Activists seek ouster of House leadership
Conservative activists are stepping up their efforts to oust legislative leadership, launching a petition drive to replace the House speaker and change Senate rules for seniority-based chairmen.
The effort raises questions about where Republican gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley’s allegiances lie — with the insurgents with whom she is politically aligned or with legislative leadership with whom she has pledged to work?
The focus of the conservative activists is House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, and the State Budget and Control Board, a five-member financial panel that approves contracts, state property sales and bonds, among other decisions. Leading the effort are the Campaign for Liberty and other Tea Party-minded groups looking to reduce legislative influence, who are collecting voter signatures to ask lawmakers to replace Harrell and change Senate rules.
The groups are holding a State House news conference announcing the effort today.
Harrell, Leatherman and the Budget and Control Board make “decisions that affect the whole state,” said Talbert Black, a Lexington County resident helping organize the effort. “This would allow some accountability.”
For Black and supporters, Harrell and Leatherman represent big government Republicans who interfere with the free markets and have opposed open government reforms. Harrell has challenged those accusations, sending out e-mails to supporters noting the House has supported roll call voting and other measures sought by Tea Party groups and the South Carolina Policy Council, a conservative think tank.
York County Rep. Ralph Norman, a Republican, has said he will challenge Harrell for speaker.
House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington, said he understands why activists are unhappy after the House-approved reforms have failed to become law. The House has approved some bills, such as shortening the session, multiple times, but the Senate has refused.
“I’m equally frustrated,” Bingham said, arguing House leadership supports conservative reforms. “We need (liberty groups’) help to get agenda items passed.
“Changing leadership does not change the fact of what more do you want other than getting these passed?”
Efforts to reach Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, and Leatherman were unsuccessful.
Haley’s relationship with Harrell has been rocky.
Harrell removed Haley from a high-profile committee in 2008; he says it’s because she lost the chairman’s race, while she believes it was because she was pushing to require on-the-record voting. Harrell has said he is working hard to help elect Haley, but Haley compared lawmakers to children in front of a crowd at The Citadel last week.
“If they mess up, I will burn them,” Haley said, according to The (Charleston) Post and Courier.
Haley supported neither Harrell’s re-election as speaker, nor the effort to replace him.
“They have not asked me about it. … That’s been a movement we’ve watch happening on its own,” Haley said at a campaign event Saturday. “My focus is on the state. My days of being involved in caucus drama are over.”
Black, who has donated to Haley’s campaign, said he wished Haley would oppose Harrell’s re-election as speaker.
“I would like to see her come out against him,” Black said.