Lee Bright and the Defense of Western Values

The following might be the most lengthy candidate endorsement of this election cycle. To understand why I support Sen. Lee Bright for re-election requires more than me simply touting the typical “God, Guns and Country” slogan used by every Republican. You deserve a better explanation.

Beyond believing that his political courage is necessary for the health of the General Assembly, my support for Mr. Bright comes as a reaction to the climate of political expediency that has settled over Columbia like a tropical depression. In my eight years in office, this election cycle may be the first where groups demanding political expediency outworked and outspent groups demanding political conservatism. Political expediency values convenience over consensus at the expense of ideology – liberal or conservative.

Needless to say, the pro-expediency groups hate Mr. Bright. To them, he’s an obstructionist. He stands in the way of their economic progress. He’s an embarrassment. He even still believes in something called a culture war . . . Yes, the broad culture war against the history and values of our Christ-haunted Western Civilization.

Back in the late 1980’s, most Republicans stood where Mr. Bright stands today. They condemned attacks on our Western values as acts of “political correctness.” Bolstered by Allan Bloom and his 1987 book The Closing of the American Mind, along with conservative thought magazines such as National Review and The American Spectator, Republicans made solid arguments against the wholesale acceptance of multiculturalism and relativism taught by liberal college professors at the time. While all cultures have value, conservatives argued, not all cultures have achieved or desire individual liberty for its members. Some cultures are incompatible with ours and hate the broad liberties that we have earned. The conservatives of yesterday would have no problem understanding the Islamic threat to us today.

Somewhere along the way, Republicans stopped believing that the end logic of multiculturalism leads to the demise of our Western values. Maybe they started listening to their college-aged children and stopped thinking as adults. Whatever the reason, they withdrew from the fight and allowed the notion of political correctness to mutate into a hypersensitivity that now threatens our First Amendment rights.

Consider the protests happening on today’s college campuses. Students are less inclined to believe in the absolute right of free speech especially if the words seem “hurtful.” To them, abstract beliefs are less important than a momentary emotional feeling. Beliefs are neither wrong nor right, they just exist – a mental step beyond multiculturalism toward cultural nihilism.

Here are some examples of how far gone we are. Most of us cannot imagine an America where warning labels are put on the works of Shakespeare to prevent college students from being offended by a play’s content. We laugh at the notion that “Trump 2016” chalked on a sidewalk would mentally traumatize students. We don’t believe it when students are deeply offended if their college food service prepares ethnic meals that aren’t properly ethnic in their ingredients or preparation. (A food service taco by any other name would taste as bad . . . )

Add to the list student protests against Halloween costumes they don’t like, demands that university seals containing symbols that offend them be changed, protests against old diversity murals (the parietal cave drawings of their liberal ancestors) in college coffee houses that they feel stereotype ethnic groups, and calls for college newspaper opinion pieces that are hurtful to be retracted. These are the recent absurdities carried out by students at Oberlin, Harvard, Yale, Northwestern, Ithaca, Wesleyan, and Emory. (Check out “The Big Uneasy” by Nathan Heller published in the 23 May 2016 issue of The New Yorker magazine.)

How about this statement from a recent student protest letter to the Oberlin administration – “You include Black and other students of color in the institution and mark them with the words ‘equity, inclusion and diversity, when in fact this institution functions on the premises of imperialism, white supremacy, capitalism, ableism, and a cissexist heteropatriarchy.” Imagine that – Oberlin College, bastion of liberal thought – accused of white supremacy by its students.

“Ableism and cissexist heteropatriarchy?” These are the barely understandable code words of an anti-permanence revolution of the campuses of our elite colleges. The same revolution that normalized the idea of same-sex marriage, disassociated gender from biology, and ultimately will subordinate our First Amendment rights of free speech and free practice of religion to a tyranny of the transient notion.

Old school liberals naively dismiss fears that our First Amendment rights are threatened. They believe that attaining marriage rights for same-sex couples or bathroom rights for transgendered people are just the next victory as their push for equality marches onward. They don’t quite see yet that these victories are coincidental and that their ideology and that of their right-wing foils will become irrelevant as political and cultural transientism overwhelms them. A transientism that only values living in the moment and demands emancipation from the past and the permanent.

Consider the recent petition distributed by English majors at Yale. They demanded that the faculty “decolonize” the undergraduate course entitled “Major English Poets” of all white male poets. These include William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Milton, William Wordsworth, and T. S. Eliot. The students believe that the very existence of these poets offend students of color. They are not demanding diversity – that non-white, non-male poets be added to the course. They want the course sanitized of white males regardless of the caliber of their works.

Ridiculous, you might say. Isn’t William Shakespeare considered the greatest of all English writers? Not to these Yale students who, like their fellow transients at other colleges, believe that Shakespeare’s Hamlet cannot be held in higher esteem than the doodles of a three year old. Hamlet and doodles are expressions of each person’s experience at that moment of their lives and have no relevance to anyone else. Where’s the renowned Bardolator, Harold Bloom, when you need him?

Transients reject the term “greatest” or any word that suggests ranking, permanence or equality. Their rejection of equality should sound the loudest alarm to their liberal professors. Transients believe that each person is so unique that no one person can understand the “life experience” of another and casual attempts to find equality in a shared experience are deemed “insensitive” – a term soon to exceed “racist” as the ultimate social insult.

The petition circulated by the Yale students reminds me of a quote from Ray Bradbury, the white Eurocentric male who wrote Fahrenheit 451. He said, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” Or just have freshman undergraduates read “graphic novels” about feeling alienated during your teenage years instead of books that link their education to our Western literary tradition.

Now, Dear Reader, if you made it this far then you may think that I’ve gone completely over the top with my conclusions. You may think me to be an alarmist and I very well may be. But that doesn’t make me wrong.

You must remember that I came of age during the 1980’s. Along with Mr. Bright and those other Gen X conservatives in the General Assembly, we witnessed the triumph of conservative thought. We watched Reagan call out the Soviets at high noon armed with the rightness of our Western values. We saw the Berlin Wall collapse. We witnessed the courage of a conservative president disarm the very real threat of several thousand thermo-nuclear weapons aimed at our country.

Reagan understood where we were on the timeline of Western Civilization. We were nearing the end then and we are nearing the end rather quickly now propelled by a new generation of leaders who have been taught to question the cultural birthright of liberty that is rightfully ours.

So, who do you want in the General Assembly in these uncertain days? Mr. Bright, a courageous, though somewhat irritating, defender of conservatism? Or do you want a servant of the expedient who will never cause a problem?

A Little Courage Strengthens The Whole Lump – Lee Bright For Senate

Having served in the General Assembly for the last eight years, I can count on two certainties: The political expediency of the Republican Majority and the courage of Sen. Lee Bright.

Our democracy requires courage and courage demands sacrifice – a sacrifice of personal income, of friends, of time spent with family, of the respect of your peers. Sometimes courage demands the sacrifice of the very office that you hold if you stand against the prevailing winds of expediency.

Lee Bright has consistently made this stand, this stonewall against the powers that control our state capitol, against their collusion with groups that would enrich themselves at the expense of the common citizen, against their cynical promises of conservative reform to advance their own political careers, against their ready abandonment of the very ideals that have sustained our republic since its founding, the ideals of life – we know that Lee fights to protect life at its very inception and to reduce the number of abortions in South Carolina – the ideals of liberty – we know that Lee fights the ever growing need of government to expand and expand while it devours our individual freedoms bite by bite.

We know that Lee fights to repair the foundation that sustains our life and liberty. The foundation of a Christ-haunted Western Civilization that now crumbles under us as we fall into a pit of cultural transience.

We know that Lee fights to protect and honor the sacrifices of our citizens both past and present. He fought the idea that we should forever memorialize the 9 gracious South Carolinians at Emmanuel AME Church who made the ultimate sacrifice for their Christian charity by dishonoring the 17,000 South Carolinians who made the ultimate sacrifice for their courage while serving under the confederate banner.

We know that Lee fights the tyranny of the transient majority, a majority driven by fleeting passion and not by logic. A majority bent on the replacement of proven traditional values with transient confusion.

James Madison once asked how do you fight a majority “adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community?” You fight it by minimizing the possibility. Or to use the language of Lee’s political opponents, by being an obstructionist.

We need Lee Bright in the South Carolina Senate. We need his courage and his voice.

Now we must have faith that the citizens of Senate District 12 will not condemn Lee for his principled stands but will reward him for his courage on June 28th.

Now About That Cheese Sandwich Debate . . .

The full House finally debated the school lunch nutrition bill last week. This bill, passed earlier by the Senate, updated our state code to reference the new federal school lunch guidelines.

The House Education Committee had amended the bill to require school districts to offer the same full lunch to all students on free or reduced lunch programs. Currently, some districts offer an alternative lunch to students on the reduced lunch program who cannot pay for lunch – the so called “cheese sandwich” option.

After the debate in which a one-year extension was added to the original amendment granting school districts time to comply, the House voted down the amendment 64 (16 Democrats sided with 46 Republicans) to 35 (12 Republicans sided with 13 Democrats) and kept the cheese sandwich option. I supported the amendment and spoke against the cheese sandwich.

During my research for the debate, I found a seminar on the USDA school lunch website entitled “The Challenges of Unpaid Meals: Proven Strategies From Our Nations Schools – February 23, 2016.” This seminar was developed using data submitted by individual school districts to the USDA.

After the USDA published a school lunch operations study of the 2011-2012 school year, Congress recognized that denying an individual student access to the same lunch available to other students carried with it the potential for abuse. They directed the USDA to gather additional data on alternative lunches and report their findings.

In October 2014, the USDA requested information from every school district in the country specifically about their unpaid meals policies and procedures. They also asked each state department of education to submit statewide policies that pertained to unpaid school lunches. The unpaid meals seminar was one of the products of their research.

During our k-12 subcommittee hearing, no lobbyist from the different k-12 special interest groups presented evidence that South Carolina school districts submitted data or even knew that a study had been performed or that a seminar existed.

According to the 2012 operations study, only 6% of the states had developed a statewide policy for individual school districts to follow. South Carolina’s Department of Education has not. At the minimum, such a policy should prohibit the shaming of the student because his parents did not take care of their financial responsibility to him.

By responsibility, I mean that a parent or guardian has the obligation to contact the school district and figure out a way to pay for the student’s lunch – preferably in advance. Remember, we are only talking about those students who have already qualified for the reduced lunch program. For the parents of those students, the out-of-pocket cost is $.40 each day to receive the full lunch offered to all other students.

As part of their strategy to defeat the amendment, some of our school districts claimed that it was an unfunded mandate from the state to the school districts that would cost $50 million statewide. The $50 million amount was a scare tactic used to intimidate lawmakers and judging from the vote count, it worked.

Regrettably, those lawmakers who believed the $50 million amount did not ask the school districts why they were allowing that much money to be left uncollected. If nutrition aids learning and improves test scores, then the $50 million number casts the school districts in an even more questionable light than before.

In reality, the possible fiscal impact statewide, assuming that no attempt was made to collect lunch money from the parents, was $2.6 million as reported by our state economist. Using the policies suggested in the seminar, the amount would be much less.

Though they won the debate, the school districts were left with an odor of villiany about them. They came across as cynical, intractable and out of touch at the very moment when intelligent forward thinking is needed in our public school system.

The General Assembly spent this year passing several education reform bills that set the foundation to bring educational equality to students in all school districts. If our school districts fight this hard against equality in the lunchroom, how will they ever be capable of delivering it in the classroom? Will a cheese sandwich become symbolic of the future educational opportunities offered to our students? Questions to think on before our next legislative session.

The Roads Bill – Reforms in Progress

H1258 – Reforms Summary

SECTION 1.  DOT Commission Reform

  • DOT Commissioners
    • 1 Commissioner from each Congressional/Transportation District and 1 at large
    • Appointed by the Governor
    • Approved for disapproved by the legislative delegation from the Transportation District
    • Once approved, appointee must be screened by the Joint Transportation Review Committee (JTRC)
    • Once qualified, appointee must receive advice and consent of the Senate
    • 4 year terms – eligible for reappointment – 12 year lifetime limit
    • No county may have a commission for more than 8 consecutive years
    • Governor may remove commission with approval from legislative delegation from district
  • Streamlines DOT Commission duties – S.561
    • Requested by Secretary Hall
    • Removes the commission from the day to day decision making at the department
    • The commission will be responsible for:
      • approving the Department’s budget
      • The 20 year long range plan
      • The STIP / project prioritization
      • Appointing a Secretary of Transportation
    • Moves the internal audit function to the State Auditor

SECTION 2.  The Secretary is appointed by the Commission with the advice and consent of the Senate, and serves at the pleasure of the Commission

SECTION 3.  Eliminates the Joint Transportation Screening Committee

SECTION 4   Conforms current law related to ongoing audits of the department to account for the           State Auditor employing the internal auditor

SECTIONS 5,6, & 7 All relate to State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) reforms

  • Requires prior Commission approval of SIB projects
  • Projects funded by the SIB must be at least $25M
  • Imposes project prioritization for SIB projects

SECTIONS 8 through 85    All relate to funding

  • All of the Senate funding provisions are included verbatim
  • Incorporates the additional funding added by the House and adopted in the in the Conference Report of the Appropriations Bill

The Roads Bill – How We Will Pay For It

H1258 Funding Summary

The roads bill is still in conference committee with appointees from the House and Senate finalizing the details. The following items have been agreed to at this point:

  • Fee and Fine revenues collected by the DMV and used for agency operations are transferred to the SCDOT/State Highway Fund – $84.2 M
  • All Motor Vehicle Sales tax revenues (excluding the EIA portion) are transferred to the SCDOT/State Highway Fund – $131.3 M
  • SCDOT will use new recurring funds for resurfacing program, implemented with a needs-based distribution methodology, including consideration on a county-by-county basis, to ensure that each county in the state is guaranteed funding for resurfacing
  • SCDOT shall identify road and bridge projects to be financed through the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB), and transfer non-tax revenue in amounts equal to the finance requirements of the selected projects
  • SCDOT will maximize dollars for bridge and resurfacing needs, bonding only what is needed for the larger projects (for example, the intersection of I26 and I20 aka Malfunction Junction)
  • These funds may not be used for projects approved by the SIB prior to July 1, 2013
  • All projects must be approved by the Joint Bond Review Committee (JBRC)
  • SIB projects funded under this provision will not require local match
  • With the new recurring funds from DMV fees & fines and the Vehicle Sales tax, SIB bonds, and the utilization of existing SCDOT funds will result in a total of $4.2 B – $4.5 B over the next ten years
  • Bridges: $950 M to completely eliminate structurally-deficient bridges on interstates and national highway system routes
  • Interstates: $2 B in widenings and improvements to existing Interstates
  • Resurfacing: $1.4+ B in pavement resurfacing
Tommy Stringer