Jim DeMint a mentor for S.C. freshmen

By Marin Cogan

Washingtoncan be a heady place for a freshman, especially when you share a home state with a tea party kingpin who can make or break a conservative rookie.

 The South Carolina freshmen — Tim Scott, Mick Mulvaney, Trey Gowdy and Jeff Duncan — have leaned on one another as they navigate Congress, but they’ve also gotten some help from one of the most well-known and iconoclastic members of the Senate: Jim DeMint.

 The freshmen give DeMint’s guidance positive reviews, but they don’t deny that the senator’s an outsize figure inSouth Carolina.

 The unspoken reality is that no South Carolina Republican wants to run against a candidate endorsed byDeMint. He helped deliver a new class of ultraconservatives to office this fall by backing fiercely conservative candidates. The four newcomers want that seal of approval.

 “You’d be politically naive if you vote differently from Sen. DeMint and can’t explain why,” said Gowdy, the lone political newcomer in the delegation. “Now, I have, but he gives us the courtesy of [explaining] the other side. Not in a condescending, ‘you guys had better watch out’ kind of way. Sometimes his response is, ‘Either vote is defensible. Do what you think is right.’”

 In the delegation, DeMint serves as a sort of movement godfather, consulting House members on vote choices and the finer points of life inWashington— including the role of faith in public office. When Mulvaney challenged incumbent Democrat John Spratt, DeMint donated to his campaign and stumped for him. And when the House was debating whether to kill the second joint strike fighter engine, the freshmen gathered in Mulvaney’s office and called DeMint on speakerphone to seek his advice. It wasn’t the first time they’ve consulted the conservative kingmaker on a vote.

 The freshmen say DeMint doesn’t tell them how to vote — and doesn’t have to. But few deny his influence within the delegation.

 “He casts a huge shadow, but it’s not because he tries to. He’s enormously popular within the Republican Conference,” said Gowdy, whose district includes DeMint’sGreenvillehome and whose colleagues sometimes tease that he might never be the most conservative member of his district.

 South Carolina GOP consultantChip Felkelsaid that, in the state’s rarefied world of conservatism, DeMint has “provided the benefit of his experience so far, and they’ve gravitated toward him. He’s been very helpful to them.”

 “There’s no doubt he’s a mentor to all of us on the conservative side,”Duncansaid.

 But the freshmen have also received extensive outreach from South Carolina’s other senator, Lindsey Graham, who, like DeMint, has worked closely with them on funding for a study on the cost of deepening the Port of Charleston and on dual-track legislation addressing the National Labor Relations Board’s recent complaint against Boeing for building planes at a nonunionized factory in the Palmetto State. Scott said he hears from Graham about once a week.

 The freshmen have nothing but positive things to say about their senior colleagues, but former Gov. Jim Hodges, a Democrat, sees the relationships as a little more complicated.

 “For a senior incumbent, there’s nothing worse than a group of ambitious young guys in your party in the House,” Hodges said. “They probably want to encourage them to be successful but not too successful. You’ve got this cadre of young conservatives — unless they’re on leadership track, there’s little opportunity for them to run for anything else in the state except Senate.

  Scott says the senators and their staffs have been helpful to the rookie lawmakers.“They’ve reached out to us as much as we’ve reached out to them,” he said.

 The freshmen have developed particularly tight bonds. Three of them — Duncan, Scott and Mulvaney — served together in the state Legislature. Both Scott and Gowdy belonged to the South Carolina-based Liberty Fellowship before coming toWashington. All four often dine together on Capitol Hill and play basketball. Duncan and Scott share an apartment.

 “We have, I think, a South Carolina-vs.-the-world outlook in basketball,” Mulvaney said. “We’re awful. We get beat all the time. It’s kind of fun.”

 Each of the freshmen describes the qualities that make their professional relationships complementary: Gowdy’s a former attorney, Mulvaney’s a budget wonk,Duncanis obsessed with energy and natural resources, and Scott is a small-business ownerwith connections to GOP leadership.

 Mulvaney said their unity “really allows us to punch above our weight, because you’ve got this team approach to the issues.”

 Their colleagues in the House have taken notice of the group, making them early leaders in their class.

 “They’re aggressive in their ways. They’re outdoorsmen, men’s men. And that’s the world I live in. I’m that way. And that attitude, that way about you, helps you when you fight some of these battles. You have to have a certain element of aggressiveness, assertiveness,” said Steve Southerland, a freshman colleague fromFlorida. “And, at the same time, to know when to throttle back.”

 The lesson from their senators, Mulvaney said, is that “you’ve got to have an independent streak. They’ve encouraged us to be true to that.”

 The freshmen have proved a reliable, staunchly conservative bloc, rarely breaking ranks. (Mulvaney did break with his colleagues to vote for an accelerated timetable for withdrawal fromAfghanistan;Duncandisagreed with his colleagues by voting against an extension of certain Patriot Act provisions.) “We do talk if we’re going to vote differently, becauseSouth Carolinais small, and we’re going to be asked,” Gowdy said.

 But at other times, their unity comes at the expense of agreement with leadership, as with the late-night deal to keep the government funded through the rest of the year. They joined 23 of their freshman colleagues in voting against it.

 “I know it’s been frustrating to our leadership sometimes, because they look atSouth Carolinaand say, ‘What are these crazy guys going to do now?’ But all we’re doing is being true to our state,” Mulvaney said.

 Duncansaid of their leaders, “They’ve gotten the message very clearly early on from us. They know we’re going to talk; we’re going to try to be like-minded when it comes to representingSouth Carolina.”

 Still, the comparisons seem inevitable.

 “They all seem to vote the same way that Jim votes,” said GOP consultant Warren Tompkins.

 Manu Raju and Jake Sherman contributed to this report.

  © 2011 Capitol News Company, LLC


President/CEO, Chip Felkel, weighs in on Romney’s current jam.


Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Thursday will address his most glaring political liability—his work as governor to establish universal health-care coverage in Massachusetts—in a speech aides say will attempt to shift attention to how he would replace President Barack Obama’s health-care law.

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Jim Cole/Associated Press

Mitt Romney, left, greets business leaders last week in Nashua, N.H.


The speech in Ann Arbor, Mich., marks the emergence of one of the GOP’s leading candidates after months of avoiding the spotlight while he raised money and built his campaign. Mr. Romney will soon visit the early-primary state of South Carolina for the first time this year, will make his first trip since 2010 to Iowa on May 27, and in June will join other Republican White House hopefuls in his first debate of the 2012 election cycle in New Hampshire.

“It’s a new phase,” said Jim Talent, a former Missouri senator and close Romney friend.

But first, aides say, Mr. Romney believes he must get ahead of attacks from GOP rivals who will link his Massachusetts health-care law to the federal version, which Mr. Obama has said was modeled on Mr. Romney’s.

Mr. Romney’s dilemma is acute. Supporters said Wednesday that he can’t honestly disavow legislation he helped design and personally shepherded to passage. At the same time, he must explain why he didn’t embrace at the outset the approach that he will lay out Thursday.

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In trying to finesse the issue, Mr. Romney plans to take up his party’s pledge to “repeal and replace” the federal health-care law and flesh out what a replacement would look like—something GOP leaders in Congress have shied from.

Aides and advisers say Mr. Romney will outline a five-point plan with the following components. He would offer state governments block grants for the federal share of Medicaid and children’s’ health programs, allowing states to tailor their own programs. He would offer individuals a choice between the current tax credits that help pay for employer-provided health insurance or a new tax credit to help purchase their own plan.

Mr. Romney would narrow—but not abandon—provisions of the national law that ban insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. People would be allowed to purchase insurance across state lines, and small businesses would be allowed to form insurance-purchasing pools.

And he would call for caps on medical-malpractice awards and for expanding tax-advantaged health-savings accounts.

“What he’s saying is, ‘I’ve clearly had some experience wrestling with this problem, and here’s what I learned: Government’s role is to organize an efficient market, not run the system,’ ” said Romney adviser Mike Leavitt, a former Utah governor who was Health and Human Services secretary under President George W. Bush.

Mr. Romney won’t apologize for the Massachusetts plan, which conservatives have criticized for mandating individuals to purchase health care, just as Mr. Obama’s law does, aides and adviser say. That element has drawn the harshest fire from the law’s opponents and is the primary target of its numerous legal challenges. Mr. Romney contends the Massachusetts plan was right for its residents, but that other states need flexibilty to design their own approaches.

“We shouldn’t lament our 98% coverage rate,” said Romney ally Bradley Jones, the Massachusetts House GOP leader, who helped pass Mr. Romney’s plan.

Mr. Romney’s proposal of a new approach to health care without repudiating his old one may not quiet critics on the right, or stifle liberals who praise his former position. Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson, an influential conservative in the first caucus state, faulted Mr. Romney for not repudiating the Massachusetts plan.

“Socialized health care is socialized health care, whether it’s done at the state level or the federal level,” said Mr. Sorenson, who wants Rep. Michele Bachmann (R., Minn.) to join the presidential contest.

Hollis “Chip” Felkel, a South Carolina political consultant, said Mr. Romney is in a jam. “You can’t really apologize for it, and if you try to explain it, the comparisons to ObamaCare keep coming,” said Mr. Felkel, who isn’t backing any candidate after aligning with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who chose not to run. “It may be his albatross.”

But Mr. Romney hopes to muscle past the issue by addressing it early, then relying on the strength of his political organization.

His financial backers say that for now, no other potential rival can compete with the war chest Mr. Romney is amassing.

At a recent stop at the Harvard Club in New York City, for example, hedge-fund titan John Paulson introduced him to a crowd of about 125 that included former Goldman Sachs Group Chairman John Whitehead and a number of prominent hedge-fund and private-equity managers.

Romney backers raised more than $1 million in Manhattan Tuesday. Thursday’s speech is in Ann Arbor because he has a fund-raising event in the Detroit area, an aide said.

On Monday, about 1,000 Romney supporters are scheduled to gather to dial for dollars at the Las Vegas Convention Center.


Greenville News Op-ED: Can the Republicans be right and win, too?

By Chip Felkel, CEO Felkel Group

A brief disclaimer: had Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi decided to run for president, I would be actively working on his behalf here in South Carolina as a result of a long-standing friendship. He would make a great president for many reasons, not the least of which is the measured and disciplined approach he took in deciding not to run.  As the field begins to develop, who will jump in and just who will emerge as a serious front runner?  I am not sure I can answer either question but what I do know is that to win in November Republicans must nominate someone who, in the general election, will appeal well beyond the boundaries of GOP precinct meetings, county and state conventions and those wacky Iowa caucuses. 

Too many GOP activists can’t handle the truth. We won’t win back the White House by nominating someone who only appeals to their brand of Republicanism.  It just won’t work. Politics is after all, a game of addition, not subtraction. In the 2010 elections, 37% of those casting ballots referred to themselves as Republicans, 37% called themselves Democrats. The GOP must find a way to capture the majority of that 26% who steadfastly cling to the label of Independent. The good news is that we are a center-right country and most Independents agree with Republicans on the issues.  Nominating someone, however, who only appeals to the hard core activist won’t add up to success. This is the hard cold reality. 

The goal of the 2012 GOP Primary is to nominate a conservative as the party’s standard bearer who can wage a successful race against the incumbent which means winning in places like Ohio, New Mexico, and Colorado and not just South Carolina. So far, much of the buzz seems around people who in all frankness don’t have a shot.  It is not all about social issues, though they are very important. It is not all about spending, though this too is critical. It is not all about immigration or the stretching of our military resources in places where the word democracy is itself quite foreign, though they both must be addressed as well. It is about leadership. It is about successfully putting a conservative in the White House to get our country back in the right direction.  So far GOP activists seem to care less about winning than they do about being right on every single issue.  And people, we really need to win.

What we don’t need is someone focused on divisive class warfare and demagoguery; we have one of those in the White House already. And, while I can’t honestly say who we need, I have a pretty good idea of what we need to win in November 2012.  I am looking for directness, not just bluntness. I am looking for proven success, someone will to take tough, unpopular positions and actually lead. We need substance on policy matters and not just personality; this is after all a race to be the leader of the free world not a reality show competition. We need someone who will speak the truth, even when it offends those in his or her own party. And, we need someone who will stand up to those who erroneously tout the “my way or the highway” attitude and remind them that this country was never set up to work that way. Just who in the field can do these things?  Or perhaps the better question is just who will?  At this point it appears the process will be long, stretching out into mid-June before a clear nominee emerges. We have a professor, a couple of multimillionaires, a preacher turned governor turned commentator, a self-proclaimed tea partier, a libertarian, a former senator and another governor, all with an array of ideas, issues, and challenges.  Who among them can navigate the pitfalls of technology driven primary politics, and who, if nominated can right this ship by appealing to those key independents and win in the fall?  Perhaps one of the current field can do this, but right now I am not sure. Perhaps, others will get in? First, the GOP has to decide if they really want to win.


SC small biz chamber opposes Amazon tax break

… – AP State – WireSC – WireState & Regional – Wire

Monday, Apr. 04, 2011

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce is the latest group to oppose a sales tax exemption for an Amazon.com distribution center that could employ 3,000 people in Lexington County.

The group says the state should not be encouraging people to buy online instead of from South Carolina stores.

Amazon has hinted it might not build the distribution without the tax break. The company wants lawmakers to exempt state residents from paying sales tax when buying from Amazon.

Gov. Nikki Haley doesn’t support the tax break worked out by former Gov. Mark Sanford.

Amazon was also offered a free site, property tax reductions and state job tax credits. The South Carolina Alliance for Main Street Fairness, a group representing local retailers and national chains, also opposes the tax exemption.

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Spartanburg Republicans to host three likely presidential hopefuls at county convention

Haley Barbour, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum to address local GOP

Published: Sunday, April 3, 2011 at 4:14 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 3, 2011 at 4:14 p.m.
It’s starting to feel like there’s a presidential race on the horizon.

Three likely 2012 presidential contenders — Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and ex-Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum — will address hundreds of local Republican activists Saturday at the Spartanburg County GOP Convention. County conventions feature a litany of speakers, the sometimes contentious election of party officers, and votes on delegates and resolutions to send to the state convention in May.

And in the buildup to a presidential contest, one that has been admittedly slow to start, conventions give candidates and their supporters a chance to meet and mingle with neighborhood-level activists.

“That’s why it’s so important for them to come to these early conventions, especially….Read more


Upstate Labor and Employment Summit

Looking forward to seeing everyone tomorrow at the Upstate Labor and Employment Summit (hosted by the Upstate Chamber Coalition & Upstate Legislative Caucus) where I will be moderating on the following topics:

  • SC Dept. of Labor, Licensing and Regulation
  • SC Secret Ballot Amendment  
  • SCDEW, Unemployment Insurance  

  Visit the Upstate Chamber Coalition’s website for more info.


House Republicans Unveil 2011-2012 Legislative Agenda

2011-2012 Legislative Session Agenda

The House Republicans were trusted by South Carolina’s voters during the 2010 election to enact conservative reforms to create jobs, reform government, and make our state a better place to live. The House Republicans will fight for the conservative values we share with our constituents. Next to each is the name of a member of the Caucus who is the point person for that piece of legislation.

Create Jobs in a Stronger Economy

  • Lawsuit Abuse Reform – The Caucus will fight to protect our state’s businesses from the threat of an unjustified, debilitating lawsuit, while preserving everyone’s access to our legal system. (Chairman Harrison)
  • “Bill Wylie Entrepreneurship Act” – This legislation will allow “Angel Investors” to claim an income tax credit for providing funding to small business start-ups in our state. (Reps. Loftis, Stringer)
  • “Point of Sale” – Reforming our Point of Sale reassessment requirements will jump-start our real estate market. (Rep. Merrill)

Improving Education

  • Education Funding Reform – Making education funding more equitable is a priority for our state. (Chairman Cooper)
  • Charter School law revisions Ensuring a healthy and vibrant charter school choice for parents is essential for a strong education system in our state. (Chairman Owens)

Transparency and Government Reform

  • On the Record Voting – The House will again approve a statute providing for more recorded votes. (Rep. Ballentine)
  • Higher Education Transparency – The Caucus will fight to open the books of state colleges and universities. (Speaker Harrell)
  • Agency Restructuring – We will search for cost savings and operational efficiency in state agencies. (Maj. Leader Bingham)
  • Spending Caps – The House Republicans will pass spending caps for the sixth time in 15 years. (Rep. Garry Smith)
  • Voter ID – Voters should be required to present a photo ID a proof of their identity when they vote. (Rep. Clemmons)
  • Shorten the Legislative Session – The House will work to shorten the legislative session, work more efficiently, and save taxpayers money. (Maj. Leader Bingham)

Pro-Life Protections (Rep. Delleney)

  • Born Alive legislation – This legislation ensures that babies born alive after an abortion procedure must be saved.
  • Freedom of Conscience Act – This Act will require healthcare providers to not be held liable if they do not provide a service that is against their conscience.
  • Obamacare Abortion Opt-Out – S.C. Doctors will not be required to perform abortions if required to by Obamacare.

Limiting Government Power

  • Repeal Amendment – A federal constitutional amendment where two-thirds of states can vote to repeal a federal law. (Speaker Harrell)
  • Taxpayer Bill of Rights – We will expand and update our state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights to ensure law-abiding taxpayers are treated with respect by government agencies. (Rep. Murrell Smith)
  • Regulatory Reform – The General Assembly must vote, up or down, new agency regulations. (Rep. Bedingfield)

Illegal Immigration Reform(Rep. Bedingfield)

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