Pound for pound, South Carolina weighs in more than any other state for the amount of political intrigue and rascally scandal it serves up for free to the national press. By now, the Palmetto State has passed old stalwarts for disgrace like Louisiana and New York.
“Thank you, South Carolina,” comedian Jon Stewart says over and over and over like the Energizer bunny.
Friday’s orchestrated resignation-indictment-sentencing of now-former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard is the latest installment of the political made-for-TV reality show called “South Carolina.”
After being accused of 107 counts of violating state ethics rules, Ard last July paid a $48,400 ethics fine (the second largest in state history), $12,500 to reimburse the state for its ethics investigation and $12,121.35 to his campaign account for personal expenses like clothes, fuel, lodging, football tickets, limo services, cell phones, TVs and computer equipment.
Then his case went to South Carolina’s statewide grand jury to determine whether he broke any state laws. During a second investigation, state officials interviewed 70 people. The grand jury issued 46 subpoenas, heard from 18 witnesses and received 113 documents totaling about 7,000 pages, according to state Attorney General Alan Wilson.
At 10 a.m. Friday, Ard resigned. Three hours later, Wilson detailed a seven-count indictment of him for scheming to “create the false appearance of a groundswell of political support through fictitious or bogus campaign contributions” worth $75,000. Two hours after that, the defrocked and disgraced Ard pleaded guilty to the seven misdemeanors and asked for mercy. A judge sentenced him to probation for five years, ordered him to pay a $5,000 fine and perform 300 hours of community service.
More than likely, it happened so quickly because state Republicans like Wilson want the latest installment of scandal to disappear from voters’ memories as quickly as possible. And who knows? It might work. Just consider that voters continue to kowtow to the Republican Party despite a rollicking history of disgrace. See if you can remember the names of Republican stars who have kept Comedy Central focused on the Palmetto State:
a) The philandering governor who gave a new meaning to “hiking the Appalachian trail” after he made international news for visiting his mistress in South America;
b) The U.S. congressman who disrupted a 2009 speech to Congress by President Barack Obama by yelling, “You lie!”
c) The former S.C. House member who became an assistant attorney general and was arrested at a cemetery while in a parked car with a stripper, Viagra and sex toys;
d) The Republican operative who called First Lady Michele Obama a “gorilla” in an online “joke;”
e) Another former lieutenant governor on the 2010 campaign trail who compared citizens of free and reduced lunch to stray animals; and
f) The incumbent state comptroller general whose steamy email affair with a state superintendent candidate became embarrassingly public.
Those six incidents have been since 2008 — and don’t include the state treasurer (Thomas Ravenel) who had to step down in 2007 after being indicted on felony cocaine charges for which he later served time in prison.
To South Carolina politicians, all that a columnist like me can do is say, “Thanks. Thanks for keeping life interesting and providing me with job security. This is one time, however, when I’d rather not to have to say thanks.”