Bad ideas abound in government. Lots of them seem to bloom to benefit an individual or small group, not the public at large.
That’s the case with the suggestion this week to name a building for former Democratic state Sen. Robert Ford, who resigned and pleaded guilty in 2015 to misdemeanor ethics violations linked to spending campaign money on himself.
State Rep. Wendell Gilliard (D-Charleston) justified the idea to name a new S.C. State University building in Charleston for Ford by reminding people of the good done by Ford for years of service on Charleston City Council and in the state Senate. That, he said, outweighed anything he did that was bad.
Umm, no. Not a good idea. It doesn’t set a good example for anyone. It rewards bad behavior.
In fact, it’s just not a good idea to name state buildings or infrastructure after anyone who is serving or has served in the public trust and who is still active in business. But South Carolina, unfortunately, is as quietly addicted to the practice as opioid addicts that plague our society. Just look at all of the roads, schools and buildings named for every Tom, Dick, Harry, Susan, and Gloria.
Case in point: The John N. Hardee Expressway to the Columbia Metropolitan Airport, which opened in 2004 when Hardee was on the governing board of the S.C. Department of Transportation. Hardee, you may remember, recently pleaded guilty to obstructing a federal bribery investigation. This month just one day after being sentenced to 18 months of probation and 45 days of house arrest, he was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of trying to hire a prostitute. He’s now reportedly in jail pending a decision on whether he violated his probation.
The state Transportation Commission says it will consider removing Hardee’s name from the road, just like it did about 15 years ago when it un-named an Upstate highway honoring former Lt. Gov. and Comptroller General Earle Morris. He served time in prison for securities fraud related to a big bankruptcy after his time in public office.
Every year, dumb ideas make their presence known at the Statehouse, whether it’s continuing to underfund K-12 education or higher education or failing to accept billions in federal dollars to provide more health care to poor people. Other bad ideas for South Carolina: Selling Santee Cooper or shrinking the size of the board of the University of South Carolina — just because it might refocus criticism of lawmakers.
Yet another bad idea: The effort to allow people to carry guns openly – a red-meat proposal to satiate the Second Amendment crowd. We don’t need to take away guns from solid citizens, but openly allowing more guns on the streets in the hands of people who aren’t necessarily trained isn’t going to boost safety. (Ironically, ever wonder how California got rid of open carry for guns? Read more about the Mulford Act of 1967, which was signed by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan. It repealed an open carry law as a response to armed patrols in Oakland by Black Panthers.)
Dumb ideas abound at the federal level, too, such as a recent proposal by President Trump to buy Greenland, which the prime minister of Denmark, which owns Greenland, framed as “absurd.” The comment infuriated Trump, who postponed a trip to Denmark.
First, it’s not a good idea to keep poking U.S. fingers in the eyes of longtime allies in Europe. We need real friends and shouldn’t make them “frenemies.” Second, the whole conversation over Greenland was nothing more than a way by the administration to spin the media away from another bad idea – a trial balloon for another tax cut to boost up the economy so it doesn’t go into a recession. And what is the root cause of that concern? Tariffs on Chinese goods, another dumb idea that’s crippling trade, hurting farmers and impacting world markets.
Bad ideas cause cycles of problems. Unfortunately, the only way you can get rid of many of them is to vote against the people who are having them.
Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report.