It’s hard to imagine but, yes, someone is playing politics with the Order of the Palmetto.
But it’s not Leon Stavrinakis.
This weekend, Stavrinakis — a West Ashley state House member — tweeted that he was steamed when Gov. Nikki Haley showed up at a USC football game to hand out an Order of the Palmetto, the highest civilian award in the state.
His problem? A few weeks back Haley refused to give the Order to Mary Schweers, the Ashley Hall school administrator who faced down Alice Boland when she showed up on campus with a gun earlier this year.
Haley’s office quickly released a statement saying that it was shameful of Stavrinakis to pit Schweers against Dawn Staley, USC’s women’s basketball coach, who she awarded the Order of the Palmetto.
That’s the very definition of answering a different question than was asked. Stavrinakis wasn’t criticizing Staley, he was bashing Haley. The coach, he said, deserved the award.
But so does Schweers.
Fact is, this isn’t about Stavrinakis not getting his way. This wasn’t even his idea. Friends and supporters of Schweers asked him to pursue it, and he thought it was a great idea. So he put in the request.
When Haley refused, Stavrinakis bit his tongue.
But when he saw the Clemson-educated governor show up at a USC game to give out the award — and, some cynics might say, campaign — Stavrinakis could not take it any longer.
Same ol’, same ol’
For decades, governors have handed out the Order of the Palmetto to retiring politicians, bureaucrats, friends, doctors, artists and educators.
It’s nice to think most all of them deserved it.
Haley’s office says she has a different standard for the award, as recognition for lifetime achievement with state — even national — impact.
Yeah, not really. Haley has given the Order of the Palmetto to retiring politicians, bureaucrats, friends, doctors, artists and educators.
And she’s given it to at least a couple of campaign contributors, including a Columbia car dealer and a real estate magnate who have donated thousands of dollars to Haley’s war chest over the years.
Yes, they probably have employed a lot of people over the years and given back to the community, but have they made a “statewide impact?”
Well, other than paying for Haley campaign commercials.
To be fair, Haley also gave veteran Associated Press reporter Jim Davenport the award shortly before he passed away. And Davenport did not go easy on her. So give her that one.
Fact is, Haley uses the Order of the Palmetto just like every other governor has since the award was created.
She’s just another good ol’ boy.
And around the Statehouse, most folks believe Schweers got snubbed because Stavrinakis was the one who asked for it.
Most people know that Haley doesn’t like him, or any of Charleston’s other lawmakers.
A true hero
Schweers deserved the Order of the Palmetto, as much or more than anyone.
Her actions were heroic, and she was perhaps defending the lives of future doctors, educators — maybe even the next Barbara Bush (an Ashley Hall alumnus).
Even if she wasn’t, she was protecting our children. That’s a big deal.
Schweers helped inspire a new state law that makes it more difficult for people with mental problems to buy a gun.
Of course, Haley was low-profile on that legislation, too — signing it without the usual hubbub. Maybe that’s the same reason she didn’t want a big ceremony for Schweers. You know, don’t want to annoy the constituents.
So instead, Haley issued Schweers — who has asked for none of this, by the way — a certificate. Stavrinakis’ office had it framed so it wouldn’t look like what it is, a piece of paper.
But Schweers will not be forgotten. Stavrinakis says that when the Legislature reconvenes in January, he is certain the House and probably the Senate will honor Schweers for her actions and her influence.
“I just want her to get the recognition she deserves,” Stavrinakis says. “I was not trying to put down Dawn Staley. Both are deserving.”
So this may work out even better for Schweers, because an honor from the Legislature carries much more weight.
Haley may control the Order of the Palmetto, but the General Assembly controls the rest of the state.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.