State Sen. Chip Campsen has a seat on the Charleston County Aviation Authority, but he doesn't want it.
He got it when he became chairman of the Charleston County legislative delegation. See, state law was changed in 2007 to put the delegation's chair and vice chair on the panel that oversees the airport.
Campsen opposed that law then, and refuses to serve on the board now. He says it's dual office-holding, it violates the principles of separation of powers and is just flat-out unconstitutional.
A vast majority of the delegation feels the same, he says, so he expected little trouble passing a law to get this changed. But this week he ran into a big stumbling block: Chip Limehouse. As vice chair of the delegation, Limehouse gets a seat on the Aviation Authority, too. For a while he was even chairman. And he doesn't want to change the law that put him on the authority.
Because, you see, he wrote it.
Campsen tried to kick Limehouse and himself off the Aviation Authority by amending another bill about the authority. Don't ask, it's technical.
This is timely because there's a lawsuit about this very issue in appeals court now.
The Senate adopted the amendment but the House didn't, so they had to go to conference committee — the legislative equivalent of a Mafia sit-down. The Senate sent Sens. Larry Grooms, Robert Ford and Campsen. The House sent Reps. Leon Stavrinakis, Mike Sottile and Limehouse.
Although Campsen, Ford, Grooms and Stavrinakis voted for the amendment, Limehouse and Sottile killed it. See, in conference two people on each side have to agree for something to pass.
Limehouse argues that the Legislature shouldn't change this law in the 11th hour. He says it's political. The courts should decide if this is unconstitutional, not lawmakers. “It's not important which way it goes; it's important that the court rules,” he says.
Grooms says that doesn't fly. He says if the Legislature knows there's a problem, it should fix it before a court ruling that could lead to lawsuits which, even if they are unsuccessful, will cost the state money.
“It's clearly dual office-holding,” Grooms says. “We know that, so we need to right the situation.”
But the only way to do that is to get Limehouse or Sottile to change his vote.
Campsen is passionate about this issue. When it first came up, he voted against it. When Gov. Mark Sanford vetoed it, he was the only guy who supported the veto. Lawmakers overrode it, and here we are.
Like Sen. Glenn McConnell before him, Campsen has refused to sit on the authority. He sends a proxy. Since stepping down as chairman, Limehouse does too.
“The big picture from 30,000 feet is that we have laws against dual office-holding so that a handful of politicians don't consolidate power,” Campsen says. It's the only difference between a democratic republic and a dictatorship, he notes.
Of course, some people would say that a system where a 4-2 vote loses is not exactly democracy in action.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.