Harrell addresses Tea Party issues
S.C. Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell tried to reassure more than 100 members of the Charleston Tea Party that the state House of Representative has a solid conservative record -- and he appeared to succeed.
Republicans will have their largest majority ever in the House this year, and "the question is what we're going to do with it," he said Monday evening during a Tea Party meeting at Charles Towne Landing.
Harrell, R-Charleston, said House Republicans will unveil their agenda later this week but that some priorities include a new Voter ID bill, reigning in state government spending and drawing new congressional districts to meet the law and ensure a sixth conservative congressman is elected from the state.
Harrell said it's a myth that South Carolina's governor has no power -- noting the governor appoints the head of the Commerce, Public Safety and several other departments -- but he favors transferring more powers to the governor.
Approximately 20 questions that were posed to Harrell from the Tea Party audience were milder than those put to U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham during his appearance before the same Tea Party group last year.
Graham, whose moderate record has strained his relations with some conservatives, had sought to exclude the news media from that gathering in North Charleston City Hall. Organizers of Monday's event said Harrell had no problem with the media attending.
Still, Harrell was grilled on his support for the state accepting federal stimulus dollars -- dollars that outgoing Gov. Mark Sanford opposed. Harrell didn't directly address the stimulus money but noted the state government has 8,000 fewer employees than when Republicans took charge of the House in 1994. He also vowed not to raise taxes to solve the budget difficulties posed by the lack of stimulus money in the coming year. "We're focused on reducing the size of government," he said.
Winthrop University associate political science professor Scott Huffmon said the Tea Party will be in the peripheral vision of state lawmakers, but the movement has focused more on national issues, not state ones.
"Most of these state legislators have extremely safe seats," Huffmon said. "I think of them (Tea Party members) as more of a conservative bouncer, standing in the corner and making sure everybody is dancing to the right tune and not knocking over any drinks."
Monday's event drew several other prominent Republicans, including Rep.-elect Tim Scott of South Carolina's 1st Congressional District, state House members Chip Limehouse and Mike Sottile, both of Charleston, and former Charleston County Councilman Paul Thurmond. Charleston mayoral candidate David Farrow also showed up.
Limehouse joked to Harrell that the recent re-enactment of the signing of the Ordinance of Secession at the Gaillard Auditorium involved several state lawmakers -- and he also noted the original secession convention only recessed in 1860 -- it didn't adjourn. "So my question is, did we secede the other night or not?" Limehouse asked.
"No," Harrell replied.