Opinion Columns & Blogs

S.C. needs LUI law

If state Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, has his way, South Carolinians may never again live in fear of drug-crazed state treasurers.

Last year, Peeler introduced a bill to require candidates for state or federal offices to be tested for drugs. Responding to criticism that such a law might be unconstitutional, he recently has pushed instead for an amendment to the state Constitution.

Peeler introduced his original bill soon after then-state Treasurer Thomas Ravenel was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine. At the time, Ravenel, a Charleston developer, had been in office less than six months. He pleaded guilty in September.

Peeler changed his strategy in response to criticism about the constitutionality of the earlier bill, including testimony from a USC law professor who said the U.S. Supreme Court had thrown out a similar Georgia law. Said Peeler: "The citizens think it's a great idea, but once you get to Columbia, people start picking it apart."

Don't you just hate it when people start throwing the Constitution at you when all you're trying to do is deprive someone of an inalienable right or two?

An inalienable right

Putting it another way, it's a sacred tenet of democracy that the electorate has a right to vote into office any dim-witted miscreant it chooses. A former Louisiana governor once bragged that he would always be re-elected so long as he wasn't found in bed with a dead girl or a live boy. Unfortunately, he later went to jail for somewhat less salacious offenses, so his theory was never fairly tested.

Young Ravenel, a rising star in state GOP ranks, likely has seen the end of his political career. I never was a big Thomas Ravenel fan, but I have to believe that if a law such as the one Peeler champions had been on the books in 2006, even Ravenel would have been smart enough to stay off coke long enough to pass drug screening,

Lest I be accused by the good senator of nitpicking, however, I will endorse his bill but only on the condition he widens its scope.

Why stop with drug-snorting pols? I ask. If Peeler really cares about protecting us, he will want to make it a crime to legislate under the influence of alcohol (LUI). This bill would require lawmakers to submit to a Breathalyzer test every week the General Assembly was in session. Any lawmaker who blew a .08 or higher would immediately removed from office.

I'm not suggesting that South Carolina lawmakers are a bunch of drunkards, but some of the bills they pass make you wonder whether a majority was fully sober. Of course, if mandatory testing showed they weren't sloshed, the specter would be raised that perhaps some were insane, so Peeler might want to include mandatory psychiatric evaluations in his bill.

And why stop there? Let's insist that candidates couldn't run for the Statehouse unless they had passed an IQ test. Such a rule might have protected us from the numbskulls who, for example, voted to uphold Gov. Sanford's veto last year of a bill to prohibit children from operating ATVs before they were potty-trained.

And, clearly, you have to question the intelligence of a Legislature that made state and local government more dependent on sales taxes -- the most volatile source of public revenue.

Required course

Actually, Sen. Peeler would be doing all South Carolinians a favor if he would only amend his bill to require that no person could run for the Legislature until he or she had passed a civics course and demonstrated a rudimentary understanding of how government works.

Had that requirement been in place two years ago, Thomas Ravenel might not have become state treasurer in the first place. Perhaps he wasn't the most arrogantly ignorant candidate to run for statewide office in recent years, but many who follow South Carolina politics were astounded by what he didn't know about state government, including the state treasurer's job.

Surely, if legislators can require high school students to pass an exit exam, citizens can demand politicians pass an entrance exam.