Tag: Interstate 73

Politicians for Sale?

Attempting to keep political decisions free from outside influence has been a problem virtually since the beginning of the American Republic.
During a recent county council meeting, a woman told council members she was involved in a group that was studying campaign donors and votes on projects the donors were involved with in order to see if any council members were apparently giving preferential treatment to their donors.
But the question of influence is not restricted to campaign donations.
SC Code 8-13-700 states:
(A) No public official, public member, or public employee may knowingly use his official office, membership, or employment to obtain an economic interest for himself, a family member, an individual with whom he is associated, or a business with which he is associated.
(B) No public official, public member, or public employee may make, participate in making, or in any way attempt to use his office, membership, or employment to influence a governmental decision in which he, a family member, an individual with whom he is associated, or a business with which he is associated has an economic interest.
A politician who is a principal in a political consulting business that accepts consulting fees from a candidate then endorses or arranges endorsements from other politicians can appear to be using their official office to help the election of a candidate from whom they are accepting fees.
This is the case of Crescent Communications, in which Russell Fry, Heather Crawford and Cam Crawford all participate as campaign consultants. In both 2016 and 2018, Crescent Communications ran the campaigns of local politicians who were later endorsed by one or more of the Crescent Communications crew. Two attorneys I spoke with believe this violates SC Code section 8-13-700 stated above.
Now Fry is running for Congress. Instead of using his associates in Crescent Communications, he has hired Ivory Tusk Consulting, in which fellow SC House member R. J. May is associated. It will be interesting to see what endorsements, if any, Fry obtains in this race and from whom they come.
Influence can be more subtle than money.
As a member of the SC House, Alan Clemmons not only endorsed, but also heavily campaigned for the election of Stephen Goldfinch as senator, the election of Case Brittain as a representative and the reelection of Sen. Luke Rankin.
Clemmons hired Heather Crawford before she was elected to the SC House to do consulting and constituent services for him. Clemmons’ campaign account filings show he paid Crawford $150,000 over the course of five years for these services but failed to replace her when Crawford was elected to be a representative.

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Russell Fry – Political Strategist or Political Opportunist

The political metamorphosis of Russell Fry in the last several weeks has been eye opening as Fry has gone from silence for six months on incumbent Rep. Tom Rice’s vote to impeach former President Donald Trump to now attempting to be the biggest Rice critic and Trump supporter in the race for the Republican nomination for the 7th Congressional District seat.
As Fry has attempted to build his Trump message, he has styled himself as a strong conservative, small government, individual liberty candidate. However, during his political career to this point, Fry has been known as one of the “Chamber crowd” of politicians pushing the Interstate 73 message on voters.
Fry was one of the co-sponsors of a bill introduced into the legislature in 2019, which would have forced Horry County Government to donate all revenue from a countywide hospitality fee to the construction of an interstate highway rather than allowing county government to return the revenue collected within city limits to the cities and to spend the revenue collected in the unincorporated areas on other infrastructure and public safety needs to support the locals and tourists who pay the fee.
Sponsoring such a bill is hardly the action of a small government conservative.
Fry apparently got his start in local politics while a student in 2008 working as a consultant and providing other unspecified campaign services to former state Rep. Thad Viers. He again was paid for unspecified campaign services to Viers during the 2010 election cycle. Viers resigned his statehouse seat in 2012 and ultimately spent 18 months in federal prison for a money laundering conviction.
Shortly after graduating from law school and passing the bar, Fry formed the political consulting firm Crescent Communications, in early 2013, just in time to run the campaign of Mark Lazarus to fill the unexpired term of Tom Rice who resigned as Horry County Council chairman to enter Congress.
Lazarus won the special election, reelection in 2014 to a full term, then, lost in 2018. Fry and the other two members of the Crescent Communications team, Heather and Cam Crawford, ran all three campaigns for Lazarus, according to state ethics records.
Heather Crawford was already in the SC House of Representatives having won a special election to fill the unexpired term of Viers in 2012 and reelection in the 2012 general election for House District 68. Cam Crawford would soon win a special election for Horry County Council District 6 to fill the unexpired term of Bob Grabowski.
In 2015, Fry made it a trifecta of elected positions for the Crescent Communications team by winning a special election to fill the unexpired term of Nelson Hardwick in House District 106. All three received liberal donations from Chamber members, Chamber associated PACs and other special interests whose prime goal is the construction of I-73.

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School Mask Mandates – Who are the True Conservatives?

This week’s controversy about whether to require students, teachers and staff to wear masks in public schools gave us another chance to see who are the real conservative political leaders and who are the politicians that only give voice to conservatism to get elected.
Put another way, who truly promotes individual liberty and limiting government overreach and who doesn’t?
The longest serving legislative member in Horry County, Sen. Luke Rankin, joined forces with Democrats throughout the state and Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman to call for the repeal of a state budget proviso that currently makes it illegal for local school boards to require masks to be worn in schools.
What makes this extremely absurd is it’s only two months since the proviso became law with the passing of the state budget and both passing the proviso and repealing it are examples of government overreach by the state legislature.
Government overreach by the state legislature is almost a requirement in a General Assembly filled with mostly pseudo-conservative politicians who enjoy exercising power over others. And many in the Horry County legislative delegation excel at government overreach by dictating to local governments and citizens.
At the very most, decisions on whether students should be required to wear masks in school should be left to the local governing school board, but one which should be exercised only in extreme circumstances. The decision on whether a child wears a mask to school or not should be left to the parents of the child as a normal course of action. Otherwise, what does individual liberty mean?
The controversy over masks quickly entered the political discussion in the 7th Congressional District race.
School Board Chairman Ken Richardson has said repeatedly in media reports that state law currently forbids school boards from legislating masking requirements and that he believes it is a decision that should be left to the parents.
Former Myrtle Beach Mayor Mark McBride took Rankin to task in a video rebuttal to Rankin’s call for a mask mandate. In that rebuttal, McBride said he believes the decision to wear a mask to school or not should be left to the parents.
State Rep. Russell Fry, who launched his campaign declaring he was a true conservative Republican, has been strangely quiet on the issue.
However, Fry has not been timid about being in the middle of government overreach by the General Assembly on other issues.

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Rice, Fry and Crawford’s Interstate 73 on Life Support

Since the City of Myrtle Beach killed a funding source for Interstate 73 with the hospitality fee lawsuit against Horry County, the cabal that stands to benefit from construction of the road has been attempting to keep the project alive.
In the last two years of his tenure as county chairman, Mark Lazarus led council to remove the sunset provision in the county’s hospitality fee ordinance. Then, Lazarus convinced council to approve a financial participation agreement with the S. C. Department of Transportation to provide dedicated funding for the interstate project.
Lazarus’ entire scheme to provide county funding for construction of I-73 blew up with the hospitality fee lawsuit and recent settlement.
Congressman Tom Rice, and state Reps. Heather Crawford and Russell Fry and former Rep. Alan Clemmons didn’t even get as far as Lazarus in securing funding for construction of Interstate 73 despite constantly proclaiming the project a major priority.
The most successful representative in obtaining funds for I-73 was former SC 1st Congressional District Rep. Henry Brown in the days when Horry County was part of that district. During his 10 years in Washington, Brown managed to secure approximately $83 million total for the road. Brown served in Congress from Jan. 2001 to Jan. 2011.
According to sources familiar with the project, SCDOT is currently spending the last of the Brown secured funding to purchase rights of way in the Mullins area.
Rice has demonstrated no ability to secure federal funding to move the I-73 project forward. Neither have Fry, Crawford and previously Clemmons at the state level.
Grand Strand Daily has learned that a recent private meeting was held after Gov. Henry McMaster made an address to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. The meeting included McMaster, Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune, North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley and Horry County Council member Dennis DiSabato. The meeting reportedly discussed providing some state funding, with local matching funds, to keep the project alive.
It is interesting that McMaster chose to meet with Bethune and Hatley, the two mayors who played the largest part in eliminating I-73 funding from hospitality fee revenue, as well as DiSabato who will struggle to get seven votes among council members for the proposal. One wonders, where was Horry County Council member Johnny Vaught when this meeting occurred. Vaught was attached at the hip to Lazarus with attempting to provide dedicated annual funding for I-73 from hospitality fee revenue.
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Tom Rice Voted His Retirement Wednesday

By voting to impeach President Donald Trump on Wednesday, South Carolina 7th Congressional District Representative Tom Rice effectively announced his retirement from Congress.

Representing one of the most solidly pro-Trump districts in the nation, Rice’s vote drew nearly 3,000 Facebook comments in a matter of a few hours after his vote. The overwhelming majority of those comments were telling Rice he would never get their vote again and he should immediately retire.

There has always been a debate about whether a Congressman’s vote should represent the wishes of his constituents or that by electing him, his constituents effectively give him permission to vote as he determines proper.

Most congressmen do some of both, but occasionally an issue arises that most congressmen understand that they must vote the wishes of their constituents or suffer the consequences. The question of whether or not to impeach the president was just such an issue in the 7th Congressional District and Rice either didn’t understand the mood of his constituents or just didn’t care.

It’s interesting to note that local officeholders who rush to get Rice’s endorsement at election time and always show up for a photo op with him when he is in town, Luke Rankin, Heather Ammons Crawford, Cam Crawford, Russel Fry and newly elected Case Brittain quickly come to mind, have offered no defense of Rice on this issue.

They understand discretion is the better part of valor on this issue and defending Rice’s vote would only serve to put their future election prospects in peril.

While the overwhelming number of Republican voters in Horry County, who also happen to be the overwhelming number of voters in the county, condemned Rice’s vote, he did garner thanks from the county Democrats.

A press release by the Horry County Democratic Party said in part, “Jan. 13, 2021 — The Horry County Democratic Party today thanked Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC-7) for joining nine other Republicans and every Democrat in the House of Representatives to impeach President Donald Trump.”

Incumbents Rule Primary Elections

Primary election night was ruled by incumbents at all levels.

Only one incumbent lost, Janice Morreale in the District 5 school board race, and that was not a loss to a newcomer. Former county councilman for that district, Howard Barnard, defeated Morreale. Barnard gave up his council seat when he unsuccessfully ran for council chairman 10 years ago.

There will be newcomers to the county council District Nine seat and Horry County Auditor as incumbents Paul Prince and Lois Eargle, respectively, did not seek reelection. Both races will go to a primary runoff in two weeks with Mark Causey and Terry Fowler squaring off for District 10 and R. A. Johnson facing Beth Calhoun for Auditor.

One other incumbent, Sen. Luke Rankin, was forced to a runoff with challenger John Gallman in two weeks as either failed to get over 50 percent of the votes cast.

The victories by the incumbents effectively guarantee that the special interests in the county will play a big role over the next several years to the detriment of average citizens.

There is no doubt there will be a renewed effort to use county tax revenues, not state or federal dollars, to construct the Interstate 73 section in Horry County.

Likewise, developers will continue their push to build anywhere they wish, as much as they wish without any consideration for existing infrastructure and public safety needs of the areas to be developed.

Expect any county council attempt to pass impact fees on new development to be foiled and flood mitigation to be put on the back burner as special interests strive to make as much profit as possible.

There is no doubt that the Covid 19 epidemic played a part in the loss of the challengers as they were restricted in any ability to address groups of voters. Incumbents already had familiarity and name recognition going for them.

However, the basic fault lies with voters, or rather lack of them.

Clemmons Attempts to Dictate I-73 Funding to Local Governments

Rep. Alan Clemmons chaired a sub-committee meeting Wednesday at the state house for a hospitality fee bill that attempts to dictate what local governments must do with regard to spending hospitality fee revenue.

After the meeting, Clemmons attempted to put a positive spin on the meeting by telling a local television reporter, “They say that when both parties aren’t happy then you’ve usually reached a fair middle ground.”

I’m not sure who “they” are, but that thinking doesn’t apply in this case. The reason nobody from the cities or county representatives at the meeting voiced anything positive about the bill is this really is a terrible bill.

Clemmons is one of the sponsors of the bill joined by Russell Fry, Heather Ammons Crawford and Tim McGinnis. It is notable here that the four can’t even get the entire Horry County delegation signed on as co-sponsors.

Clemmons has tried to spin the bill as a settlement for the lawsuit between Myrtle Beach and Horry County.

It is not.

The real purpose of the bill is to attempt to force local governments in Horry County to do what the ‘failing four’ can’t get done at the state level – Fund Interstate 73. The entire focus in Columbia is to get as much funding for I-73 from hospitality fee revenue as possible while ignoring the many more immediate, local government needs that the revenue could be used toward.

Initially this bill tried to dictate that all the hospitality fee revenue be used for I-73 construction. An amendment was approved Wednesday that would give the cities approximately one-half of the revenue to use for improvement of tourist related infrastructure and to fund other tourist related needs. The county would get zero for local needs.

The formula established in the amendment would provide approximately $20 million annually to I-73 construction costs within Horry County. Note – Horry County is being asked to be the only county in the history of interstate highway construction to completely fund construction costs of the portion of the interstate highway within its borders through locally generated tax revenue.

Future state and federal funding, if ever appropriated, is projected to be spent in Marion, Dillon and Marlboro counties, not Horry.

Myrtle Beach’s Problem with the Truth about I-73 Funding

Myrtle Beach city government just can’t keep itself from spinning stories in an attempt to make itself look good while hiding the truth from the public.

The following post, which appeared on the city government Facebook page yesterday, is a perfect example of the city’s spin:

“The City of Myrtle Beach supports I-73…

“The Myrtle Beach City Council is on the record as supporting I-73. Twice in the past year, City Council has approved resolutions expressing its support for I-73. In April 2019, Council publicly stated that it would devote financial resources to I-73 once the Hospitality Fee issue was resolved. Myrtle Beach has demonstrated its commitment to I-73. Question: Has the Horry County Council voted publicly to support I-73?”

The day Myrtle Beach filed suit against Horry County to stop countywide collection of the 1.5% Hospitality Fee, the local revenue stream for funding I-73 dried up.

The above post says in April 2019 Myrtle Beach city council approved a resolution expressing support for I-73. The resolution was passed after city council refused a settlement offer for the Hospitality Fee lawsuit from county council that provided funding for I-73.

The county’s settlement offer would have designated one-third of the revenue from countywide collection of the 1.5% Hospitality Fee to fund I-73 with the remaining two-thirds of the revenue collected within the city limits being transferred back to the city for use as city council determined.

The following is an extract from a letter Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune wrote to county Chairman Johnny Gardner rejecting the settlement offer:

“Thank you for your letter of April 3. As you are aware, the Myrtle Beach City Council has expressed its willingness to commit support for the I-73 project. However, since the proposed funding source is the subject of litigation, we are unable to engage in negotiations under the terms described in your letter and related attachments.

State Legislation Would Not Solve Lawsuit or I-73 Funding

A bill being sponsored by four local state representatives is erroneously being promoted as legislation that would settle a lawsuit between Myrtle Beach and Horry County and provide funding for Interstate 73.

Nowhere in the original complaint or subsequent motions of that lawsuit, filed March 2019, is Interstate 73 mentioned.

The legislation, H4745, sponsored by Reps. Alan Clemmons, Russell Fry, Heather Ammons Crawford and Tim McGinnis would provide the extension of what is called a countywide ‘legacy hospitality fee’ as long the revenue derived from the countywide portion is used specifically to fund an interstate highway project.

When Myrtle Beach filed the original complaint last March, it specifically sought end collection of a 1.5% countywide hospitality fee within its corporate limits. Immediately after filing the lawsuit, Myrtle Beach city council passed new accommodations and hospitality fee taxes, allowed by current state law, to capture revenue from those levies for use on projects of council’s discretion within the city limits.

North Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach quickly followed Myrtle Beach’s lead in passing new accommodations and hospitality taxes within their respective jurisdictions.

The day Myrtle Beach filed its lawsuit seeking to stop collection of the countywide hospitality fee, countywide funding for I-73 was dead.

A section of the original complaint filed by Myrtle Beach claims the 1.5% countywide hospitality fee, established by a 1996 county ordinance, was illegally extended by county council when a sunset provision was removed from the ordinance in April 2017.

County council voted to remove the sunset provision at the urging of then county chairman Mark Lazarus. It was Lazarus who introduced I-73 into the discussion by mentioning the I-73 project as one of the possible future uses of hospitality fee revenue.

A current proposed settlement for the lawsuit ends any authority of the county to continue countywide collection of the 1.5% hospitality fee and allows all the cities within the county to collect and use the revenue from their newly passed hospitality and accommodations taxes as their respective councils determine within their respective jurisdictions.

Citizen Activists Changing the County’s Political Landscape

The engagement of citizen activists in the political system of Horry County was the biggest story of 2019. This year it will prove to be even bigger with county and state elections on the calendar.

Three of those council members, DiSabato, Loftus and Crawford have been charter members of what I have termed the ‘Deep Six’ on county council who generally do the bidding of the oligarchs.

Groups such as Empowering Horry County, Horry County Rising, Make Myrtle Beaches Free, Clean and Safe, and Highway 90 Corridor Concerns, to name a few, have made effective use of social media to band together groups of citizens so their message becomes part of the political discussion.

That message is simple, these citizen activists want a government that provides the necessary goods and services expected of it and does not overreach with wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars on projects that only benefit the few.

They want elected officials who will provide the public safety services needed to keep the communities safe and who will maintain and upgrade, when necessary, existing infrastructure to benefit the entire community, especially in the areas of roads and storm water management. They want controlled development so that new sub-divisions do not negatively impact the homes and lives of those who already live here.

Horry County has had an oligarchical form of government where a small number of influential business owners and developers have controlled politicians and political decisions for decades. These new groups of citizen activists want to expand the existing political landscape into one that more closely resembles a representative democracy where the voices of the many, not just the few, are heard.

Five Horry County Council members, Dennis DiSabato, Gary Loftus, Cam Crawford, Paul Prince and Danny Hardee will be up for reelection this year as will all the state representatives and senators. This year many of them used to having no opposition will face challengers in the primaries (the only elections that really count in this one party state).