Sunday’s editorial is our annual legislative scorecard:
This year’s legislative session began with a sense of excitement and promise. After eight years of bickering and conflict between Gov. Mark Sanford and the legislature – culminating with the threat of impeachment proceedings against him as a result of his extraordinary political self-immolation – a new face was in the governor’s mansion.
Gov. Nikki Haley promised to work with the legislature to get a number of important measures passed, streamlining the government and opening it up to inspection by those it serves. And in fact some of these worthy goals did come to fruition, chief among them the push for more roll call voting in the House and Senate, which helped make this year’s scorecard possible.
But after a short honeymoon period, the state’s still floundering economy came back to dominate the legislature, and larger reform efforts were pushed aside to focus on narrower concerns. The Taxation Realignment Commission, created by the legislature to study the state’s loophole-filled tax code, saw its recommendations ignored and put on a shelf for another day. Instead, many hard-fought battles were waged in an effort simply to keep a state program running – the fight to cut Medicaid rates comes to mind – or over the funding for a particular state agency, as occurred with the fight over funding ETV.
By the end of the session, Haley’s promise to create a better working relationship with lawmakers was feeling more and more hollow, as she petulantly turned some away from an end-of-the-year party and tried – and failed – to force them all back into a session to pass bills she felt were necessary.
After legislators called her out in their last days in session, we were somewhat grateful for the next few months of recess, during which we hope the governor and legislators can cool off a bit and return to a good working relationship ahead of next year’s work.
The Sun News followed some of the most high-profile bills this session and how each of our local legislators voted. Some of the bills we supported, such as the bills to restructure state government and make it more open. Others we’ve been more ambivalent on, such as voter ID and immigration reform. The chart attached shows those votes. We invite you to make up your own mind on how your representatives did.
The Sun News has no monopoly on what makes a successful lawmaker. We believe a lawmaker should be effective at passing legislation on issues important to the legislator and his or her constituents, be responsive to constituent concerns and committed to showing up to work at the Statehouse. But your priorities may be entirely different. At a Carolina Patriots meeting at the end of March, Rep. Alan Clemmons offered a warning to the audience that we echo here: “Take a close look before you just trust a scorecard.”
We encourage you to take a very close look at all of the issues we highlight here and the voting records of your legislator. Much more detailed information is available on the General Assembly’s website for interested parties.
At the same meeting in March, Rep. Tracy Edge said a scorecard often “doesn’t tell the whole story” and voiced a hope that people “don’t go believing a scorecard without talking to us.” Readers are certainly encouraged to talk with their legislators. Contact information is available online and in the column to the left of this editorial.
Our grades below represent our opinions of each lawmaker’s contributions to the Grand Strand and the entire state over the past legislative session. In addition to their votes on individual bills, we used lawmakers’ effectiveness and influence in Columbia, as well as their attendance and participation, in compiling our evaluations.
Rep. Liston Barfield (R-Aynor): C
We complained in our scorecard last year about the number of absences that Barfield racked up. With that in mind, we were happy to see this year that he did not miss a single day of the session. Despite this improvement, Barfield continued to cast fairly routine votes following his GOP colleagues. None of the bills he introduced passed even the House, let alone the Senate, and his chairmanship of the Invitations and Memorial Resolutions Committee, while helpful in getting a resolution praising local notables, has little real impact on the state or area.
Rep. Alan Clemmons (R-Myrtle Beach): B+
Clemmons had a banner year this year. From his perch as chairman of the House Election Laws Committee, he acted as the Grand Strand’s champion in focusing the state’s new 7th Congressional District in our region. His push for continued funding for I-73 has also borne some fruit this year. He’s the area’s most active legislator, sponsoring 19 bills and co-sponsoring another 72. We worry a bit that his level of activity betrays a tendency to stretch himself too far and deprives him of the energy to focus on individual issues.
Our main disagreement this year, as it was last year, has been Clemmons’ strong partisanship on election rules. He has consistently led the charge for photo ID requirements, which passed this year, but against early voting. And in speaking with us, he had few qualms about redrawing political districts to best benefit GOP candidates.
Rep. Tracy Edge (R-North Myrtle Beach): C-
Edge has historically been one of the Strand’s most influential legislators, with a long career in the Statehouse and a seat on one of the key budget writing committees. This year, however, we worried that his influence was diluted by his many absences. Edge recorded the most absences of any of our House members, and showed up late another 20 times. As a result, he didn’t record a vote on more than a third of the issues that came before the House.
To be fair, Edge had some significant personal issues this year, as his mother was gravely ill for the first half of the session and he was often called out to her hospital side before she passed away in April. Then Edge’s wife became embroiled in a city scandal in North Myrtle Beach, another issue that we imagine led to some distraction.
Edge did push through a canal dredging bill to benefit his constituents, and he does have a solid record of voting for government restructuring, but for the second year in a row, he missed key votes on on-the-record voting. We hope that Edge will return to his former self in the next session, but we find it impossible to ignore his level of missed votes and absences, leading us to his grade for this year.
Rep. Nelson Hardwick (R-Surfside Beach): B+
Hardwick has become the go-to member for South Strand residents, and saw the most success among Grand Strand legislators this year in getting his bills passed. Among his achievements was the pier reconstruction bill that will help Surfside Beach in improving and expanding its pier. Along with Barfield, he also missed no days this session, a commitment we appreciate.
Our only complaint is his tendency to cast most of his votes safely with the Republican majority, showing less independent thought than we might expect at times.
Rep. George Hearn (R-Conway): D
We said last year that we hoped to see Hearn’s full potential this year, after he finished his freshman year and became a little more comfortable. Despite that hope, we’ve seen little to suggest that Hearn is much more than a seat-filler in Columbia. He proposed no bills of his own and voted with the majority more than 96 percent of the time. While we appreciate that he missed very few votes, we can’t help feeling he didn’t accomplish much with the votes he had.
Rep. Thad Viers (R-Myrtle Beach): C-
Viers has consistently been the most outspoken and vexatious of our lawmakers. Not content with simply opposing measures, he often also heaps ridicule upon bills he finds unworthy. Of all the Republican members of our delegation, he broke with his party in the most votes. His aggressive attitude notwithstanding, we appreciate his votes for on-the-record voting and government restructuring, and he has been consistent in his voting over the year.
Beyond the Statehouse, Viers has been a familiar face at many community events, offering constituents an important opportunity to meet and talk with their representative. Unfortunately, that commitment to appearing in the community has not always extended to his attendance in Columbia. He showed up late, after the roll call in the House, more than a third of the time this year, and he did not take part in more than a fifth of the votes.
Rep. Carl Anderson (D-Georgetown): C-
As part of the House’s dwindling Democratic caucus, Anderson’s role and influence are weaker from the beginning. He compounded that disadvantage this year by missing key votes on government restructuring and voter ID. He proposed no bills of his own and co-sponsored the fewest bills of any our delegation, likely a result of his party affiliation.
Rep. Kevin Ryan (R-Georgetown): C-
We had high hopes for Ryan when he began his freshman year. He impressed us with his deep knowledge of state issues and legislative process, unusual for a person of his age. His first session has been largely unremarkable, made up of fairly routine votes with his GOP brethren. As the session came to a close, however, an antagonistic attitude toward other members of the Georgetown delegation left us disappointed.
While he has shown up at a few community events, he has also proven harder to contact than other legislators and missed the last delegation meeting, which had been set up around his schedule. That led to fellow delegation member Carl Anderson telling The Sun News, “This is why you need to make sure you don’t send a baby to do an adult’s job.” We hope that Ryan will grow into some of his potential in the coming session.
Sen. Ray Cleary (R-Murrells Inlet): B-
We’ve always been impressed with Cleary, who brings a thoughtful approach to his work in the legislature. His work this year on the bill that reformed the unemployment insurance reform of last year was particularly helpful to area businesses, and he also served on the influential redistricting committee to redraw the state’s political lines. He sponsored the most bills of any of our senators, and had a fair amount of success in seeing them pass. We appreciated the final version of his bill to expand recycling, for instance, though unfortunately it never made it out of committee in the House.
Our main concern has been Cleary’s attendance and participation record, as he didn’t take part in nearly a quarter of the Senate’s votes. Despite this, however, he has shown this year that he has no small measure of influence and can successfully shepherd change through the legislature.
Sen. Dick Elliott (D-North Myrtle Beach): C-
Elliott has confounded us multiple times this year. He was the only member of our delegation to vote against roll call voting, but also authored a bill to greatly increase transparency on the municipal level. Unfortunately, that bill made it through the Senate but never came up for a vote in the House. He’s registered as a Democrat, but likes to talk of his “conservative” stance and voted with the majority more than some Republicans.
Elliott has made some questionable decisions this year, sponsoring two spurious bills requiring the state to regulate the price of gasoline and using his position to obtain a Senate resolution congratulating his family’s Elliott Realty on its new location. He’s often quiet on major issues, but he can be a champion of constituents when roused, as he was in unsuccessfully opposing the appointment of a new Aynor magistrate. As that appointment shows, however, his influence is fairly limited and ineffectual.
Sen. Yancey McGill (D-Kingstree): B
McGill has been an influential lawmaker in the Senate, where tenure and longevity are large components of power. Like Elliott, he voted with the GOP often despite his Democratic affiliation, a reflection perhaps of the Senate’s lower reliance on partisan politics. His record showed strong support for increasing transparency in government, and on sheer voting totals, he participated in more votes than any other member of our delegation.
Sen. Luke Rankin (R-Myrtle Beach): D
Rankin had the most absences and missed the most votes of any member of our delegation this year. Part of that was due to his marriage in the middle of the session (our belated congratulations), but it meant he missed key votes on items such as tort reform and the point of sale compromise. One of our longest-serving local politicians and on four committees, he has the tenure and position to be influential in the Senate. His absences this year, however, make that goal harder to achieve.