To the Contrary

On Sanford and unemployment assistance

Gov. Mark Sanford has some valid concerns about the S.C. Employment Security Commission, but he can't jeopardize benefits to the state's unemployed workers to press those concerns.

Sanford claims the commission needs to be independently audited, that it wastes money and that it doesn't share enough information with the state Commerce Department.

Some of that might be true. ...

But when the commission needed him to sign off on a federal loan earlier this year so it could continue paying unemployment benefits, Sanford had some leverage. He protested the situation and said he would have to see his concerns addressed before approving another loan. ...

The governor of South Carolina is not an office of great power. The obsolete structure of state government fragments authority and accountability. Sanford deserves credit for pointing out the problems with this system over the years and doing what he can to improve it.

But it simply isn't worth the cost to make this point in this way. Sanford should approve the loan and allow unemployment benefits to continue in South Carolina.

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On the legislative session

The S.C. Legislature opens its 2009-2010 session on Jan. 13, but lawmakers have already filled House Speaker Bobby Harrell's stocking with 116 bills. Senators haven't been snuggled in their beds with visions of sugar plums, either. They managed to wrap up prefiling with 180 bills to their credit.

First up on the House side are several proposals to raise the state's cigarette tax of 7 cents per pack (the lowest in the nation). The Legislature approved an increase last session of 50 cents per pack, but Gov. Mark Sanford vetoed it. Regrettably, there were not enough votes to override it, a disservice to the more than 70 percent of citizens who supported the measure.

At issue once again is how to spend revenue derived from an increase. ...

In a flash from the past, one proposal in the Senate would allow counties to return video poker. And in another type of flashing (draw your own conclusions), a bill would make it illegal to wear sagging pants. Surely, our state has more important issues than this one. We think it's tacky, but not a topic that demands lawmakers' time -- unless they are some of the offenders.

Now there's a disturbing mental picture.

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On cockfighting

Legal penalties have been increased for cockfighting, but not enough. A recent bust in Anderson County revealed that the blood sport continues to operate on a fairly large scale.

Nineteen were arrested at a cockfighting pit in Honea Path, and 37 fighting chickens were seized, though some were already dead. The pit was housed in what a news report described as "an elaborate structure," with theater seats surrounding most of the ring.

Clearly, cockfighting remains something more than an ad hoc arrangement. That typically means there's gambling as well.

Those arrested face a misdemeanor charge, with the possibility of jail time and a $1,000 fine. While those penalties are an improvement over the wrist slaps once administered, the Legislature should do more. Cockfighting, like dog fighting and hog-dog fighting, should be made a felony, as recommended by state Attorney General Henry McMaster.

The people of South Carolina shouldn't tolerate the cruel sport any longer. The cockfighting tradition has been strong in South Carolina, but it's time to bring it to an end. Blood sports featuring animals bred to kill each other don't offer any reason for tolerance.

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On election law violations

The robo-call incident from earlier this year which resulted in an arrest is evidence that dirty politics is still a part of the political scene -- even in Aiken County.

Calls went out with caller identification showing they were from REI, Incorporated, a business owned by State Sen. Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken. The voice linked Sen. Ryberg with Scott Singer, a candidate for the Republican nomination to the S.C. House District 81 seat. Sen. Ryberg won his primary race against North Augustan Jason Whinghter, while Mr. Singer was defeated in a runoff with Tom Young Jr. ...

The person charged in the incident, Virginia Allen of Aiken, worked for the campaign for Mr. Whinghter. She is also the treasurer of the Aiken County Republican Party. The charges which she faces are misdemeanors under South Carolina law, and perhaps that is one of the problems in our state.

While the intended result of the election-eve deception was not realized, the current laws are not enough to deter people who would attempt to sway our democratic process through illegal means. A slap on the wrist is not enough to deter dirty tricksters from attempting to sway elections, but perhaps a stint in the state penitentiary is. It is time that laws dealing with election mischief are dealt with as felonies.

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