The top Democrat in South Carolina attacked Republicans Tuesday for hiring former campaign staffers to state government positions– often at high salaries. In a meeting with reporters, South Carolina Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian said six staffers hired since January are making a combined $500,000.
He said he was concerned because many government employees are losing their jobs as South Carolina’s unemployment rate nears 11 percent. Three of the six staffers he highlighted currently serve directly under the governor, although all six were GOP campaign operatives at this point last year.
He took aim at Governor Nikki Haley’s chief of staff Tim Pearson, who makes $125,000 per year plus benefits, and her cabinet liaison Robert Hall, who earns a $70,000 salary. He criticized the youth of both Pearson and Hall, who are both under 30 and had not previously held government positions.
“This state’s headed in the wrong direction,” Harpootlian said, “And it’s because Nikki Haley’s office resembles more a “Lord of the Flies” set than it does a professional, political, governmental operation.”
Haley’s spokesman Rob Godfrey dismissed the accusations as “tone deaf” at a time the state is preparing for a hurricane to possibly strike the coast. Haley herself said she was focusing on her job, and would not respond to the allegations. Other Republicans pointed out that Jim Hodges– the last Democratic governor– also hired his campaign manager as chief of staff.
Harpootlian admitted politicians often employ former staffers to work for them. However, he said Haley promised to be different, “Is that Nikki Haley? She’s going to do whatever the old boys did? No, this is somebody that’s came forward and said, ‘I’m different. I’m not going to do what they did.'”
It was not just the Governor’s Office, however. He also criticized J.W. Ragley, who is currently Education Superintendent Mick Zais’s executive assistant. Ragley earns a $78,400 salary after leading Zais’s election campaign. He now acts as a spokesman and legislative liaison in the agency. Harpootlian said Ragley’s job application was not even filled out, other than the contact information.
Ragley ardently defended himself, saying that the agency’s Legislative & Public Affairs office now has two employees doing the work of five last year. He said previous Superintendent Jim Rex (a Democrat) also kept on his campaign advisor as a consultant.
“Dick Harpootlian’s three-ring circus from the 1990’s has returned,” he said in an email, “I’d like to call (Tuesday’s) show a clown act, but frankly that would be insulting to clowns around the world.”
Democrats also singled out Justin Evans, Director of Intergovernmental Relations, Marketing, and Communications in the State Treasurer’s Office. Evans is another former Haley staffer who makes $62,500 in his new job. However, he was not involved in current Treasurer Curtis Loftis’s campaign last year.
Loftis defended his aide, saying Evans had helped market the Unclaimed Property Program, among other things. “Since his time on the job there’s been a large increase in the Unclaimed Property claims,” he said in a statement, “And new applications for Future Scholar accounts have increased by 39 percent in the first five months since Mr. Evans has been in the Treasurer’s Office.”
Harpootlian also criticized a special assistant to Pearson, Rebecca Schimsa, who is another former Haley campaign staffer. Schimsa earns more than $60,000 a year, despite limited experience in government. The chairman claimed that her most private sector experience consisted of working at a Banana Republic clothing store.
“This may be qualification to work for Nikki Haley,” he said, “Because (South Carolina) has become a banana republic under her administration.”
Harpootlian also went after Matt Nichols, a former GOP staffer who works as an executive assistant in the Adjutant General’s Office. He makes $68,000, despit only being listed as a part-time employee.
SCGOP chairman Chad Connelly had little patience with the claims, “Dick Harpootlian has spent his professional career suing the state of South Carolina and our small businesses,” he said in a statement. “It’s pretty ironic that a guy who has killed an untold number of private sector jobs would give advice on anything. Let me suggest his nearly irrelevant party come up with some actual solutions.”
Democrats also requested information about Trey Walker and Rob Godfrey– two additional GOP campaign staffers who now work in Haley’s Administration. However, Harpootlian did not claim they lacked experience.