What is the real cause of dysfunction at SC State House?

Contributed by The Tradd Street Triad

In the closing days of the Republican Primary, the runoff, and since, there has been much speculation that, should Nikki Haley become the governor of South Carolina, citizens should expect continued dysfunction in Columbia because her relationship with leaders in the General Assembly would be worse than even that of her mentor, Mark Sanford.

This speculation is based on a false premise.

Despite what media outlets and even some in the legislature say publicly, a healthy relationship between the Governor and the Legislature is not a prerequisite for meaningful progress. Those who perpetuate this belief do so because they A. don’t understand how our state government really works, or B. don’t want voters to find out where the real dysfunction rests.

There is, in fact, real dysfunction in the State House, but its cause is not to be found in the relationship between the executive and legislative branches. Instead, it is between the houses of our own General Assembly.

Eight years ago this fact was generally recognized by most observers and even some voters. However, the presence of an acerbic and eccentric governor served to mask this fact for two long terms. Beginning with the infamous second floor visit by Pork and Barrel, House and Senate leaders were quick to finally agree on one thing – Sanford was a convenient and plausible explanation for why true reform of our insanely archaic state government was unattainable.

And we bought it.

Since then, rather than reporting on the boring details of the insider’s war between Team Harrell and Team McConnell, the media focused on the more entertaining oddball downstairs. And leadership in the General Assembly was all too happy to perpetuate this myth, relieved not to be under the microscope for a while. But now, as their favorite excuse is packing up his desk, they are faced with the daunting challenge of coming up with a new one beginning in 2011.

Enter Nikki Haley.

To be certain, Haley faces a mountain of a challenge in re-building the bridges she so flamboyantly burned as a House member. If elected, she will, in many ways, start from further behind than Sanford did on his first day. At least in the wee hours of his first term, our legislature gave him the benefit of the doubt. Of course, the inauguration confetti was barely swept up before he blew it, but at least he started with a clean slate. She won’t even get that courtesy unless she does some serious making up with Republican Leadership.

In South Carolina, the legislature runs the show. They write the rules, collect and distribute the money. They run most of the executive branch and they elect the judicial branch. If my math is right, that’s all three branches. As it has proven by repeatedly overturning most of Sanford’s countless vetoes in less time than it takes to read this blog post, the General Assembly can fully operate this state without even the slightest semblance of a working relationship to the governor.

If the House and Senate leadership wanted the reform they claim from the stump, we would have it by now. They don’t. Moreover, the thought of allowing Sanford to take credit for a Campbell-esque victory in his government reform crusade was enough to make most of them physically ill. So they stood in the doorway and blocked up the hall and blamed Sanford for the times not a-changing.

Will the House and Senate leaders be able to shift that blame to Haley? Will they be able to hide their failures behind her skirt? Will we buy it hook, line and sinker – again? Or, will voters decide not to bother and just hand the governor’s mansion to the affable Vince Sheheen?

Time will tell.

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One Comment to “What is the real cause of dysfunction at SC State House?”

  1. Tradd Street – Sounds like you think the problems in Columbia start with your home boys in Charleston! If so, why didn’t the Triad of Sanford/McConnell/Harrell get more done when the Holy City was running things during the last 8 years? Perhaps geography isn’t quite as accurate and indicator of loyalty as it used to be.

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