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A Case of Speaker’s Syndrome

Rep. Jimmy Merrill and Rep. Kenny Bingham announced in a joint letter that they were both withdrawing from the Speaker’s race and praised Rep. Jay Lucas for pursuing needed reform in the House by saying –

The Speaker has enormous power … in fact, too much. By controlling the appointments for committees, boards, commissions and conference committees; determining the legislative ca-lendar, issuing rulings, influencing debate, and approving all of the hiring and firing of House staff; the Speaker can literally control government in the state of South Carolina.

Changing these operating procedures is critical to restoring trust in our government; and it is why we have been urging our colleagues to withhold their commitments for the next Speaker of the House … until now.

After reading articles that confirm a commitment to change by each of the candidates for Speaker, it is time to move forward. For that reason, we are withdrawing our names from consideration and announcing our support for Representative Jay Lucas.

Indeed, Rep. Lucas, acting as temporary Speaker, appeared before the House Rules study committee to make these and other recommendations. These are all very good signs.

But signs do not a pudding make.  The members of the study committee along with Reps. Lucas, Merrill and Bingham each have one vote – just like everybody else. Make no mistake, the House Rules will change only if a majority of the current membership wants them to change. The vote will come during the House organizational session beginning on December 2nd.

A question remains: after years of closely held power by the Speaker that created an expectation of reward or punishment dependent upon how a member voted – a consequence not meted out by the constituents but by the Speaker himself – can the current membership shake off this “Speaker’s Syndrome” and vote themselves freedom?

As an aside, next year marks the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta which forced King John to relinquish some of his absolute power and set England on course toward a more representative government.

On December 2nd, the SC House will have its chance to add another chapter in that history.