Saturday’s editorial, via The (Columbia) State:
Freshman Rep. Kevin Ryan was heading home to Pawleys Island on U.S. 521 at the end of another legislative week this spring when he noticed he was driving on the John C. Land Highway, named in 2007 for the Clarendon County senator. When Mr. Ryan crossed into Williamsburg County, 521 became the Kenneth “Ken” Kennedy Highway, named in 2005 for the then-House member.
If he had been paying closer attention, he might have noticed driving past the Ben G. Alderman Jr. Interchange, named for a former magistrate and Santee Cooper Board member, at the intersection of I-95 and 521. And the William M. Hodge overpass, named for the former Sumter mayor, at the U.S. 15/521 connector. Had he been heading west on 521, he could have spent some time on John C. West Boulevard, named in 1980 for the former governor and running from I-20 to the Camden city limits, as well as the stretch from the other side of Camden to Kershaw that was named the same year for then-Sen. Don Holland.
But the Land and Kennedy highways were enough, he told me in an email last week, to make him think “hey, is there no more deserving person (fallen soldier, police officer, etc.) from along these stretches of highway than two Gen. Assembly members?!”
So he started looking into the way things are named in South Carolina, and “became increasingly frustrated after learning how many things are named for politicians.” He stopped counting after he spotted more than 100 highways, bridges and overpasses that are named for current or former elected officials.
Since naming rights go to the legislature and the Transportation Commission, the names that got him most frustrated were those of another nine current senators – the Glenn F. McConnell Expressway, Hugh K. Leatherman Interchange, John Yancey McGill Causeway, John L. Scott, Jr. Highway, Senator William “Billy” O’Dell Bridge, Nikki Setzler Interchange, John Courson Interchange, Senator Dick Elliott Freeway, Jake Knotts Bridge – and two current House members: the Rep. H.B. Chip Limehouse, III Interchange and the Joseph H. Jefferson, Jr. Highway.
He counted another 66 former legislators on the Transportation Department’s list of 797 named roads, bridges and intersections.
He missed a lot of them.
In a quick review of a single letter, I found eight more roads and bridges named for former legislators whose names the young Mr. Ryan didn’t recognize.
Mr. Ryan also identified highway structures named for 12 former highway commissioners, 11 former mayors, four county council members, a couple of sheriffs and four members of Congress. There are many more of all of them, but he stopped counting because he said he thinks 100 is a big enough number to make his point and build support for his bill to prohibit naming infrastructure after anyone other than members of the military, police and firefighters killed in the line of duty.
I wouldn’t go that far, but I would prohibit naming infrastructure for anyone who is still alive, because we just never know what they might do before they die. The namesake of the Senator Gene Carmichael Highway in Dillon County was convicted on federal vote-buying charges. The Karl S. Bowers Bridge in Beaufort County honors a former federal highway administrator who went to prison on federal income tax charges. The legislature felt compelled to un-name the Earl E. Morris Jr. Highway after the former comptroller general was convicted on securities fraud charges in the Carolina Investors case. And then there’s Andre’s interchange; Mr. Bauer already had embarrassed us plenty even before the Lexington County legislative delegation snuck that through last year.
I’d actually prefer to wait a few years after they die before we honor politicians in asphalt, because we might learn things after their deaths that prove them unworthy, but just limiting the honors to dead people would be an improvement. Heck, it’d be an improvement to stop naming things after currently serving legislators, but the legislature has rejected efforts to do even that.
In fairness, most of the names on the Transportation Department’s list are people who haven’t served in the legislature – or at least I don’t think they have. And in recent years, legislators have taken to naming infrastructure after troopers, police and soldiers who died on duty – while, of course, continuing to name things for themselves and their favorite campaign donors. But Mr. Ryan has a list of 28 state troopers killed in the line of duty for whom no infrastructure is named. His list dates to the 1930s, but includes four killed in the 1980s and six killed in the 1970s.
Mr. Ryan volunteers that this might not be as important as pension reform and other front-burner items, but he argues – correctly – that it “speaks to the mentality that so many of my colleagues have.” He considers it outrageous to think “that our service in the General Assembly rivals that of a law enforcement officer or soldier who gave his or her life protecting South Carolinians.”
The 23-year-old graduate student, who announced last month that he won’t run for a second term in the House, is not someone I know well. I haven’t analyzed what sorts of bills he puts his name on, have no idea of his general voting pattern. I know he unseated a conscientious legislator to win his seat last year, and it could be that I would be horrified by the way he approaches tax policy and gubernatorial authority and education and other important issues.
But on the handful of occasions that he has contacted me this year, it has been to promote good-government measures that some would characterize as wet-behind-the-ears political science idealism but that I would characterize as charming and encouraging. Too bad he’s not seeking re-election.
Perhaps his colleagues should name something for him.