Voters hoping to drain the so-called swamp in Columbia need more than to replace incumbents with new blood on Tuesday.
They need the glorification that characterizes public office to end.
Voting out incumbents—like the four influential Republicans ensnared in a Statehouse corruption probe, leading to their resignation—lures us into a feeling of security that government corruption is being addressed.
We might also be drawn by the promise of stricter ethics laws, which have some inherent goodness, but have done very little to prevent real or perceived government corruption to date.
And that would be a good start.
But it won’t change the mindset of professional politicians. Politicians, for example, whose eyes sparkle from the Senate floor when bragging on their “august,” or impressive, institution.
Widely-respected veteran Sen. John Courson, R-Columbia, pleaded guilty in early June to misconduct in office. Courson was the latest legislator to resign in the Statehouse probe.
Indictments against Courson alleged the political consulting firm, Richard Quinn & Associates made payments to Courson of more than $150,000 after he paid the firm nearly $250,000 from 2006 to 2012.
Ultimately, a reporting “error,” according to Courson’s statement to reporters.
Whether Courson’s error was deliberate is likely unknowable. But the matter underscores the idea that our political leaders are not, as they should be, above reproach.
Here’s how the state’s electorate can change that—
End the legislative state
Calling on legislators to give up power may seem like an exercise in futility, but it’s probably the best place for voters to apply pressure.
We can have all the ethics laws we want, but they don’t seem to change behavior.
The U.S. and most states apply term limits to the executive branch to limit executive power. Our lawmakers should be term limited, also, restricting potential conflicts of interest and returning citizen-legislators home after their allotted time of service has lapsed.
Balancing power among the three branches is essential to reining in the legislative state. Changing how S.C. picks judges—legislatively—is a good start, as the Statehouse corruption probe continues unfolding.South Carolina government, with its $8 billion-a-year budget, is a government that tries to be all things to all people, and does it badly. Click To Tweet
Scale down the size of government
South Carolina government, with its $8 billion-a-year budget, is a government that tries to be all things to all people, and does it badly.
School districts get roughly $13,000 per student—on par with a high-end private education—but produce sub par results. Often, some of the worst performing districts absorb more taxpayer funds than the best.
The state issues cumbersome mandates to the local governments it fails to fully fund.
The retirement system debt ballooned to more than $20 billion before legislators in 2017 increased contributions to shore up the debt. That indebted system is still awaiting restructuring.
Increasing local government control would alleviate some of these issues. The simplest form of government that is closest to the people offers the best chance at accountability.