November 23, 2014

Effort to keep Coast Guard air station on Johns Island continues

Coast Guard

Image: Coast Guard

South Carolina lawmakers and members of Congress from Oregon have joined in calling on the U.S. Coast Guard to keep facilities in their respective states from closing next month.

Senators Tim Scott, R-SC, Lindsey Graham, R-SC, Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Representatives Mark Sanford, R-S.C., Tom Rice, R-S.C., Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., signed the letter urging the Coast Guard to reverse its abrupt announcement from October that it would close facilities in Charleston, South Carolina and Newport, Oregon. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, also signed the letter.

The helicopter stationed at Air Facility Charleston is one of five that are based out of Air Station Savannah in Georgia. The Coast Guard had planned to reassign the vehicle as part of sequestration cuts. If finalized, any air rescue operations along the South Carolina coast must be flown out of Savannah, including operations off Myrtle Beach roughly 200 miles away.

The letter stated: “We believe that the United States Coast Guard’s decision to close air facilities in Newport, Oregon and Charleston, South Carolina would needlessly endanger mariners in our respective states and we urge you to prevent the Coast Guard from doing so,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter.   While the Coast Guard claims that it will still be able to meet the national standard of a two-hour search-and-rescue response time, the lawmakers argue that fewer assets could lengthen response times and threaten the safety of local mariners.

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SC Supreme Court allows counties to accept same-sex marriage licenses

Charleston County Probate Judge Irvin Condon

Charleston County Probate Judge Irvin Condon

The state Supreme Court on Wednesday cleared a path for all South Carolina probate judges to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The court lifted a stay it had put in place last month while a federal judge considered a lawsuit filed against the state’s ban. U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs ruled Tuesday in Bradacs v. Haley that South Carolina must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. On Wednesday, the justices ended the stay.

“(P)robate judges were directed not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples pending a decision by the Federal District Court in Bradacs,” the order noted. “A decision by Judge Childs resolving the Bradacs case having been rendered, we hereby lift the injunction.”

The state Attorney General’s Office is still asking the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene as it appeals a separate federal judge’s ruling last week that South Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. The judge in that case had ordered probate courts to issue the licenses starting on Thursday at noon.

Initially, most believed the first available date for marriage licenses would be then. But earlier Wednesday, a probate judge in Charleston County began granting the licenses to same-sex couples. An attorney representing Probate Judge Irvin Condon told the Charleston Post & Courier newspaper that the recent court rulings mean his client must begin granting the licenses as soon as possible.

But Condon stopped after a few hours, saying the South Carolina Court Administration had recommended he halt the process until Thursday or the Supreme Court ruled. Richland County was also allowing couples to apply for licenses early. All other counties had been waiting for Thursday’s deadline.

The lesbian couple who had filed the original lawsuit, Charleston County Councilwoman Colleen Condon (a distant cousin of the judge) and her fiancé Nichols Bleckley, were first in line when the Charleston County probate court opened Wednesday, according to their attorney Malissa Burnette.

“We said, ‘Well, if you can exercise your rights today, then go ahead and do that,’” Burnette told South Carolina Radio Network. “So they got in line and got their marriage license, too.”

While many couples will have to wait 24 hours after applying to get their license, Condon and Bleckley had already applied last month before the Attorney General’s Office intervened. 29 other couples applied with them at the time.

Governor talks about “emotional” visit to India, says jobs will be coming

Gov. Nikki Haley speaks at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi in this image posted to Twitter by her campaign spokesman (Image: Rob Godfrey)

Gov. Nikki Haley speaks at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi in this image posted to Twitter by her campaign spokesman (Image: Rob Godfrey)

Gov. Nikki Haley said Wednesday that she believes her trip to India will eventually lead to job announcements in South Carolina.

“Anytime we do an economic development trip, you’re starting relationships and starting conversations,” Haley told reporters during a conference call from Mumbai. “Without question, I know that… we will be closing (on) jobs over the next several months.”

Haley and seven other delegation members (including two staffers, state Parks, Recreation, and Tourism director Duane Parrish, Department of Commerce officials, and Haley’s husband Michael) will be finishing the 10-day economic development trip on Friday. The Commerce Department estimated last week the trip would cost roughly $50,000.

The governor was born in Bamberg, South Carolina, although her parents Ajit and Raj Randhawa emigrated to the U.S. from India in the early 1960s. It was the first time Haley had been to her parent’s home country since she was two years old.

“To come here, it really was emotional and overwhelming to now put the real picture to those stories that they told me about (India),” she said. “Whenever you think about where your parents grew up and all that they sacrificed and gave up to come to America to have a better life for their kids… they left their home. They left all that they know for the great opportunities of America.”

AUDIO: Haley says visit has been “emotional” and “overwhelming” (0:48)

Haley said her delegation has had a busy schedule. Besides Mumbai, they spent several days in her parents’ native Punjab region, along with meetings and appearances in New Delhi, Hyderabad, Amritsar, and Chennai. The governor, the first Indian-American woman elected to that position anywhere in the U.S., is a mild political celebrity in the world’s second-most populated country.

Haley also met with Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj.

Clyburn re-elected as third-ranking House Democrat

Congressman Jim Clyburn speaks with reporters Tuesday

Congressman Jim Clyburn (File)

South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn will keep his leadership post among House Democrats, but a South Carolina Republican lost out on a leadership role Tuesday.

Clyburn was re-elected by his peers to the position of Assistant Leader — the third-ranking position among Democrats in the House. The vote had been expected, as Clyburn was the only candidate nominated for the job specifically created for him four years ago. The Hill newspaper reports the move came amidst some grumbling among Democrats who noted the same leadership under Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had turned a 37-seat edge six years ago into a 58-seat deficit to Republicans this past election.

Clyburn himself acknowledged the Democratic Caucus faces an uncertain future in Congress. “After this year’s tough election, I have done quite a bit of soul searching and have spoken at length with a great number of my colleagues,” he said in an emailed statement. ” As we look to the future, I want to focus like a laser on addressing the fundamental flaws in our economic system where the wealthiest few reap the benefits of our economic growth while far too many working families struggle to get ahead. 

Meanwhile, fellow Congressman Mick Mulvaney lost a bid to lead the Republican Study Committee. The RSC is a caucus consisting of the chamber’s more conservative members. All six of South Carolina’s GOP congressmen are RSC members. Mulvaney lost on the second ballot to Texas Rep. Bill Flores 57-84. According to the National Journal, Mulvaney had argued before the vote that Flores was more in line with House leaders, while he would stake out more consistently conservative positions.

The 114th Congress will return to Capitol Hill in January.

Federal court denies motion to halt gay marriages in South Carolina

Charleston County councilwoman Colleen Condon (at right) and her partner Nichols Bleckley filed the lawsuit last month (File)

Charleston County councilwoman Colleen Condon (at right) and her partner Nichols Bleckley filed the lawsuit last month (File)

A federal appeals court denied an emergency stay Tuesday that would have halted gay marriages in South Carolina. The stay was denied by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday afternoon as the clock ticked toward a noon Thursday deadline when same-sex marriages could begin in the state.

Attorney General Alan Wilson had sought the emergency stay after U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ruled last week that the state’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. However, he stayed his ruling until noon on Thursday to give the state’s attorney general, who is upholding South Carolina’s voter-backed gay marriage ban, a week to file an appeal.

“Upon consideration of submissions relative to appellant’s motion for stay pending appeal, the court denies the motion and denies the alternate request for temporary stay,” the appellate justices wrote.

Attorney General Alan Wilson released the following statement on the ruling, saying his office would try an eleventh-hour appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court:

“This issue has not yet been resolved nationally. It is still likely the U.S. Supreme Court will address conflicting rulings between federal circuit courts of appeal.  Therefore, today’s ruling by the Fourth Circuit does not end the constitutional obligation of this Office to defend South Carolina law.  We continue to believe the doctrine of federalism and the Tenth Amendment should allow South Carolina’s unique laws to be considered at the highest appropriate court of appeal.  We will be seeking an application to the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay shortly.”

Attorneys representing South Carolina Equality praised the decision and called on Wilson to drop any further appeals. “We urge the Attorney General to stop trying to delay the inevitable –their actions are damaging to families they were elected to protect,” SC Equality lawyer Malissa Burnette said in a statement.