There are many reasons why local legislators shouldn’t be serving on the Charleston County Aviation Authority. Too bad the challenge to the ill-conceived law was kicked out of court before it could be considered.
Circuit Judge Markley Dennis recently ruled that neither Waring Howe nor Edward Sloan, founder of the S.C. Public Interest Foundation, had standing in the case.
That had to be particularly surprising to Mr. Howe since he is a resident and taxpayer of Charleston County. In fact, Mr. Howe formerly served on the Aviation Authority.
Indeed, for matters related to an airport that designates itself as “international,” you’d think almost anybody would have the right to raise issues related to its governance.
The ruling, however, is expected to be appealed and hopefully will get more favorable consideration in the next round.
At issue is a 2007 piece of local legislation approved by the General Assembly to have the chairman and vice chairman of the Charleston County Legislative Delegation serve on the authority.
Sen. Chip Campsen, who is delegation vice chairman, has refused to serve, citing two objections to the law. It allows for dual office holding, which is not permitted by the state constitution, and it violates the constitutional separation of powers. The latter provision prohibits legislators from executing the laws they pass.
“When distilled down to their essence, the constitutional doctrines are what most effectively prevent the consolidation of political power in the hands of a few,” Sen. Campsen wrote in an op-ed last year. “We violate them at our collective peril.”
Sen. Campsen, R-Isle of Palms, has designated former Rep. Ben Hagood to serve on the authority instead. Rep. Chip Limehouse, chairman of the delegation, does serve on the authority, and until recently was chairman.
Greenville attorney James Carpenter, who represents Mr. Sloan and the S.C. Public Interest Foundation, agrees with Sen. Campsen’s objections.
And he says there are other reasons why this expansion of legislative power shouldn’t be permitted.
For example, the state constitution prohibits special legislation aimed at a single county or a single governing entity. The objections to special legislation are supported by rulings from the state attorney general, according to Mr. Carpenter.
He adds that the Legislature overrode a gubernatorial veto of the bill in 2007 with only a handful of legislators voting. The law requires two-thirds of a legislative quorum to override and, in that instance, the votes fell far short of the number.
It’s too much to hope that the Charleston County Legislative Delegation will actually move to fix this matter on its own. So presumably the courts offer the only relief.
At some point, this matter should get a proper hearing.
And at some point, the Legislature should restrain itself from self-serving bills that violate Home Rule.
Then citizens acting in the public interest — like Mr. Howe and Mr. Sloan — wouldn’t have to use their own resources to bring them to heel.
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