Chamber gearing up for Nov. 4 school vote

One of the biggest issues on the Nov. 4 ballot in Charleston County will be whether voters want a six-year extension in the county's 1 percent sales tax to build and renovate more schools.

And with the school project list now finalized, business leaders are gearing up to convince local voters to support keeping the tax another six years.

The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce will run the campaign for the Charleston County School District. It also ran the successful referendum campaign for the district in 2010.

Mary Graham, the chamber's senior vice president of business advocacy, said the chamber is in the organizing stages of planning the message of the campaign, which will officially launch in September. The chamber's duties will include fundraising as well as developing materials and content for direct mail initiatives, fliers and radio ads.

Graham said the chamber also will be responsible for pitching the referendum to anyone who will listen.

"We will try to get in front of every civic group we can," she said. "Our motto last time was if two or more people are there, we are happy to try to walk them through what the referendum means and its impact on the area."

The district already has prepared a memo for employees reminding them of the do's and don'ts so that the district abides by state ethics laws and don't encounter questions like those that arose recently in Berkeley County.

Berkeley Communications Director Amy Kovach was indicted by a grand jury earlier this year on charges of using public funds, property or time to influence the outcome of an election in connection with that county's $198 million Yes 4 School referendum in 2012. She has asked that the charges be dismissed.

District employees are forbidden to use school resources or time to support the referendum.

"We'll be providing information about the anticipated projects, cost of projects, scope of projects, the logic behind the projects, the location of the projects and the different variables that go into this kind of work," said district Chief Financial Officer Michael Bobby. "That's our job."

The School Board last week approved a list of 35 school building projects totaling $503 million for voters to consider as part of the tax extension. The 1 percent sales tax is set to expire in 2016. If voters approve the tax again it will be extended through 2022.

Graham for president? Don't bet on it...

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham is fresh from his June primary win over several Republican opponents and still faces a fall re-election fight against Democratic state Sen. Brad Hutto and others, so it seems an odd time to run for president.

But that's what's happening, at least according to pokernewsdaily.com, which noted that Graham has received financial backing from big-time GOP donor and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Adelson also is leading the fight against online gaming.

The story talked about how Graham and two other senators - California's Diane Feinstein and New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte - recently sent a letter to the U. S. Department of Justice and Attorney General Eric Holder looking to reinstate the pre-2011 reading of the Wire Act of 1961 - a reading that banned all gambling over the Internet. After 2011, only sports betting was considered a violation.

The website noted Graham's signing this letter made sense in light of last month's Post and Courier's poll showing 68 percent of South Carolina voters oppose online gaming,

"Graham, however, has been receiving a great deal of financial backing from Adelson as Graham also looks to a potential run in 2016 for President of the United States," it added. "He has received over $20,000 in campaign contributions from either Adelson, his family or the Las Vegas Sands PAC since the beginning of the year. Although he has denied it, Graham has also been prominent at several Adelson political functions."

Of course, the website fails to note that there's been practically no chatter anywhere else about a potential 2016 Graham presidential run.

Will the same-sex marriage issue affect the fall's election

Will the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling to toss out Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage reverberate in South Carolina when voters go the polls Nov. 4?

South Carolina has the same ban in place, but a growing number of voices have called for state leaders not to enforce it because South Carolina is in the same judicial circuit - and continuing to fight for the ban would seem like a waste of time and money, given the circuit's ruling.

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, a Republican, has vowed to keep fighting the ruling, saying the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately is expected to decide the validity of Virginia's and South Carolina's laws.

His Democratic opponent, Parnell Diggs, said he would not keep fighting. "The court has spoken," he said. "The states are obviously moving in the direction of marriage equality."

Gov. Nikki Haley also vowed last week to continue to fight to uphold the ban. "The governor is charged with defending and executing the laws and constitution of South Carolina, and she will continue to do just that at every turn," her spokesman said.

But Tom Ervin, who is running as an independent, criticized Haley's position. "Government does not belong in the bedroom," he said. "My personal faith affirms that marriage is between a man and a woman but under our Constitution, people in this country are afforded equal protection under our laws. This means that anyone should be free to marry the person they love."

Ervin said he also believed individual churches should be allowed to decide which marriage ceremonies they want to perform.

Democratic challenger Vincent Sheheen's position has been even more nuanced and was the subject last week of a whole story in The State newspaper. It reported that Sheheen said the state "should pause" in its defense of the marriage ban until the Supreme Court rules.

"Gay marriage can be a tough issue for a Democrat in South Carolina to weigh in on, as evidenced by the three days it took Sheheen to say what the state should do," the story noted.

In 2006, about 80 percent of South Carolina voters approved Constitutional amendment clarifying that marriage in the state is between a man and a woman.

Vice President's loss is USC's gain

Fran Person, Vice President Joe Biden's personal aide for the past eight years, left that job Friday and begins work Monday as a high-level adviser at his alma mater, the University of South Carolina, in Columbia, Politico.com reported.

"As a body guy who became a confidant, Fran Person anticipated Biden's moods and questions, served as team captain and gatekeeper on the road, and showed the ropes to visitors and new staffers," the website reported. "Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said: 'Fran's strongest quality and greatest diplomatic skill was in gently persuading the Vice President it was time to end the meeting!'"

Person, 31, played as an offensive guard for the Gamecocks, and his adventure with Biden began after he approached Biden during a speaking appearance in South Carolina.

"He said he would like to work for me," Biden told Politico. "Now, people know that he has my ear whenever he wants it. ... On the road, he's in every single meeting."

Person and his wife, Krystal, will live in Fort Mill with their 3-year-old, Bella, and Zoe, now eight weeks, and he will work as an adviser to both President Harry Pastides and Athletic Director Ray Tanner.

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, the assistant House minority leader, said, "South Carolina Democrats are rebuilding and refocusing, and we can benefit from Fran's poise and work ethic."