Legislature Recap and 2024 Update | This Week in South Carolina


Gavin Jackson: Welcome to This Week in South Carolina. I’m Gavin Jackson. With the arraignment of former President Donald Trump and more Republican candidates entering the race for president. University of South Carolina's Department of Political Science Chair Kirk Randazzo joins us to discuss the latest from the campaign trail, but first, the state legislature has wrapped up their work for the year, and the Associated Press' Jeffrey Collins gives an update on what legislation has passed and what we'll have to wait until next year. Jeffrey, welcome back to This Week In South Carolina.

Jeffrey Collins: Hey Gavin, good to see you.

Gavin Jackson: So, let's start off Jeffrey with the recently approved $13.8 billion budget that now heads to the governor's desk. It hasn't fundamentally changed too much since the last time we talked about it, but there was one big sticking point that delayed deliberations what happened there, and again, just what are some of the big top line numbers that you're looking at?

Jeffrey Collins: Oh, the last time we talked Gavin, I was like, Yeah, they'll have that budget deal done next week. Oops, but it was... but they did get it done, and it did get done before the July 1 deadline for the new fiscal year to start. The big sticking point, oddly enough, in a $13 billion budget was $100 million, roughly for to get off the ground and new veterinary school at Clemson University, the Senate wanted the full, you know, nine figure 100 and something million dollar amount and the House only want to give about 8 million, and everyone decided that was going to be a sticking point, and you know, basically they didn't negotiate for a couple of weeks, according to Senate Finance Committee, Chairman Harvey Peeler. They just didn't talk, and it all spilled over at a meeting last week where you know, there were lots of spicy allegations thrown, I mean, the most, the one that made the most news was probably House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford saying that the House was more concerned, that the House was concerned with Higher Ed and the Senate was concerned with Mr. Ed. So, that was it. You know, that made the big news, but I mean, on the other side of things, Harvey Peeler, you know, the Senate Finance Committee Chairman came out and told his House counterparts that the Speaker of the House can't be the Speaker of the Senate too, so I mean, there was...you know, we're all watching that going. Whoa, I mean, that's one of the more you know, testy exchanges, typically they don't get personal, but, you know, funny thing is they met the next day, Murrell Smith, the Speaker of the House, got in the meeting with Harvey Peeler and with House Ways and Means chairman, Bruce Bannister, and they worked it out. So ultimately, the budget itself is basically unchanged from what both the Senate and the House passed. There's raises for all state employees. They'll get at least 5%, if the lower lowest paid state employees will get more than that. There were raises for teachers, for the most part, except for in the districts that either that they get paid really well already and don't choose to give them the raise, but I mean, almost all teachers will get a raise. A good number of state law enforcement officers get a raise. There's a billion dollars plus to bring Scout Motors to South Carolina. There's also-there's money for school to build to help build rural schools. There's money for, you know, resiliency for the officer resiliency. I mean, it's a $13 billion budget, pretty much everyone got their wish list set, including, in fact, some earmarks for lawmakers. There's a lot of those local projects like downtown revitalizations, parks, stuff like that.

Gavin Jackson: Yeah, bringing home the bacon. I think it was like 600 million or so in those earmarks, but when you have so much extra revenue, a lot of one time dollars floating around from previous budgets, it's kind of easy to have that and to get some of these things crossed off a wish list even though some folks say, you know, we want less big government, less spending. You know, we also saw tax reform, also in this bill, too. So, it's there's a little bit of everything in there, right?

Jeffrey Collins: Yeah, your tax, the highest income tax rate drops from 6.5% to 6.4%, as part of that graduated, as long as revenue stay good, they will knock it eventually down to 6%. There is not a rebate, though, this year. There was some talk about there being a rebate like there was last year but that talk quickly went away once Scout Motors popped up, and they figured they could spend that billion dollars on bringing Scout Motors here and not having to borrow to do that as opposed to giving money back to the taxpayers in that way.

Gavin Jackson: Yeah, huge development here for the Midlands, and it's also just kind of going back briefly just to see such deliberations when it comes to the budget like that, to see them kind of spill over into the public. Usually, it's always done behind closed doors, and they always make it seem so easy and effortless, but we saw as a little bit of a Washington DC moment there too, and this was all happening with the debt ceiling crisis debate was going on. Like, oh! I guess everyone's feeling a little sad that they weren't DC. So, they had to bring some of that down here to Columbia.

Jeffrey Collins: Very much so and I mean, this was the first budget negotiation for New House Ways and Means Chairman Bruce Banister, and I mean, that plays a part in that too...There's a personal dynamic. I had some people mention afterwards. I mean, you get to the point where people will get to know personalities. I mean, it was only the second budget for Senate Finance Committee Chairman Harvey Peeler. I mean, these, you know, the budget negotiations we've had over the past decade almost have involved people that have known each other for a long time and have worked together for a long time. And I mean, that was one of the things that the Speaker of the House Murrell Smith said was that he felt like getting in there, and he had a personal relationship with Harvey Peeler. So that helped them get to the budget, but yes, that was a that was a very spicy meeting that was about as spicy as you get in South Carolina for these things.

Gavin Jackson: Which is a good thing in some regards, but again, talking about House Speaker Murrell Smith talking about first, it was his first year as Speaker of the 124 member House chamber there, and a lot of big things got crossed off his list talking about school vouchers, abortion, the shield law, fentanyl trafficking, bond reform, anti CRT bills, economic development you're talking about. So, a lot of big issues for Republicans, and actually some bipartisan issues there that everyone kind of benefits from. So, Jeffrey, maybe what stood out to you at some of the big moments from this first year of the two-year session?

Jeffrey Collins: Well, I, you know, certainly we were paying very close attention to how the House would operate under the new speaker, and, you know, there was a big deal made in some ways legitimately. So about the Freedom Caucus, that group of the far right conservatives that are joining together that feel like the current Republican Party is too liberal or too, you know, takes too much- doesn't take all the Republican ideals to heart, and what they see is Republican I should say, and so, the interesting thing is, we made a lot of out of that, but in the end, they didn't cause a whole lot of they didn't gum up the works very much at all this year. I mean, basically, you know, Speaker Smith talked to reporters yesterday, after things wrapped up. And one of the questions was, "Well, what didn't you accomplish? What did you What did you not get done that you wanted to get done? He thought for a second. He’s a thoughtful guy and said, I can't think of anything. If I think of anything, I'll let you know, ...I thought about it, too. I mean, he met most of his goals, and I mean, you know, ultimately, there's a couple of things left hanging out there, but it's not because the House didn't pass it. So, you know, it seems like that being said, though, you have to- Murrell Smith has a little bit of an advantage. I mean, he's got 88 Republicans in 124-member chamber, I mean, former speaker, David Wilkins, probably in his quiet moments, daydreams about that and wishes he had that kind of thing back in the early 2000s.and thinks about what he could have done. I mean, you know, ultimately, as long as long as he can keep Republicans together and you know, you mentioned this a little bit later there's some, the 2024 elections, will be very interesting to see if how, how well, he can keep this Republican coalition together that likes them a lot and keep these ultra, you know, not let the ultra-right side grow very much, but I mean, Murrell Smith did a pretty successful first session, I think all put together.

Gavin Jackson: Yeah, when especially when you're talking about looking back to the early 2000s, and what they wish to accomplish, and now fast forward to 2023 getting so many things done in one year. Obviously, they've all been a long time coming, but some big accomplishments there too, but one bill we also saw make it through Jeffrey, was an interesting one from a freshman lawmaker. Brandon Guffey was dealing with online sexual extortion. Tell us about that, and that personal story that he has this tragic connection to this situation?

Jeffrey Collins: The...I'll start with the story, you know, Representative Guffey, when he was running during his, you know, he was running up for election and during his election he had a teen son and the someone working, you know, a scam you know, reached out to him sent some they were some private photos sent back and forth of a sexual nature you know, the person that was corresponding with Guffey's son was, you know, posing as a woman at the time but then once the photos got sent along said, "Oh, I'm 13 or 14 I'm underage. I’m going to go to the cops. You’re gonna- your whole life's ruined, and you know, a representative Guffey's son ended up killing himself because you know, everything that the shame and everything that he felt and the worry that his whole life was falling apart and Representative Guffey thought about just quitting, right, not, you know, just not taking his seat, not running everything, but instead, he took that and made and paid it forward to where he created this sextortion bill that got passed, and the bill itself if you in that kind of situation, if you extort somebody through these kinds of sexually explicit photos or nude photographs, you can get up to five years in prison just for doing that, and if you're doing it towards a minor, or if you're doing it, and it leads to great bodily harm or death of the person that you're extorting, you can end up with 20 years, and it was a fantastic bipartisan moment. Really. I mean, you know, it's funny how everyone rallied around Republicans, Democrats, I mean, when the bill passed in the House, practically the entire House stood up at the well with him, as you know, the bill was coming to its final vote, and, you know, ultimately it also shows the power of personal connection in lawmaking. I mean, you know, all the time, you'll go into hearings and they'll go bring somebody up, whose experienced whatever the problem is, and it's amazing how that personal story can connect, and I mean, you know, Representative Guffey, hands out buttons and talks very freely about this, and I mean, it was just a very nice moment to see people come together to solve a problem that intimately affected one member of their new, the new House.

Gavin Jackson: Yeah, that was a pretty powerful moment there on the House floor, of course, and it was probably passed on to the governor, which who signed it, but something was a bit more divisive, obviously, was the six-week abortion ban law that was resurrected right there at the end of session. What's the latest on that because it's in the courts right now. It's technically not in effect. Where's that going, Jeffrey. We have about a minute and a half right now.

Jeffrey Collins: It's, you know, the abortion law is right now going to June 27. All of the Statehouse reporters get to go with the Supreme Court become court reporters for a day. So, you know, what happened was the House incident. The House passed, agreed finally to a six-week ban. They’ve been pushing really hard for that total ban, but they backed off and because they realized finally that the Senate couldn't support anything more than that ban at the moment of cardiac activity detection. So, we ended up with the same basic law that we had a few years ago that was struck down by the Supreme Court for privacy concerns, but lawmakers insisted that they made a few technical changes that will flip at least one member of that 3-2 court that voted against it. The other end of things is the primary author of the - There were five opinions, but the primary author Kaye Hearn, the at the time the court's only woman has retired and been replaced by a man. So, there's an extra, there's a member there that we don't know what they're going to do. So those arguments come up on the 27th.We'll see what happens and if abortion becomes a big issue in 2024, or not.

Gavin Jackson: Jeffrey 30 seconds some bills that didn't get passed this year, but are still alive for next year?

Jeffrey Collins: The bills let's see; open carry is the big one. That's the one where you could carry a gun without as long as you can legally own a firearm. You can carry a gun openly without a permit. That's a very big one. Medical marijuana never really got any traction this year, but you know, representative, Senator Tom Davis is going to spend his entire off season trying to get support for that. I think you'll probably maybe see a little bit of a look at some tax reform, but you know, we'll see how that coalesces over the next remaining year, 2023.

Gavin Jackson: Joining me now to discuss the latest on the 2024 presidential campaign trail is Kirk Randazzo. He's a political science chair at the University of South Carolina. Kirk, welcome back to This Week in South Carolina.

Kirk Randazzo: Thank you, appreciate you having me again.

Gavin Jackson: So, Kirk, this was a big week for our nation's history. We saw a former president for the first time arrested, charged and plead not guilty to dozens of federal criminal charges stemming from his alleged mishandling of classified documents. Just tell us how significant this moment is for our history?

Kirk Randazzo: It's significant for a couple of reasons. One is the indictment itself. We've never had a former president indicted on federal charges before, but the other reason and perhaps the more significant reason that we've never had a formal president, not only take classified information, but then when asked to return it, try and move things around and hide documents and basically obstruct the federal government from getting those documents back.

Gavin Jackson: Yeah, and Kirk that brings me to my next question that people are decrying that there are two different kinds of Department of Justice here at play, when it comes to, you know, comparing the possession of classified material for Hillary Clinton, former Vice President Mike Pence, President Joe Biden, but those situations, like you're saying, are much different than what we're seeing with President Trump, but some people just don't seem to see that differentiation.

Kirk Randazzo: Yeah, It's unfortunate. I think part of the issue is that there's a lot of, of media, in particular, the conservative media that are trying to compare all of these situations as if they're the same, and they're not. The real issue is isn't necessarily the possession of documents, but it's the willful obstruction, the deliberate obstruction when the government asked for the return of those documents. You did not see that obstruction with Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, or Mike Pence. They were very cooperative, when they were alerted to the fact that they may have taken classified information improperly, and you don't have that with Donald Trump,

 Gavin Jackson: and that's something going back to even February 2021, and now we're hearing reporting that, you know, his lawyers were trying to strike a deal with the DOJ, The Washington Post was reporting this week that they're trying to strike a deal to, you know, make a plea agreement. He didn't want to do that. So now we've gotten to this point. It almost seems like it's better for him in some ways that he wants to keep this alive in some ways, so he can continue to have this fight ongoing and probably embolden him in this primary.

Kirk Randazzo: Yeah, and we've also seen that he is raising a ton of money off of these indictments, millions of dollars are pouring in, basically to his campaign, and so I think this fits a narrative for Trump, at least within the Republican base, that he is fighting the government, and you know, the slogan we keep hearing is if it could happen to me, it could happen to you, and regardless of whether that's true in reality, in those conservative political circles, that message plays very, very well.

Gavin Jackson: We know if we...people like you and me take classified material, we're pretty much going to be thrown away and throw the key away as well. So, it doesn't really affect him negatively is what you're saying right now in the primary. Do you think that as others...

Kirk Randazzo: At least not now.

Gavin Jackson: Okay.>> Yeah, right. Not during the primary cycle, though, you know, as the as this plays out a bit over the next several months, that may start to rapidly change, but right now, it seems to be an advantage to Donald Trump, to have the indictment and to be seen fighting it the way he is.

Gavin Jackson: Yeah, Kurt, that goes back to another question I was thinking of is do you see some sort of risk of fatigue here when we talk about, you know, previous indictment up there in New York, and then this one now. We're talking about Fulton County in Georgia with the election interference there. Then also, you know, the January 6, election investigation, I should say, so a lot of this going on. I mean, if you had to start worrying about Yeah, sure, if it's a big fight for the primary, it's helpful. but then, you know, general election electability is going to be a concern for Republicans going forward, I have to imagine.

Kirk Randazzo: Oh, absolutely, and I even think during the primary, the other candidates at some point in time, are going to start challenging Donald Trump more directly. You've seen it a little bit, maybe from Ron DeSantis, saying, hey, you know, vote for me. I'll give you the same policies, but without the drama. I think as more indictments potentially come out, and certainly, as these couple of indictments move forward, that fatigue may start to wear on people, even within the primary, and especially if other candidates start picking up on that, and doing sort of what Chris Christie has been doing, challenging Donald Trump directly. I think we could see some of those poll numbers start to change.

Gavin Jackson: Yeah, and then you also think about just when we see some of these documents, when we hear some of this audio that they have, I can only imagine how that will be used and not only with Democrats using, you know, when it comes to campaign ads, but also like you're saying Republicans too. I mean, it's going to probably get pretty nasty out there.

Kirk Randazzo: Yeah, I think it's important to note exactly what some of these documents contain. I mean, some of these contained secrets about nuclear weapons, and about, you know, intelligence overseas, not just to our enemies, but also to our allies. These are really serious charges. That, you know, you heard Bill Barr, the former Attorney General say, "If even half of these are true, "Donald Trump is toast", and I think he is absolutely correct with that, you know, like you said, a few minutes ago, if an average person if you or I were, were caught with these documents, we'd be prosecuted in a heartbeat, convicted, and we'd be looking at years in jail, and so this is a really serious matter that I think people will start taking a bit more seriously, as the months move forward.

Gavin Jackson: Yeah, hard to secure a nation when you're just playing...with national security and secrets, but the field continues to grow. You’re just talking about that. I think we're at some 10 candidates right now, well known candidates, I should say, especially with the addition of the Miami Mayor jumping in too. Obviously, not everyone's going to make it to the primaries next year, but we're getting close to that 17-candidate field we saw in 2016.I don't know how many more people are going to jump in, but why do these long shot candidates keep jumping into this race? If you think you just have these big front runners already and some other well-known folks?

Kirk Randazzo: You know, that's a great question, and for some of them, I think like a maybe a Nikki Haley or a Tim Scott, they're playing a bit of a longer game, they probably know they're not going to get the nomination this time around, but maybe they might get picked as a vice presidential candidate by the nominee or maybe for 2028.This kind of build some momentum that they can take advantage of in that next cycle. For some other candidates, it's really a mystery as to why they're jumping into the race other than maybe they're just trying to build up their own personal brand, their own notoriety, maybe write a book at some point in time and make some money, but it is kind of strange that you have so many people jumping into the mix that really don't have a chance of securing that nomination or really even coming close.

Gavin Jackson: Yeah, that kind of comes up to an article that I saw on the website...before that titled DeSantis' South Carolina problem, and that one of his campaign aides was griping about how Tim Scott and Nikki Haley kind of seemed to split that DeSantis vote here in South Carolina, especially since they're so well-known and established in our state. Now, for them, it's going to be interesting to see what they do, like you're saying that long game, whether they're in it to maybe cut a deal with the front runner, or someone like DeSantis to become a cabinet member or vice president potentially, but I know they're all still, of course running like they're going for the actual nomination itself, but I'm assuming that once we start seeing, maybe fundraising numbers stagnate, when we see poll numbers stagnate, that's when there's going to be maybe some deals being cut when it comes to some of those positions.

Kirk Randazzo: Yeah, I think the first sort of marker that we're going to see will happen later in the summer as the initial debates’ rollout, because in order to get on that stage, candidates have to have a certain number of donations from unique individuals. It’s not a total money count, but it's the number of people supporting them, and several of the candidates in the field just aren't going to hit that target. Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, I don't think will have a problem. So we'll see them on that first debate stage, but as we start moving into the fall, that's going to become increasingly difficult and when the primaries hit in Iowa, in New Hampshire, then later in South Carolina, for the Republicans, it's really a question of, if you don't win outright, are you at least placing second or third in order to carry that momentum to the next primary state? And that's going to be the real test.

Gavin Jackson: Kirk, we have a couple of minutes left here. I want to ask you just a little about some other candidates...When you mentioned Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor, is it interesting that he's jumping in kind of almost like a foil there for President Trump? Or that he's just the one who's going to be hammering him and saying what, maybe some of these other guys wish they could say, but are kind of hedging their bets?

Kirk Randazzo: Yeah. Yeah, I think Chris Christie. I mean, first of all, he made a point that he was getting into the race to prevent Donald Trump from securing the nomination. So, I think that's his primary focus. Secondarily, I think Christie is probably playing for a cabinet position at some point, maybe Attorney General, you know, he was a former US prosecutor, before he became governor of New Jersey, and so I think he's angling for a position in the cabinet of whomever the nominee might be, but his real aim is to make sure it's not Donald Trump.

Gavin Jackson: ...we did just see Senator Tim Scott announce some 140 endorsements from current and former elected officials in the state, from City Council on up to some state House leaders. He also announced a 69-person Finance Committee in the state. What does that signify? to you? Is he really just flexing his hometown muscle right there?

Kirk Randazzo: Yeah, I think that's a signal more to Nikki Haley than to anybody else, because the two of them are playing for this state, and I think Tim Scott, announcing all of that information is a signal to her, I am better positioned within our home territory than you are, and so it's going to be curious to see how she responds to that.

Gavin Jackson: Yeah, because, I, even when I was following the DeSantis campaign, when he made his first swing through this state, he had, you know, he had three stops across the state, and he had elected officials from the State House at each stop, really also just kind of low key showing off, hey, I have this endorsements in place, too. So, kind of a big move there, and with that comes networks and built in help when it comes to fundraising and volunteers too, but it's also interesting that we haven't seen –

Kirk Randazzo: -and if I, if I could just also to say, you know, Nikki Haley was the second person to announce her candidacy, and she did that in February, you know, a full month before Tim Scott even got into the race, and so the fact that she has not been able to generate the same amount of support, that's another reason why I think Tim Scott made that particular announcement.

Gavin Jackson: Yeah, she had the endorsement of Congressman Ralph Norman there at her announcement, but again, not the same as 140 like we're seeing. So, quite different there. Before we go out of this, I just want to ask you about former President Trump. We haven't seen him since, when he made his first swing here in January, when he was rolling out his endorsements. He has a lot obviously with our congressional delegation, too... - but do you think it's odd? I know, he's coming back. I think July 1st.That'll be his second visit to this state. Do you think he doesn't have to campaign as hard as he used to? Or, you know, because he's just always in the news and his base is really not moving? What are your thoughts on that, there, Kurt?

Kirk Randazzo: I actually think he's going to need to campaign a bit harder because he's now going to split his time between the campaign and court, and so any opportunity that he has to get in the public limelight, and talk about the witch hunt and the conspiracy and, how he is being singled out, I think he needs to capitalize on that in order to counter you know, the potential drama and fatigue and weariness that people have just with him and his behavior.

Gavin Jackson: Yeah, splitting time between the campaign trail and court. Some things we haven't heard. I don't think ever when it comes to covering politics, but it is a new day, the 2024 presidential campaign cycle. Kirk Randazzo. He is the Political Science Chair at the University of South Carolina. Kirk, thank you so much as always.

Kirk Randazzo: Thank you, Gavin. I appreciate it.>> To stay up to date with the latest news throughout the week, check out the South Carolina Lede. It's a podcast that I host on Tuesdays and Saturdays that you can find on South Carolina public radio.org or wherever you find podcasts for South Carolina ETV, I'm Gavin Jackson. Be well, South Carolina.