Nobody trying to show Ravenel to off-ramp

Arthur Ravenel Jr. waves goodbye from the podium after delivering his speech during the dedication ceremony for the bridge named in his honor July 16, 2005.

Nobody is taking Cousin Arthur’s name off the bridge.

Everybody can get that out of their head right now.

But then, that has never been the plan — it was not going to happen, no matter how many people voted for state Rep. Wendell Gilliard’s proposal.

Or how often certain other Ravenels do their best to give the family name a little, shall we say, southern charm.

But that didn’t stop Gilliard’s proposal — simply to rename U.S. Highway 17 from Interstate 26 to Harry Hallman Jr. Boulevard as the “Sweetgrass Skyway” — from becoming the first intramural controversy of this young legislative session.

After news of the proposal came out, Sen. Larry Grooms promised to kill it and Rep. Jim Merrill — a close friend of Arthur Ravenel — said he felt that he’d been duped into voting for it.

Then things really got ugly.

Gilliard was offended that Merrill would suggest he had tricked his colleagues. And the Internet blew up with folks saying the vote, and Merrill’s explanation, was proof that lawmakers don’t bother to read legislation before voting on it.


In all, it became a controversy nearly worthy of Ravenel’s name, seeing as how he stirred things up pretty good during his time in the Legislature.

And Congress.

And on the school board.

This little skirmish has led some people to ask why the Legislature doesn’t have anything better to do.

They say: Shouldn’t state lawmakers be fixing our roads instead of renaming them?

Fair point.

Gilliard said he simply wanted to honor sweetgrass basket makers for bringing their craft to this country and enriching our culture.

He says he is a uniter, not a divider — it clearly states in the resolution’s first sentence that, despite this proposed name, the state would continue “to designate the bridge span the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.”

But still he got grief.

Gilliard was particularly irked to be accused of not doing anything serious in Columbia — you know, besides the legislation to ban texting while driving and require police officers to wear body cameras, evidently — when he got to the House Tuesday morning.

There, he had to listen to a half-hour debate on how many turkeys it is OK to shoot during season. Gilliard quickly took the floor and told his colleagues that dog won’t hunt.

“Well, let’s talk turkey,” Gilliard said. “We are not ready to get serious about anything.”

Like domestic violence, or gun violence, or education.

So Gilliard voted against the turkey limit bill.

The trouble is, the Legislature has to do pretty much everything in this state: fund education, patch roads, build prisons.

Most people probably couldn’t care less how many turkeys hunters can shoot during the season, but to others it will be one of the most important thing the state does this year.

And so they do it.

Fact is, it’s much easier to determine the fate of a few hundred turkeys — or honor a few dozen volleyball teams — than it is to fix up a few thousand schools.

So that’s what gets done.

And there’s the perception problem.

Gilliard’s colleagues don’t really think he had any nefarious plans here.

Some of them say that perhaps he didn’t explain the proposal clearly enough but concede that he went out of his way to make sure the Ravenel Bridge was not being renamed.

Well then, what was he doing? Well, just what he said — and perhaps giving a choice to people who protested naming the bridge after Ravenel in the first place.

Although Gilliard says that’s not the case.

Honestly, this would have been the same deal as Georgia Tech’s football stadium — you know, “Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field.”

Whew. Hurts to just type it, much less say it.

So even if Grooms wasn’t about to bury this proposal deeper than the harbor channel, we would have had the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, part of the Sweetgrass Skyway.

It’s a mouthful, but ultimately it really doesn’t matter. No matter what state officials say, some people will forever call it the Ravenel Bridge, others will call it the “new Cooper River bridge” and a small minority might even be partial to the “Cuz-way.”

Names tend to stick.

And that means as long as these kind of issues dominate the news instead of, say, “education system fixed” or “roads paved,” some people will continue to say the Legislature is nothing more than a bunch of turkeys.

Reach Brian Hicks at