Originally created 04/12/98

Some fear governor not effective enough



COLUMBIA -- Many Republicans were happy to see GOP Gov. David Beasley throw his backing behind a proposed video-gambling ban.

But that issue, like some others before it, has lost steam, and some Republicans and political observers wonder if losing battles could create the perception of an ineffective governor.

"Gov. Beasley has made many mistakes in his administration in regard to using the bully pulpit," said Lexington County Sheriff Jimmy Metts, a Republican and former Beasley supporter who is challenging the governor as an independent candidate this year.

"He used the bully pulpit briefly to try to take down the Confederate flag, and when he saw it was not going to be successful, he backed off. He's used the bully pulpit quite tough in the last few weeks trying to fight video poker, and now it looks like he's backing away from that," Sheriff Metts said.

Mr. Beasley also has had trouble with some education and economic development initiatives since taking office in 1995.

University of South Carolina Professor Betty Glad, who specializes in political psychology, said it is hard to gauge how a governor's actions on legislation affect his approval with voters.

"Sometimes you may find that the state Legislature is one way on an issue, and if the governor thinks the state as a whole is another way, that would be a way of winning points," Ms. Glad said. "Of course if he goes to a referendum and he loses on it, he's lost a little bit of credibility by doing that."

Probably the most watched issue came in 1997 when the governor failed to persuade state lawmakers to move the Confederate battle flag from atop the Statehouse dome to a monument on the Capitol grounds.

Flag supporters criticized Mr. Beasley for changing his position on whether the state should fly the banner above the Capitol dome. Mr. Beasley denied shifting, saying he always supported a compromise.

Now, the governor's cry for a ban on video gambling -- an industry Mr. Beasley calls "a cancer on South Carolina" -- has stalled in the Senate where a filibuster on the measure dragged on more than two weeks.

"I don't think you chalk it up as a massive loss for Beasley," Francis Marion University political scientist Neal Thigpen said of the governor's push for a video-gambling ban.

"He's got the moral high ground, and that's where he wanted to be. But, he's preaching to the saved," Mr. Thigpen said.

"He gets the credit just as much as if he were successful. I think in this effort he firms up his base."

Oconee County Republican Chairman Jim Butts said Mr. Beasley is in good shape right now with party members in the mountains of South Carolina.

Mr. Butts, however, said a recent discussion among Republicans there showed they would like to see more of the governor's initiatives get through the Legislature. "They felt he could be a little more aggressive, a little more pushy on some of this stuff," Mr. Butts said.

Some Democrats have accused Mr. Beasley of using the issue to recapture waning support from the Christian right.

"His inability to convince a majority of the Legislature, and in many instances a majority of his own party, of the validity of his leadership is pervasive," said state Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian, who said Democratic candidates won't have to publicize the governor's losses.

Mr. Beasley's campaign manager, Tony Denny, said the governor's failure to get some controversial items through the General Assembly doesn't mean much to most voters. Those who opposed him on the issues still do, and those who support him are more solidly behind him than ever, he said.

"There's never any shame in fighting the good fight," Mr. Denny said. "I think the governor has shown tremendous leadership on the video-poker issue, and voters are not going to blame him because he's the one who's shown leadership. If anything, they're going to blame the Senate for not acting."

He said Mr. Beasley did not draw a line in the sand this year on video gambling for political reasons.

"I think voters appreciate somebody who takes a stand and fights for something they believe in, whether they agree with them or not," Mr. Denny said.

Ms. Glad agreed that politicians don't necessarily lose voters by taking an unpopular view. But, she says, they must be careful not to lose too often.

"In politics, nothing succeeds like success," she said. "You want to look like you're effective, and so if you have too many failures, then you're in trouble."