Your SC politics briefing

·8 min read

Welcome to your weekly South Carolina politics briefing, a newsletter curated by The State’s politics and government team.

Tonight, Mike Pompeo’s in town to deliver the keynote speech at the SC GOP’s Silver Elephant dinner, an annual event that traditionally includes an up-and-coming Republican trying to test out their chops with a first-in-the-South loyal voter audience.

In this case, Pompeo, Trump’s former CIA director and secretary of state, who is rumored to launch a 2024 presidential bid.

Reporter Joseph Bustos will be there, so be sure to follow him on Twitter @JoeBReporter.

And in other news breaking this morning, state Rep. Russell Fry is launching a primary bid against US Rep. Tom Rice, who has found himself facing a handful of challengers after he voted to impeach former President Donald Trump over the Jan. 6 riot. Fry told the Associated Press, Rice “campaigned with President Trump and worked with President Trump and was always willing to use President Trump’s name for his reelection purposes, but he broke that trust.” (Today’s newsletter photo is of Fry.)

Let’s start with COVID because it’s dominating the news — and not in a good way.

South Carolina’s public health department will follow updated CDC guidance on masks as cases of COVID-19 and the delta variant continue to rise in the country.

Even though school districts say they are prohibited from mandating students and staff wear masks because of a law included in the budget — known as a proviso — SC schools chief Molly Spearman urged people to wear a mask and get vaccinated. In a news conference, Spearman and those with her wore masks. She only took her mask off when she stepped up to the microphones.

President Trump and his family have been vaccinated,” the Republican said. “He worked hard to get this vaccine out to the people and he has been vaccinated and I would hope they take his lead and become vaccinated. It would help us stop the spread.”

But Gov. Henry McMaster said it should be up to parents to decide whether their child should wear a mask.

“Parents know their children,” McMaster, who is vaccinated, told reporters. “They know what’s good for them.”

Even with the new guidelines, McMaster said he would not wear a face covering.

“I’ve had the virus, and I’ve been vaccinated. So has Peggy,” McMaster said, referring to his wife. “I do not plan to wear a mask.”

Senate kicks off redistricting listening sessions

Senators started their statewide tour this week listening to voter concerns about redistricting — the once-in-a-decade process when lawmakers redraw district lines for the House, Senate and U.S. House seats.

It’s one of a handful of opportunities for the public to voice the concerns, and lawmakers want the public to attend.

You can find the Senate’s updated schedule here.

The House will hold its first organizational meeting Tuesday.

How SC’s medical marijuana debate is shaping up

Year after year, polls show the overwhelming public supports legalizing medical marijuana for people living with serious health issues. But SC lawmakers have not been quick to respond. Next year could be the year it happens, though — at least lawmakers hope.

Sen. Tom Davis — arguably the loudest proponent in the Senate — says a deal’s in place to debate his bill next year, first thing in January, and by his whip count there are enough senators who will vote to pass it. What happens in the SC House will be the next test, where the legislation could find even more allies out of the 124 members. House Republican Rep. Bill Herbkersman has his own bill, but it’s likely they’d take up the Senate’s version considering his proposal has yet to get a hearing.

“This isn’t anything that’s seedy,” Herbkersman told us. “This is true pharmaceutical.”

American Rescue Plan money

Cities with fewer than 50,000 people are waiting for the state to formally request their share of $435 million set aside for them in the American Rescue Plan as Gov. Henry McMaster’s AccelerateSC committee continues to grapple with how to spend COVID-19 money.

South Carolina is one of seven states that haven’t requested the cash for the cities, money which can be used to replace revenue lost because of the pandemic or on water, sewer or broadband needs in town.

The Legislature will have about $2.5 billion to spend from the American Rescue Plan. One possible area AccelerateSC could recommend some of that money go: the Port of Charleston, which has a project of more than half-a-billion dollars its looking to carry out. Senators have approved the state borrowing up to $550 million for the project, but as the budget was developed, lawmakers included $200 million of available cash for the project.

If the state could use COVID relief money on the project, South Carolina would avoid issuing debt for the large investment.

“We’ve got funding we can use now, and we don’t have to put it on credit, let’s use it now,” said James Burns, chairs of AccelerateSC.

Buzz Bites

Gov. Henry McMaster is weighing in on a case in front of a US Supreme Court that could overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade, which protects the right of a woman to have an abortion.

The mayor of Swansea pleaded not guilty to allegations that he stole public money.

What could another extension hurt? That’s what Columbia City Council is hoping. This week, they approved the 15th contract extension to sell the Capital City Stadium on Assembly Street.

US Rep. Nancy Mace received the national outlet treatment twice over the past week. Once by The Atlantic and the second by the New York Times, but both centered on how the Lowcountry congresswoman has pivoted her messaging since the Jan. 6 riot as she navigates a post-Trump world.

Nikki Haley raised almost $5.5 million through her new PAC, the Washington Examiner reported.

US Rep. Ralph Norman joined Republicans Marjorie Taylor Greene and Thomas Massive this week to announce a federal lawsuit against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after all three lost their appeals over $500 mask fines.

The jail deputies who who repeatedly fired their Tasers at Jamal Sutherland, a mentally ill Black man, shortly before he died inside the Al Cannon Detention Center will not face criminal charges, 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson announced. In response, Sutherland’s family said that “justice was denied.”

Matt Orr was promoted to vice president of public affairs for PR firm First Tuesday Strategies, the firm announced.

The State newspaper’s senior editor Paul Osmundson has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the paper against the Lexington-Richland 5 school district, arguing the district violated the state’s open meetings laws in its handling of the resignation of an ex-superintendent.

In a race that’s been described as a “test for progressives,” House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn is headed to Ohio this weekend to campaign for Shontel Brown, a moderate, who faces former Bernie Sanders’ surrogate and state Sen. Nina Turner.

Former SC Rep. Alan Clemmons is attempting to get back into public office, this time as a judge, the Sun News reports.

US Rep. Nancy Mace is accusing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of an “insane power grab” after the House reinstated a mask mandate amid a rise in COVID-19 cases.

Hogan Gidley, former SC GOP executive director who served as Trump’s deputy press secretary in the White House, was named director of the America First Policy Institute’s center for election integrity, per Politico Playbook.

Tributes poured in this week for the late US Sen. Mike Enzi of Wymoning, who died after a bicycle accident. In a statement, US Sen. Lindsey Graham called Enzi “one of the greatest senators I have ever served with.”

“This is a heartbreaking loss for the Enzi family, the people of Wyoming, and all of Mike’s colleagues in the United States Senate. Rest in peace, my dear friend.”

In personal team news, our colleague Maayan Schechter has accepted a new role on the team — senior editor. Starting Monday, Maayan will be our team’s new editor. You can reach her via email at mschechter@thestate.com or Twitter @MaayanSchechter.

Mark your calendar

July 31

CDC’s eviction ban ends

Aug. 2

Filing for Columbia City elections opens

SC Senate redistricting meeting at Greenville Technical College, 6:30 p.m.

Aug. 3

SC House redistricting organizational meeting at 10:30 a.m.

SC Senate committee meeting on how to spend American Rescue Plan Act money at 10:30 a.m.

SC Senate redistricting meeting at Florence-Darlington Technical College in Florence at 6:30 p.m.

Aug. 4

SC Senate redistricting meeting at MacLean Hall at Technical College of the Lowcountry in Beaufort, 6:30 p.m.

Aug. 9-12

SC Senate redistricting meeting at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College in Orangeburg on Aug. 9, 6:30 p.m.

SC Senate redistricting meeting at Trident Technical College in North Charleston on Aug. 10, 6:30 p.m.

SC Senate redistricting meeting at Horry-Georgetown Technical College in Conway on Aug. 11, 6:30 p.m.

SC Senate redistricting meeting at Aiken Technical College in Graniteville on Aug. 12, 6:30 p.m.

Aug. 15

South Carolina’s open carry with permit law takes effect

Aug. 16

US Census scheduled to release data used for redistricting

Aug. 23

US Rep. Jeff Duncan’s annual Faith & Freedom BBQ, featuring Gov. Kristi Noem

Before we adjourn

In case you forgot, South Carolina’s open carry with permit law is slated to take effect Aug. 15.

But that new law, passed by the Legislature this year, comes with a few changes that gun owners should be aware of.

Click here for what you need to know.

Who pulled together this week’s newsletter?

This week it was reporter Zak Koeske, a member of The State’s government and politics team who currently focuses on South Carolina’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Keep up with him on Twitter @ZakKoeske or send him story tips at zkoeske@thestate.com.

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For even more South Carolina-focused political news, you can chat with us on Facebook at the Buzz on South Carolina Politics, email us tips at thebuzz [at] thestate [dot] com and follow our stories at scpolitics.com.

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