Communities should craft destinies, new report says
Greenville touted as regional success with long-term plan
By Andy Brack, editor and publisher
OCT. 31, 2014 -- A North Carolina think tank has a new term for what the South needs to do to get out of the persistent holes it finds itself in -- invest in the “infrastructure of opportunity.”
“We hope to spur leaders across the South to examine patterns of youth and young adult mobility and success in their communities, to examine who is -- and is not -- realizing the American Dream and why, and to create a shared agenda for building a vigorous and pervasive opportunity infrastructure,” wrote David Dodson, president of MDC in Durham, N.C.
A new 82-page State of the South data-driven analysis identifies the need for communities to grab the reins of their futures by making investments in key sectors to help Southern youths of high school and college age become productive citizens of the future. Because of gridlock in Washington and disinvestment in education and other areas by state governments, communities that want to grow jobs, improve safety and reduce income equality must move forward collaboratively, but essentially on their own, the report said.
Lots of challenges across the region
As with most reports on the future of the American South, the new MDC analysis highlights an array of complex variables that impede progress throughout the region, marked by high rates of poverty, imprisonment and health challenges as well as comparatively lower levels of educational attainment and economic mobility.
Individual cities, in fact, may showcase contradictory realities of success and stress. Raleigh and Charlotte, for example, are projected to have huge rates of growth in the near term and are among the top metro areas as best places in the country for businesses and careers. But both also have doubled their number of poor residents in the last dozen years, according to research in the report.
“Even as most Southerners say they are happy living where they are, the South remains afflicted with an absence of long-range vision and low expectations for too many of its people -- a failure to imagine a future for people and places beyond the current trajectory. Southern policy often has rested on the assumption that certain people -- whites, blacks, and Latinos -- will remain stuck at or near the bottom that mobility is not in their destination.”
While recognizing the long-festering challenges of the 110 million people who live in 13 states stretching from Virginia to Florida to Texas, the report says the region’s future depends on addressing barriers to educational attainment, better jobs and economic mobility. The report concludes that communities need compelling strategic visions to improve education and workforce training, to reform the criminal justice system and to provide more work experience for youths growing to be part of the workforce.
And one key thing it stresses is the importance of supporting “demand-side strategies,” which may be considered a clever way of saying that communities have to work with businesses to get them to demand higher levels of skills from local workers through education and training programs. Fortunately, as an author of the report told Statehouse Report, South Carolina has a leg up on neighboring states in helping workers boost skill levels through the state’s legendary technical college system and internationally-renowned apprenticeship program.
Dr. Ben Dillard, president of Florence-Darlington Technical College, says a key to the state’s system of technical training is its role as a partner to spur economic development.
“Since our founding 50 years ago, FDTC has striven to provide our students and business and manufacturing partners with world-class, state-of-the-art training and education,” he said. “There’s no doubt that our friends at the Statehouse and the Governor’s mansion need to continue their efforts to keep providing the tools and people power needed to make South Carolina a beacon in higher education.”
Good example: Greenville, S.C.
In one part of the report, MDC dug into what is being done in nine communities across the South to examine community strategies that are having success in building better local infrastructure to help tomorrow’s taxpayers.
One of those communities was Greenville, which the report says has the challenge of “reaching youth who are on the fringes of the mainstream economy with the information and work experience t participate in and sustain that economy.”
The report celebrated the Upstate community’s commitment to public-private partnerships to solve community problems. But MDC also recognized the economic divide in Greenville where kids in low-income neighborhoods “lack the work experiences and information they need to make decisions about how to prepare and compete for family-sustaining jobs.” There’s also a residual mistrust of manufacturing because people in some parts of the historic mill town lost textile jobs when manufacturing moved overseas.
To counteract lingering problems, the report highlights how the community came together to plan and implement a broad three-part strategy that focuses on improving school readiness, boost high school graduation rates and create more financial stability.
“These three strategies represent some of Greenville’s major bets on building an infrastructure of opportunity -- the human capital development, employment generation, and social and financial supports necessary to help young people succeed -- for youth and young adults, as well as those in early childhood,” according to the MDC report.
While Greenville leaders currently are supporting and investing in the strategy, the report stressed the commitment would need to be long-term to achieve success.
Guide for communities across the South
Overall, the report offers 11 general findings for communities across the South to take into consideration to build their own infrastructure of opportunity. Takeaways from the new State of the South report include:
- The South needs more jobs, particularly middle-income jobs.
- Job growth relies on investment and federal policies, but aren’t providing enough upward mobility.
- State and local governments should put people to work through public works projects with special provisions to hire young people.
- Communities need to do more to connect where low- and moderate-income people live with where they work.
- Improving economic mobility requires much more robust investments in education.
- Improving education requires a multi-faceted approach of lifelong learning.
- The South needs to upgrade its training strategies and systems.
- All young people need reliable options for success without regard to race, ethnicity, gender, class or neighborhood.
- Racially-disconnected youth need an array of services to tap into their talents and skills.
- Local governments and businesses need to work together to reinvigorate American pragmatism often missing and state and federal levels.
- Nonprofits need to work collaboratively, without duplication, in communities.
Read the full report: The State of the South: Building an Infrastructure of Opportunity for the next generation, 2014.
Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
RECENT NEWS STORIES
Old signs, Florence County, S.C.
Photographer Linda W. Brown of Kingstree, S.C., sent along this picture recently from nearby rural Florence County that shows an old store full of signs from all times — plus a couple of vintage gas pumps. More photos: Center for a Better South.
Election tops next week’s agenda
Voters across the state will head to the polls Tuesday to vote on statewide constitutional offices, S.C. House members and two ballot questions, one dealing with whether the adjutant general should be appointed rather than elected and the other whether raffles should be allowed. For more information, click here.
- Rural board. The S.C. Rural Infrastructure Authority will meet 11 a.m. Nov. 3 in its offices at 1201 Main Street, Columbia. On the agenda: An overview of grant obligations, grant requests and funding recommendations.
- Sentencing. The joint Sentencing Reform Oversight Committee will meet 1 p.m. Nov. 3 in 403 Blatt. No agenda was online at publication time.
- Judges. The state Judicial Merit Selection Commission will have public hearings in 516 Blatt Nov. 5 and Nov. 6 to consider qualifications of an array of judicial candidates. More than 20 candidates will meet with commissioners on each day in hearings that are scheduled to last until after 5 p.m. A Friday session is on the schedule if the time is needed. Agenda.
- Teachers. The Select Committee on Public School Teachers in South Carolina will meet 1:30 p.m. Nov. 5 in 433 Blatt to receive updates and hear public comments.
- School safety. Anyone who wants to make brief remarks to the School Safety Task Force at a public hearing set for 10 a.m. Nov. 6 in 433 Blatt should contact staffers as outlined here.
Cool new option at Statehouse website
Visitors of the General Assembly’s website, scstatehouse.gov, now can see a neat, new option under the Senate and House pages called a “dashboard.”
While not exactly a speedometer, these dashboards give a quick reference to what’s happening in the legislative branch at any moment. While this will certainly be a more useful tool once the legislature is in session in January, the six-pack of screens that pop up once the dashboard option is clicked on displays information screens on current floor debates, current amendments, introductions, calendar, weekly meetings and the official journal of each chamber.
While the information was already available on the website, this new dashboard tool will give anyone anywhere in the word opportunity to find out what the legislature is up to, 24 hours a day. While not exactly the kind of “transparency” many have been calling for, it could help citizens feel a little more in touch with their politicians.
-- Bill Davis
Sheheen’s flub highlights worse problem in coverage
By Andy Brack, editor and publisherOCT. 31, 2014 -- Part of American politics is making mountains out of molehills. Sad but true.
Instead of focusing on real issues, campaigns, candidates and the media often concentrate on a poll here, a flub there, a snub somewhere else. Reporters often look at a campaign as a horserace, offering milquetoast analysis that’s a mile wide and a half-inch deep. Policy details and real differences? Not important.
Now that digital cameras are fairly inexpensive, it’s fairly common for almost all campaign events to be videotaped. There are even campaign personnel and volunteers in big campaigns assigned to stealthily crash an opponent’s event to get whatever they say at an event on tape so that it can be blown out of proportion.
And boy, did state Sen. Vincent Sheheen spew a bomb Oct. 23 when he flubbed a remark during an energetic Florence stump speech as he criticized GOP Gov. Nikki Haley on Medicaid expansion and education.
During his remarks, he made a statement that sounded like, “We are going to escort whore out the door, we’re going to escort her out the door.”
Any reasonable person watching the video of Sheheen’s speech would understand the Camden Democrat didn’t intentionally denigrate the governor by calling her a “whore.” Instead, it’s fairly obvious he mangled his words while trying to stir up the crowd and his tongue got twisted over the word “her.” He immediately repeated the phrase correctly.
In fact, the inarticulate remark was such a non-issue at the time, despite tittering from the crowd, that the local newspaper didn’t report it in its Friday story on the stump meeting. Why? Because it didn’t see the comment as an intentional slam on Haley.
Noted the paper Saturday: “The [Florence] Morning News did not initially report Sheheen’s slip of the tongue since, in its context, it appeared to be no more than an honest misstatement, but Republican news site Breitbart.com and left-leaning TalkingPointsMemo.com fueled outcries Friday via Twitter and created what S.C. Democrat [sic] spokeswoman Kristin Sosanie said was nothing more than ‘a fabricated controversy.’”
Slip of the tongue? Honest misstatement? That’s how the newspaper with objective reporters at the event described what happened. Horrible gaffe? Tremendous insult? That sounds like partisans trying to make a mountain out of a molehill.
Where Sheheen went wrong in the whole episode is that he let the crowd giggle over the flubbed remark as he tried to keep on with his stump speech, telling them to “calm down.” Instead, he should have immediately made it clear that he didn’t insult the governor.
The whole mess is so out of kilter that it shows what’s wrong with politicking today. The Vincent Sheheen who I have known for years just doesn’t use foul language. I don’t ever recall hearing off-color remarks from him in private or public conversations. What he said Oct. 23 wasn’t worthy of all of the news coverage. It’s pretty easy for outside referees to make all sorts of calls and take shots for their own means, but the Sheheen I know didn’t take an intentional nasty potshot at Haley in Florence.
Sometimes on the stump, candidates mangle words. But what’s really a shame about the gubernatorial campaign this year is how mainstream media generally have mangled responsible coverage by not focusing on what matters to help people make up their minds about the best person to lead South Carolina.
Where was the big discussion about whether Haley, who demanded more accountability and executive control of cabinet agencies, was actually a good executive, especially with meltdowns at the state Department of Social Services and a handful of other agencies?
How did the media let Haley off the hook on the state’s need for $40 billion in road needs, seeming to accept with little question that she would offer a plan after the election? How does that help fuel reasonable debate today?
Where is the attention to poverty? To exactly how education will be improved?
In one sense, the under-resourced, timid media in our state have failed voters by not reporting in depth about the choices they’ll have at the polls on Tuesday. But in another, it may be our fault for letting candidates and the press get away with it.
Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
S.C. Association of Counties
The public spiritedness of our underwriters allows us to bring Statehouse Report to you at no cost. This week's featured underwriter is the South Carolina Association of Counties. The SCAC was chartered on June 22, 1967, and is the only organization dedicated to statewide representation of county government in South Carolina. Membership includes all 46 counties, which are represented by elected and appointed county officials who are dedicated to improving county government. SCAC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that operates with a full-time staff in its Columbia offices. It is governed by a 29-member Board of Directors composed of county officials from across South Carolina. The Association strives to “Build Stronger Counties for Tomorrow” by working with member counties in the fields of research, information exchange, educational promotion and legislative reporting.
Keep your eye on the doughnut, not the hole
By former U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings
Special to Statehouse Report
OCT. 31, 2014 -- Years ago there was a little limerick: “All the way through life make this your goal, keep your eye on the doughnut, and not the hole.”
When it comes to the cancer of money in politics, Congress focuses on the hole Citizens United wherein the Supreme Court sanctioned unlimited spending in elections and not the doughnut Buckley v. Valeo wherein the Court equated speech with spending. People talk politics from day to day, and we have free political speech. As a candidate for the State Legislature in 1948, I politicked Main Street, fire stations, court houses, and we debated in sections of the county. That was free political speech.
Today, fundraising has taken over with spending for a headquarters, polls, a driver, a poster, yard signs, billboards, consultants, etc. Walk into a TV station, and tell the manager you want your “free political speech.” You’ll soon find yourself out on the sidewalk. Under the 1973 law, Strom and I were limited to so much per registered voter – about $687,000. To be elected my seventh time to the U.S. Senate in 1998, I raised and spent $8.5 million. Today a candidate has not only to run for office, but buy it. Even though the Supreme Court justices couldn’t tell the difference between “free political speech” and “spending,” any normal person can.
For 30 years, Congress has tried to correct Buckley, with McCain-Feingold, public financing and even a constitutional amendment. On April 21, 1988, we obtained a majority vote in the U.S. Senate for a constitutional amendment to limit spending in elections, but not the two-thirds vote required for a joint resolution. The Governors’ Conference called me and asked that the states be included, which I included in my 1988 amendment. States would ratify an amendment in a “New York minute.” Leader Harry Reid (9/11/14) obtained a vote of 54 to 42 for a constitutional amendment limiting spending, but not the two-thirds required. A simple amendment: “Congress is empowered to limit or control spending in federal and state elections,” corrects the Buckley decision, permits Congress to limit spending, and breaks the gridlock.
It pays to make friends in a legislative body. You never know when you will need a vote from someone you don’t care for. Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1966, six Republicans and six Democratic senators met every Wednesday night at a member’s home, ties off, drinks and “giving each other hell.” We became close friends. I never had better friends in the Senate than Republicans Bill Saxby of Ohio, John Cooper of Kentucky and Ted Stevens of Alaska.
We limited spending by a bipartisan vote in 1971, 1973 and President Nixon signed the laws. When the Supreme Court in Buckley set aside the law, senators started raising money against each other. The Republican and Democratic senatorial campaign committees took over the fundraising. Partisanship set in. Then Senator Mitch McConnell filibustered every Democratic initiative, so the Democrats couldn’t get a vote; and Leader Harry Reid filled every initiative called for consideration with amendments, so Republicans couldn’t get a vote. Gridlock!
Located in Washington with 10,000 lobbyists, Congress fundraises morning, noon and night. Lobbyists tell the Leader when to call a vote and have taken control of Congress. Consequently, you can’t get a vote on gun control, immigration, etc. Voting gets you into trouble, so senators avoid votes. And senators enjoy gridlock.
George Will in an online video for Prager University (10/6/14) opposes voting on campaign finance reform and states: “…all laws regulating campaigns will favor the reelection of incumbents.” Not so. When senators thought of the country, not themselves, they limited spending in elections in 1971, 1973, 1998 and 2014. This did not favor their reelection. With an office in Washington amidst the lobbyists, a limit on spending takes away the member’s advantage of fundraising morning, noon and night. A senator has six years to fundraise not just for himself, but the campaign committee, which will contribute to his or her reelection.
A constitutional amendment empowering Congress to limit spending in elections is the key to breaking gridlock. When you limit spending, you limit the fundraising against each other. You limit the partisanship. You return control of government from the lobbyists to Congress. Congress has time to see constituents, debate and vote. Congress gets back to “wheeling and dealing” with each other.
Retired U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings, a former S.C. governor, represented the Palmetto State in the U.S. Senate from 1966 to 2005.
More context on Sheheen's twisted tongue
To the editor:
Good column [on Sheheen's flub, above].
What gets lost in all of this uproar is that we [Florence Morning News] did indeed promptly report the gaffe, in its purest form. We posted the video late Thursday night. This was video that our reporter shot, not video that we obtained from a bystander who was shooting with a smartphone. Did we call attention to the gaffe? No. But that didn’t stop the video from being viewed and then going viral. Without this video, there would have been no story.
This is the age of “multi” media. Video is part of what we do. We made a conservative call in terms of print and then were blasted by conservatives. The next day, we decided that the reaction to what Sheheen said was more a story than what he said. That included Sheheen’s own reaction, which you noted.
Remember, this was a stump event, not a press conference, so grilling Sheheen about his platform wasn’t an option that night. If this stump had happened during the day, we would have had more time to think before acting. Acting before thinking is something that is done far too often these days.
People have blasted us for waiting until Saturday to report this news, but we reported the story on Friday … on the web. The point: print isn’t the only platform these days.
Would we have handled all of this the same way if it had been Haley at the stump? Of course.
-- Don Kausler, regional editor, Florence Morning News, Florence, S.C.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Because the Florence paper offers Andy Brack's syndicated column every week, it received an advance look at it earlier today. Kausler then sent the above comment and we asked to publish it to provide more context. He agreed. And we offer a collegial thanks.
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From successes to agency breakdowns
Gas prices. The state has the lowest prices in the country at $2.75 per gallon. It’s good for the pocketbook now, but may impact the economy, some analysts say.
Infant mortality. Hats off to all who helped South Carolina to lower its rate of infant death by 27 percent over the last few years. Now let’s redouble efforts to slash the rate even more.
Ervin. Thanks to independent Republican Tom Ervin for being part of the gubernatorial election process. He highlighted some things that needed to be highlighted and shook up the status quo.
ACE Basin. This beautiful area between Charleston and Beaufort is the focus of an outstanding profile in the new issue of National Geographic. Take a look by clicking the magazine link at left. More.
Speaker’s power. Congrats to a House panel that says power in the House needs to be distributed more equally and away from the House speaker. More.
Scoppe. The State’s Cindi Ross Scoppe this week wrote one of the best editorial columns on the state of any gubernatorial race that has ever been written. If you didn’t read it, you should. More.
S.C. Department of Education. A new legislative audit says the department under Superintendent Mick Zais has been breaking the law in disbursing $30 million in lottery funds. Rather than follow the law, the story suggests the department ignored it and did what it wanted. More.
DHEC. Shame on the state Department of Health and Environmental Control for ignoring warnings over possible leaks from a 279-acre landfill near Lake Marion. More.
DSS. The $6 million bill for consultants hired by the state Department of Social Services smells to high heaven. More.
State Election Commission. Really? You really think that ex-Speaker Bobby Harrell withdrew from his reelection bid for a non-political reason? It’s as obvious as the nose on your face -- he withdrew because he pleaded guilty to campaign shenanigans. Campaign -- as in political campaign. Y’all must be smoking something wacky to come up with this. More.
Business climate. For a state that touts how friendly it is to business, it’s pretty sad to be ranked 37 due to high personal income tax rates and unemployment insurance rates, among other things. More.