Monday, March 4, 2013

South Carolina's Lee Bright: A Closer Look at Lindsey Graham's Possible Tea Party Challenger

Lindsey Grahamby Nomad

When you listen to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, it’s hard to remember that according to his own consultant, he is “a thinking person's conservative.” 

Lately that's been a contradiction in terms.

Even if true, the question might be whether conservative voters in South Carolina would actually vote for a representative that thinks. It's a bit of a high standard.

They seem to prefer a politician that fights, that rants, that issues bold but essentially meaningless proclamations while refraining from any unwarranted brain activity.
These days Graham has been giving his constituents exactly what they crave. His recent embarrassing displays on the highly-politicized Benghazi investigation and his even more inept attempt to block the vote on the Hagel confirmation was a calculated strategy to establish his conservative credentials with his home state voters. So the crazier Graham appears on the national stage, the more votes he believes he can get back home. 

And this is the key problem with Republican party today. Insanity is the flavor of the month. And it is happening in many Red states, not just South Carolina.

According to an article by NPR’s Tamara Keith,
Republican senators who have shown moderate leanings have been hit with primary challenges from the right recently, and while no serious challenger has emerged yet in South Carolina, there are a whole lot of people hoping one does.

South Carolina Lee Bright
One name has recently been bandied about as a challenger for Graham’s Senate seat has been State Senator Lee Bright, who has represented Spartanburg’s 12th District in the state Senate for four years.

High school graduate Bright hasn’t officially announced his candidacy in the 2014 Republican Senatorial primary but in a CNN report, Bright gave strong indications he could run. He told CNN:
“I was a huge fan of Lindsey's for the six years he was in Congress. Since he got into the Senate he has gone off the reservation in terms of the conservative ideals I believe in. I don't feel like that can go unchallenged."
To the rest of the nation, Graham might seem to be excessive but for conservatives in South Carolina, Graham is way too tame, too moderate and too willing to compromise.  
Right now it's a battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party, and I think the lines are clearly drawn. You have people like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul on one side, and people like Graham and Mitch McConnell on the other."
Bright knows which side he fits in. And it isn't on the moderate, compromising side.

Incidentally, that’s the same Ted Cruz that attempted to use that old Joe McCarthy trick ("I have in my hand a list of 37 names...") during the Hagel confirmation hearings. The tactic backfired and both Graham and McCain gave him a dressing down. 
Rand Paul? That's the guy who equated affordable health care to illegal incarceration and slavery. Paul is the a self-certified opthamologist who said that drug addiction was a spiritual problem and was a matter for the church, not government. 
Even Lee Bright’s view of the sides and the situation could soon be obsolete. Salon has predicted that it can’t be long before Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are also at each other’s throats to be the face of the Tea Party. 
That's something I look forward to. I admit it. 

So who exactly is the Lee Bright who calls himself a “liberty-minded candidate" with a "bulletproof voting record." 
The term “bullet-proof” is, as we shall see, an inside joke.

Lee Bright's Legislative Record
Bright’s record in the South Carolina’s State Senate is really not all that much to boast about. 2010, Bright introduced the Firearms Freedom Act, which attempted to make guns and accessories produced in the state exempt from federal regulations. The bill stated:
A personal firearm, a firearm accessory, or ammunition that is manufactured commercially or privately in South Carolina and that remains within the borders of South Carolina is not subject to federal law or federal regulation, including registration, under the authority of Congress to regulate interstate commerce.
After the legislation died in committee (as so many Tea party bills do) Bright re-introduced it the day before the Sandy Hook massacre. Timing is clearly not his strongest point. 

Introducing the South Carolina Dollah
Bright also got his name in the headlines (where there is no difference between fame and notoriety) by drafting legislation establishing an independent currency for the state. The bill proposed that South Carolina have a backup form of money “ in case the Federal Reserve collapses” (Actually most critics saw it as just another thinly-disguised attempt at secession.)
Bright’s bill states:
“The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that the states may adopt whatever currency they desire for the purposes of performing their sovereign governmental functions, even to the extent of adopting gold and silver coin for those purposes while refusing to employ a currency not redeemable in gold or silver coin that Congress has designated ‘legal tender.’…” 
There are a number of serious problems with this idea. The Constitution specifies that Congress alone has the power “to coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin.” A Carolina dollar could not be used outside the state. Now imagine if every state did the same.

In any case, the Supreme court has already debated this topic in 1935 with the case Norman v. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Co. The court then decided:
The Constitution was intended to frame a government as distinguished from a league or compact, a government supreme in some particulars over states and people. It was designed to provide the same currency, having a uniform legal value in all the states. It was for this reason the power to coin money and regulate its value was conferred upon the federal government, while the same power as well as the power to emit bills of credit was withdrawn from the states. The states can no longer declare what shall be money, or regulate its value. Whatever power there is over the currency is vested in Congress. If the power to declare what is money is not in Congress, it is annihilated.
In short, another Tea Party waste of time. But it does excite a lot of attention. Secessionists get goose bumps just thinking about the fantasy of a sovereign currency. 

Why, it's like going back and changing the outcome of the Civil War... or something.

Other Not So Bright Spots
Bright managed to attract attention (albeit in a secondary sort of way) when Governor Nikki Haley decided against $1.4 million in state spending that would have supported victims of rape, help hemophiliacs pay their insurance premiums and provide testing for people at-risk for kidney disease. (She offered sympathy and encouragement instead.)

Bright, who was only one of two state senators that supported the governor’s veto decision, said:
“Government is turning into a charity. The difference between charity and tyranny is charity is when you willingly give to an organization because you want to help. Tyranny is when you force taxpayers to pay for these different organizations. ...”
It’s precisely that kind of rhetoric that sends a shiver up the spines of Tea Party voters in the Palmetto State. However another source explains the rest of the story when it comes to where the money actually went.
The $1.4 million Haley vetoed comes from a pot of $555 million in one-time, non-recurring money. Most of that money – $300 million – was budgeted by legislators to pay for the deepening of the Charleston port. Legislators divided the rest among a host of projects across the state, both public and private. Haley vetoed many of those items, referring to them as “pork-barrel spending.”
Other notable legislative efforts in the last year by Bright include: 
  • allowing religious organizations greater access to students at any public institution of higher learning. 
  • authorizing that all schools in the state the right to offer elective courses in firearms. 
  • allowing registered student gun owners to be exempt from “no concealed weapons” laws at private colleges, universities, technical college or other post-secondary Institutions; 
  • prohibiting bars from refusing to serve customers with firearms unless otherwise clearly specified and to reduce the penalties for violations; 
  • “Personhood Act Of South Carolina" which established civil rights “for Each Born And Preborn Human Being Vests At Fertilization, And That The Rights Of Due Process And Equal Protection” 
  • prohibiting the restriction on free speech or religion at any government agency or institution; 
  • prohibiting the Department of Corrections to use public funding for prisoners requesting sexual re-assignment surgery or hormonal therapy; 
  • requiring any citizen requesting public assistance to undergo drug testing as a condition of receipt; 
  • prohibited the implementation of Islamic Sharia Law and other "foreign" laws in South Carolina.
There’s more but that short list gives you a general idea.

Leading by Bad Example
For a fiscally-conservative politician, Lee Bright certainly has had a hard to time paying off his personal debts. 
According to a March 2012 article in The Spartanburg Herald-Journal, Lee Bright allegedly owes Capital Bank of Spartanburg more than $318,000. (Nearly exactly the same amount he raised in the 2008 election cycle, coincidentally enough.)

The bank filed a lawsuit and sought to foreclose on Bright’s trucking company, On-Time Transportation. It was also seeking back mortgage payments, interest and legal fees. In response, Bright launched a counter-suit against the bank to halt the foreclosure, charging unreasonable banking loan practices. 

Bright blamed increased fuel prices and what he called some of the changes at the federal level have driven up costs. (The present state of the company or the lawsuits is uncertain at the moment.)
Interestingly, On-Time Transportation is a U.S. government contractor company which is somewhat ironic considering the degree of Tea party hostility to government and creeping socialism. 
The Project on Government Oversight- a group the Tea Party should in theory be 100% behind- found that the government actually pays service contractors at rates far exceeding the cost of employing federal employees to perform comparable functions. 
So Bright’s business was in fact an example for the Tea Party’s major complaint of bloated government.

The Back Row Boys and William Wallace
One interesting organization that Bright serves on is the William Wallace Caucus ( a group formerly known as ““Back Row Boys”). It’s a kind of private club for uber-conservatives (think Tea Party radicals) in the Senate who want to portray themselves as rebels fighting the evil system. Like Mel Gibson did in Braveheart. Get it?

The so-called caucus has absolutely no legislative powers and like a lot of exclusive clubs, its sole purpose seems to be to call attention to its members. It’s like an club for seeing who can piss the furthest but in this case, the peeing consists of hating on government. You know, against government intrusion, (oversight) wasteful spending (unless the pork is for their districts) and unnecessary regulation (because we all know how well de-regulation has worked out for the financial sector and on Wall Street.). 

The brains behind the WWC is Senator Kevin L. Bryant from South Carolina who earn some street cred in some lower circles by campaigning with a poster comparing Obama with Osama Bin Laden. Bryant confusingly calls the Wallace group “fictitious.” Despite that, Senator Bright still proudly promotes himself as being a member of the unreal group. 
He is not alone. As one source explains:
According to one of its founding members, the “core group” consists of recently-elected Senators Lee Bright, Kevin Bryant, Tom Davis, Mick Mulvaney, Mike Rose and Phil Shoopman (all of whom received ‘A’ grades on a recent fiscally-conservative scorecard, in case you were wondering).
Its “grizzled veteran” contingent includes Senators Chip Campsen, Larry Grooms, Greg Ryberg and Danny Verdin.
Sen. Shane Massey is listed as a “part-time” member.
It takes some kind of courage, I suppose, to declare yourself to be only a part-time member of a fictitious group of politicians pretending to be rebels. 

In any case, until they begin wearing fictitious kilts and painting their faces a fictitious shade of blue, these fiscally-conservative Republicans are going to have a hard time being taken serious by anybody but themselves.

By the way, didn’t any of these people actually see the film “Braveheart”? As I recall, Wallace was defeated, betrayed by members of his own army, and ended up having his intestines pulled out and put on display to the jeers of the public. 

Literally spilling one’s guts before the public is hardly a role model for the Senators to aim at.

What's It All About, Lindsey?
Lindsey Graham is (possibly) the saner of the two candidates but that’s not really saying a lot. Taking all of things into consideration, Graham probably has little to fear from Bright.

Still, it’s positively queer to hear anybody castigating Graham for not being conservative enough and for being too eager to compromise. That’s what the Republicans should expect ever since they decided to allow the Tea Party radicals as bed-mates. Any sign of working toward a compromise with the opposition (whom the election of 2012 has significantly empowered) will force people like Graham to look over their right shoulders and sweat.
In a way, any Graham-Bright contest would be just another example of the larger struggle for the heart and soul of the Republican party, that is, if there is anything left. That struggle is playing out in several states, not just in South Carolina.

For Democrats and the rest of the nation, however, the question is clear: whether one level of political dysfunction can hang on to power or whether it will be replaced by something a little sillier, a little more incompetent and a whole lot more out of touch with the rest of the nation.

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