April 2015 Update

Rose and I are happy to announce that the Newton clan is reinstalled in our repaired and somewhat renovated home after our nearly catastrophic fire. We are grateful for all the help and good wishes. Our appreciation of our many blessings has never been more vivid or heartfelt.
As these things sometimes happen, firefighters from around the state gathered in Columbia week before last and hosted a lunch for the legislature on the grounds of the statehouse. It gave me an opportunity to personally thank the Bluffton folks for what they did for my family, and for many other local families.
These highly trained professionals routinely enter burning buildings and find and retrieve people who might otherwise not make it. That said, they would much rather teach you how to avoid a fire, or be alerted to a fire by a working smoke alarm, or show you how to get the most out of a fire extinguisher to keep a small fire from becoming a catastrophe.
Later this spring, Representative Herbkersman and I are planning to give our local firefighting men and women an opportunity and a venue, likely the Promenade, to demonstrate proper and effective fire extinguisher use, and what kind of extinguisher should be in your kitchen, or on your boat, or in your shop. It will also give the community an opportunity to not only learn from these brave folks, but to show them that we also appreciate and respect their service and their professionalism.
At the risk of going a little “inside baseball,” I want to share with you a new legislative tool that looks to make your state government more effective and efficient. Since its creation in December 2014, the House Legislative Oversight Committee has been hard at work. We have held three organizational meetings to date. At the first of those meetings, I was elected chairman of the committee, an unexpected honor that both doubled my workload, and multiplied my anticipation at being a part of a process very likely to dramatically increase the efficiency and effectiveness of your state government. There has been talk for years of a more nimble, cost-effective government. This is the first step on the path to that goal.
Over the next seven years, each agency and department of your state government will undergo a programmatic review. Among other things, we will scrutinize their agency goals to see if they are current for today’s needs. Are they meeting their goals, and how do they measure success and by what metrics? The twenty members, divided into five subcommittees, of Legislative Oversight Committee (LOC) are already meeting with their assigned agencies, preparing to receive the detailed information that will guide our inquiries.
No matter how rigorous our review, this process will not achieve its goals unless we can attract and hold public attention and participation. Our system of government thrives or withers commensurate with the degree of participation of “We the People.” To that end, Speaker Jay Lucas will join me in a free webinar, hosted by the State Library to discuss the House LOC process and how you can take an active part. Whether through online surveys, public hearings, or receiving notifications when a particular agency is up for study, we need to hear from you.
The webinar will be held Thursday, April 16, 2015 from 9 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. The link is: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/4740913084986247425. If you can’t attend live, then go to the LOC webpage by going to: www.scstatehouse.gov and clicking on “Citizen’s Interest” tab at the top of the page, then go to “House Legislative Oversight” link.
Don’t forget– Speaker Jay Lucas and Speaker Pro Tem Tommy Pope will headline the Beaufort County Republican Convention this Saturday, 11 April, from 9 a.m. to noon at Bluffton High School.

October 2014 Update

 In a little over two weeks, we will go to the polls for the midterm elections. Absentee voting is currently under way. There are a number of uncontested positions, including mine, but there are also plenty of serious races, as well as several important referendum issues. None of these is more important than the referendum to continue the good work of the Beaufort County Rural and Critical Lands Preservation Program.
   During my ten plus year chairmanship of Beaufort County Council, it was the centerpiece of our environmental and development control efforts. It also dovetailed perfectly with our energetic water quality measures. It protected and expanded literally thousands of jobs in defense and agriculture, as well as preserved many places that just shouldn’t be developed at all. There is still much work to be done for this nationally recognized program.
   Unfortunately, some months ago, as Beaufort County Council was struggling with several different referendum proposals, there was a plan floated to change the Rural and Critical referendum language to essentially allow the county to enter the development business. Fortunately, this change was rejected, but there is still confusion in some quarters. Most council members understand that such a move would be the end of one of the most effective county programs in a generation. The current referendum in no way allows the county into the development business, but does allow the good work of this excellent program to continue.
   As the 2015 legislative session approaches, preparation is accelerating. My work on Judiciary Committee last session has resulted in Acting Speaker Jay Lucas , a Republican from Spartanburg, appointing me to the Ethics Study Committee as chairman of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Subcommittee. Also, due to my long experience with funding and building and improving transportation infrastructure in Beaufort County, I am also appointed to the Transportation Study Committee as well. Your representative is, I think, the only member holding dual appointments.
   Both committees are charged with making recommendations in their respective areas on or about the beginning of session on the second Tuesday of January 2015. In my view, we should charge hard on the ethics issue from the outset. Members are universally chagrined to read the headlines in the national press referring to indictments of South Carolina elected officials. While we are all saddened by those events, they should serve as motivation for us to get our ethics regime in good order with all deliberate speed. In my experience, once the electorate understands we are serious, that we work for them and not ourselves, then, and only then, will we have even a small chance to effectively tackle the formidable challenges facing us, such as our looming transportation deficits.
   As conservatives, we are loathe to even consider raising taxes, or fees, or levies of almost any kind. Yet, our first Transportation Committee staff presentation outlined a 30-year transportation deficiency of more than $42 BILLION to bring our roads and bridges up to fair quality. To answer this challenge will take creativity and courage. Fiscal convictions will be pitted against the safety of our families and the prosperity of our businesses. Above all, it will test the trust of the electorate in our wisdom, abilities, and our trustworthiness.
In the coming months, I will provide details on each of these matters, as well as the Jasper County education situation.

Holiday Cheer

The Bluffton Christmas parade was as spectacular as ever. Sandra Lunceford at the Town of Bluffton did her usual amazing job of getting everything organized and under way on time and without a hint of confusion. My own little Santa”s helpers are veteran parade participants who relish the idea of delivering candy to the waiting multitudes. Even though Rose and I did our best pre-parade block of instruction regarding the optimal rate of candy distribution, as we were rounding the Bridge/Calhoun corner, the helpers were in competition mode, shoveling candy by the double handful. Fortunately, we had held back a couple bags for just such occasion and finished the parade as the last few pieces were shoveled to grateful children lining the streets.
Congrats to Miss Babbie for her selection as 2013 Bluffton Christmas Parade Grand Marshall. After all her years of organizational service, not only with this and other parades but the many arts events as well, she is due this recognition and much more than we will ever be able to provide. For many years, she almost single-handedly raised the cultural bar in Bluffton. Thank you, Babbie.
We in the legislative delegation have been working pretty hard finalizing our preparation for the beginning of session in a few weeks. I have been meeting with town and county officials, making certain that we understand their thoughts and desires. I have been reviewing the pile of bills prefiled before we reconvene. Most are political fluff that has little resonance outside Columbia. I will, however, be respectfully attentive, at least as long as the fluff doesn”t interfere with the real work of representing my district and my community and state.
Coming and going to and from football games and work commitments throughout the Southeast has recently given me a strong appreciation for the fact that our state has fallen behind our regional competitors as far as our roads and bridges are concerned. These are serious investments, which play a large role in our ability to maximize our economic opportunities as well as a matter of safety for our citizens. One of the main themes of my long tenure as chairman of Beaufort County Council was to improve our roads and bridges. I know that many of the strategies that worked so well at the county level can be scaled up to address the infrastructure challenges looming before our state. Neglecting our multi-billion dollar road and bridge investments is just not consistent with any prudent version of fiscal conservatism. We are currently lacking the political will to seriously address this important matter. This representative is prepared to join that conversation.
Finally, the scheduling stars aligned to allow the Newton clan to take off for a Thanksgiving cruise to Central America. Rose and I had an almost simultaneous realization that our oldest child, Reedy, will be in college in 5 years. The ensuing parental panic, combined with the fact that they were out of school for a week, propelled us to one of our best adventures to date. We trekked in the rainforests of Belize and visited one of the few unearthed Mayan temples. After making the climb to the top, we had something of a Jurassic Park moment, thankfully minus the velociraptors.
Seeing my little guys snorkeling in Honduras, completely out of their element, yet so comfortable in open water, was priceless. As the week progressed, our children seemed to form their own little tribe, less dependent on us, and more on each other. Rose and I were so proud, but also a little sad. Their adult futures are starting to emerge, while we are

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a bit nostalgic for the days of diapers and car seats.