South Carolina editorial roundup: Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024


Post and Courier

Feb. 4

Manipulative GOP ballot questions

deserve 'no' votes - even for the

good idea

With the Democratic presidential primary done and South Carolina's Feb. 24 first-in-the-South Republican nominating contest approaching fast, it's time once again to prepare for the misleading state policy questions that will litter the ballot.

GOP voters are going to the polls to pick between Donald Trump and Nikki Haley; asking them to participate in what is essentially a taxpayer-funded public opinion poll about sometimes-obscure legislative issues is an affront to the most sacred aspect of our republic: the ballot.

The questions aren't binding, and they don't reflect the collective wisdom or even priorities of most of our elected officials. They were written by political party hacks, to whom the Legislature has foolishly given the authority to sully our ballots. If party officials get the answers they want, they'll use them to browbeat legislators into passing laws that were ill-explained. That is to say: The purpose of the questions is to fuel a lobbying campaign, courtesy of S.C. taxpayers.

Of course the party hacks won't talk about the results if they don't like them. That's why we have traditionally recommended voting "no" to all questions on primary ballots, or at least not voting on them. That holds true again this year, even though one of the questions seems to be about changes we consider among the most important our Legislature could make this year.

The State Election Commission doesn't offer a generic sample ballot, but you can view your sample ballot, complete with the questions, by filling out a form and requesting it at the agency's website.

The new question concerns efforts by Gov. Henry McMaster, Attorney General Alan Wilson, all of the state's prosecutors - Republican and Democrat - and a growing number of Republican and Democratic legislators to change the way judges are selected: "Should South Carolina adopt reforms to increase the independence and accountability of our judiciary by improving transparency and reducing conflicts of interest in the process of reviewing judicial qualifications and electing judges?"

If you're wondering precisely what that means, that's part of the problem. To us, that means removing legislators - and especially lawyer-legislators - from the Judicial Merit Selection Commission, which decides which candidates can run for the bench and which judges can seek reelection. It also means letting the governor instead of legislative leaders appoint the panel's members. And it means making the vetting process entirely public and easy to access, with livestreamed hearings and none of the closed-door meetings where candidates are pressured to drop out.

Alternatively, it could mean letting the governor appoint judges, but we don't think there's any chance the Legislature would go that far, even if every voter in South Carolina agreed it was a good idea, so we're backing the plan that's simply a long shot, not an impossibility.

But some legislators would say the way to accomplish the goals in that question is to eliminate the nomination process and let all the candidates stand for election by the Legislature - an idea that gives us concern. Others would argue it means public elections, which is worse than the system we have.

We're less uncertain about how the Republican Party interprets the other questions, but that's not to say the meanings are obvious to voters.

One question is deliberately misleading, as it has been each of the many times party officials added it to the ballot: "Should South Carolina law be changed to give people the right to register to vote with the political party of their choice?"

This is not about allowing people to register by party. It's about requiring people to register by party if they want to vote in that party's primaries. Instead of giving voters new "rights," the party wants to take them away, and it wants you to help force Republicans in the Legislature to vote to do that. Never mind that former Gov. Carroll Campbell quite literally used the open Republican presidential primary to build his party into the juggernaut it is today, by encouraging independents and even Democrats to participate in the primary, and in so doing develop a sense of ownership for the winners - and vote for them in November.

But today's party leaders are offended by the idea that some people participating in "their" primary might not think exactly as they think - and the way they think would mortify Mr. Campbell and Ronald Reagan and other luminaries of the party. So they want to require people to register as Republicans in order to vote in the Republican primaries.

That might not be such a problem if congressional, legislative and even county council seats weren't gerrymandered to ensure that Republicans always win certain seats, and Democrats always win the others. But they are, so voters' only opportunity to have a say about who their lawmakers are is often to vote in the primary. And since South Carolina has become so overwhelmingly Republican, it's also the only chance we have to help elect our governor, attorney general and U.S. senators.

The third question is about changing the rules for personal-injury lawsuits: "Should it be an immediate legislative priority to protect South Carolina's competitiveness and small businesses by changing state law so that a person's responsibility for financial damages in a lawsuit is based on that person's actual share of responsibility?" This question refers to South Carolina's "joint and several" liability law, which forces some businesses to pay more than their share in damages, and it's absolutely reasonable to consider changes to that law.

But it's a highly technical law, the devil is in the details, and it's particularly in the details of some very smart provisions that charge defendants more when their actions were grossly negligent - such as when they keep serving liquor to clearly drunk patrons, who then go out and kill innocent people. The drunks obviously are responsible for those wrecks, but so are the bars that profited from enabling their drunkenness.

If you want your legislators to undertake tort reform, by all means, let them know. In fact, let them know about all the laws you want them to work on. Also, be sure to vote in the primary on or before Feb. 24. But vote no on these manipulative, self-serving questions that have nothing to do with nominating a president.

Times and Democrat

Feb. 3

Fair approach to outlawing loan predators

"In South Carolina, there are lenders that offer payday, installment and auto-title loans that mine and use personal data to identify, target and then trap vulnerable South Carolinians in a cycle of debt. These lenders' cynical business model is to make loans to people who cannot afford them, collect interest payments from them at obscene interest rates - often more than 150% per annum - and then refinance the principal repeatedly so the payments of 'interest' - or what illegal loan sharks would call the 'vig' or 'vigorish' - never stop coming," according to Davis.

"And in doing so they often use unscrupulous marketing tactics such as mailing live checks that, once endorsed and deposited to someone's account, become very expensive loan obligations. These business practices intentionally prey upon South Carolina's most economically vulnerable citizens and need to be stopped."

A study by Coastal Carolina University's Edgar Dyer Institute for Leadership and Public Policy estimates that in 2022 more than 400,000 South Carolinians had installment loans that were more than 60 days past due.

And data provided by the South Carolina Board of Financial Institutions reflects that in 2021 and 2022, over half of all installment loan volume came from loan renewals.

Previous efforts have focused on capping the annualized rate of interest on non-conventional loans at 36%.

Davis is going a different route. Instead of limiting interest rates - which many believe isn't the government's business - his legislation focuses on outlawing predatory practices.

It would require an analysis of the borrower's ability to repay and prohibit a loan if the borrower can't pay. Davis also seeks to forbid flipping some types of loans and flipping others beyond a limited number of times.

The harm in 'flipping' or renewing loans is that interest is highest at loan origination, so any payments made in the early months of the loan go entirely to interest. When loans are flipped, they include new fees, insurance premiums along with the original loan proceeds, thus creating a never-ending cycle of debt.

Davis' effort is backed by the South Carolina Fair Lending Alliance, a coalition of faith leaders, nonprofits, former payday and installment loan borrowers and other citizens.

"We know that these high-cost, predatory loans not only impact borrowers, but also their families, employers, nonprofits and the state economy," alliance Lead Organizer Susan Stall said. "Data shows that these loans are causing extreme financial distress from delinquent debt, loss of the family vehicle and bankruptcy."

Davis' approach can put teeth into efforts to reduce predatory lending practices without running afoul of free enterprise and without unfairly limiting businesses that help people otherwise ineligible to borrow money. His legislation promotes fair lending while protecting consumers.


Feb. 7

Maintain S.C. planes, but watch for abuse

Who has the winning team in the state? Apparently Clemson University.

Oh, you thought we were talking about sports teams, did you? Nope. We're talking about the "teams" who have logged the most frequent trips using state-owned and -operated aircrafts.

Tuesday's reporting by the Daily Gazette shared that the state is poised to replace its two planes that apparently spend more time in the shop than in the air.

The move appears to be a sound one, as the state's planes are 1983 and 1990 models. Safety is paramount, and that certainly includes aircraft being used to shuttle the governor and other state officials here and yon on state business.

The good news: The state Aeronautics Commission has been cleared for takeoff on the purchase of a 7-year-old craft carrying a price tag of $6.5 million.

More good news: It's not a Boeing 737 Max.

But back to the frequent flyers aspect of the Gazette's report. Based on 2022 logs, Clemson took to the skies 86 times. Not even close to the governor's office flights, tallying in at 58 flights. The state Department of Commerce came in at a seemingly low figure, logging 13 flights, tying with the state Department of Education, also at 13.

OK, to be fair, those totals include each leg of a journey. So the flight picture these numbers paint is not necessarily indicative of any pattern of abuse.

These flight numbers do, however, serve to remind state officials that, in addition to keeping good records of maintenance on state aircraft, it's a good idea to keep good records on their use in general - all in an effort to check for any signs of abuse of flight privileges at state taxpayers' expense.