Sometimes I would like to be a fly on the wall around The Post and Courier offices, especially in the halls and the men's room when columnist Brian Hicks bumps into the sages from the editors' suite.
The old white men who comprise the editorial staff of the P&C have been using its editorial and op-ed pages to argue against modernity for generations. Hicks is a long-time reporter at the paper. He was given a column on the front of the state and local section about three years ago, and it has been a breath of fresh air and good sense in that stodgy old institution. At times he has argued in direct opposition to the editorials that come down from on high from Editorial Page Editor Charles Rowe's office.
One of those occasions occurred last month. The editorial staff had taken the Republican position — not surprisingly — that South Carolina must adopt a cumbersome and expensive law to solve a problem that does not exist. Specifically, they supported the new Voter ID law, which the U.S. Justice Department subsequently struck down, requiring voters to show a state-issued photo before they can cast a ballot.
The Republican argument is old by now. They maintain that a photo ID would stop voter fraud. What they have not been able to do is show that there is any voter fraud in this state. Certainly no one has been charged with the crime in the 40-odd years that relevant records apply. What we do know — and the State Election Commission and the League of Women Voters confirm — is that as many as 200,000 South Carolinians will be disenfranchised by the law. Not surprisingly, most of them would be poor, rural, and elderly — a constituency more likely to vote Democratic.
Then last month a curious thing happened. Just after the Justice Department moved against the Voter ID law, the state Department of Motor Vehicles suddenly announced that they had found 957 dead voters in the state in recent elections. They divined this by comparing driver's license records and death records. It was just the smoking gun the Republicans were looking for.
The P&C editorial staff wasted no time in sounding off: "Discovering that more than 900 people listed as deceased voted recently in South Carolina is alarming at any time," they harrumphed. "State investigators should waste no time finding the truth about the 900 names."
Hicks would have none of this right-wing nonsense — from the Republican Legislature or from the P&C's own editorial staff. On Jan. 29, he cut loose with an angry broadside: "The No. 1 reason the Justice Department nixed South Carolina's new law ... was that officials had shown no proof that there's a problem. And then, presto, there's 'proof.'"
Hicks questioned Gov. Nikki Haley's integrity, pointing out that the DMV reports directly to her, whereas the independent Election Commission had never found those dead voters. When election officials reviewed the DMV's research, they could not confirm a single dead voter — only DMV errors.
"Great research, DMV," Hicks wrote. "This is going to undermine confidence in elections, when it should only undermine confidence in the Haley administration."
He cited a story in that day's P&C, which reported that the state attorney general's office was spending a million dollars to defend the Voter ID law against the Justice Department. And he pointed out that 34 states have introduced Voter ID laws since Barack Obama was elected president. "You think this isn't a coordinated Republican scheme?" he demanded.
"This is nothing but insane, blind partisan politics. There are budget shortfalls in education and Medicaid, and they are spending taxpayer money on a problem that doesn't exist ... Make no mistake, there is fraud in South Carolina — at the Statehouse."
Such angry and progressive words have probably never appeared on the pages of The Post and Courier, with the exception of letters to the editor. The newsroom and editorial departments are traditionally insulated from one another in American newspapers. Let us hope they remain that way at The Post and Courier. There are so many issues in this state that need to be addressed with such clarity and anger, and we know it will never happen on the editorial page.
At this writing, three days after Hicks' column ran, angry letters to the editor have already started appearing in the P&C. I suspect it will be a torrent soon enough.
Of course, letters to the editor cannot hurt him, but there are people in that building on Columbus Street who can. I hope he stays angry and focused and — who knows? — if things don't work out at The Post and Courier, maybe we can find a place for him at the City Paper.
Will Moredock is a South Carolina native with degrees from the University of Georgia and the University of South Carolina. He is an award-winning journalist, short story-writer, and author of Banana Republic: A Year in the Heart of Myrtle Beach.