A roundup of what’s making news in South Carolina state government
During the first speech of her second term in office, Gov. Nikki Haley went after legislators for not acting on ethics reform even after several highly-visible members of their chamber got into legal trouble.
Haley made the comments shortly after she was sworn in for her second term on Wednesday. The governor has spent much of the past two years fighting for independent investigations of House and Senate members, rather than the in-house investigations currently done.
“The revelation of the misuses of public funds, public office, and worst of all, the public trust have shaken the very soul of our state,” Haley said, quoting the same line then-Gov. Carroll Campbell used at his 1991 inaugural in the aftermath of an FBI sting that netted more than two dozen legislators.
House members have pledged to pass ethics reform early in the session. Three months ago, that chamber’s powerful former Republican House Speaker Bobby Harrell pleaded guilty to several counts of misusing campaign funds for personal benefit. On the same day as Haley’s remarks, former Democratic State Sen. Robert Ford pleaded guilty to four ethics-related counts.
“To date, much of the debate in the chambers behind me has been wrongly focused, with too much concern for the comfort of elected officials and too little for protecting the public interest,” she added. “The shaken confidence in our government is too large and the opportunity in front of us too great for that to continue.”
Nearly all of the state’s 170 House and Senate members were in attendance at Wednesday’s ceremony and heard the governor’s remarks. In the past, lawmakers who oppose independent investigations have noted that Harrell, Ford, and others were caught and investigated under the current law despite any perceived shortcomings.
— Late Wednesday evening, the Haleys hosted around 1,400 guests at her second inaugural gala. The State newspaper reported the governor herself wore a nearly $2,100 dress made by a London designer. Guests paid $250 per ticket to get into the event. The paper reported the event had raised at least $640,000, with any leftover funds going toward the Original Six Foundation nonprofit that Haley created in 2012.
— Among the dignitaries at the inaugural itself was New Jersey governor Chris Christie. Christie, who chairs the Republican Governors Association, is also rumored to be considering a White House run in 2016. The Associated Press reports Christie hosted a meet-and-greet event during his visit to Columbia on Wednesday. Christie campaigned with Haley several times during her 2014 reelection bid.
— The Citadel’s color guard, bagpipers, and other cadets very nearly missed the ceremony after their bus got a flat tire on Wednesday morning. The group’s tactical officer said a Highway Patrol trooper and even former First Lady Jenny Sanford were able to give a ride to some of the cadets who needed to be in Columbia for the earlier ceremonies. The rest were able to make it with minutes to spare after the tire was changed.
— As noted above, former state Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, pleaded guilty Wednesday to four ethics-related charges. He will be sentenced at a later date, likely in April. But Ford remained insistent with reporters afterwards that he is innocent and only entered the plea because he could not afford legal fees for a full trial. Prosecutors say the former senator misused thousands in campaign donations for his personal benefit and hid those expenses on his financial reports.