State Rep: 'I Was Asked to Leave' SC Legislature
State Rep. Eric J. Bikas said he was asked by the sergeant-at-arms to leave the Statehouse chamber at the Speaker Bobby Harrell's request in January
Republican State Representative Eric J. Bikas said that he hasn't been to Columbia in two months, after he was asked to leave in January.
Bikas, 25, who represents District 26 area of Greenville and Pickens County, said in January the sergeant-at-arms asked him to leave the Statehouse chamber at the request of House Speaker Bobby Harrell.
"In January I was asked to leave because when the redistricting occurred, I ended up without a district," Bikas said.
Bikas said that it was his understanding that the redistricting would not take place until November and said the move came as a surprise to him, when he was told he didn't have a district anymore.
"Whenever the Speaker said that, I thought it was kind of weird, but he's the speaker," Bikas said.
State House Spokesman Greg Foster said on Wednesday evening that Bikas was asked to leave due to a violation of the chamber's dress code. Foster also said Bikas still has a district to serve.
"When he came to the House Chamber he had on khakis, tennis shoes and golf shirt," Foster said. "A jacket and tie is required in the chamber. He is not the first person who has been asked to leave for improper dress."
When asked about the dress code violation, Bikas said that he felt if it was something as minor as that, Harrell would have called him up informally and talked to him about it.
According to House voting records, Bikas hasn't cast a vote since Jan. 18.
Bikas said he feels the ousting from the chamber followed him speaking out about a spending bill that he had been asked to try and win votes for as a whip. He said the bill concerned the naming of the road and while the naming itself did not cost anything, other aspects of the bill did. He said that when he read the bill, he had asked for clarification because he did not understand how it worked.
Bikas said he was told at that time that the summary of the bill was the property of the committee and that he should work to get votes. He said he didn't agree with it and did not get the votes needed to support the bill during the vote.
"I think that's when they started looking to get rid of my district," Bikas said.
Bikas said the next strike against him would be voicing his opinion on how the chair was chosen for the House Ways and Means committee.
Bikas said that it had been discussed in their whip meeting that they would find out each member to report their vote to the Speaker and then he would report the winner of that vote. Bikas said he told them that it sounded like they would pick the winner, but he said he's learned that's the way the committee races work.
Bikas said soon after he lost all of his committee assignments and was notified through a letter he received in November. He said the 2012 member committee assignments with a handwritten date at the top in the 11th month of 2011 did not show him as being assigned to the Higher Education subcommittee.
Foster said that committee assignments come from the Speaker and that members may serve on only one committee at a time. Foster said Bikas was assigned to the Education and Public Works House Committee and served on the K-12 education subcommittee and the motor vehicles and public works subcommittees. Foster said that to his knowledge there was no change of membership.
Foster said a letter would not have been sent to remove him from his committee. He also said that the only time committee members are reassigned is at the beginning of a new General Assembly.
Foster said that Harrell had reached out to Bikas after he had been absent for a few weeks to remind him that he had to call the clerk's office to request leave.
Foster said that members are asked to call the clerk to report their absence and if they choose, can also provide reason for their absence. He said reasons can be anything from attending the funeral of someone in their district or a conflict with work.
Bikas said that he did speak to Harrell and that Harrell told him that he had to call in to request permission not to attend session meetings.
Bikas said he called a couple of times to make the request, but "I answer to constituents, not the Speaker."
Foster said the Speaker has attempted to contact him at least twice since then and had been unable to reach him.
Bikas said he has sought legal counsel, but at this point just doesn't know where to turn.
"For the past six weeks, I've been trying to figure out if I am a legislator or not," Bikas said. "I've been writing down dates that things happened and put it into perspective."
Bikas, who is still being paid for his in-district work, said he feels badly for his constituents. He said they voted him in to fight for less government spending, which is what he was trying to do when he was asked to leave.
"I run small businesses," Bikas said. "I know what it's like to meet the bottom line. I look at it with a calculator and it doesn't make sense, I'm going to raise my hand on things."
Bikas said that he does plan to return to Columbia and said he will fight for secret ballot vote for the Speaker's race and in term limits for that office. He said he also would fight for greater transparency for whip and caucus meetings.
Bikas said he will not seek reelection.