Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Election Day in March

There is a little known fact that most elections in our state are not decided by the November General Election or the June Primary Election. Most of them are decided at noon on March 30th.

That’s the deadline for candidates to officially file for office if they wish to be listed on this year’s ballot as the nominee of a major party.

By law, the General Election is held every other year on “the first Tuesday after a Monday in November”, which means the date can fall anywhere between November 2nd and November 8th. (For some reason, the framers of that schedule didn’t want the election to ever fall on Nov. 1st, so they made sure there had to be a Monday first.)

South Carolina’s June primaries are always held on the second Tuesday in June, which is a slightly less complicated schedule than the November date.

But many elected officials don’t face any election competition at all because no one steps forward to challenge them for their office. (This is what’s known in political jargon as getting a “free ride”.)

Next week, every congressman, every state senator, every state legislator, and approximately half of all the county councilmen and other county officials will be watching the clock at noon on March 30th to find out who, if anyone, will be their opponent in this election year.

By my calculations, over 1,000 federal, state, and local offices will be filled in the November General Election. For most of them, however, the election will merely be a formality, because they will have gotten a “free ride” this year.

I’m not suggesting that this is a bad thing. Frankly, a lot of these incumbents are my friends, and I believe they do a pretty good job… or at least as good as the next group would do.
As much as the public seems to gripe about politicians, the problem is just as much US (the people) as it is them (the politicians).

A huge majority of the people – I’m guessing over 99%, including me -- cannot name each of the elected officials who have been elected to serve them. (Before you get all huffy thinking you CAN name them, remind yourself that you vote for offices like Register of Mesne Conveyance, Comptroller General, Clerk of Court, Secretary of State, Probate Judge, and Auditor, as well as county council and school board!)

If you can’t name them, there’s a good chance that you don’t really know whether they’re doing a good job.

So let’s just re-elect them all. Or throw them all out. Either way, it’s about the same. We can elect an entirely new group, and we, the people, still won’t know their names or whether they’re doing a good job.

I know I’m sounding a bit cynical… but that’s only because I am.

But there’s good news!

Every two years, there are people who decide that they want to try to make a difference. And during the two week period that ends at noon on March 30th, those people call up the state or local election commission to find out where to go file the paperwork, get in their cars and drive to wherever they’re told, and officially become candidates for office. They create competition, which forces the voters pay just enough attention to make a choice.

Those people are what make the system work.

If you think you might want to be one of those people, I tip my hat to you. And here’s the phone number to the major political parties (Democratic Party – 803-799-7798; Republican Party – 803-988-8449) and the website to the State Election Commission (scvotes.org). They can tell you everything you need to know to become a candidate.

As I said, some of these incumbents are my friends and, given a choice, I’ll vote to re-elect them. But having someone step up to offer competition can’t be a bad thing.

And good luck to you!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Economic Stimulus

Economic Stimulus

Unlike most weeks when I have little of value to say in this column, this week I actually have a message of some import, which I will state now at the outset, before wandering of into nonsensical, stream-of-consciousness prattle, as is my custom.

Here it is:

In the next few weeks, most readers will be receiving nice, fat economic stimulus checks from the federal government. I hope you’ll use those checks to stimulate our local economy by remembering the hundreds of smaller, local retailers and service-providers who are the backbone of our community.

There! I’ve said it. Now I can wander off into my normal, bizarre commentary before once again returning to the point. However, it’s an important point to be made – “Support those local businesses who support our community” – so I wanted to make sure I didn’t lose you with my verbosity before getting to the point.

You probably know that the economic stimulus package passed recently by Congress and signed into law by President W includes special “economic stimulus” checks for most taxpayers. In the next month or two, most taxpayers will receive big, fat juicy checks from the Federal Government. As I understand it, many families will receive from $1,200 to $2,000 or more, depending on the number of kids.

This is all designed, of course, to keep America from falling deeper into a recession. The government is giving you back your own money so you can spend it, and by spending it on your choice of goods or services, you are providing jobs and income for other Americans. That’s the way the economy works.

I won’t get into the whole concept of the government giving you back your own money. (It would take a book, not a newspaper column, for me to really give you my thoughts on that topic.)

Let me just say it’s a good idea. People spending their own money is what makes economies thrive. Government only gets in the way of the economy.

I’m reminded of my high school years as a school bus driver. During the training class, the instructor mentioned that each bus was equipped with a governor to moderate the speed. Not being mechanically inclined, I had never heard of that kind of governor before, only the ones who had been elected, like Hollings, Russell, McNair, and West. But I came to learn that engines on school buses were, indeed, equipped with governors designed to keep the engine from going too fast.

Since then, I have come to realize that governments have the same effect on economies. They restrict businesses and individuals. Governments slow us down with their endless rules and regulations, and hold back the economy by taking too much money out of the pockets of taxpayers.

But, now, this spring, they’re giving your money back, so that your can spend it. Let me repeat: The government wants you to spend the money. (Help save America… spend money!!!)

I did some figuring a few days ago, and I estimated that approximately $50 million of this money will be coming back to taxpayers in our small community… right here, where we live and work!!! That amount of money, if spent with local merchants, professionals and other service-providers, could have an enormous impact on our community.

You can bet that the giant multi-national chains have already launched massive marketing plans timed to capture as much of that money as possible. And I don’t fault them for it. I’m sure that their investors will profit handsomely, before sending on a share of our economic stimulus funds to the manufacturers of their products in China and beyond.

There is no question that Wall Street and China will benefit nicely from this infusion of our cash. So be it. The world IS flat, I guess.

But… I want to do my part to make sure that OUR little corner of the world also does okay. I want our community’s economy to be stimulated along with Wall Street and China! And I am especially interested in rewarding those struggling, smaller businesses who, despite their own challenges, always help support our community.

When you’re making plans to spend your new money, PLEASE take a minute to think about the business you’re spending it with.

Do they help support our community by sponsoring youth sports teams, band-boosters, and cheerleader camps? Do they participate in the local chamber of commerce or other civic organizations? Do they help underwrite the high school year books and sports program books with their advertising dollars?

Or do they simply take from the consumers in this community, without giving anything back? Are they really a part of our local economy, with local owners and well-paid employees, or do they just make all the profit they can, and then wire our money off each week to a home office a thousand miles away?

For our part, of course, we always try to promote the local businesses who advertise in this newspaper. They make your local newspaper possible, which is evidence of their local-nature.

But during the next few weeks, we’re going to re-double our efforts to encourage you to “Shop Local” and support our community. Whether you’re using your extra check for a new car, new furniture, as part of a down-payment for a new house, to fix up your old house, or just pampering yourself with lots of smaller items or services, you should pay attention to make sure the company you’re spending with is a good-neighbor to our community.

Let’s stimulate OUR economy!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Losing Things.

The events depicted in the following column are based on true stories. The names have been changed to protect the increasingly old, decrepit and feeble-minded.

I have a friend – who shall remain nameless, but he’s in his mid-50’s and lives in this area – who has started losing things more and more frequently.

When you hear some of the things he loses, you’ll think he’s sort of pathetic… but trust me, he’s cool.

My friend has always lost things. Back when he was a youngster, he frequently “lost his homework”. More than once, he lost his library book, earning my friend a stern rebuke from the librarian, which, to this day, has left him scarred and wary of libraries… or at least, this is what I have heard from my friend.

Throughout the years, my friend seems to have regularly lost items of clothing. Most notably, I think is that he has lost a lot of sock. Not a lot of “socks”… but a lot of “sock”… singular. He never seemed to lose an entire pair of socks, only a single sock. During the span of his 54 years – or however old he is – I would guess that he has lost 50 or 100 sock.

A few years back, he lost his pants a couple of times. Now lest you think anything unsavory, put those thoughts aside. I can vouch for my friend, and there was nothing unsavory whatsoever involved. He just simply lost his pants. Twice. Simply disappeared. Like “presto”!

Similarly unexplained is the time he lost an entire suit. It was a fairly new brown suit. The presumed explanation is that my friend dropped it off at the dry cleaners, but then forgot which one. Still, when he visited every single dry cleaner in the vicinity of anyplace he had been during the previous month, my friend came up empty. The suit was gone.

These days, my friend has starting making a habit of losing small, useful items, like the ink-pens he uses each week to write his… to write his…. his weekly “reports”. Yeah, that’s it! His reports!

He also loses the remote control to the TV at least once a week, which always causes confusion, because he doesn’t know which of the buttons on the TV turns it on or changes the channels or the volume, except with the remote. And even if he did know which button to push, it wouldn’t help, because he also regularly loses his eye-glasses and contact lenses, and when he tries to operate the TV without them, he ends up watching very blurry Spanish subtitles. Loud!

Another small useful item he seems to lose a lot is his car keys. Mostly, he loses those on mornings when he’s running late to an appointment.

Lately, though, my friend has taken his “losing things” to a whole new level. Now he not only loses the car-keys, he also loses the CAR!

My friend, you see, does a lot of the grocery shopping, and usually visits the Kroger, Bi-Lo or Food Lion a few times a week. Frequently, the toughest part of his visit is the part after he pays for his groceries and heads out to the parking lot to his car. While most people walk straight to their car in a matter of 10 or 12 seconds, my friend sometimes wanders the parking lot for a few minutes trying to remember where he left his vehicle. Granted, he’s not entirely focused on the task at hand, because he’s probably talking on his cell phone 99-percent of the time before, during and after his shopping excursion. But he also faces another dilemma: my friend is NOT a car person, and to him, all the automobiles look alike. (He drives a rather obnoxious car, which should help, but it doesn’t.)

Once, my friend drove to Atlanta and parked his car at the airport parking lot. The Atlanta airport parking lot, it turns out, is massive. When he went back to find his car shortly after 10pm at night, it was snowing. Then the cars really DID all look alike. Finally, after midnight, in sub-freezing snowfall, he found the car. True story. I can vouch for my friend.

At least once, my friend lost a car for good. Fortunately, it was a clunker which my friend had bought in lieu of renting a car for two weeks while his real car was in the body shop. (My friend is not real fond of renting things.)

On this occasion, he drove the clunker to his hometown of Lexington – which is coincidentally my hometown as well, which is why I know this story so well – when the clunker suddenly clunked out. Rather than deal with the problem at the time, he called a friend for a ride and left the broken-down car in a parking lot, fully intending to pick up the car later in the day. A week later, he finally got around to it. He went to the parking lot where he thought he left it, then another parking lot, then another and another. He called the LPD, but they had no report on it. On the ride home, he visited another couple of parking lots… but then something came up, and he forgot about it. It was gone forever, not unlike his new brown suit.

Yes, my friend seems to have a habit of losing many things. But one thing he will not lose is his dignity, thanks to the magic of “changing the names to protect the increasingly old, decrepit and feeble-minded.”

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Announcements for March

Your attention, please. I have a few announcements before we get into March.

First, I’d like to remind everyone to spring forward. Set your clocks forward ONE HOUR this weekend.

(That way, you’ll already be used to it when everybody else does it NEXT weekend!)

Did you see the recent lunar eclipse? I did. It was cool. In case you missed it, last week we had a total eclipse of the moon! It’s a very rare occurrence… the next one is expected to occur on the night of Dec. 21, 2010.

Also, last week, I observed an occurrence which is not quite so rare: a total eclipse of the brain. The next one is expected to occur…. probably, sometime this week. Maybe even today. Possibly even before I finish writing this….

Now, where was I?

More about March.

Spring officially starts on March 20th, on a day which has become known as the Vernal Equinox, a holiday tribute to the star of film and TV commercials, “Vern”.

Vern, you may know, is his last name. His first name is “Hey”.

It is fitting that we offer a holiday to a man who has meant so much to so many, to go along with the spate of tribute holidays we observe during the first few months of each year: George Washington, Martin Luther King, Abe Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, “Hey, Vern!” and, of course, Millard Fillmore.

St. Paddy’s Day. Wear Green. Nuff said.

March Madness is coming during this month. Actually, there will be two kinds of March Madness: the more popular version which consists of numerous college basketball tournaments, which ends with the Final Four and the eventual National Champion; and the less well-known version, which consists of most of the state’s politicians officially filing as candidates for office between March 16th and March 30th at noon.

It’s a little known fact that most elected offices in the state end up being decided without an election on March 30th every two years when no one steps forward to challenge the incumbent office-holder. (This is what’s known in political jargon as getting a “free ride”.)

This year, every state congressman, every state senator, every state legislator, and approximately half of all the county councilmen and other county officials will be watching the clock at noon on March 30th to find out who, if anyone, will be their opponent in this election year.

Incidentally, if you happen to bump into one of these incumbent officeholders during the late days of March, and they seem a little on edge, you’ll know why. Also, if you happen to need a favor from any of them, March is a REAL good time to ask. They’re all hoping for that free ride, and the last thing they want to do during March is make anybody mad at ‘em!!!

This year, for Easter, in addition to observing the Reason for the Season, we’ll also be recognizing the Easter Bunny – the second rodent in as many months to be the central figure of an American Holiday.

Unlike his sleepy-headed cousin from February, however, the Rabbit actually does something to deserve the honor: The Easter Bunny is the ONLY mammal in the world known to lay brightly colored eggs, and one of only two mammals, along with the Australian duckbilled platypus to lay eggs at all.

Someday, I hope to go the Australia. It seems like a really strange place.

Okay, back to March. Did you know that Daylight Savings Time now starts earlier than it used to. Previously, it was always in April. But, two years ago, Congress passed a law launching DST in March instead of April. (you might say they sprang the “Spring Forward” forward.) While it seems like a simple calendar trick, deep down I know it will end up costing us something. After all, Congress did it!

If you don’t LIKE the longer DST period, run for Congress! (Filing deadline is this month.) Or, just sleep late.

Just a few more March announcements…

Your shoe’s untied!!!

There’s a bug on your shoulder!!!

Your zipper’s open!!!

I’m trying to lose weight by combining diet AND exercise!!!

(I’ve decided to also celebrate April Fools Day a month early!)

Enjoy Leap Day, and the entire month of March, and also, don’t forget to….. don’t forget to…. don’t forget to….

How about that? Another eclipse!

You’re always welcome to let me know you agree, disagree, can’t make sense of, or simply don’t care about anything I’ve written here… or about any other topic that happens to be on your mind. You can email me directly at: RodShealy@aol.com.
And, if reading it once just wasn’t enough for you, read it again online – along with previous columns -- at my modern-technology Electronic Internet blog: www.doingthefirst.blogspot.com