In any modern democracy it's critical that voters make choices from at least two political parties. One-party rule almost always paves the way for rampant corruption and extremism.
Welcome to South Carolina in 2012.
For much of its existence, South Carolina has been a one-party state. While conservatives have always reigned supreme, from the 1870s until the 1970s most everyone was a Democrat. The only real choice voters often had was in the Democratic Primary. When the national Democratic Party became more liberal on social issues, especially civil rights in the 1960s, many conservatives bolted the party to form the modern day South Carolina Republican Party. Strom Thurmond, Floyd Spence, Albert Watson and others led that effort. Moderate and progressive state leaders like Fritz Hollings and John West stuck with the Democratic Party and formed a coalition with African Americans who finally were able to vote thanks to intervention from the federal government.
For a brief period of time, South Carolina flirted with a two-party system. For a 28-year stretch between 1974 until 2002, Democrats controlled the Governor's Mansion for 12 years and Republicans for 16. During that period, South Carolina sent one Republican to the U.S. Senate and one Democrat. Republicans made steady gains at the local level, but Democrats remained viable.
But for the last 10 years, Republicans have dominated. Since the 2010 elections, they've pretty much had it all. They have every statewide constitutional office and large majorities in the State House and Senate. Both U.S. Senators and five of our six U.S. Congressmen are Republicans.
On the legislative level, partisan redistricting has ensured that most Republicans will never have to worry about having a viable Democratic opponent. While banning them to minority status, redistricting has also ensured that most Democratic legislators don't face serious Republican opponents.
And the result?
We saw it again last Friday when Lt. Gov. Ken Ard resigned after being indicted on several major ethics violations. We see it in Florence where Republican State Rep. Kris Crawford is awaiting his second trial for tax evasion. We saw it in Myrtle Beach where Republican State Rep. Thad Viers was recently arrested for a second time since being elected to the legislature, this time for harassing his ex-girlfriend. Republican Primary voters in his district re-elected him twice after his first arrest for threatening his ex-wife's boyfriend in 2006.
In the Summer of 2009, we saw it when Mark Sanford exposed himself as a fraud when it was revealed that the 'small government' preaching former Governor was unethically using state money to help pull off an extramarital affair.
Our current Republican Comptroller General used his state computer and cell phone to send R-rated love letters to his mistress. This is the same guy who used state money to settle a past sexual harassment lawsuit. Eckstrom was of course re-elected handily in 2010.
In the last eight years, South Carolina's Republican treasurer has been convicted of cocaine distribution and a former Republican commissioner of agriculture served time for his involvement in an illegal cock fighting ring.
Would anyone be surprised if Nikki Haley ends up being next?
One party control has turned South Carolina into a regular gangsta's paradise. As Democratic Party Chairman and former prosecutor Dick Harpootlian says, the 2010 elections may have been a Republican tidal wave on the national level but it was more like a crime wave in South Carolina.
Corruption isn't about ideology. It's about power. In South Carolina, Republicans have all the power and they want event more. Because of redistricting and the conservative leanings of this state, Republicans often only have to please the extremists in their own ranks. The action is usually all in the primary. Moderates and independents who traditionally help keep both sides honest and away from either extreme are largely helpless to do so here.
As a result corruption and extremism rule the day. When S.C. Republicans aren't preoccupied by being arrested, it seems they’re busy pushing extreme bills in the legislature or turning down federal education funding like Superintendent of Education Mick Zais has done several times.
Ken Ard's 2010 opponent, Ashley Cooper, is an educated, honest, moderate person — essentially everything Ard is not. Cooper raised more money than Ard in that election and worked much harder. It just didn't matter. Is there anyone who can make a valid argument that Vincent Sheheen wouldn’t have been a better Governor than Nikki Haley?
Today, 51 percent of the voters here would vote for a Republican no matter what. It's not even up for consideration and the damage it's doing couldn't be clearer. Other states whose voters have a strong preference for one of the parties have shown the ability to mix things up some. Liberal Massachusetts elected conservative Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate in 2009 and ultra-conservative Mississippi elected a Democratic attorney general last year.
Until voters in South Carolina put the person over the party, the politicians won't fear them. When politicians don't fear the voters, bad things happen.
Bad things are happening in South Carolina.