In retrospect, the period from about 1970 to 1986 was a sort of Golden Age for South Carolina. Blacks had begun to enter the Democratic Party and get elected to the General Assembly. A group of young progressives were also elected to the Assembly — the Young Turks, they were called — and started shaking things up as they had not been shaken since Reconstruction. Out of that period came a great deal of progressive and long overdue legislation. Among the many laws that were passed were the Home Rule Act, of 1976, and the Education Improvement Act,of 1984, the crowning achievement of the era and of the administration of Gov. Dick Riley.
The next year, Carroll Campbell was elected governor and set about building a new Republican Party, a majority party, a white party. As the former leader of a march against school busing, he had the credentials to do it. White people abandoned the Democratic Party in droves and white Democratic officeholders switched parties, as Strom Thurmond had done. By 1994, when Campbell left office, the GOP controlled the General Assembly and the Golden Age was over. A dark age of meanness and intolerance had set in, and we can see more evidence of it every day.
Before passage of the Home Rule Act, the counties of South Carolina had no governing councils or administrators. They were run by the counties' legislative delegations. Home Rule decentralized much of the state's power, allowing local jurisdictions to govern themselves. It was one of the most democratic laws ever passed in a state that has little appreciation for democracy.
And it was too good to last. In recent years we have seen the Republican legislature undermining Home Rule, and much of their behavior seems to have a racist tinge to it.
When city leaders in Columbia sought to sue gun manufacturers in an effort to make their streets safer, the General Assembly passed legislation barring such action. Ostensibly, it was done in the name of protecting the Second Amendment right to bear arms. But anyone who understands South Carolina knows that this was more than a constitutional issue. Our solons never let a little thing like the Constitution stand in the way of a sanctimonious law. No, this was an attempt by suburban and rural (i.e., white) legislators to stick it to an urban (i.e., black) region of the state.
Since the Supreme Court struck down the doctrine of separate-but-equal in 1954, certain elements of the white community have fought a guerilla war to undermine public education and re-segregate the schools. One of the tools they have used is school vouchers. Another is charter schools. Some school boards have balked at creating new charter schools, specifically because they tend to become segregated and draw funding away from traditional school. To address this matter, the state Senate is now considering a bill that would create a single statewide charter school district, effectively overriding every school board in the state.
Or take the case of Charleston County School Board, which recently voted to hire a lobbyist to go to Columbia and get them some additional funding. Some lawmakers and community members were infuriated.
"The school board's actions are outrageous," said Rep. John Graham Altman III, R-West Ashley, the most outspoken bigot in the General Assembly. "They are spending taxpayers' money to get more taxpayers' money."
Well, yes, but they are hardly alone. Several of the largest counties and cities in the state — including Charleston — have lobbyists in Columbia. Altman never seemed outraged over that.
Immediately after news of the school lobbyist broke, Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Daniel Island, proposed a bill that would bar the Charleston County School Board from hiring a contract lobbyist. So much for Home Rule. And one cannot help but wonder if this bill is not intended as a slap at the county school superintendent and the lobbyist, both of whom are black.
And consider what happened in Berkeley County recently. When residents didn't like the hike in property taxes to support school construction and renovation, Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, swung into action, introducing legislation that would take budgetary power out of the hands of the school board and give it to Berkeley County Council.
"The proposals by Senator Grooms would severely cripple the board's ability to run the district," said Scott Price, general counsel to the S.C. School Boards Association. "All the proposals fly in the face of local control..."
Even Berkeley County Supervisor Jim Rozier thinks it's a bad idea. "My problem is, I can't look at a budget once a year and tell you anything about it," he said.
This is one more example of Republicans out of control. The White People's Party has a stranglehold on state government and they are using it to violate Home Rule and push their right-wing agenda.