If Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney had a record like the Republicans who have ruled this state for 15 years, he would have been run out of Death Valley years ago. And yet, we keep bringing back this same losing team.
Dabo is a South Carolina hero (and at $8.5 million last year, by far the highest-paid state employee) because he wins. Clemson opened its season Saturday against Furman. The Tigers are ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press preseason poll and looking to return to the national championship finals for the third time in four years. I wouldn’t bet against Dabo’s Tigers.
We South Carolinians, on the other hand, have come to accept our place as a Bottom 10 state — year after year after year. U.S. News, which is to public-policy rankings what the AP is to college football, puts South Carolina 42nd in its ‘’Best States’’ survey. Or put another way, we’re the ninth-worst state in the land.
CNBC agrees, ranking South Carolina and Mississippi as tied for the ninth-worst state to live in. It gives us an ‘’F’’ for quality of life.
Let us count the ways we’re a Bottom 10 state:
Education: Pick your list, we stink. U.S. News put South Carolina 48th in its state education rankings. The most recent ‘’Nation’s Report Card’’ by the National Assessment of Education Progress has the state’s already lousy scores down across the board.
Health care: South Carolina’s system is ranked 44th overall based on access and outcomes, and 49th in costs, according to WalletHub. The state is 43rd in life expectancy, according to the JAMA Network.
Poverty: The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality ranks South Carolina 48th in poverty, 50th in health and 51st (including D.C.) in economic mobility. In no state is it harder for a poor kid to climb the economic ladder, renowned economist Raj Chetty found. High levels of income and racial segregation are to blame, he says.
Domestic violence: South Carolina has been a top 5 state for six years in a row when it comes to women killed by men, according to the Violence Policy Center in Washington. We previously were No. 1 for four years.
Single parents: South Carolina ranks 50th — dead last again — for the percentage of parents who are married and have children under 18, U.S. Census data show. This correlates to all kinds of things, none of them good.
Highway deaths: Thanks, in part, to our miles of rural roads, South Carolina has the nation’s highest death rate per 100 million miles traveled, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. We’re seventh in pedestrian deaths.
Republicans have controlled the House, the Senate and the governorship for 15 years. All the constitutional officers, six of the state’s seven U.S. House members and both U.S. senators are Republicans. At this point, how do you blame the other guys, the Democrats, for our Bottom 10 standing?
To be fair, U.S. News ranks the state’s economy 15th in the nation, citing our growing population in particular. We have added Boeing and Volvo and BMW, all good even if we had to write huge checks to get them. The state’s per capita income, however, remains — where else? — in the Bottom 10.
I love South Carolina. I was born and raised here. I am here because I want to be. Every day you can see, feel, smell, taste what makes South Carolina so special: Walk the incredible boneyard beach at Botany Bay in Edisto. Smell the cut grass at Hampton Park. Eat Rodney Scott’s ribs on Upper King, or even better, at his original crossroads pit stop in Hemingway. Talk with your neighbor.
There is no place like home.
But by too many measures the state has been under-performing for years, and so much of it is self-inflicted. A long-running corruption probe is shining a light on how the sausage is made at the Statehouse, and it’s not pretty. The Legislature gave SCE&G a blank check to build a $9 billion hole in the ground and wonders now how it happened. Our bridges are literally buckling under us.
Rather than find answers, the carnival diverts our attention to sideshows and wedge issues like abortion bills that no court would uphold. Rather than find answers, Republicans compete for the fealty of a graceless braggart of a president who, once upon a time, would have repelled good conservative Southerners like my mom.
One-party rule is not good, no matter who is in charge — the Democrats governed South Carolina for decades when the state also lagged behind. South Carolina has abandoned the balance that makes democracy work best. True blue Massachusetts, for instance, has a long history of electing Republican governors to keep a check on the Democratic legislature.
We would fire a failing football coach, and yet we keep rehiring the people calling the shots in Columbia.
Steve Bailey writes regularly for the Commentary page. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @sjbailey1060 on Twitter.