They’re scattered across the state:
The Karl S. Bowers Bridge in Beaufort County, which honors a former federal highway administrator who went to prison on federal income tax charges.
The Senator Gene Carmichael Highway in Dillon County, named for a politician who later was convicted on federal vote-buying charges.
The John Courson Interchange in Richland County, named for the former state senator who pleaded guilty last year to misconduct in office for pocketing campaign cash.
And now the latest entrant in South Carolina’s Infrastructure Hall of Shame is the John Hardee Expressway to the Columbia Metropolitan Airport, named for the former state Transportation Commission member who has agreed to plead guilty to obstructing a federal investigation into what prosecutors now say was a “kickback” or “bribe” they couldn’t prosecute because they couldn’t prove he did anything in return for the money.
Having the names of four disgraced public officials emblazoned on state property might not seem so bad given that the Transportation Department alone has a list of more than 800 named roads, bridges and intersections. But that misses several points.
A small point is that this isn’t the complete list of roads that are named for people later convicted of crimes, and it doesn’t even begin to touch the politicians who did less-than-honorable things that didn’t rise to the level of a crime.
A related point is that we’re only talking about road names; there are countless buildings and other structures named for people, some of whom went on to disgrace the state after they were honored.
A larger point is that there also are hundreds of state-owned buildings named for politicians who were still alive at the time of the honors, and many of them are still alive today, so we can’t say for sure that they won’t similarly shame our state.
And perhaps the largest point of all is that our Legislature and our Transportation Commission long have been far too generous with honoring their own for reasons that do not deserve honor. Mr. Hardee, for instance, was honored because he managed to persuade his fellow transportation commissioners and federal highway officials to use our tax money to pay for the expressway that bears his name. This isn’t money that would have just gone up in smoke if not for Mr. Hardee. It’s money that would have funded other projects — which presumably would then have been named for other politicians instead.
We don’t object to naming things for people who deserve to be honored. But they should be extraordinary people who did extraordinary things for our state — not merely people who managed to keep getting reelected or reappointed, or who managed to funnel public money into the particular projects they favored.
And because you never know what kind of skulduggery people are going to get into as long as they’re still alive, we shouldn’t be naming things after people before they die.
Unfortunately, it’s not such a simple thing to un-honor a disgraced politician. It costs money to replace those signs bearing their names, and name changes can be disruptive for businesses along the routes. But while it’s not always practical to undo our mistakes, it’s pretty easy to stop making them over and over: The Legislature should act once and for all to prohibit naming state-funded projects for anyone who is still alive.