BY PHIL NOBLE, PRESIDENT, SC NEW DEMOCRATS
Every once in a while, you find yourself staring at two seemingly unrelated newspaper stories, and you suddenly realize that they might as well have been headlined “Cause” and “Effect.”
Such was the case not long ago when, on a single day, we learned both that House Speaker Bobby Harrell has flatly refused to publicly release documentation to explain the hundreds of thousands of dollars in airplane and travel-related “expenses” that have moved from his special-interest engorged campaign account into his personal bank account since 2008, and that our kids’ SAT scores have taken a nosedive for the fourth year in a row.
High-flying politicians and falling test scores. Political corruption and government failure.
Mr. Cause, meet Mr. Effect.
First, the cause. According to newspaper reports, Speaker Harrell has been tooling around the state for the last four years in his private airplane – a Cirrus SR22, which the manufacturer assures us represents “luxury travel at its rarified best” – and billing his campaign for the costs. Two hundred and thirty one thousand dollars in costs, to be precise. Not to mention the additional hundred thousand or so that seems to have gone to other, equally undocumented, endeavors.
And how has Speaker Harrell responded to these rather remarkable revelations? With full, open and honest disclosure? An abject apology? A promise never to do it again?
Not even close.
Instead, the Speaker has adopted a simple three-part strategy – accuse, confuse and refuse. Accuse those asking the questions of “rough and tough” politics. Confuse the issue by allowing a single reporter to view but not copy a few old credit card bills, and then confuse it even further by making a nominal “repayment” of $23,000 to the campaign account. And, finally, refuse to answer any further questions from the press or the public on the grounds that, well, he’s the Speaker and he says so.
Harrell’s bottom line excuse was that he wasn’t breaking the law so everything was OK. Well, such sleazy ethics are legal only because Harrell and his cronies refuse to pass meaningful ethics reform and make things like his abuse illegal. Once in our history slavery was legal, but that doesn’t mean it’s right.
We as citizens should be outraged. We should be marching on the Capitol with torches and pitchforks, demanding Bobby Harrell’s political head on a pike.
But, for the most part, we aren’t. Instead, in what may be the saddest commentary imaginable, too many of us are simply shaking our heads and saying, “Well, that’s just politics as usual in Columbia – what can I do?”
Now, let’s turn for a moment to the effect – the SAT scores. The sad news is that our children have steadily scored lower on the SAT test for the last four years in a row. Overall, we have dropped 23 points.
One could perhaps excuse a year or two of failing scores – the law of large numbers alone suggests that that might happen occasionally. But even the thickest of politicians should be able to recognize four years in a row of falling scores as an alarming trend.
And there’s the cause and effect. It’s the corruption of the political system, such that money rules, corruption abounds, and taking care of our children’s education is far down the list of our lawmakers priorities.
The politicians are more concerned with taking care of the lobbyists, PAC’s and special interest groups that provide the cash to fill up their campaign accounts and sleazy slush funds than they are with our children’s future.
It is a culture of corruption, and it’s eating away at our government and politics like a cancer.
If we are to have good schools, a fair tax system, a vibrant economy, and a politically healthy state – first we must cut out the cancer before it kills the patient.
I, for one, am ready to get my pitch fork and head to the State House.
Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and is President of the SC New Democrats, an independent group founded by former Gov. Richard Riley to bring big change and real reform to politics and government in South Carolina.