Killing Tillman – Part One: The College Years

Note: This is the first of two articles about Ben Tillman’s imprint on South Carolina. Let no one mistake these articles as a defense of his views on race. My purpose is to show the progression of a populist reformer to a demagogue and how his legacy is not his name on Tillman Hall but in the structure of his 1896 state constitution and its deliberate inefficiencies that we labor under to this day. For the historical details contained herein, I am in debt to The Conservative Regime, South Carolina 1877 – 1890 by William J. Cooper, Jr., LSU Press, 1968.

Tillman Hall, the Clemson version not the Winthrop version, was built in 1893 and remains one of the school’s few original buildings in use. Constructed from patterned red brick atop a granite base, the impressive multistoried façade and prominent clock tower projects a sense of aged wisdom as only an old college building can.

Resting at the top of Bowman Field, students can see how the Hall’s Romanesque style contrasts sharply with the more economical Soviet styled buildings surrounding it. Originally called the Main Building, it was renamed Tillman Hall in 1946.

Over the past several weeks, Clemson University’s Graduate Student Senate and Faculty Senate have passed resolutions demanding that the school change the name of Tillman Hall. Newspapers across the state have called for serious discussion of the issue. Even the Rev. Jesse Jackson showed up to join the chorus but did not show us the money for the renaming rights.

All want old “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman scrubbed from Clemson University’s visual history due to his racist segregationist policies as Governor and U. S. Senator. In our post-modern, yet historically immature America, these attempts at obscuring or recasting our history will only increase, especially in the South. Imagine if these attempts were made in Great Britain, where historically significant buildings are on every corner bearing names of some past tyrannical royal figure. What a buzzkill to their tourism industry that would be.

Historical integrity does not concern those driven by mission statements. James McCubbin, Vice-President of the Faculty Senate and Professor of Psychology, was quoted in The Tiger as saying, “What we’ve done is made a statement that we feel that Tillman Hall has a negative impact on our mission success and in the name of developing a campus climate of inclusion and diversity, we have recommended that the faculty consider renaming.”

He went on to say, “Some people fear the slippery slope [of renaming buildings] — we start with Tillman, and where do we end? The slippery slope is a logical fallacy, and we feel that the deeds of Benjamin Tillman — while he has an important and valuable role in Clemson– we feel that his words and deeds in the disenfranchisement of a significant part of the population of South Carolina has an ongoing negative impact on the mission success of Clemson University.”

What was Tillman’s “important and valuable role in Clemson” that was significant enough to be termed “valuable” but not significant enough to bear his name? Has he attained the status of Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter books as “he who must not be named?”

Simply put, Tillman drove the passage of the Clemson College Act of 1889 that established the school as an agricultural college. He accomplished this act, not as an elected official, but as the leader of the Farmer’s Association who had been pushing for agricultural reforms since 1886.

At that time, agriculture remained South Carolina’s only major industry of note and was still mired in ante-bellum methods but without the enslaved labor force. Poverty was widespread and the farmers believed that an agricultural college devoted to research would help them diversify crop options and eventually bring some level of prosperity back to the state. The college became their main reform demand.

Looking back, we would think that establishing Clemson College would have been easy. Thomas P. Clemson had bequeathed the land and money to establish it as a state college. The remaining step was approval of the General Assembly – that great reform-killing machine in Columbia.

In 1886, the Legislature was controlled by a group of former Confederate officers and planters who had been instrumental in running out the Carpetbaggers. The “Bourbons” as they were sometimes called, not after the whiskey they surely drank but the French aristocrats whom Napoleon accused of never forgetting or learning from the past, attempted to re-establish some of the stability associated with pre-war South Carolina. They also supported extending public education, even among former slaves, and recruited northern textile manufacturers.

Though the Bourbons ranks included planters, they ignored the plight of the small farmers. By 1885, South Carolina farmers were measuredly poorer than they had been in 1870. These conditions gave fertile ground to Tillman when he gave his famous speech in Bennettsville on August 6, 1885. Along with accusing the Legislature of being responsible for the farmers “current descent into Hell,” he also had few kind words for the farmers who currently served as members of the Legislature.

Of them he observed, “He enters the State House as a farmer; he emerges from it in one session a politician. He went there to do something for the people. After breathing the polluted atmosphere for thirty days he returned home intent on doing something for himself. The contact with General This and Judge That and Colonel Something Else, who have shaken him by the hand and made much of him, has debauched him. He likes this being a somebody; and his first resolution, offered and passed in his own mind, is that he will remain something if he can.” Sound familiar? Some things never change in South Carolina politics.

Tillman’s speech started a conflict that flared in the Legislature for the next four years. He accused the state government of “extravagance” or what we would call “growing government.” His reformers challenged the increased salaries of state officials including the Governor, Lt. Governor, legislators and judges. They exposed the ineffectiveness of the Agriculture Bureau. They accused South Carolina College and The Citadel of monopolizing higher education in the state.

Though the Bourbons made concessions, they could never get in front of Tillman’s criticisms. With the establishment of Clemson College in 1889, Tillman achieved a highly visible and much applauded victory. The stage was set for his march to the Governor’s mansion in the election of 1890 and the subsequent constitutional convention that would usher in an age of pernicious and state-mandated racism.

Maybe Tillman’s detractors are correct and we should rename Tillman Hall as “You Know Who” Hall. Or better yet, sell the naming rights to Duke Energy – after they clear up that criminal coal-ash dumping problem. Or find some other corporation that’s not plagued with greed and corruption who could purchase the naming rights before the next market crash. Replacing history with consumerism seems to have become the American Way of showing what we now value.

Before we go that far, we could just acknowledge that Tillman’s fight to expand access to a college education, for farmers at Clemson and women at Winthrop, started a process that created a statewide university system that now benefits all South Carolina students. He started out as a significant reformer, as many demagogues do.

Coming next: Tillman codifies South Carolina’s original sin. Not slavery – that was our British inheritance – but segregation, a system that violated many South Carolinians belief in a just society of Christian charity, personal friendships and good manners and subjected a large portion of our citizens to daily humiliations, missed opportunity and denied justice.







SCDOT Financial Fun Facts as of June 30, 2014

Note all amounts are derived from the independent auditors report of SCDOT for year ending June 30, 2014. The report and historical data can be found here.

Revenue –

DOT brought in around $1,451,867,000 for the past fiscal year. Of that 43.79% ($635,768,000) came from the motor fuel tax and 44.07% ($639,878,000) came from federal matching dollars. The state tossed in another 7% ($102,456,000.) The other 5% came from miscellaneous items.

Since the gas tax revenue and the federal matching dollars are almost the same, we can understand why the 21,000 miles of non-federal aid secondary roads receive little maintenance.

Expenditures –

Of the revenue received, almost 36% ($487,855,000) was spent on highway maintenance with another 34% spent on construction in progress.

General administration costs were 3.7% ($53,664,000), engineering costs were 4.20% ($61,028,000), principal and interest payments on bonds were 4.41% and 1.64 % each.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. The State Infrastructure Bank received two allocations. The first is 1.83% (26,534,000) and the other is 3.44% ($50,000,000) – a one-time payment required by Act 98. The county transportation program receives 5.48% ($79,543,000).

Which brings up the question – how much additional revenue does DOT need to maintain both non-federal aid and federal aid roads under its oversight?

Though waste can be found in all governmental agencies (as well as most corporations of any size) and needs to be made transparent then eliminated, the percentage costs for most line items seem within range. We should ask if we are getting our money’s worth for the almost $80 million that we are allocating for the county transportation program.

We also need to reform the state infrastructure bank to make it transparent and free from political influence. Better yet, we should just eliminate it completely and roll its functions back into DOT. It’s sole purpose now is to handle the financing and development of projects that costs over $100,000,000 which means that smaller counties cannot even get through the bank doors.

Gov. Haley has proposed raising the gas tax by ten cents per gallon and raising the sales tax cap on cars by $200. These two proposals would bring in around $400,000,000 in new revenue specifically for the Highway Fund.

$400,000,000 in new revenue would mean that around 50% (instead of 35%) of total revenue coming into DOT would go to road and bridge repair. This amount would go far in solving our current crisis and seems a prudent investment.

Gov. Haley’s has also proposed to make DOT a cabinet level agency reporting directly to her. This new authority along with the new revenue will give her the opportunity to reform the agency into one properly structured for the 21st century – something that the General Assembly has failed to do.

Filing the Governor’s Road Improvement and Tax Reduction Plan

After several weeks of negotiations between House leadership and the Governor to reach a consensus on a plan to fix our roads and bridges, an impasse was reached. This impasse resulted in two bills being filed. Some hope remains for a compromise to be reached as both are heard in the Ways & Means Committee.

H3579 reflects the findings of the bi-partisan transportation study committee appointed by House Speaker Jay Lucas. The bill’s primary sponsor is Rep. Gary Simrill who also chaired the study committee. To date, it has 64 co-sponsors – 44 Republicans and 20 Democrats.

H3580 reflects the provisions outlined by Gov. Nikki Haley in her State of the State address. I am the primary sponsor of this bill. To date, it has 40 co-sponsors – all Republican.

Mr. Simrill’s bill offers good provisions in several areas and I commend the work that he and his bi-partisan committee put into developing it. Having chaired a tax study committee in the past, I can personally attest that he had a difficult task and he has done an admirable job.

Though I support some of the provisions of Mr. Simrill’s bill, I believe that the Governor’s bill offers the three key elements required for a successful plan to pass the Republican-controlled General Assembly and fix our roads:

The bill gives the Governor the authority necessary to restructure DOT – a reform long overdue and a task that cannot happen using a commission structure controlled or influenced by the Legislature.

The bill increases the existing gas tax by 10 cents a gallon over a three-year period. This approach gives DOT the minimum increase in funding needed to bring our existing roads into good repair while DOT restructuring takes place. Future projects will require more revenue, but we should not increase funding beyond what is needed to solve our current crisis until real DOT reform has happened.

The bill offers state income taxpayers substantial tax relief by eliminating the 6% and 7% brackets while shifting the other rates and brackets. This provides real tax relief to all state income tax payers, not just the ones who reach the top brackets. Most importantly, it allows South Carolina workers to enjoy the benefits of our future economic growth by eliminating the tax on their future labor that will contribute to that growth.

And that, my friends, is the key philosophical difference between the two bills. The bi-partisan bill from the bi-partisan study committee offers no tax relief as filed. The bill based on the Governor’s plan offers substantial tax relief. Both bills will now be heard by a bi-partisan budget committee.

Which bill do you think has a better chance of offering taxpayers real relief as road taxes are raised? The Governor’s plan that starts with real tax relief or the bi-partisan bill that ignores it completely?

Regulatory Reform

We passed legislation that places a sunset provision on all future regulations.

Many regulations are outdated, and this new measure would give an automatic expiration date to regulations five years after implementation.

This ensures an ongoing review of our regulations and provides the business community’s opportunity to have input.

The bill now heads to the Senate, and we hope they will join us in lending a hand to the businesses and innovators that drive our state’s economy.

Pain Capable Child Protection Act

The House passed the Pain Capable Child Protection Act` again this week. We were forced to do so because our Republican controlled Senate failed to act on it last session.

Below is what I wrote last session when we passed an identical bill.

The South Carolina House passed out a bill to prevent abortions after 20 weeks except to save the life of the mother. The bill was based on medical evidence that the pain channels of an unborn child are developed by 20 weeks. Since the unborn child feels pain like a human, he should be treated like one. The vote was 84 to 29 with several Democrats joining the Republican majority.

As a co-sponsor of the bill, I was encouraged by some level of bi-partisan support for this issue. Yet quite a few pro-abortion Democrats opposed the bill.

Their logic against the bill and my rebuttals are as follows:

1. The legislation will be found unconstitutional and we will waste tax money by having to defend it.

Elected representatives have the ethical duty to provide a voice for those who are powerless to speak for themselves, especially when the law itself prevents them from speaking.

Throughout American history, this duty has driven our elected officials to challenge the prevailing law of the day. Starting with our claim to the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we challenged the legality of taxation without representation. We challenged the legality of slave ownership, segregation, restriction on females voting, discrimination against the disabled, the list is endless. No Democrat would dare argue that tax money was wasted in challanging those laws.

Medical advances are showing that unborn children react to pain like human beings, contrary to the assertion in Roe v. Wade that they are just extensions of the woman’s body. It is our ethical duty to challenge that law until it is struck down.

2. Pro-Life legislators are hypocrites because we cease caring about the child after it is born by not providing more government assistance.

Just last week, we passed a $24 billion state budget. That budget represents a $24 billion wealth transfer from taxpayers who earned the money to groups that the government has decided needs the money more than the original taxpayer. How much more should we give?

3. Pro-Life legislators are hypocritical because many support the death penalty.

We should all pause at the thought that our government has the right to take the life of any American citizen, even after due process of law.

However, human nature demands justice and the death penalty prevents justice from devolving into revenge. I rarely use Scripture to argue politics, but I will reference it in this case as it is the foundation of our judicial code. In Genesis, God did not execute the first murderer. When Cain killed Abel, God marked Cain and said no one was to touch him. It was not until later, when God realized how bloodthirsty human beings could become, that death became the penalty for murder.

The opponents of the bill did not spend time arguing that the mother has the right to abort her child regardless of the pain inflicted. They also did not argue that the child could merely be anesthetized then aborted. I guess even the most hardened pro-abortion supporter did not want to go on record with those arguments – especially in an election year in South Carolina.

We should remember that many pro-abortion Democrats believe that abortion is a core reproductive right and provides the worldwide answer for women to achieve equality. Just this month on International Women’s Day, Hilary Clinton addressed the UN and said –

“There is one lesson from the past, in particular, that we cannot afford to ignore: You cannot make progress on gender equality or broader human development, without safeguarding women’s reproductive health and rights. That is a bedrock truth.”​ In other words, if you want to get ahead, kill your unborn children.

Ms. Clinton and other pro-abortion advocates are on the wrong side of history on this particular issue. The quicker they realize it, the more lives will be saved. Until then, pro-life advocates will continue speaking for those who cannot.

Tommy Stringer