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Happy Monday evening everybody,
The son-in-law of S.C. Senate powerhouse Hugh Leatherman was back in the news this week, first receiving house arrest and probation for obstructing a federal investigation and then – you just can’t make this stuff up – being arrested for soliciting prostitution.
That could land former DOT Commissioner John Hardee back in front of a judge for violating probation. And, as reporter Seanna Adcox reported this afternoon, the DOT commission plans to vote next month on un-naming the Columbia-area highway that bears his name.
(For background on Mr. Hardee, read my column from last month: Before the would-be bribe that wasn’t illegal, the SC DOT board stint that was. And be sure to check out our editorial about the John Hardee Expressway: Another shameful reminder to stop naming roads for politicians).
Also, the state Attorney General’s office sent a letter to SLED on Thursday requesting an investigation into Mr. Hardee. Reporter Andrew Brown speculated that the attorney general's office saw something suspicious in the details of the federal case, which concluded that the unidentified witness who said he bribed Mr. Hardee actually paid Mr. Hardee $27,000 in retainers to introduce the witness to other government officials. As Andrew noted, it’s illegal for companies that lobby state government to keep state officials on retainer.
That got me thinking about what isn’t against state law – and probably should be. In South Carolina, people paid for “promoting or opposing” government actions “through direct communication with public officials or public employees” have to register as lobbyists. They can’t make campaign contributions or buy anything for legislators – not even a cup of coffee.
But even the best lobbyists can’t always make the case as well as the people they working for, so sometimes those introductions are more important than the lobbying. So shouldn’t we require these paid matchmakers to register, and abide by the same rules as lobbyists?
Finally, do you think the judge let Mr. Hardee off too lightly? Or should he not have even been prosecuted since the feds concluded that there was no underlying crime he was trying to cover up? Do you think the president should have been prosecuted for obstruction of justice – since the feds in that case also concluded that there was no underlying crime? And – here's this week's test – are your answers consistent? (But seriously, reply to this email and let me know your thoughts! I may include a few in next week's newsletter.)
Three things we're talking about this week:
1. Highways and housing and flooding, oh my!
I once had an editor who said every news story was connected; you just had to get the transitions right. This week my colleague Ed Buckley went a long way toward proving that’s true – at least in the Lowcountry – with editorials that connect highway congestion to housing (or the lack thereof) on the peninsula … and houses on the peninsula to our existential flooding problems … and flooding to a controversial new upper peninsula development project … and then a little jut out to connect highway spending decisions to the rising sea levels that are creating all of that flooding to start with.
Whew! I’m exhausted. But you can read all that below, along with a couple of guest columns that tie in to similar themes:
- Editorial: I-526 widening must account for loss of Charleston affordable housing
- Editorial: Protecting Charleston against floods shouldn’t be so controversial
- Editorial: Pave over Gadsden Creek? Charleston doesn’t know enough to know what’s best
- Editorial: Structural, priority fixes count more than dollars for fed transportation bill
- Commentary: As the world gets hotter, environmental consequences get worse
- Commentary: Shine a brighter light on Charleston’s flooding challenges
2. Did somebody admit to being wrong?
You don't often see public officials show horrible judgment, get called out for it and within days – poof – acknowledge they screwed up. And reverse course. But it happens.
After our news department reported that the Public Service Commission had hired a company with deep ties to power companies to serve as its “independent third-party” consultant in setting the rates Duke and Dominion energy would have to pay to buy power from independent solar providers, I wrote a column reminding readers of the PSC’s history as protector of the utilities and challenging the commissioners to drop the contract.
Later that day, the commission did precisely that. And nobody complained about being forced into this. As we explained in our Sunday editorial, “commissioners voted to fire the company and approve a selection process that is remarkable in its commitment to public transparency.”
But wait – there’s more. Two days later, we saw a similar about-face from the embattled principal of Columbia’s Cardinal Newman School.
Parents were outraged because they learned from the media about those frightening, racist videos of a now-former student (WLTX-TV), and the school allowed the boy to withdraw rather than expelling him. Less than a week after the news broke, the principal stood in front of a gym full of parents Thursday and said he was wrong not to notify them immediately and that he had changed the boy’s records to show he was expelled.
Read my column about what we need to learn from all this: Why you need to watch the racist videos from a Columbia 16-year-old
3. Of course we have to talk about guns again
Gun supporters are right when they say most Americans use their guns responsibly. And that killers use lots of weapons besides guns. It’s just that guns kill a lot more people, a lot faster than most other weapons.
We could make several modest changes to our gun laws without infringing on Second Amendment rights, and after a weekend in which two men killed 30 people in minutes, we renewed calls for them:
- In our Tuesday editorial, we suggested broadening our too-limited background check laws, which are designed to make it harder for the criminals to buy guns, and put limits on high-capacity weapons.
- And, in our Thursday editorial, we said we needed laws to make it easier for police to take immediate action against people who pose a threat to themselves or others.
And once again, leave it to Ed to bring home the “how everything fits together” concept, with a visit to an Italian town that has a simple solution for reducing violence – gun or otherwise. He doesn’t actually mention Charleston highways and flooding and housing, but you can't miss their presence. Check out his column: How America’s suburban isolation might be slowly killing us.
Sometimes there's this one great nugget in a letter that eclipses the point of the letter. That happened Friday, when Jim Randall gave us this great illustration of the difference between a million and a trillion:
One million seconds is 12 days: one trillion seconds is 31,688 years.
Read Mr. Randall's entire letter here. (Scroll down to the last letter.)
Now here's an entire letter from someone who understands that humor can be more biting than anger:
I just returned from my mailbox and was surprised to find my SCANA settlement check inside. Now I can finally take my wife out for that fancy cup of coffee I’ve been promising her.
More opinion & analysis from this week
- Editorial: SC ‘Mount Trashmore’ a regulatory oversight failure
- Editorial: SC must be as public as possible about efforts to sell Santee Cooper
- Editorial: What USC trustees should learn from Caslen’s selection as president
- Editorial: 1,000 SC school buses are older than the kids. VW money won’t change that
- Editorial: Clarify CBD rules in South Carolina, other states
- Editorial: End your war on honeybees, Dorchester County
That's a wrap.
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Have a great week.