Why Is This Election So Important?
October 21, 2002
Many political observers are pointing to the 2002 statewide elections as an important one in the history of South Carolina. The victorious candidates from the elections two weeks from now will all play vital roles in the direction our state will take in the next four years and beyond. These elected leaders include the governor as well as several lesser-known political offices down the ballot which have usually not received much attention by the mainstream media or the voters.
Nevertheless, there is a very important reason why the voters need to pay attention to who they are voting for in this election from top to bottom.
There is a key group of elected officials who make up the Budget and Control Board in South Carolina. They are responsible for making all the key financial decisions regarding our state government. They are literally in charge of millions of dollars of taxpayer money.
The Budget and Control Board is comprised of 5 members: the Governor, the State Treasurer, the Comptroller General, the State Senate Finance Chairman and the State House Ways and Means Chairman. Currently, three of these members are Democrats and two are Republicans.
Earlier this year, an unscrupulous decision was made by the Democrat-controlled Budget and Control Board that should be front page news in every major newspaper in South Carolina during this election cycle. But the willing accomplices in the liberal news media have chosen to ignore this story because it would hurt the candidates they support. Nevertheless, it is one that needs to be shared with every eligible voter in South Carolina before they go to the polls on November 5th!
Here are the details of the story:
In the early 1990ís, the South Carolina General Assembly passed legislation granting people age 85 and older a one-percent retail sales tax reduction (S.C. Code Section 12-36-2620). Retired state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bruce Littlejohn brought a class action lawsuit against the state of South Carolina (Littlejohn, et. al. v. State) on behalf of these elderly citizens who he said did not know about their right to receive this sales tax reduction.
On June 12, 2001, a proposed settlement of $7.5 million came before The Budget and Control Board for discussion. Rep. Harrell, the Republican House Ways and Means Chairman, wanted to know how the attorney fees were going to be determined. He believed it was important that the Board try to maximize the amount of money that the senior citizens will receive if the case is settled.
Rep. Harrell made a motion that the Board instruct the attorneys for the state to negotiate the fees and return to the Board with an agreement before agreeing to a final settlement. He was concerned that if the attorney fees were not agreed upon in advance of the settlement that the Court would award excessive fees to the attorneys and less money would end up going to the litigants in the case.
Of course, Gov. Jim Hodges balked at this. He argued that the courts should decide what the attorney fees would be. In fact, Gov. Hodges even suggested the Budget and Control Board should raise the settlement offer to $12 million to provide more money to the plaintiffs.
A vote was taken on the proposal made by Rep. Harrell to negotiate in advance what the attorney fees would be. Two of the Democratic members of the Board, Gov. Hodges and Comptroller General Jim Lander, voted against the motion while the two Republican members of the Board, Rep. Harrell and Sen. Leatherman, voted for the motion. State Treasurer Grady Patterson, who is a Democrat, did not vote. With a 2-2 tie, the motion failed.
As a result, the Court decided to award the attorneys in the case over $2 million in attorney fees.
Why is this story important? There are several reasons.
1. The Budget and Control Board failed to obtain all the relevant information it needed before agreeing to pay attorney fees. Because of this, the taxpayers of South Carolina ended up paying a disproportionate share of the expenses of the class action lawsuit to the attorneys in the case.
2. The Budget and Control Board should not agree to any settlement where there are unknown issues yet to be resolved by the Court. By allowing the Court to determine an issue, such as attorney fees, the litigants in the case end up receiving less money than they should have and the taxpayers end up lining the pockets of the lawyers in the case.
3. The fact that the two lawyers in this case are active members of the Democratic Party, Cam Lewis and South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian, should have given the three Democratic members of the Budget and Control Board a reason to recuse themselves from voting on this matter. Instead, their actions led to Mr. Harpootlian standing to receive over a $1 million in attorney fees from this case even though he is a major contributor to the campaigns of each of the Democratic members of the Budget and Control Board.
4. The Budget and Control Board requires the full participation of all of its members to make decisions that are in the best interest of the citizens of South Carolina. State Treasurer Grady Pattersonís failure to cast the deciding vote in a situation where he needed to protect the interests of the taxpayers of South Carolina should be troubling to everyone who voted for him to be a caretaker of their tax dollars.
There was absolutely no excuse for allowing such an important decision to be made by the Court instead of the elected members of The Budget and Control Board.
Thankfully, we have always been able to count on South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon to stand up for what is right (he will be sorely missed in state government!). Attorney General Condon has appealed the legal fees ruling in this case insisting that Dick Harpootian and Cam Lewis should be paid at an hourly rate instead of the nearly one-third lump sum of the settlement offered by the Court. A couple of weeks ago, the state Supreme Court accepted Attorney General Condonís appeal of the attorney fee award order.
Of course, Dick Harpootlian (who is not exactly the biggest Charlie Condon fan out there!) has argued that Attorney General Condon does not have any legal standing to appeal the award. Because of the political implications of the appeal, the Court has decided that it will not rule on this case prior to the election.
So, what does this have to do with the election in two weeks? Plenty!
With all three of the Democrats on the Budget and Control Board running for re-election, the voters of South Carolina need to think about what Gov. Jim Hodges, Comptroller General Jim Lander and State Treasurer Grady Patterson did to bilk them out of their money just so their buddies Dick Harpootlian and Cam Lewis would hit the lottery (so to speak)!
The careless actions of these three men are a disgrace to the people of this great state and to the power we entrusted them with to perform their duties honorably and above reproach. Why should any of them be given four more years in office to continue to flippantly decide what happens to your tax money? Is this what we need from our elected officials?
If this is the way state Democrats are going to act when they get into public office, then why should the voters EVER vote for a Democrat again?
I offer an open forum to the supporters of and campaign spokesmen for the political campaigns of Governor Jim Hodges, Comptroller General Jim Lander and State Treasurer Grady Patterson to explain why their candidate should be re-elected in light of the details of this story. Click on the COMMENT link to share your answers publicly.