A roundup of what’s making news in South Carolina state government
When it comes to those candidates who are seeking to become South Carolina’s next schools chief, you could be forgiven for not recognizing any of their names.
After all, even casual Palmetto State political observers may look at the list of candidates running to be the next Superintendent of Education and think, “Who?”
On Wednesday, State Rep. Mike Anthony, D-Union, became the third elected official with statewide name recognition to drop out of the race. Current superintendent Mick Zais announced in December that he would not seek a second term. Then in January State Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head, suspended his campaign after messy family and financial problems were revealed in a divorce lawsuit.
Anthony’s decision was particularly surprising, as he was widely thought the favorite to win the Democratic nod. The former teacher and high school football coach said the campaign trail was taking too much time from his family and his Union County constituents. Former Fort Mill principal and Education Department official Montrio Belton is the lone Democrat still running.
Meanwhile, among the field of eight Republicans, only two currently hold elected office (Republicans Gary Burgess and Elizabeth Moffly serve on the Anderson County and Charleston County school boards, respectively). Moffly may be the best-known candidate still in the race. She lost to Zais by eight percentage points in the GOP primary runoff four years ago. Burgess finished fourth in that primary.
Another third Republican candidate, Molly Spearman, is a former state legislator who represented Saluda County as a Democrat before switching parties in 1996. She is now executive director of the South Carolina Association of School Administrators. Another Republican, Sheri Few, is a Tea Party-aligned activist who unsuccessfully ran for the state House of Representatives in 2010.
Of course, being an elected official is not a prerequisite to hold the office. But it helps if voters know who you are. Some of the remaining Republicans in the race are lesser known, but do have political connections. Deputy Education Superintendent Meka Childs is a former advisor to Gov. Mark Sanford. Elementary school teacher Sally Atwater is the widow of legendary political operative Lee Atwater. And Amy Cofield is sister to Gov. Nikki Haley’s appointee on the University of South Carolina board of trustees.
USC math professor Don Jordan is the eighth Republican in the race. He is a relative outsider to state politics.
Voters may have to actually spend some time doing their homework in this one.
— Legislation is heading to the governor’s desk that would give school districts the ability to “forgive” five snow days of classes that were canceled by two winter storms the past two months. The House voted 98-0 on Wednesday to approve a bill that would waive state law requiring schools to make up all days missed due to extreme weather.
— Senators heard more bleak numbers about the state’s highway system during a presentation by South Carolina’s transportation director. While problems with aging infrastructure and underfunded maintenance have been well-documented for several years now, acting Transportation Secretary Christy Hall raised a new specter during Wednesday’s meeting — a critical pot of federal money is teetering towards insolvency.
— During hearings with state lawmakers Wednesday, S.C. State University president warned his school is unable to pay its bills and somehow needs to make up a $13.6 million shortfall. Thomas Elzey said several vendors have not been paid since October and are now threatening to stop work at the school. But Gov. Nikki Haley and others were unwilling to commit to additional funds until an audit is complete.
— A House judiciary subcommittee advanced a proposal Wednesday that would allow liquor sales on Election Day. The bill’s lead sponsor State Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, said South Carolina is the last state to have such a law on its books. But some lawmakers oppose stripping current law that allows the governor to close a liquor store for reasons of “morals and decorum.”