Your SC politics briefing

Maayan Schechter
·10 min read

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

If you’re keeping track on the State House from home or work, we’re down to less than a month until sine die.

And if you’re really keeping track, you probably felt like this was a light week in the Legislature.

You wouldn’t be totally wrong. Start with the House. They zipped through their calendar last week, clearing much of it off. The Senate, on the other hand, was busy in Senate Finance Committee getting ready for a budget debate we hear is poised for the middle to end of next week. Both chambers left a lot on the table, which isn’t unusual for the body at this point in the calendar.

Here’s what they did deal with.

The House finally passed a Senate-sponsored bill mandating school districts get kids back in the classroom all five days, in person.

But they also tweaked the legislation, requiring that school districts get students back in the classroom by April 26. The Senate will have to decide whether they are fine with change since it started in their chamber. If they say yes, it’ll soon head to the governor’s desk.

The House also passed a bill that would revise a required college course on how America was founded, which apparently hasn’t been changed since 1924, the AP reported. Interestingly though, the bill passed after Republicans allowed the Democrats to file an amendment to include “one or more documents that are foundational to the African American Freedom struggle.”

The bill also started in the Senate, meaning for it to go to the governor the Senate has decide whether they’re fine with the change.

(Our newsletter photo this week is from our AP friend, Jeffrey Collins, who snapped a moment during the debate.)

What’s on tap next week?

Not entirely sure what the House will be up to in the next week, though there is plenty of legislation they could tackle.

There’s, for instance, the Gallo wine bill, which judging by the lobby over the past week there’s a lot of anxious lobbyists waiting.

Aside from the budget, we know the Senate will somehow tackle Santee Cooper-related legislation.

We got a taste of what could come.

Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey called on companies to submit a new and better offer to buy the state-owned utility.

“If there are prospective buyers who would like to make an updated offer, based on how the world has changed, I would encourage them to do that. I would encourage them to do that very soon,” Massey said. “If there’s any merit to them, they’re going to have to go through the committee process and there’s got to be more people who will have to be involved in it.”

How do you solve a problem like a freshman lawmaker

Over the past week, we asked House Republican leaders whether SC Rep. Vic Dabney was actually going to face any repercussions over a Facebook post he wrote right before the House was set to pass hate crimes legislation championed by House GOP leaders.

Dabney wrote in the post that he thinks white people are “constantly reminded that we are the problem because of our skin color.”

“We are the reason that blacks can’t seem to succeed in our society,” Dabney continued writing. “We are the reason that black crime rates are ten times that of others. We are the reason that the black family unit has been destroyed and most young black children don’t have a father figure in the home. It’s all because of the light color of our skin, at least that is what I am told on a regular basis.”

Now, 22 House Democrats have filed legislation to formally censure Dabney, one of two GOP freshmen to flip a seat last year.

And the Speaker’s Office says it is investigating the post.

But publicly, House Republicans have been quiet — a stark difference you’ll recall when SC Rep. Jonathon Hill stormed out of the House chamber this session, throwing paper up in the air and onto the floor. The next day, House Speaker Jay Lucas publicly reprimanded Hill without mentioning him by name, although it was very obvious.

Though lawmakers might be publicly saying much, privately we’ve heard a lot of chatter, and it’s not been positive.

We’ll wait and see what happens next week when the House Ethics Committee meets on the censure bill.

Nikki Haley puts a ? after 2024

We can’t really blame you if you’re not keeping track of the list of potential 2024 GOP presidential contenders.

Not sure the hopefuls themselves can either.

This week, Nikki Haley told South Carolina reporters that she wouldn’t seek the nomination if former President Donald Trump decides to go for another term.

“I would not run if President Trump ran,” Haley said. “And I would talk to him about it. That’s something that we’ll have a conversation about at some point if that decision is something that has to be made. I had a great working relationship with him. I appreciated the way he let me do my job.”

Haley can always change her mind. 2024 isn’t tomorrow, but recall that Haley also has said she did not think Trump would run.

Trump, himself, also has not yet confirmed whether he will.

Tim Scott gets a challenger — from the state House

Lowcountry SC Rep. Krystle Matthews formally announced this week she will challenge Sen. Tim Scott in 2022.

She’ll have to make it out of a primary, but that seems pretty likely as the only “high-profile” Democratic challenger.

Matthews is starting her race early, hoping to register more than 150,000 voters. But she won’t just need to register voters. She’ll also have to raise a ton of money, considering Scott raised $2.1 million in the first fundraising quarter and he has nearly $9 million on hand.

Money isn’t everything, though, as we saw in Jaime Harrison’s race.

It’ll be an uphill battle for Democrats who haven’t won a statewide race in years.

Return of the earmarks

Hate em or love em, ask yourself: Should lawmakers get better about making budget earmarks more transparent to the public?

The State and our sister papers attempted to ask all 170 lawmakers their opinion so we can show you who favors more openness.

Those questions are being to put lawmakers after more than a year of investigation and analysis by reporters found that tens of millions of taxpayer dollars regularly flow to lawmakers’ pet projects with little or no transparency, oversight or public discussion.

You can find the list of lawmakers here.

Buzz Bites

A fifth South Carolina man was arrested Thursday for his alleged involvement in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Senators Dick Harpootlian and Thomas McElveen went after the state’s DMV this week. Not because of long lines. But because the state agency failed to collect $18 million from out-of-state truckers that would have gone toward road maintenance, all because the DMV didn’t get a computer system up and running in time.

Gov. Henry McMaster says he supports the Interstate 73 project that would connect the Grand Strand to Interstate 95 and beyond — and indicated he may be able to help pay for it, too. That happened Monday, then later this week McMaster we hear gave former SC Rep. Alan Clemmons (of Myrtle Beach) the Order of the Palmetto, the state’s highest civilian honor. Since everything boils down to politics, we can’t help but notice the governor making some potential political plays for Horry County.

Brannon Traxler is temporary no more. The state’s health department changed her interim to permanent chief, or health director.

A South Carolina widow who says her husband was exposed to toxins at a federal atomic weapons complex has won a 14-year fight with the government over compensation for the man’s death.

McMaster issued an executive order barring officials from placing unaccompanied migrant youth in South Carolina foster care and group homes.

State officials approved spending $24.6 million for new buses from a Volkswagen settlement trust fund.

Emily’s List, a political action committee that helps to elect Democratic pro-choice women candidates, listed McMaster on its list of nine governors targeted to try to oust. McMaster’s response: “Good luck.”

The NCAA announced this week they would stop hosting championship events in states with anti-transgender legislation on the books. The decision could put South Carolina, which is considering an anti-trans athlete bill, in jeopardy. McMaster told the NCCA to basically mind their own business.

South Carolina’s charter schools will get another infusion of cash to help keep up with student enrollment growth. McMaster’s office announced he will spend $9 million out of his federal discretionary COVID-19 education account on charter school growth and $1.5 million for the state’s Department of Commerce to help with workforce development.

Yes, you have more time to procrastinate — a little bit — on your taxes. Here are some tips to keep in mind if you haven’t filed yet.

For your planning purposes

April 16

Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette to deliver keynote address to the National Council of Insurance Legislators spring meeting in Charleston

April 20-22

Budget debate and Santee Cooper debate week in the state Senate

April 21

House Election Laws Subcommittee will meet an hour after House adjourns on two election-related bills

Senate Judiciary Subcommittee holds its first hearing on the hate crimes bill, 11 a.m.

Senate Medical Affairs Subcommittee meets 30 minutes after adjournment to take up S. 2 dealing with splitting up DHEC

April 29

Former Vice President Mike Pence will address South Carolina conservatives in Columbia

May 5

Joint House and Senate session at noon to elect board members for Legislative Audit Council, universities

May 17

New deadline for individual state income tax returns for the 2020 year

Before we adjourn

South Carolina’s Senate Finance chairman Hugh Leatherman turned 90 this week.

The Florence Republican is the Legislature’s oldest member but also one, if not the, most powerful lawmaker in the Legislature.

Not only does he chair the chamber’s budget-writing committee, but he sits on various other panels that all but ensures he’s got a pulse on some of the bigger decision-making being done in the General Assembly.

Leatherman has not been in the chambers over the past two weeks. Staff said he underwent a procedure last week, but is doing well.

We’re not going to sing, “Happy Birthday,” because the Senate took care of that for us.

Cheers, Mr. Chairman.

Who pulled together this week’s newsletter?

This week it was reporter Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter), who leads The State’s State House team, covering politics, the Republican majority, elections and more. You can keep up with her on Twitter and send her tips on Twitter at @MaayanSchechter or by email mschechter@thestate.com.

Make sure to sign up for our weekly politics newsletter, The Buzz on SC Politics, that will come straight to your inbox each week. Tell your friends to do the same. 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.