote on Read Street as she was entertaining Thurgood Marshall at her home on Marion Street.

And I will remember Modjeska as a legend in her own time. She was our Harriett Tubman and our Sojourner Truth. She was a woman who woke up every morning with freedom on her mind.

So after today, when you happen to be passing the statehouse one evening and the lights are flashing and the building is shaking, do not be alarmed, for that will just be Modjeska debating with Edgar Brown, Sol Blatt, Marion Gressette and Ben Tillman, and she will be winning the argument.

See more photos of the birthday party here.

Is Bomb Plant top threat in US?

At a 1978 SC State House press conference organized by the Natural Guard (the SC Progressive Network’s predecessor), Dr. John Goffman, a nuclear scientist credited with the discovery of plutonium, stated that the Savannah River Bomb Plant was the nation’s greatest national security threat. In the ensuing 34 years, the threat has increased.

The Bomb Plant: America’s Three A.M. Nightmare

November 14, 2012

National Security News Service

Aiken, S.C. – Tons of weapons grade plutonium and other nuclear materials, a target for terrorists, are not being properly protected by the National Nuclear Security Administration at the Department of Energy’s sprawling Savannah River Site, according to security consultants and U.S. counterintelligence officials.

A secret security review underway at DOE and other government agencies after an elderly nun last summer breached a NNSA bomb-grade-uranium facility at the Oak Ridge Tennessee Y12 area reveals “harrowing problems in site management and control at other DOE sites,” said a Homeland Security official who requested anonymity. The official said that the Savannah River Site was of concern because “SRS does not have the staffing or the facilities to protect the huge amounts of plutonium that have been brought to SRS in recent years.”

Read more here.

Droning On and On

By Mary Sullivan
Hilton Head, SC

Now that we are all worshiping at the “Cathedral of St. Drone,” we actually no longer need the institution of war. We have been praying for peace and it is actually on our doorstep! War has most certainly now become a totally outmoded institution.

This new state is thanks to our growing arsenal of unmanned armed aerial vehicles known as “killer drones” (now more numerous than other types of military aircraft) and to a president, comfortable with weekly review of his “kill list” for ordering “targeted assassinations” of people in countries with which we are not at war. Even though we don’t know their names, “signature assassinations” of people who just look like they could become a problem are OK too.

Drone assassinations are now THE weapon of choice and the industry is growing mightily. Hurry up and buy stock in the weapons manufacturers. We shouldn’t miss the opportunity to cash in. It’s good on so many levels — jobs, profits and it’s just plain neater. All those deaths are “over there” and our boys remain OK.

Why maybe we can even close the over 700 US military bases in over 150 countries (not our own Parris Island, of course). Finally the planet will be rid of the scourge of war. Any killing needed by the government can be done with a press of a button from a computer terminal right here. And our kids are already trained to skillfully use the button with games like God of War 4, Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, etc. Stock in XBOX 360 and Playstation should also soar.

Now that at least 30 police departments have been equipped with drones, I am also looking toward the day when we can cut our state and local police budgets, thus rescuing these financially ailing entities. What a wonderful world we have to look forward to! I imagine we will eventually get used to the constant buzzing over head and to the insect sized drones listening at our windows.

But I really cannot understand why have we not been celebrating the end of war and this new, cleaner, more sanitized means of just getting rid of anyone who might remotely be of some challenge to our empire–and their families and friends who are surely guilty by sheer association?

I just don’t understand it. Shouldn’t there be ticker tape parades down 5th Avenue in New York City and along the Magnificent Mile in Chicago and maybe along 278 on Hilton Head and in towns and cities across the country? What could possibly account for the fact that we are not celebrating this momentous change in the way we humans deal with conflict? Surely not because most citizens (polls say 62%% or more approve) or media pundits have any moral compunction about assassination as the new strategy.

So whatever could it be?

SC Election Day meltdown: a cautionary tale

By Brett Bursey
Director, SC Progressive Network

The Election Protection hotline started ringing shortly after the polls opened at 7. It didn’t stop all day. Ninety percent of the touch-screen voting machines in the county’s 118 precincts wouldn’t boot up. Some precincts didn’t have working machines until 5:30pm.

One campaign tried to get the court to extend voting hours, but failed. The SC Republican Party Chairman said, “There is always a backup in case there is an election machine malfunction.” But unfortunately for thousands of voters, there was no such backup.

This wasn’t Richland County on Nov. 6, 2012. It was in Horry County’s 2008 Republican presidential primary.

At the time, I thought this was the train wreck we needed to get out from under these unreliable voting machines and get our emergency ballot statute fixed. I was wrong.

Four years later, it was thousands of voters in Richland County standing in line for up to seven hours because there weren’t enough working machines and no emergency ballots.

These are the same machines that failed in Horry County in 2008. The same machines that gave the 2010 Democratic nomination for US Senate to the virtually unknown Alvin Green, a result deemed statistically impossible by the nation’s top computer voting experts. The same machines South Carolina bought between 2004 and 2006 – against our organization’s recommendation to the Election Commission. After studying the issue extensively and watching what was working in other states, we advocated simpler, paper-based voting devices.

This Election Day, machine failures didn’t happen in Richland County alone, but in at least seven other counties, according to reports to the Election Protection hotline. Callers from Spartanburg, Greenville, Charleston, Horry, Berkeley, Kershaw and Sumter counties all reported machine failures causing long lines.

In the 2008 Horry machine failure, State Election Commission spokesman Gary Baum said all precincts must have emergency paper ballots on hand, calling them “part of the election.”

SEC spokesman Chris Whitmire said voters could use almost anything – “a napkin, a paper towel” – to vote.

That afternoon, Whitmire called and said, “Brett, let’s read that statute together, out loud.” He was referring to State Code 7-13-430 that used to require each precinct to have enough paper emergency ballots on hand “as are equal to ten percent of the registered qualified voters at such voting place.”

We discovered that, in 2000, the emergency ballot statute was amended to require “a number of ballots not to exceed ten percent of the registered qualified voters at the voting place.” The math we had learned in our minimally adequate schools allowed us to calculate that zero does not exceed 10 percent. So, while precincts are required to provide emergency ballots, they are not required to have any until after the emergency.

Sen. Phil Leventis requested an opinion from Attorney General Henry McMaster prior to the 2008 general election on the contradictory nature of the redrawn statute. McMaster agreed that while precincts were not required to have emergency ballots on hand, they are required to be available “without undue delay.”

In the 2008, deputy sheriffs waited for the county election office to print the various versions of ballots required by local races, and then drove paper ballots to the precincts. At 2pm, deputies were still delivering the first shipments of paper to some precincts.

Whether you consider it “undue delay” might depend on whether you were one of the thousands of Horry County voters who braved freezing rain only to be told to come back later.

In Richland County, with countywide reports of machine shortages and failures, only a few precincts considered offering emergency ballots. Our Election Protection Coalition provided emergency ballots for one precinct. Other precincts that requested them were told by county election officials they couldn’t use emergency ballots.

Richland County Election Board Chair Liz Crum said they were prohibited by law from using emergency ballots. It says “if no machine is available,” paper shall be provided. Most precincts had some machines working.

Clearly, the statute needs to be fixed to require an on-hand supply of paper ballots and specify the wait times at which point they may be used.

The requirement for emergency paper ballots to be on hand at precincts was written out of the law in 2000 at the insistence of the Association of Counties. At the time, counties were using lever machines, punch cards and mechanical devices that never failed county-wide. The counties argued that emergency paper ballots were an unnecessary expense.

In 2002, in the wake of the Florida “hanging chad” debacle, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, which provided funding for states to update their voting systems. South Carolina was the first state to spend the money, and one of seven states not to seek an extension of the funding deadline pending the establishment of federal guidelines for the new generation of touch-screen voting computers.

The SC Progressive Network presented expert testimony to the state Election Commission about the devices’ shortcomings before the state spent $38 million to buy the iVotronic machines we still use. The “iVo’s” don’t produce a paper record that can be verified by the voter, or used to recount the vote, and have been de-certified in a number of states because they are unreliable.

Switching to a statewide, computer-based, paperless voting system should have caused the legislature to restore the requirement for emergency paper ballots at every precinct. The potential for county-wide machine failures is a proven liability of this kind of system.

While blame for the failure in Richland County is falling largely on election officials, ignoring the history of failed machines in this and other elections implies that only human ineptitude or malfeasance can cause such problems.

As these delicate and complicated devices reach the end of their lifespan, we should be concerned about future elections and our next generation of machines. Replacing the people that run the machines will not solve the core problem. We must learn from our past mistakes and acquire a more a reliable, rnon-proprietary, paper-based voting system.

Brett Bursey is SC Progressive Network Director and SC Election Protection Field Coordinator.

Speaker Harrell’s PAC donated $30,000 to members of House Republican Ethics Committee

The SC Progressive Network submitted these written comments to the Republican Caucus Ethics Committee, which met this morning.

Money — rather than good ideas — fuels South Carolina’s politics. Ninety percent of the candidates who spend the most money win. An incumbent who spends the most money has a 98 percent chance of being elected. While state ethics laws limit campaign contributions to House races at $1000, a proliferation of political action committees (PACs) allow deep-pocket donors to get around the limit.

Webster’s defines ethics as “the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group.” We urge this committee to consider that while the House rules of conduct, when followed, may be legal, they are not necessarily ethical.

For example, the Palmetto Leadership Council is a PAC headed by the SC House Speaker Bobby Harrell. Membership in his Leadership PAC cost $3,500. Harrell says on the PAC’s web site, “We are building a unique coalition between leaders in the private sector and those of us engaged in public service.”

While Harrell, or a corporation like AT&T, can only make a $1000 donation to a House candidate, AT&T can make a $3,500 donation to Harrell’s Leadership PAC, which can then make another $1,000 donation to the same candidate.

Harrell’s PAC has raised nearly $1 million since its founding in 2004, with 98.7 percent going to Republican candidates (79 percent incumbents). More than 89 percent of the candidates backed by Harrell’s PAC won election.

Harrell’s largest donations were $100,000 checks written to the state Republican Party. The party can then make a $5,000 contribution to the same candidate that received the $1,000 maximum from Harrell’s PAC.

It’s a way around campaign finance laws. It’s legal but ethically suspect. We urge the Committee to follow the Senate’s lead and eliminate leadership PAC’s that allow the “bundling” of campaign donations that violate the spirit of campaign finance laws.

Donations from Palmetto Leadership Council to members of the Republican Caucus Ethics Committee:

Chairman Murrell Smith, R-Sumter
(803) 734-3042
$5000 (2004-2012)

Rep. Rita Allison, R-Lyman
(803) 212-6788
$3000 (2008-2012)

Rep. Derham Cole, R-Spartanburg
(803) 212-6790
$3000 (2008-2012)

Rep. Joe Daning, R-Goose Creek
(803) 734-2951
$3000 (2008-2012)

Rep. Phyllis Henderson, R-Greer
(803) 212-6883
$1000 (2012)

Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Dorchester
(803) 212-6871
$3000 (2008-2012)

Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head
(803) 212-6928
$2000 (2010-2012)

Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York
(803) 212-6895
$2000 (2010-2012)

Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington
(803) 212-6897
$3000 (2004-2012)

Rep. Roland Smith, R-Warrenville
(803) 734-3114
$5000 (2004-2012)

TOTAL: $30,000

Save the buses! Vote YES for the penny Nov. 6

By Brett Bursey
Director, SC Progressive Network

When was the last time you rode a bus? About 6,000 of your Richland County neighbors rely on public transit every day. That’s down from over 8,000 two years ago. Funding for the buses has been cut 40% over the past two years, routes have been eliminated and wait times have doubled or quadrupled for some riders.

Buses in the Columbia-area have not evolved from the “plantation transportation system” that was designed to get low-wage workers to jobs that don’t pay enough for them to own a car. Back when Jim Crow ran the system, the last buses out of town left before dark. Today, the last bus is at 6:30pm. Few buses run on Saturdays, and none run on Sundays or holidays.

At a DART appreciation rally Oct. 25, Network Co-chair Virginia Sanders listens to former Columbia police chief Charles Austin talk about his son, who relies on DART to get to work.

The service is so poor, who would want to ride the bus in Richland County? Sadly, some people have no choice.

David Brown, a 48-year-old laid-off worker, rides the bus to computer classes at a tech school. The round trip that used to take one hour now take up to four hours.

Leslie Goodson lost her job when service was cut on weekends. Not having transportation wasn’t a good enough reason for Leslie to get unemployment benefits. She’s still looking for a job that conforms with the bus schedule.

Adrian Metso is a manager at a manufacturing facility out on Two Notch where the buses have quit running. Since bus services were cut, he has had to lay off three workers who were chronically late because they lacked transportation.

The Disability Action Center has a client who wanted desperately to get a job, not easy because he is blind and deaf. They finally found him a job at a restaurant on a bus line — just before the service was cut. He lost his job and his dream of independence.

Richland County voters have an opportunity to make a real change at the ballot box this year. It won’t be voting for any candidate, who might lose or let you down. It will be voting to increase the county’s sales tax by a penny to save the bus system in the Midlands.

One could argue that there should be a better way to fund public transit than through a sales tax that hits the poor the hardest, but there hasn’t been a viable plan to sustain the buses since SCE&G quit running the system 10 years ago.

The SC Progressive Network lobbied Richland County Council to raise a smaller sales tax just for the buses. Our efforts saw the funding for the buses increased by $30 million, but Council voted to go with a plan to put 63% of the penny towards roads, 29% to buses and 8% for pathways.

Council was convinced that the measure wouldn’t pass unless there was something in it for the majority of taxpayers who don’t use the buses. Some 42% of the money is projected to come from people who don’t live in Richland County.

Of the billion dollars the penny tax is projected to raise over the next 22 years, the buses will get $301 million. The 29% dedicated to the buses and the DART system for disabled riders cannot be used for roads or green spaces. Riders and communities need to organize to insure that public transit expands in ways that meet their needs.

If the penny passes, cuts to services over the past two years will be quickly restored. Within the next few years:

  • fixed routes will be expanded
  • wait times reduced to 15-30 minutes
  • hours of service extended
  • Sunday and holiday service added
  • DART service expanded
  • a new transit station and shelters will be built
  • traffic congestion will be reduced through Park-and-Ride services
  • more riders will mean more revenue, more jobs and a stronger economy

There is no long-term source of funding for buses or DART. If the penny does not pass, the system will run out of funds on June 30, 2013.

Richland County voters need to vote “YES” TWICE for the penny tax. The penny sales tax will appear on Pages 5 and 6 on your Richland County voting machine as Local Question #1 and Local Question #2.

A “YES” vote on # 1 will allow Richland County to collect a penny sales tax for transportation for the next 22 years. A “YES” vote on # 2 will allow the County to issue a bond to immediately begin working on the projects.

Let’s fund a transit system people will want to use. Vote “YES” TWICE for the penny tax on Nov. 6!

To help Save the Buses, contact the Network at 803-808-3384 or

Network needs volunteers to help voters on Election Day

The SC Progressive Network is working with the Election Protection Coalition to help voters with election-related problems between now and Nov. 6.

We are training volunteers from across the state to respond to requests for assistance from voters on Election Day.

The Election Protection Coalition is supported nationally by most major nonpartisan organizations and is managed by the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under the Law. Our state partners are the Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc., League of Women Voters of South Carolina, and the ACLU of South Carolina.

The National Hotline number is 866-OUR-VOTE, and in Spanish: 888-VE-Y-VOTA. Signs with this number have been made available to all of South Carolina’s 2,183 precincts.

In 2008, we fielded nearly 1,400 calls on Election Day from South Carolina voters. Most of the calls were from confused voters, and the problems were easy to fix. Other calls required on-the-ground follow-up at precincts or county election offices.

Columbia training: Oct. 30, 5:30pm, Room 138, USC Law School
Charleston training: Nov. 2, noon-2pm, Room 333, (3rd floor) Charleston School of Law, 385 Meeting. St.

To RSVP for training, or to arrange to be trained at another time, call the Network at 803-808-3384.

Download the Election Protection Hotline sign here.

Network holds rally to support DART riders and urge voters to pass penny tax

Those who stand to lose the most if the penny sales tax to fund public transit isn’t passed are the DART riders, who have already suffered 40% cuts to services. At a press conference Oct. 24 hosted by the SC Progressive Network, Dori Tempio from the Disability Action Center asked voters to weigh in on this critical issue Nov. 6. For more information, see or call 803-808-3384.

See more photos from the rally here.

Read about it in The State.

SC Equality welcomes new ED

South Carolina Equality, the state’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender political advocacy and civil rights organization – and longtime member of the SC Progressive Network – has announced that Ryan Wilson of Columbia has been appointed Executive Director.

Ryan comes to SC Equality after having served as the President of both South Carolina Pride and the Harriet Hancock LGBT Center. He served five years on the board of South Carolina Pride, with two years as President. During his time at SC Pride the attendance grew from 5,000 to over 8,000, along with increased sponsorship and grant funding. Most recently, Ryan has served as the President of the Harriet Hancock LGBT Center in Columbia, where he has doubled its operational budget in just one year through new grants, as well as increasing its programming for glbt South Carolinians.

Originally from Baltimore, Ryan moved to South Carolina in 2001 to attend Clemson University. While a student, he served as Co-President of the Clemson Gay-Straight Alliance. In 2005, Ryan moved to Columbia as a graduate student at the University of South Carolina. During this time, he also was the University’s Safe Zone Ally Coordinator.

Upon graduation with a Masters of Education in Higher Education and Student Affairs, he was employed at USC as the Sexual Health Program Coordinator, overseeing Student Health Services, supervising the Safe Zone Ally program, and providing programming for LGBTQ students. For the past two years, he has served as Training Coordinator for the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, a statewide non-profit that supports organizations serving our state’s youth, where he has managed several grant funded projects.

Jeff Ayers, Chair of the SC Equality Board, said “Ryan’s strong qualifications and familiarity with the needs of the glbt community in South Carolina make him ready to assume this position. Our Board is excited about working with him because of his commitment and enthusiasm for the work of securing equal civil and human rights for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender South Carolinians and their families.”

Wilson remarked that “I’m looking forward to being able to advance SC Equality’s important legislative and advocacy work. We have the opportunity help more communities pass non-discrimination ordinances and to see a strong anti-bullying bill enacted by the General Assembly. I am committed to a South Carolina where equal means everyone.”

Network pushes penny tax to save Midlands buses

What’s wrong with our public transportation? Richland County’s bus and DART (Dial-A-Ride-Transit for the disabled) service has been reduced 40% in the past two years. Waits on some routes are up to an hour, and other routes have been cut completely. Buses stop running at 6:30pm, and there is no Sunday or holiday service.

There is no long-term source of funding for buses or DART, and the system will run out of funds June 30, 2013. The system is so bad that people don’t want to use it. Sadly, some people have no choice.

Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey and Bishop Shirley Raiford work Columbia’s downtown bus station educating riders about the penny sales tax.

What can fix our transit problems? On Nov. 6, Richland County will vote on increasing the sales tax by one penny to fund public transit, road improvements and pedestrian pathways. The tax, which will last for 22 years, will raise over $300 million for public transit.

The money will:

  • allow fixed routes to be restored and expanded.
  • reduce wait times to 15-30 minutes
  • extend hours of service
  • restore Sunday service
  • expand DART service
  • fund the building of new transit station and shelters
  • bring more riders and reduce traffic congestion through Park-and-Ride services

Vote YES TWICE on the ballot for the penny sales tax on Nov. 6. The penny sales tax will appear on pages 5 and 6 on your voting machine as Local Question #1 and Local Question #2. A “YES” vote on # 1 will allow Richland County to collect a penny sales tax for transportation for the next 22 years. Download sample ballot here.

42% of the money is projected to come from people who don’t live in Richland County. Each project gets a set percentage of the money raised that cannot be transferred between projects. Buses will get 29%, that is estimated to yield $301 million.

To volunteer to help Save the Buses, contact the Network at 803-808-3384 or Volunteers are meeting every Wednesday at 2pm at the Network office, 2025 Marion St., to make assignments and hand out educational material. Download a flyer, and post at your business, school or church.