Getting South Carolina Lawmakers To Go On The Record

It isn’t hard to figure out why South Carolina state legislators spend taxpayer dollars so irresponsibly: anonymous voice votes shield them from being held accountable by constituents.

South Carolina ranks lowest in the nation for legislative accountability and the vast majority of votes in the state legislature are never recorded.  South Carolina is one of only five states where legislators are not required to record votes.  In 2008, the South Carolina House of Representatives recorded only 8 percent of votes on general bills or joint resolutions, and the Senate recorded only 1 percent.

A roll call rule to improve legislative vote recording took effect in January, but the measure is temporary and subject to the whims of the legislature.  The Spending Accountability Act of 2009 (H. 3047) is a more permanent solution introduced by possible 2010 gubernatorial candidate Rep. Nikki Haley.  S. 11 is the companion Senate bill.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are sponsoring the bills, but support is not universal.  Opponents say roll calls for every vote will incur unjustifiable expense, an excuse that’s pretty rich coming from legislators who approved funding for an Elvis impersonator, a deep fryer, and a “Doo-Da” Festival.

A House subcommittee hearing on the Spending Accountability Act is scheduled for Tuesday, April 21, 2009.  The citizens of South Carolina have a right to know how elected officials are voting on all issues brought before the South Carolina General Assembly.   Remind the legislature that transparency in government is not optional by urging them to pass H. 3047 out of committee so it can be voted on by the entire House.

Contact the following South Carolina House members, as well as your Representative, and let them know that open government is a principle worth fighting for.

Subcommittee Chair Denny Nielson
803-734-3097
DWN@schouse.org

Rep. Brian White
803-734-3113
WBW@schouse.org

Rep. Murrell Smith
803-734-3042
GMS@schouse.org

Rep. Herb Kirsh
803-734-3071

Speaker Bobby Harrell
803-734-3125
HSP@schouse.org

Chairman Dan Cooper
803-734-3144
HWM@schouse.org

Majority Leader Kenny Bingham
803-734-3138
KAB@schouse.org

Update, 4/21/09: The Spending Accountability Act of 2009 passed subcommittee today.  The next step is a hearing before the full House Ways and Means Committee tomorrow (Wednesday, April 22) at 2:30pm.  Contact information for all Ways and Means members is available on the State House Web site, or the following list of email addresses may be copied and pasted into your email client:

HWM@schouse.org, LDB@schouse.org, JAB@schouse.org, KAB@schouse.org, WC@schouse.org, GCH@schouse.org, TE@schouse.org, HB@schouse.org, KK@schouse.org, HBL@schouse.org, LFL@schouse.org, DAL@schouse. org, JL@schouse.org, JM1@schouse.org, JN@schouse.org, DWN@schouse.org, HLO@schouse.org, PittsT@schouse.org, RFR@schouse.org, JGS@schouse.org, GMS@schouse.org, JS@schouse.org, WBW@schouse.org, ADY@schouse.org

Update, 4/24/09: The meeting this week in which the Ways and Means Committee was scheduled to address the Spending Accountability Act was canceled.  A new meeting of the full Committee has not been announced, and Rep. Nikki Haley is calling the cancellation a “major setback.” The Committee may fail to review the bill before the House adjourns for the year.

Please, melt the phones and flood the Ways and Means Committee members with emails.  Let them know that voters expect H.3047 to pass during the current session.

Comments

12 Responses to “Getting South Carolina Lawmakers To Go On The Record”

  1. Eclectic Radical on April 21st, 2009 7:40 am

    At the risk of ‘trolling’ a little more than I like, the veil of secrecy in the South Carolina state legislature allows conservative Republicans to vote for their pet spending projects (and taxes necessary to support them) while condemning liberals for their tax and spend policies. ;)

    More seriously, there is an argument to be made that there are situations where the correct or necessary action is not politically popular. This justifies certain limited sealed voting practices in specific, limited situations. We are a republic, after all, and not a democracy. A permanent policy of non-transparency, however, is entirely inappropriate in a democratic republic.

  2. Jenn Q. Public on April 21st, 2009 12:40 pm

    If you want to clinch your position as resident troll, you’re going to have to do a little trolling. That’s just how it is. ;)

    I don’t normally blog about local or regional politics, but this issue really struck a chord. Every Yankee stereotype of the good ol’ boy network in the south is captured in this one procedural custom.

    Voting records should be public precisely because we are a Republic with government, as Lincoln described it, “of the people, by the people, for the people.” It is essential to our liberty. I’m having a hard time imagining any situation that justifies sealing votes because they are politically unpopular, but I’m open to examples.

  3. Eclectic Radical on April 22nd, 2009 7:55 am

    A republic is the idea that the people do not make the decisions themselves, but elect the representatives who make those decisions. It includes a basic assumption that there are issues that the public cannot be expected to understand in the full detail necessary to make an informed decision, not out of ingrained elitism (though concerns about mob rule have always existed, and have always been valid to some degree) but out of an understanding that the business of life can prevent the average citizen from fully studying and appreciating the business of governance.

    I will use California (my former home state) as an example. California has a long history of budgetary woe, because of the unpopularity of raising the state income tax. If votes on the state income tax were sealed, California’s sales and gas taxes would be drastically lower and the state income tax would be marginally higher, probably to the benefit of both the taxpayers and the state budget. Tax votes are never popular, but sometimes necessary.

    For a second example, if the US Congress could make a sealed vote on Social Security (where neither Democrats nor Republicans were forced to have their votes eviscerated by constituents) then the issue would not be an issue.

    Those two specific examples (and possible situations like them) aside, I agree with you more than I disagree.

  4. Afrocity on April 22nd, 2009 8:18 am

    Jenn, are the legislative records public in the SC state or local archives? If not, try to use your state archivist as mediators in this issue. They can be of great assistance.

  5. Jenn Q. Public on April 22nd, 2009 10:51 am

    Chris, I know what a republic is, and I’m grateful to live in one rather than a direct democracy. Unlike most righties, even statewide referenda tend to make me uncomfortable as I think popular votes lend themselves too easily to tyranny of the majority (though I may be biased coming from NY where we had no state ballot initiatives.)

    But even in a republic, I feel that the people’s access to representatives’ voting histories is one of the only truly indisputable records available with which we can make decisions on election day. The average citizen may not have time to keep up with the daily dealings of our elected officials, but gather together a couple years’ worth of legislative votes, and a representative picture emerges that allows us to make a fair assessment at the polls. I see where you’re coming from with your examples, but for me, freedom of information still outweighs possibly misguided heat from constituents. Part of a politician’s job is to adequately justify tough choices to voters.

    I would also add that SC reps have had the luxury of unrecorded votes, and yet, even in the face of current budget woes, our income taxes have not been raised.

  6. Jenn Q. Public on April 22nd, 2009 11:01 am

    Afrocity, the librarian in me wondered the same thing about archived legislative records. Unfortunately, it isn’t an issue of access to records. As unbelievable as it seems, it’s that until recently, the state General Assembly didn’t record most votes at all! If passed, the Accountability Act will permanently fix this ridiculous system that should never have existed in the first place.

  7. Anne Maggiari on April 22nd, 2009 11:12 am

    I have been hunting high and low for the 4 other states who’s legislature is nearly as opaque as ours.
    I want Glen Beck or Bill O’Reilly to shine a little daylight in these dark Houses. It is the business of the citizens of those states to change this but they have to know they have a problem first.

  8. Jenn Q. Public on April 22nd, 2009 11:18 am

    Anne, I wasn’t sure from your comment – did you find the list of states at the link I provided? If not, they are: Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and of course, South Carolina.

  9. Eclectic Radical on April 22nd, 2009 11:42 pm

    Coming from California, which has made a religion out of state ballot initiatives, I share the same prejudice against them. Strange, that. In California, state wide referenda are used to legislate around the constitutional majority requirements in the state senate. They are misrepresented in political campaigns by both their supporters and their opponents and most people lack either the time, inclination, or both to review them in the depth they deserve. Truly stupid initiatives have been passed only to be overturned by the courts (most notably a truly racist set of policies allegedly targeting ‘illegal immigrants’ that were essentially institutional discrimination against Latinos)or are even awaiting such overturning now.

    I still agree with you more than not, I think, and I take your point about South Carolina’s budget issues. I am happy enough that you see where I am coming from, and I see where you are coming from too.

    I will say that I think the character of our elected officials has a lot to do with it. The individuals willing to make tough choices have always been rarer than those wishing to make popular choices, and those willing to truly make thoughtful decisions about tough choices even rarer. Secrecy won’t help such people improve, this is true.

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