By Laura Haight
“We’ve got serious problems and we need serious people to solve them.”
– Michael Douglas in The American President
This cultural meme is no less accurate because of its source. We do have serious problems and, it seems, little interest among the Republican majority to address any of them.
This is not a problem unique to South Carolina. Earlier this month, a bill was introduced in the Wyoming legislature to ban the sale of electric vehicles. The totally tone-deaf bill, needless to say, got a lot of interest. But one of the sponsors admitted that the group really didn’t want to do that. They introduced the bill as a way to ‘get back’ at legislators in California who introduced a bill to ban gas-powered vehicles by 2035.
In other words, a prank.
In the United States House of Representatives we can only watch with awe and horror as important committees are loaded up with election deniers and newbie legislators who promise to cut aid for Ukraine, and eliminate Social Security and Medicare as we know it.
The country has serious problems but we have not elected serious people to solve them.
The SC Legislature has been under full Republican control for 22 years, and Republicans have held the governor’s mansion and both Houses for 20 years.
How’s that working for us?
US News and World Report annually ranks the states for a number of key metrics. From that, they rank states overall. Here’s how they describe their process:
The Best States ranking of U.S. states draws on thousands of data points to measure how well states are performing for their citizens. In addition to health care and education, the metrics take into account a state’s economy, its roads, bridges, internet and other infrastructure, its public safety, the fiscal stability of state government, and the opportunity it affords its residents.
More weight was accorded to some state measures than others, based on a survey of what matters most to people. Health care and education were weighted most heavily. Then came state economies, infrastructure, and the opportunity states offer their citizens. Fiscal stability followed closely in weighting, followed by measures of crime and corrections and a state’s natural environment.
Where does SC rank? 42nd. And we’ve been 42nd for the past five years, having moved up from 45th in 2017. Pulling up the rear, in order, are: Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alaska, Alabama, West Virginia, New Mexico, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
And what about our neighbors? You know, the states that we might be competing with for business development, regional headquarters, tourism, etc. Virginia is 8th (OK, it’s not contiguous), North Carolina is 13th, Georgia is 18th, and Tennessee is 29th.
Boosting us up to the vaunted position of 42nd is probably the fact that we rank 18th in business climate. But that’s kind of offset by our 39th ranking in economic opportunity and 43rd in equality, which measures gender parity, racial inequality in education rates, income and unemployment rates.
And then there’s education, where we rank 44th overall (42nd in Pre-K-12 and 45th in higher education). Among the 50+ education related bills filed for this session is one to allow districts to hire uncertified teachers.
The SC League of Women Voters’ lobbyist for education, Janelle Rivers, will be the speaker at our February meeting (noon on the 13th at the Kroc Center), and she’ll dig into the most concerning legislative efforts during her talk. So I’ll defer to her any day of the week!
There are some areas where we are in the top 10: Infant mortality (9th), Gun deaths (8th), and women killed by domestic partners (6th).
Instead of focusing on finding solutions to the many problems in this state, our bright-red Republican legislature finds ways to exacerbate them. Instead of educational improvement, they propose spending public education funding on private or religious school scholarships. Instead of addressing pay equity they continually fail to pass the most basic of bills – equal pay legislation. Instead of exploring options to improve health care access (35th), public health (38th) and infant mortality, they continually refuse to approve the Medicaid expansion that would have saved several rural hospitals from closure, helped to strengthen working families, and been a financial windfall to the state as well.
A lot of people aren’t interested in politics. I understand that. But they do care about the quality of their kids’ schools and the teachers they entrust them to. They do want to be safe in their own homes. They do want to be paid enough to make a decent life for themselves and their families. And they want to be treated fairly, decently, and justly regardless of their race, ethnic background, religion or lack of it, or sexual orientation.
In our communications and conversations, we need to focus on the issues that impact people most directly and draw a clear thru-line from politics to policy. The Dodds decision on abortion last summer did this and changed the direction of the national elections. We need to harness that same power (maybe even anger) in SC.
After 20 years of Republican leadership, our litany of problems far outweighs our successes. It seems to be a list we keep adding to rather than crossing off.
We have serious problems and we need serious people to solve them.