The Sun News Legislative Scorecard

August 11, 2012 

This past year in the legislature began – as they all seem to – with big promises. After lawmakers left for their summer recess last year with many important reform projects undone, the push was on to finish the job before the two-year session ended. Government restructuring, a wholesale rewrite of the state’s tax laws and public pension reform were all waiting to be completed. A move toward larger education funding reform was also hinted at, along with the usual collection of regional issues that are of vital interest to the constituencies that they affect. Optimistic lawmakers predicted it could all get done. It, of course, did not.

Many of the grand plans did not survive the legislative pressure cooker. Efforts to abolish the archaic and unnecessary Budget and Control Board and complete a larger government restructuring failed in the final days of the session amid disputes over who should be in charge of what. Of the GOP’s vaunted seven-bill tax reform overhaul, just three bills passed the House, and none approached passage in the Senate. A fight over the state budget deadlocked lawmakers an unusually long time, nearly prompting a government shutdown and consuming much of the time available for passing other bills later in the session.

These disappointments came as two of the signature laws passed last year continue to be held up by courts. The state’s immigration reform and voter ID law are both tied up by lawsuits challenging their legality.

Lawmakers this year did manage to push through an important bill that puts the state’s retirement plans back on track toward solid footing. And other worthy goals became reality, including the combination of the governor and lieutenant governor hopefuls on the same ticket, the creation of an inspector general to sniff out government waste and stricter laws to keep those fired for misconduct from collecting unemployment benefits.

But the major victories were few and far between this past year. The optimists paint the year as a good start to conversations about wider reform, a step in the process toward eventual action, perhaps next year. The pessimists and cynics just shake their heads at legislative inaction.

The unfinished business will be added to next year’s docket, on which already is planned a major overhaul of state education policy and state ethics reform. Lawmakers can expect to have their hands full yet again.

The Sun News followed some of the most high-profile state and local bills this past year and watched how each of our local legislators voted. Some of the bills we supported, such as the bills to restructure state government and make it more open. Others we’ve been more ambivalent on, such as school choice laws and flow control opposition. The chart attached shows those votes. We invite you to make up your own mind on how your representatives did.

The grades

The Sun News has no monopoly on what makes a successful lawmaker. We believe a lawmaker should be effective at passing legislation on issues important to the legislator and his or her constituents, be responsive to constituent concerns and committed to showing up to work at the Statehouse. But your priorities may be entirely different.

We encourage you to take a close look at all of the issues we highlight here and the voting records of your legislator. Much more detailed information is available on the General Assembly’s website for interested parties.

We opted to issue grades only for returning legislators, whose work will continue to affect the development and future of the Grand Strand. The region lost four legislators by the time the session ended: Rep. George Hearn, R-Conway; Rep. Thad Viers, R-Myrtle Beach; Rep. Kevin Ryan, R-Georgetown; and Sen. Dick Elliott, D-North Myrtle Beach. Their service is appreciated, and we look forward to getting to know those who will fill their seats.

The assessments below represent our opinions of each lawmaker’s contributions to the Grand Strand and the entire state over the past legislative session. In addition to their votes on individual bills, we used lawmakers’ effectiveness and influence in Columbia, as well as their attendance and participation, in compiling our evaluations.

Rep. Liston Barfield (R-Aynor): B-

Barfield is one of the area’s longest-serving legislators, giving him important seniority in the legislature. Unfortunately, that seniority seems to have borne little fruit. While he has secured the chairmanship of a House committee – Invitations and Memorial Resolutions – it’s one of the least influential when it comes to setting policy or making substantive changes. And while he proposed some worthwhile ideas this year, including a common sense suggestion to allow patients to donate unused medicine back to pharmacies rather than throw them away, none of his bills passed even the House, let alone both chambers.

We have no particular issue with Barfield, who is among the rare legislators who missed no days during the two-year session. But with none of his ideas passed and only routine votes following his GOP colleagues, it’s hard to determine how much he adds to the area’s leadership. That said, he does point out that his tenure means he’s good at encouraging his long-time colleagues to vote for bills that the Strand delegation favors.

Rep. Alan Clemmons (R-Myrtle Beach): B+

If you’re looking for an ambassador for Myrtle Beach in Columbia, Clemmons would be the man. An energetic champion of local needs, he was indispensable in the effort to locate the new 7th Congressional District in our region, and he has long been one of the strongest voices for building I-73. His name is attached to numerous bills passed or proposed this year, marking him as the region’s most active legislator. He also frequently shows up at local events and takes the time to issue resolutions praising the achievements of local residents, particularly Eagle Scouts.

All of that activity prompts some worry about how much time he has left to devote to deeper understanding of individual issues. And his strong partisanship on issues, particularly regarding election rules, is evident. Nevertheless, he continues to be a strong representative of those who send him to Columbia time and again.

Rep. Tracy Edge (R-North Myrtle Beach): D

Edge has been a frustration this past year, as we watched his seat go empty too many times. While he is always happy to recount what he has done for his district, most of it is now in the past, and it’s less clear what efforts he is undertaking in the present. His seat on one of the key budget writing committees is valuable, but only when it is filled. Edge easily recorded the most absences of any of our returning House members, missing 10 days this past year and showing up late another 22 times. As a result, he missed more votes than he took, an embarrassing situation for somebody who is elected to be his constituents’ voice.

To be fair, he does have some excuses. He had the flu for a week, for instance. And he’s been serving on a committee looking at the state’s beach rules, which has conflicted with some legislative days. Nevertheless, his absences were clearly excessive, and as a result he missed votes on most of the bills we tracked this year. His constituents deserve better, and we hope that next year he offers it to them.

Rep. Nelson Hardwick (R-Surfside Beach): B+

Hardwick’s leadership and influence has been on display this past year as he helped push through bills toughening the state’s rules on human trafficking, allowing veterans organizations to bury the unclaimed remains of their fellow veterans and numerous and making a number of changes to boating and waterway rules. Of the 11 bills he proposed in the two-year session, eight became law, an incredibly impressive feat. Significantly for his constituents, he is consistently one of the easiest of our legislators to contact, an attribute that has helped endear him to those he represents.

Along with Barfield, he was one of only two of our legislators to not miss a day for two years, a commitment to service that we deeply appreciate.

Our only minor concerns were his push late in the session to end the county’s monopoly on solid waste collection (an issue we’re still ambivalent on) and his tendency to cast almost none of his votes in the minority, showing either little independent thought or a surprising affinity for adopting the popular stance 97 times out of 100.

Rep. Carl Anderson (D-Georgetown): C

As a member of the House’s shrinking Democratic caucus, Anderson’s influence is smaller to begin with, and his record shows it. He cast votes against worthy efforts such as combining the governor and lieutenant governor on the ballot and eliminating sales tax exemptions. And his singular accomplishment for the year was proposing and having passed a bill to create the Plantersville Scenic Byway in Georgetown County, an effort that we appreciate, but which will likely have little real effect on the region in the coming years.

Sen. Ray Cleary (R-Murrells Inlet): C+

Cleary has always impressed with his thoughtful approach to his job and his knowledge of how the changes he supports will affect residents down the line. He frequently offers possible solutions to many of the state or region’s more complex problems, particularly in the areas of health care and finance. His effort to expand recycling at local restaurants was also appreciated this year and we hope he will resurrect it next year. Unfortunately, though he was one of the delegation’s most prolific sponsors of bills, he saw few of them actually pass into law.

Our main concern, however, is Cleary’s attendance and participation record. He missed nearly a quarter of the Senate’s votes in the first year of the session and missed two-fifths of them in the second year. While he is undoubtedly a busy man, as most of our lawmakers are, he might find it easier to see some of his good proposals pass if he spent more time shepherding them through the legislature.

Sen. Yancey McGill (D-Kingstree): B

A long-time senator and holdover from the days of Democratic control in the Senate, McGill certainly wields some influence in the chamber, where tenure and longevity are large components of power. His votes this year tracked our own interests closely, supporting pension reform and unemployment reform, for instance. It’s hard, however, to understand at times why he maintains his status as a Democrat. He voted more with the majority in the GOP-dominated Senate than some Republicans.

And his incredibly close re-election campaign in the June primary showed that many of his constituents are unhappy with his record and his style of politics. He would do well to shore up some support before the next election comes around.

Sen. Luke Rankin (R-Myrtle Beach): C+

We were frustrated last year with the large number of absences that Rankin racked up, so it was refreshing to see that change this time around. Nevertheless, though he showed up for work more often, Rankin still missed a large number of votes. An insightful legislator who has the potential to be a strong force for Myrtle Beach and Horry County, it does not feel as though he’s quite living up to it, with few proposed bills or notable successes. When Rankin does make his presence felt, it’s usually to the betterment of whatever he is working on. We simply wish he’d show up a bit more often.

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