Imagine you picked up the newspaper and saw that in some little country in the developing world, in the middle of an election campaign, 180 candidates were thrown off the ballot for a ‘legal technicality’ and none of them were incumbent office holders.
“Typical banana republic” you would say; and you would be right.
Welcome to the banana republic we call home – South Carolina.
The last couple of weeks has seen 180 Democratic and Republican candidates thrown off the ballot for the June primaries. These were candidates for state House and Senate and many local offices.
Not one of the 180 was an incumbent state House or Senate member – none.
How did this start and who is responsible? Much we don’t know for sure; a lot less than we do know for sure. But one thing is sure – it’s another example of the corrupt system of politics as usual in our beloved Palmetto State.
There is a lot of talk about who is responsible for this whole thing blowing up. There are plenty of folks who think it was a couple of so-called leaders, one Democrat and one Republican, who worked together to light the fuse. Allegedly, one was trying to protect the other from a primary challenge and neither realized, or perhaps didn’t care, that the end result would be 180 other causalities.
Once this all exploded, there was a lot of back and forth about court actions, a few editorials and some members of the legislature said they thought it ‘ought to be fixed’. But despite this sound and furry, as of now, nothing has changed. The end result is the same – 180 candidates off the ballot and no incumbent House or Senate members endangered.
Back in the 1990’s, one of my companies, along with many others, did a lot of work with civic organizations, political parties and candidates in the Eastern European countries emerging from years of communist oppression. Our work was to help these folks build and support democratic institutions and processes, and most importantly to try and foster a long-term faith in the ideas and operations of democracy.
One journalist dubbed us as a ‘Peace Corps for democracy.’ We weren’t paid much, sometimes nothing at all, and often we spent our own money – but we were very proud of the work we did. I still am.
In most any of these countries, there would have been rioting in the streets if, all of a sudden, 180 non-incumbents had been thrown off the ballot on a legal technicality. All sides would have cried fraud and condemned this type of ‘banana republic politics.’ Groups like the Carter Center and other international election monitoring groups would have denounced it for what it is – corruption.
What makes this latest political melt down in our state so bad, is that it’s just the latest and most visible in a long series of examples of political corruption and the good-old-boy system at work in our state.
‘Now You See It, Now You Don’t’ Ethics Flip Flop – Earlier this month, Gov. Haley was charged with ethics violations and brought before the House Ethics Committee. First, the Committee unanimously agreed that the allegations were sufficiently serious that they should be investigated. Then,(and after alleged Haley threats of retaliation by exposing problems of the members of the Committee) they reversed themselves and voted 5-1 along party lines to dismiss the charges.
Howard Rich, Carpetbaggers and Scalawags – Howard Rich, the wealthy real-estate mogul and radical ideologue from New York, has organized his buddies to dump millions of dollars in campaign money and contributions to ‘buy’ members of the legislature to support his dangerous experiment in private school vouchers. And worst of all, he finds dozens of willing Republicans (and a few Democrats) to take his money and use our children like lab rats in his radical social-engineering experiment.
Pay-to-Play Tax Reform – Our state is bleeding money because of the loss of over $3 billion a year in sales tax exemptions. Most all of these are the result of the ‘corrupt triangle’ among special interest groups and lobbyists, campaign contributions and legislators. Even the Republican leadership’s own study said we should eliminate $1 billion in exemptions. Then, the predators went to work and this $1 billion shrank to $220 million and finally when it was passed into law a few weeks ago, it was only $11 million.
Ethics Laws That Aren’t – Our state’s ethics laws for elected officials are so lax as to be essentially non-existent. An elected official or their company could be getting hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars in business from state and local governments that they influence, and it could all remain secret. In fact, it happens every day.
The list goes on and on and you could fill a whole newspaper with just these issues of ethics and corruption, but you get the point.
The real tragedy in all this is the reaction, or lack or reaction, of the people in our state to this corruption. Generally, they just shake their head, shrug their shoulders and say, ‘its corrupt politics as usual – there’s nothing I can do’.
This attitude is precisely the biggest issue we battled as the Peace Corps for democracy in these ‘backward’ countries.’ People didn’t have faith that the democratic system would work and things could change.
Perhaps we should change our state symbol from the palmetto tree to the banana tree – it sometimes seems there is not that much difference.