Monday, June 27, 2011

Will Haley cut arts but pay for her party's primary?

Two considerations seem to rank very low in voters' minds when casting their ballots. One is that the president of the United States alone nominates candidates for the U.S. Supreme Court. Another is that in South Carolina, the governor has the line-item veto -- a gift included in the 1895 Constitution by another of South Carolina's corrupt old governors and senators, Pitchfork Ben Tillman.

Only after the U.S. president or the South Carolina governor have been ensconced in their respective offices does it dawn on many drowsy voters that their ballot decisions might have consequences beyond their intentions.

Some of our fellow citizens who bundled up to vote in last November's cold are facing the consequences of those decisions in searing June heat.

So reports The State:

Arts advocates fear Haley will veto $2.1 million for the state Arts Commission. In an attempt to rally legislators to override that veto, they have sent out a letter signed by leading Palmetto State artists, including author Pat Conroy and members of the Hootie and the Blowfish band.
“Why are the arts, of all things, considered fluff?” asked state poet laureate Marjorie Wentworth, adding, without the Arts Commission, many small towns could no longer support their arts programs. “Arts would only be available to the elite,” she said.

Wentworth said the arts are being targeted across the county. “It’s a political thing – it has nothing to do with money,” Wentworth said, noting South Carolina’s finances have improved significantly since lawmakers first started drafting a spending plan for the state’s fiscal year that starts July 1.

Wentworth did not indicate whether she supported Haley's candidacy for governor. As the state's poet-laureate-for-life, she did read a poem at Haley's inauguration. Biographical notes do not make clear whether she supported Haley:

Born in Lynn, Massachusetts and educated at Mt. Holyoke College and Oxford University, Wentworth receved her MA in English and creative writing from New York University. Wentworth was appointed Poet Laureate of South Carolina by Governor Mark Sanford in 2003.

But she is very close to former First Lady Jenny Sanford, one of the first public figures to endorse Haley.

I don't recall hearing Haley as a gubernatorial candidate talking about her position on funding for the arts. I also don't recall hearing Haley as a state representative advocating for arts funding during the years she served in the House, when arts funding was frequently subject to budget cuts proposed by former Governor Sanford, who appointed Wentworth to her lifelong post.

Certainly, I'm hopeful that a future South Carolina governor and legislature will establish support for the arts as a priority, alongside support for public education. But former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich may have greater chances of appealing his 17 convictions on corruption charges than public funding for the arts have to survive the Haley administration.

What's less clear in the anticipation of Haley's veto surprises is the future of the party-sponsored primary.

The State wonders:

She repeatedly asked lawmakers not to include any money for the 2012 Republican primary, expected to cost at least $1.5 million. With the state facing an $800 million budget shortfall at one point, Haley argued the state could not afford to host the party event.

(Unlike 2008, when they too held a much-watched S.C. primary, the cost of holding a primary is not an issue for Democrats. That’s because, with incumbent President Barack Obama unopposed, Democrats don’t plan a primary.)

Lawmakers removed money for the GOP primary that was included in early drafts of the budget, but the budget plan on Haley’s desk allows the S.C. Election Commission to spend $680,000 on the primary.

S.C. GOP chairman Connelly expects Haley to veto that budget reference to the primary.

“She’s got every right to veto anything she wants,” Connelly said, referring to Haley, who also is a Republican. “We respect that.”

But, he added, “We believe the process is in jeopardy. This isn’t about the money as much as it is about the legal issue.”

Connelly said changes to federal law mean the S.C. GOP can no longer use less-expensive paper ballots in its primary, as it has did before the state took over the primaries in 2008. Instead, S.C. GOP attorneys and others believe federal law requires the use of paid poll workers and the state’s electronic voting machines.

Connelly said he does not know if the party can contract with the State Election Commission to use its resources and oversight. The commission has asked new state Attorney General Alan Wilson, also a Republican, for an opinion about whether it can contract its services to the GOP, spokesman Chris Whitmire said.

But that is not the only issue that must be resolved, Whitmire said.

The budget that legislators passed does not compel the agency to assist with the primary; it only says it can use money left over from recent elections to do so. The Election Commission might need to use part of that $680,000 for its own operations, Whitmire said.

Which is not surprising. If the Elections Commission has suffered cuts as public schools have, it probably has holes in the roof to patch with those leftover funds.

“We have to make tough choices that won’t make everyone happy,” Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said in a statement, “but will keep us from ever ending up in this position again – that means we need to focus on core functions of government, and the presidential primary – which was until recently always paid for by the parties, not the taxpayer – simply doesn’t fall into that category.”

Connelly disagrees. Connelly said he was in contact with lawmakers about the issue during the legislative session.

But the two legislative budget chairmen, state Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, and state Rep. Dan Cooper, R-Anderson, say the S.C. GOP did not contact them about including money for the GOP primary in the state budget until the night before lawmakers reached a final spending agreement.

Katon Dawson, who was chairman of the S.C. GOP until May, said running a caucus is not an option. Dawson noted that all three candidates to succeed him as party chairman, including Connelly, promised they would find a way to pay for the primary.

“Raise the money and partner with the Election Commission,” Dawson said, when asked what the S.C. GOP should do. “They’re going to have to man up and get the thing done.”

Only a primary – not a caucus – will draw national attention to South Carolina, said Dawson, who recently quit as an adviser to former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s GOP presidential campaign, and Richard Quinn, a Columbia-based GOP operative who is advising former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman’s Republican presidential campaign.

“It would be the death of a tradition that began after Reagan,” Quinn said of ending the primary, which developed the reputation as “the place where presidents are chosen. It would be a tragedy,” Quinn said.

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