South Carolina editorial roundup
Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Times and Democrat on S.C. Congressman Trey Gowdy:
The political discourse in America has deteriorated.
Day after day there are accusations and counter accusations, some based in fact, many not. President Donald Trump gets a lot of the blame for the tone of the discourse, but the deterioration of the debate did not begin with his campaign and administration.
Trump speaks his mind, often sounding like the reality TV host he once was. He makes sweeping statements that set off his critics, many of whom are so anti-Trump that they can’t see the forest for the trees when it comes to anything but hatred for the president.
Some media, particularly TV talk shows, try to pass themselves off as providers of news. But they are as guilty as any politician or group of sinking the discourse to new lows. Depending on the host, guests and network, it’s either pro-Trump all the time or anti-Trump from start to finish.
Elected officials themselves complain about discourse, but they generally blame the opposition as the root cause.
There are exceptions. S.C. Congressman Trey Gowdy is one. He’s been on both sides of the debate, which generally means he must be “shooting straight” when it comes to calling things as he sees them.
Having been accused of being a GOP partisan in his role as chairman of the special committee investigating events surrounding the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, which was in part responsible for discovering Hillary Clinton’s private email server, Gowdy has stood firm in a professional approach. His track record as a federal prosecutor has served him well.
Now Gowdy is again speaking frankly in the face of the present administration’s ongoing accusations about “Spygate” and allegations of FBI improprieties involving the Trump campaign.
This past week, the Upstate Republican who chairs the House Oversight Committee, went public in saying there is no evidence the FBI planted a “spy” in Trump’s 2016 campaign,
“I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do when they got the information they got and that it has nothing to do with Donald Trump,” Gowdy told Fox News.
Gowdy later said he had “never heard the term ‘spy’ used” and did not see evidence of it. “Informants are used all day, every day by law enforcement,” he told “CBS This Morning.”
As noted in Associated Press reporting, “Gowdy’s comments that undermine the president’s claims are particularly striking” because of his individual stature, senior leadership role and history with the Benghazi/Clinton probe.
Though his assessment does not fit the political narrative for Trump, no one can accuse Gowdy of disloyalty to the GOP or even the president. He, like other leaders, should lead, being unwilling to let politics and partisanship rule when they should not.
Earlier this year, in discussing his retirement from Congress, Gowdy identified much of the problem in Washington:
“I like jobs where facts matter. I like jobs where fairness matters” - when it’s not just about winning, Gowdy told CNN. That is not Washington today.
“There’s a proper way to do things,” Gowdy said. “I am more at peace in jobs that reward fairness and that are fact-centric than I am in Congress.”
“Facts don’t seem to matter in the modern political environment.”
At least in terms of Gowdy’s role for the remaining months of his term, telling it as he sees it based on the facts as he has them does matter. His departure from Congress and the world of national politics is the country’s loss.
Myrtle Beach Sun News on a state Supreme Court ruling about how chambers of commerce report spending:
Throughout the separate but equal branches of American governance, full transparency typically is a value more in policy than in practice. For every legislator, executive or jurist who may truly support open government and public access to information, many others — including bureaucrats that prefer no public scrutiny — work against transparency.
In a disappointing ruling about how chambers of commerce report their spending of $60 million in accommodations tax dollars, the South Carolina Supreme Court said the Freedom of Information Act does not apply to chambers of commerce, even when acting as a municipality’s marketing organization. The Supreme Court said the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce is not a public body and thereby not subject to the FOIA. That chamber spent $1.8 million in A-tax money in fiscal year 2017, in the same arrangement that the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce spent $2.6 million.
The 4-1 majority opinion, by Associate Justice John Kittredge, states: “While the Chamber technically expends public funds, we are firmly persuaded that the General Assembly did not intend the Chamber to be considered a public body for FOIA purposes based upon its receipt and expenditure of accommodation tax funds.”
Associate Justice John Cannon Few dissented from the majority: “By placing the responsibility for the expenditure of public funds in the hands of a private entity such as the Chamber, and then relying on public officials for ‘oversight,’ with no right of access by the public, the accommodations tax statute actually inhibits citizens from being ‘advised of the performance of public officials and of the decisions that are reached in a public activity,’ thereby frustrating — not furthering — the ‘vital’ policy of open government.”
The ruling was in a 2013 case. DomainsNewMedia.com, a company owned by Skip Hoagland, sought information from the Hilton Head chamber, which refused the request claiming it was not a public body subject to the FOIA. Interestingly, Circuit Court Judge Michael Nettles ruled in favor of DomainsNewMedia in February 2016. The Hilton Head Chamber was allowed to bypass the Court of Appeals and go directly to the S.C. Supreme Court.
The MBACC joined the Hilton Head Chamber in hailing the Supreme Court ruling and claiming it affirms “strong oversight” is in place and A-tax dollars are spent effectively and so forth. Making chambers subject to the FOIA would cause harm through “regulatory redundancy, additional legal red tape, and the potential emergence of issues that could erode the individual privacy of employees,” the Hilton Head Chamber said in a statement.
MBACC chairwoman Carla Schuessler alluded to online reports on chamber expenditure of A-tax and Tourism Development Fee revenues. The problem is that the reports are quite broad in describing how money is spent with limited information on providers of services. Without more details, which the FOIA could provide, taxpayers really don’t have full information about how their money is spent.
Schuessler and other Chamber officials should explain the “strong oversight” they claim is provided. Oversight by whom and of what? Transparency of public funds should mean complete and timely reports, open to any taxpayer, on a chamber or any other private entity’s handling of public money.
The court’s majority missed an opportunity to uphold transparency. The General Assembly should make state law clear that in reporting on spending of public money, private entities are indeed subject to the FOIA. Area legislators should put this on their agenda for the next session.
The Post and Courier says a bridge debacle is a warning to repair the state’s infrastructure:
The good news is that the westbound portion of the I-526 bridge over the Wando River has been fixed and reopened well ahead of schedule. The bad news is that a history of problems stretching back since its opening in 1991 suggests more headaches might be just around the corner.
And while the bridge is safe for now, it’s worth starting the planning process for its eventual replacement. We’re going to have to get in line.
According to the state Department of Transportation, there are more than 700 “structurally deficient” bridges in South Carolina. Only 465 are slated to be replaced in the next 10 years given budget constraints. DOT officials say the state needs at least another $31 million annually to fully repair and replace its aging bridges.
The state Legislature should come up with that money. Repairing and replacing bridges helps avoid costly emergencies and traffic nightmares. And while the Wando River bridge closing was frustrating, a collapse would have been an unthinkable tragedy.
A Post and Courier report on Friday by Glenn Smith and Andrew Knapp revealed that poorly sealed joints, corrosion, water intrusion, cracks and other problems have plagued the Wando River bridge for years. The DOT has inspected it weekly since problems with a cable were detected in 2016.
That’s not likely a sustainable, long-term plan for a road that must accommodate about 35,000 vehicles each day. Planning, permitting and building a new bridge will take a long time. It’s better to start now than wait until the next crisis.
It’s also important that the area continue to learn from this debacle rather than immediately reverting to business as usual.
To handle traffic over the past few weeks, commuters have gotten creative. They have worked non-traditional hours, telecommuted, carpooled, biked and walked. As a result, the gridlock of the first few days of the bridge shutdown eventually gave way to heavy, but flowing, traffic.
It wasn’t an ideal situation, but it worked.
Those traffic solutions can work all the time — not just during an emergency. And adjusting commuting patterns is a far more effective and fiscally responsible way to ease congestion than building new or wider roads.
Besides, the state lacks the funds to preserve its existing bridge infrastructure. It would be unwise to add additional burdens before shoring up all of the needs that have already been identified. And the past few weeks have added a new need to the list.
DOT and state officials are to be commended for resolving a traffic crisis and repairing the bridge ahead of schedule. Local officials adapted admirably to a difficult situation as well. Charleston area commuters can breathe a sigh of relief ... But there is still work to do.
The Wando River bridge will eventually need to be replaced. And so will hundreds of other bridges around South Carolina. Sooner rather than later.