I ran into an old name out of my past recently. I never actually met Blaine Liljenquist, but he made a cameo in my 2003 book, Banana Republic: A Year in the Heart of Myrtle Beach.
Banana Republic was my exposé of what happens when you dump 14 million tourists and billions of dollars a year into what is still basically a small Baptist beach town. The political corruption and environmental devastation are epic, and the Myrtle Beach culture attracts a menagerie of snakes, jackals, vultures, and parasites. Hence, Blaine Liljenquist.
I had not thought of Liljenquist in years. Like Banana Republic, he was part of my past. Then on July 1, I opened my Post and Courier to the editorial page, and there it was — a letter from the scourge of Horry County. Liljenquist is a former chairman of the Horry County GOP, and for reasons he did not reveal, he was writing from Surfside Beach to share with us his thoughts on the state of the Republic.
Among other things, he called for doing away with all state, county, and municipal taxes and all sales taxes. He suggested nothing to replace them. He supported voter IDs, "even if this prevents every corpse, illegal alien, and persons who cast multiple ballots from voting for Democratic Party candidates." Of course, he gave no evidence that any such behavior had ever occurred.
And he offered this: "There is no difference between treason that is committed by an American who passes military secrets to foreign governments and the treason committed by the Congress resulting in the economic destruction of the United States." I did not ask, but I think I can guess which party is committing this "treason" in Congress.
As county GOP chairman, Liljenquist created the Business Round Table, and in 1996, he explained to the Myrtle Beach Sun News how it worked. Businessmen would pay $1,200 for the privilege of meeting monthly with the county's top Republican officials over heavy hors d'oeuvres and an open bar to discuss their problems and concerns. The money would go to the county Republican Party to finance future campaigns.
"The business owners who join would certainly have better access to the politicians," he told The Sun News matter-of-factly. "They can sit down and talk to them on a one-to-one basis."
Actually, Liljenquist was one of those business owners, and six months after this interview, he gave a practical demonstration in how influence works in Horry County.
Liljenquist was a condo developer in a county where developers have a worse reputation than used car dealers. The county building code required that each bedroom in new residences have at least one window. According to The Sun News, Liljenquist was selling condos as two-bedroom units, though they had only one bedroom under county building code. The county fire marshal ordered him to install sprinklers in the substandard condos, but he refused for two years.
Three of Liljenquist's GOP buddies on county council — including chairman Joey McNutt and Terry Chambers — moved quietly behind the scenes to retroactively amend the building code, exempting Liljenquist from installing sprinklers. Chambers even nominated Liljenquist to chair the building inspection board of adjustments and appeals, a position that would have allowed Liljenquist to exempt himself.
The scheme unraveled when The Sun News brought it to light. Lois Eargle, the county auditor and chairman of the county Christian Coalition, defended Liljenquist: "What I don't understand is why people are so concerned about this and people will allow abortions to be done and kill babies."
In 1994, Horry County was involved in negotiations with businessman Ken Pippin, who wanted to buy the county railroad. The Sun News eventually revealed that Pippin was a close personal friend of Terry Chambers and the landlord of Joey McNutt's real estate appraisal business. But McNutt's downfall was his failure to file state income taxes three years in a row. Under indictment for tax evasion, he was suspended from office in 1997.
As for Councilman Chambers, he mysteriously disappeared in early 1998 without notifying constituents or council colleagues. After missing three council meetings, he faxed a crudely scrawled note from the Cayman Islands, where he had moved to sell timeshares: "I, Terry Chambers, do hereby resign in my position as county council member representing district six of Horry County, effective this 28th day of February, 1998." End of missive. End of term.
Now Blaine Liljenquist wants to give us advice on how to do things in Charleston County. Here's my advice to the editors of the P&C: We have enough screwballs and sleazeballs right here in the Lowcountry. You don't need to go to Horry County to find them and print their delusional letters on your editorial page.