After more than 850 weekly columns totaling more than 600,000 words over 17 years, I’m like the Farmers Insurance guy – I’ve seen a thing or two.
And I’ve learned a thing or two about how politics, policy and governance works – and doesn’t – in the Palmetto State. Now with elections around the corner, maybe it’s time to share some of the bigger lessons.
The state’s taxes are too low. Some politicians yell you can’t throw money at things and fix them. Hogwash. After two decades of tax cut after tax cut by the GOP, the state’s tax base has eroded too much for lawmakers to be stewards of the public trust. If you believe you can’t throw money at things and fix them, consider why we have failing schools, inadequate health care access, crumbling infrastructure, university buildings that need hundreds of millions of dollars in maintenance, roads with years of backlogs to get fixed and more. Had there been enough money in a climate that promoted planning and fiscal responsibility, we wouldn’t be in the messes we are in.
South Carolina has become more like Washington. Partisanship and nastiness are increasing. Thanks to gerrymandered districts and political theatrics that have drifted from Congress to states, voters have too many choices of fringe candidates and not enough moderates. Politics should be an exercise in seeking compromise for the good of all people, not a steady stream of bluster, hemming and hawing.
State lawmakers often ignore the big issues. Legislators know in their guts that poverty in South Carolina is the root of most of our problems, yet they seem to ignore it. At election time, they’ll talk about education or health care or roads. They’ll work very hard to keep their power. But when it comes time to do the work in the halls of the Statehouse, they don’t really do that much for the common good. Too many take a walk or ignore looking for real solutions that will make a difference to South Carolinians who live on the edge, paycheck to paycheck.
Political parties are in the way. The state Democratic and Republican parties seem to be shells of their former selves. Two decades ago, they played a bigger game in elections and in day-to-day grind about politics and policies. Now they’re underfunded and understaffed. They seem to have less impact on the debate, which dulls the discourse. Some might argue that better leadership is needed. It might be, however, that we all get information from so many sources that we don’t have as much use for attempts by parties to influence us.
More civility is needed. After the melodrama on display this week in Washington, it’s clear more politicians are talking at each other than with each other. Our democracy, in South Carolina and Washington, can’t become stronger if we don’t respect and trust each other and spend time talking to hammer out compromises.
The little guy still is getting the shaft. In a patriarchal culture like South Carolina’s, those in power continue to support policies and tax breaks that benefit the establishment – big business, rich donors and the social elite. While the little guy has the power to make those in power tumble, too many voters are manipulated through fear and division by pandering politicians. Too many people vote against their economic interests because they focus on the tiny, not the bigger, picture.
State employees are paid too little. There are fewer of them than 20 years ago, and they’re being asked to do more. We want them to teach our kids, protect our state and keep commerce moving. But we don’t honor them with wages that reflect their value.
Good people. Of course, these lessons are generalities. There are a fair number of Republicans and Democrats who “get it” and work to make things better. And there are a whole lot of people in state government who are just plain good. But they’re fewer and far between in the everyday tumble of Columbia. Let’s hope more reasonable people get elected in the fall.
This article provided by NewsEdge.