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Echo Chamber – Harrell’s House of Cards April 1, 2007

Posted by fitsnews in SC Politics.

SC State House 1


FITSNews – April 1, 2007 – Within minutes of the South Carolina House of Representatives adjourning last Thursday, the spin machine in Speaker Bobby Harrell‘s office was already working in overdrive.

“The Speaker voted in support of all three school choice amendments,” one Harrell lieutenant told us. “You can’t lay the blame for this at his feet.”

It’s a song and dance we’ve heard before on the school choice issue, which is one reason we weren’t inclined to fall for it initially (nor, for, that matter was The Wall Street Journal).

Yet as much as we hate to admit it, the expression “even a blind hog finds an acorn once in awhile” seems to apply here, because it appears for once the Speaker’s spin doctors might actually be telling us the truth.

In the aftermath of Thursday’s House vote to once again deny meaningful choices to South Carolina school children (200,000 of whom are currently trapped in failing or below average public schools), sources who participated in the debate tell FITSNews that South Carolina’s most powerful politician didn’t sell anybody down the river this time, he simply doesn’t have the juice in his own chamber to get real reform accomplished.

“Harrell negotiated in good faith this time,” one State Representative told us. “He just doesn’t have control over the body the way Speaker (David) Wilkins did. That’s bad for these kids, it’s bad for our party and it’s bad for the state.”


Harrell’s inability to guide school choice through the legislative process this year stems largely from South Carolina’s own “Gang of 14,” a clique of liberal, big government Republicans who consistently vote against market-based reforms and in favor of an ever-escalating government bureaucracy as a method of curing our state’s historic education ills.

Like former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, the “Gang of 14” is literally standing in the school house door – except this time they’re keeping students trapped on the inside, not the other way around.

In fact, one of Harrell’s own confidants in the House provided FITSNews with a list of the group’s members. They are:

Rep. Joan Brady
Rep. Bill Cotty
Rep. Mike Gambrell
Rep. Carl Gullick
Rep. Davey Hiott
Rep. Keith Kelly
Rep. Lanny Littlejohn
Rep. Skipper Perry
Rep. Gene Pinson
Rep. Bill Sandifer
Rep. B.R. Skelton
Rep. Don Smith
Rep. Adam Taylor
Rep. Bill Whitmire

“With Republicans like these, who needs Democrats?” Harrell’s confidant told FITSNews. “When you’ve got the Democratic Superintendent of Education saying he couldn’t be happier and you’ve got the whole Democratic Caucus erupting into applause after real school choice was defeated, that should tell you something’s gone terribly wrong with Republicans in this state.”

Five of the “Gang of 14,” (Kelly, Pinson, Skelton, Smith and Taylor) are even rumored to have specifically reneged on commitments they had made to support the legislation.


Less than 24 hours before Thursday’s vote, it appeared as though the Democratic establishment had been whipped. Choice supporters were winning key role call votes throughout the day Wednesday and House Minority Leader Harry Ott was telling lobbyists for the liberal South Carolina Education Association and South Carolina School Boards Association that he was “three votes down.”

Not surprisingly, that’s when the call went out to former House Minority leader James Smith to head back to South Carolina from his military training halfway across the country. The Democrats may have also attempted to reach mercurial State Rep. Bessy Moody-Lawrence, who has been conspicuously absent from the floor of the General Assembly in recent weeks for unknown reasons.

“They were in panic mode Wednesday night,” one State Representative told FITSNews. “They were on their heels and everybody knew it.”

Yet that’s precisely when longtime school choice supporter and House Majority Leader Jimmy Merrill let his foot off of the gas, making an inexplicable – and some say inexcusably foolish – procedural motion that enabled the House to adjourn.

His rationale?

The Ways & Means committee on which he serves had a dinner Wednesday night at Mo-Mo’s restaurant, an upscale Columbia eatery.

“That was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen,” a State House observer told FITSNews. “In this business when somebody’s drowning you don’t throw ’em a rope, you put a hose in their mouth.”



1. sally - April 2, 2007

thanks for letting us know who the gang of 14 is —the people of the state need to hound them —- the students of SC deserve better than this —

2. James - April 2, 2007

I wonder who was paying for the meal at Mo Mo’s?

3. Alex Gillon - April 2, 2007

Let me understand this now: a Democrat, who volunteered to be put in harm’s way to defend this nation’s security in Afghanistan, cares enough for a cause to take leave and fly half way across the country to cast his vote accordingly, and yet a Republican, who has victory within his grasp, feels that a free meal at an upscale restaurant a few blocks away should be his priority. Hmmm, Go figure.

4. Howard The Duck - April 2, 2007

I’m willing to bet NONE of the “Gang of 14” ever took any money from Howard Rich or any of his shell groups, though. Would you say that’s a safe bet?

5. The Trawlerman - April 3, 2007

Probably a safe bet, Duck Man. But how about $ from neo-fascist groups like the SCEA, the SC Association of Superintendents, the SC Association of School Boards, et al. — all of whom shamelessly (and illegally, in case you care) weave their leftish web using state-owned infrastructure and resources? Oh my yes. Viva la State … and to hell with the kids.

6. Echo Chamber - Harrell's House Of Cards, Pt. 2 « FITSNews For Now - April 29, 2007

[…] wrote four Sundays ago after the defeat of the school choice bill about how a “rogue band of big government House […]

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