COLUMBIA — S.C. Rep. Wendell Gilliard responded Saturday to the accusation that members of the House were misled into voting for a measure to rename the Arthur Ravenel Jr. bridge structure.
Gilliard, a Charleston Democrat, sponsored a S.C. House resolution recently that sought to keep the Ravenel Bridge name the same, while changing the name of the bridge structure itself to The Sweetgrass Skyway. The name is meant to honor the area’s sweetgrass basket makers.
It passed the House unanimously, with sign-off from members of the Charleston-area delegation.
Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, has said that the only portion of the bill lawmakers were presented with was a summary that talked about renaming a portion of Highway 17. Merrill has said he wasn’t sure if Gilliard didn’t give lawmakers the whole picture on purpose.
Gilliard denied that and said his only intent was to “honor a very highly respected craft that was brought here by my ancestors.
“If they would think for one minute that I was trying to trick 120 some odd people into doing something that’s just totally unheard of,” Gilliard said. “We don’t play tricks in the General Assembly. To make a remark like that was very unkind and disrespectful. I tend to expect more from (Merrill).”
Gilliard said he sponsored similar legislation while on Charleston City Council renaming portions of Spring and King streets the Martin Luther King Memorial District. He wanted to do the same for the sweetgrass weavers.
“I sit back and I watch my good friends, including Merrill, vote against everything that would help the middle class and the poor,” Gilliard said of Republicans. “All I do is just … keep on keeping on. But I still have respect for his opinions. It won’t ever get me mad.”
Merrill responded by saying that he and his colleagues are focused on the right priorities. “The rest of us are busy working on ethics, domestic violence ... which is why he is the only one putting in resolutions like this.”
The issue is somewhat moot. Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, has promised to kill the bill in his transportation committee.
Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.