Responsible Lawmakers Should Decrease, Not Increase, the Distance Between Gov’t and the People

We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it” should never be the mantra of any lawmaker even relatively interested in responsible, truly representative government.

Yet, back in April, South Carolina Sen. Mike Rose (R-Summerville) stood up at the State House in Columbia, South Carolina and, in the course of advocating in favor of a piece of healthcare legislation, asked for a break so that he could consult with those who drafted the bill in an attempt to clear up confusion as to how certain provisions of the bill would be applied in everyday life.    For me, the problem was that Sen. Rose merely sponsored the bill — the actual language was put together by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

That being said, if you’re looking for someone who will denigrate ALEC, look elsewhere.  Any number of left-leaning groups and pundits would be happy to dismiss the organization as a Koch brothers-funded lair of evil legislative geniuses.  President Obama might call it a “Shadowy Conservative Group.”  In reality, the group prides itself on advancing free-market principles on the state level, often through model legislation crafted by a collection of lawmakers from across the nation.  Heck, the Voter ID bill passed here in South Carolina (and discussed at length HERE at America’s Right) was largely modeled after ALEC’s boilerplate legislation.

For me, though, the problem is this: as a state lawmaker, either you should be (a) crafting the legislation yourself so that it addresses the specific needs of your constituents in a fair and equitable manner, or you should be (b) so intimately familiar with legislation drafted by someone else–even an outside organization–that you can tailor it to address the specific needs and concerns of your constituents, or at the very least be able to explain to those constituents what effect various aspects of the legislation may have upon their daily lives.  Model legislation authored by large lobbying firms or even by collections of lawmakers from across the country simply cannot address those specific needs and concerns — neither the lobbying firms nor the collection of out-of-state lawmakers can possibly understand all of the nuances of local issues or idiosyncrasies exclusive to our communities.

In the case of the interstate health compact bill, Sen. Mike Rose neither crafted the legislation nor was familiar enough with it that he could explain its ramifications, and yet he sponsored it and advocated in its favor.  To me, that’s unacceptable.  ”We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it” is bad enough — “we have to pass the bill so you can find out how it will affect you” is just as bad, and the people of Senate District 38 deserve better.

To be abundantly clear, I don’t have a problem with the bill.  I don’t even have a problem with the out-of-state author.  For the most part, I don’t even have a significant problem with Sen. Rose’s record of conservatism; the Republican Liberty Caucus has seen fit to endorse him, and he has drawn praise from the South Carolina Club for Growth. What I have a problem with is how the blind advocacy of anonymous, collaboratively drafted legislation perpetuates the fundamental disconnect between lawmaker and everyday citizen.  That disconnect dilutes the power that regular folks like you and I have.  That disconnect breeds entrenchment and, in turn, entrenchment breeds complacency, foments corruption, and facilitates susceptibility to special interest influence.  Unfortunately, as much as I love the Palmetto State, these things we already have in spades.

While Sen. Rose insisted at a meeting of the Lowcountry GOP Breakfast Club on May 12 that, despite his ALEC membership, he is by no means influenced by the group or its many corporate backers, a look at Rose’s donor list for this election cycle shows that the longtime incumbent senator has received copious amounts of campaign cash from ExxonMobil, Reynolds Tobacco, Walmart, WorldVentures, and other organizations intimately connected with ALEC.

I think it’s time for new blood in Senate District 38.

While there are always exceptions, generally the longer lawmakers find themselves enjoying the trappings of power, the further they tend to drift away from the people who elected them. In McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, the first major United States Supreme Court decision following the enactment of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (known generally as “campaign finance reform” and derided for its effect of protecting incumbents), Justice Antonin Scalia opined that “the first instinct of power is the retention of power.” Sometimes, just like when that cellphone charger starts to act quirky and require a good jiggling just to charge that phone, maintaining a good connection between lawmaker and people requires that the lawmaker be changed out for a new one.

Unfortunately, Sen. Rose has been in his current seat since 2008, and before that, he served as state senator from 1988 to 1997.  His background is impressive by any measure, but of late he is showing signs of being isolated from the very people who put him in power in the first place. The worst part is that he doesn’t seem to understand that such a disconnect is rearing its ugly head.  Or, in the alternative, he simply doesn’t seem to care.

On May 29, 2012, Sen. Rose skipped a candidate debate which had been sponsored by the Summerville Journal-Scene and the Greater Summerville/Dorchester Chamber of Commerce, and which had been in the works for several weeks.  Challenger Sean Bennett immediately pointed out his absence on Twitter, stating this at 7:09 p.m. on May 29:

My opponent a no show for our debate sent note “discussing issues not to his benefit” too bad citizens giving up their evening not important

Bennett’s tweet is consistent with what was reported by the Summerville Journal-Scene on Thursday, May 31.  ”Sen. Mike Rose said he couldn’t attend the debate,” reporter Leslie Cantu wrote, “because of his senate duties and [because he] felt it would be redundant to debate again.”

If I were Mike Rose, I don’t know how happy I’d be to confront voters again on May 29, either.  And not simply because of redundancy.  Certainly, Sean Bennett would have brought up the sensitive ALEC issue as he had at prior events, but Sen. Rose was undoubtedly aware that that notorious Palmetto State blogger Will Folks had just days before highlighted how Rose and other state lawmakers accepted all-expenses-paid trips to Turkey, and was working on a story explaining how those trips were funded by a group associated with a globalist Muslim movement known to use such junkets as an opportunity to peddle influence and work its way into the good graces of lawmakers and educators brought to Turkish soil.  Perhaps the electorate, or Mr. Bennett, might have had a few questions about that, no?

As he had every right to do, Bennett hammered Rose on the campaign trail for not attending the debate, framing it as just another example of how Sen. Rose feels it unnecessary to interact with constituents.  When Sen. Rose responded to Bennett’s tweet and subsequent argument with a direct mail campaign, however, he focused solely on his assertion that it was his senate schedule that kept him from attending the debate, and completely glossed over the reality that he had cited an abject unwillingness to engage the voters by saying that the debate was “redundant” and that it was not in his best interests to discuss actual issues.

In fact, so intent was Sen. Rose to conceal his disdain for actually engaging the public that he completely changed the content of Sean Bennett’s post-debate tweet.  A close look at the direct mail postcard (click image to enlarge) shows that Rose’s representation of Bennett’s message is as follows:

My opponent was a NO SHOW for the debate tonight sponsored by the Summerville Journal-Scene and the Greater Summerville/Dorchester County Chamber of…

That’s not what Bennett said.  In fact, that COULD NOT be what Bennett said, as Twitter limits messages to 140 characters and the tweet held out by Sen. Rose as a statement made by Sean Bennett is actually 148 characters long.  In pointing out that Sen. Rose was a no-show, Bennett also pointed out why he chose not to attend.  If Sen. Rose had accurately recounted what Bennett had said, he would have shown that he deemed the prospect of informing and engaging voters unimportant, something that undecided voters here in the Summerville area would rightfully frost at hearing. Instead, Rose chose to twist reality by twisting Bennett’s words.  More amazingly, in responding to only a selective part of what his rival said, Rose even projected his own message–based upon a falsehood–as being the “truth.”

Insofar as the aforementioned tweet is concerned, Rose’s representation of Bennett’s reaction may have been closer to what Mr. Bennett wrote on his Facebook page.  If that is the case, however, then Sen. Rose overtly chose to ignore the rest of what was posted by Bennett — specifically the portion of Bennett’s Facebook post where he directly quoted Rose’s email to Ellen Priest, publisher of the Journal Scene, in which Rose declined the invitation because “… debate/joint appearance with my opponent appears to be redundant and isn’t a good fit for me.”  Furthermore, according to a source close to the newspaper, both sponsors of the debate provided Sen. Rose with the opportunity to reschedule the debate for a number of alternative debates — but Rose declined them all.

This was never about Sen. Rose’s schedule.  Heck, Yet, even the portion of the postcard in which Rose suggests that he missed the debate due to a “post-Judiciary Committee event” that required his attention on behalf of his constituents is flat wrong — in reality, the event was a cocktail party and dinner provided to lawmakers by the South Carolina Cable TV Association … a registered lobbyist principal group.   Even in arguing that his refusal to debate was due to a schedule conflict, Rose misrepresented the nature of that schedule. No, this was never about his schedule; from the beginning, this was about a reticence to engage the public and spar with a challenger.

If Rose had said from the beginning that his schedule and obligations as an incumbent state senator was the sole reason he was unable to attend the public candidate debate, and that the other alternative dates were similarly problematic, then so be it.  Lawmakers SHOULD be working on behalf of their constituents.  However, lawmakers should also answer to their constituents, and Sen. Rose did not simply state that his schedule was to blame for his non-attendance — instead, he publicly stated that he deemed further engagement with voters unimportant, and later tried to walk those unfortunate statements back by making his schedule look more important than it was, and by imputing statements to Sean Bennett that Sean Bennett never made.

This was not the first time that Sen. Rose concealed aspects of his own record while imputing falsehoods to Sean Bennett.  In a previously distributed mailing, the Rose campaign claimed that “out-of-state developers and their buddies have lined up” in support of Bennett.  In reality, a glance at FollowTheMoney.org shows that at that time Bennett had only raised less than $4,600 from people who lived out of state, while a look at Rose’s donor records shows that he has accepted nearly $35,000 from out-of-state interests, including the corporations noted above.

At the end of the day, this is a Republican primary.  Those of us in District 38 should be thrilled to have the choice that we have.  We should be happy that our incumbent, Sen. Rose, has the conservative record that he has, and we should likewise feel blessed that his challenger, Sean Bennett, has an impressive record of fostering business and economic growth in the private sector and in private-public partnerships.  Insofar as the policies and perspectives of both Rose and Bennett on the issues that matter are palatable to say the least and certainly not that significantly far apart, in my opinion the choice on June 12 should come down to matters of character, trust, and the propensity to preserve our representative government by keeping government as close to the people as possible.

Given his background, I am sure that Sen. Rose is a trustworthy individual.  While scuttlebutt is that he is certainly not a warm person, I have yet to speak with anyone who says that he is fundamentally dishonest.  However, between his handling of the ALEC issue and his unwillingness to engage voters–not to mention his questionable efforts to conceal that unwillingness–Sen. Rose has shown a propensity to be economical with the truth, to be cavalier in how he represents facts and statements, and to be reticent when it comes to facing the people and maintaining that truly representative government.

This year, across this entire nation, elections at every level should be about ensuring that government is held accountable by the people.  We need to elect lawmakers who understand the genesis of their power, and understand the obligations that come along with the office.  Those who seek to undermine the representative nature of our republic should not be rewarded with reelection.

It is for those reasons that, come Tuesday here in Senate District 38, my vote will be for Sean Bennett.  We need to ditch the entrenchment.  We need new blood.  We need someone who will come to us citizens for ideas, take both our criticism and praise to heart, and ensure that our collective power is no longer diluted by the 95 miles between downtown Summerville and the State House in Columbia.  I encourage everyone else to look similarly at the candidates being presented to you in your own respective hometowns.

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Comments

  1. John Feeny says:

    Great piece, Jeff, only further illustrating the fact that if – IF – things go decidedly in our favor in November, our real work will only have just begun. The real challenge will be to turn the volume up and bring these GOP representatives, at whatever level, to the understanding that if they don’t begin undoing the damage, addressing real issues and not socially-driven, politically-correct ones, and govern according to the limits of the Constitution, then we’ll bring them down as well, Republican or no Republican.

    Term limits – term limits at every freakin’ level, and a lot of this nonsense goes away, if not all of it. Serving in public office would become analagous to jury duty – and we all love that.

  2. Jordan Bell says:

    “advancing free-market principles on the state level, often through model legislation crafted by a collection of lawmakers”

    Free-market principles can never be driven through model legislation. Legislation by nature seeks to use the power of the law to coerce individuals to act as the lawmaker sees fit. The free-market is the absence of legislation and coercion. If they were truly for free-market principles, then they would be trying to repeal every piece of legislation ever passed.

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