New Year’s Memo to Members and Allies

Brett Bursey
SC Progressive Network Director

Over the past many months, right-wing leadership has lost its credibility and momentum, posing opportunities for progressives to make headway organizing on critical issues. Three policy areas that are especially ripe:

Medicaid expansion: We have discussed a primary legislative focus being on the expansion of Medicaid. It is a major battle in the war over the role and size of government. That said, it seems that major players (everybody to the left of the Tea Party) are taking up the call to accept Medicaid expansion. Gov. Nikki Haley will probably lose this fight, but we need to mobilize our members to ensure this happens.

Voting reforms: The Network has promoted a package of voting reforms for the past decade to make voting easier and verifiable. After the long lines to vote in November – which inconvenienced and disenfranchised even some Republicans – the idea of Early Voting Centers (which we championed in 2006) now has bipartisan support. The voting machines we use (and which the Network opposed the purchase of in 2003) are reaching the end of their life span. We have an opportunity to again push for an new voting system that is publicly owned, paper-based, simpler, cheaper and more reliable. The Network has been a major player in South Carolina’s voting business, and we need to focus on this.

Ethics reforms: The bipartisan clamor for ethics reform has been driven by indictments and investigations of leading politicians. I have testified before the four different ethics reform committees holding hearings. My main point has been that just because something is legal doesn’t make it ethical. Take House Speaker Bobby Harrell’s leadership PAC which legally circumvents campaign donation limits.

The other elephant in the room is that money is not speech and corporations are not people. The best these committees may come up with is “transparancy” that lets us know who is buying our elections. It is timely to again raise the concept of publicly financed elections for those who don’t want to be bought or sold. Common Cause is joining our call for a pilot program to elect the state Attorney General as a publicly financed candidate. Why should the state’s top cop have to take money from the corporations they may be called on to investigate?

Other work in progress:

A Midlands Public Transit Riders Association that we are helping to organize is coming along nicely. We are meeting every Wednesday at 2pm. Leadership from riders has emerged to run the group. After winning the fight for the penny tax in Richland County for transportation, we need a transit riders group to lobby for just and necessary changes. It shouldn’t be left up to the Chamber of Commerce to shape public transit.

The Workers’ Rights Project
did a nice job with the Longshoremen Dec. 20 in shutting down the Charleston port for two hours to protest a shipment of garments from Bangladesh destined for WalMarts. Some of the clothing came from the factory where 112 workers lost their lives in a fire last Nov. This is the price of always low wages. We will continue to ponder new opportunities for community-based labor organizing.

Immigrant Rights advocates will meet with Sen. Graham’s staff in Columbia Jan 11 and Charleston Jan 10 to thank the Senator for his leadership on establishing a path to citizenship. There is a caravan of “Dreamers,” young people raised in the US but without documentation, passing through SC on the way to DC. Sen. Graham is the major Republican player necessary to get immigration reform. The Network set up the meetings and is seeking community support for other activities. See the Network’s calendar for details.

Last year was one of the Network’s most successful. We won the fight over SC voters having to show photo ID to vote. We helped prevent critical budget cuts that hurt South Carolina’s most vulnerable. We worked to help pass the penny sales tax to fund public transit in the Midlands. We steadily improved the Network’s visibility in the community and online. We did it all on a shoestring budget with the help of a talented board and gang of dedicated volunteers.

Let’s work together to make 2013 even more productive. And fun.

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