Originally created 01/19/01

Officials voice opinions after address



COLUMBIA - After a State of the State speech laced with baseball images, urging lawmakers to "step up to the plate and take your best swing" at tough issues, South Carolina's Democratic governor handed baseball bats to the Republicans leading the House and Senate this session.

Wagener Rep. Charles R. Sharpe, a Republican, grinned Wednesday night just thinking about how grim Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler and House Speaker David Wilkins looked as they accepted the genuine Louisville Sluggers from a beaming Mr. Hodges. Both men - who are among potential opponents when the governor runs for re-election - said afterward that they hadn't agreed with much the governor said.

"They wanted to take a swing at him," Mr. Sharpe said.

He and other Republicans on the Aiken delegation plan to resist Mr. Hodges' suggestions for more than $1 billion in new expenditures while cutting noneducation funding for the rest of state government by 15 percent.

Democrats said they were impressed with the governor's priorities and hope for GOP support.

"A lot of my colleagues of the Republican persuasion have said for years that government needs to be cut back and reduced to a practical, affordable level," said Sen. Tommy Moore, D-Clearwater. "They've come up to the plate several times and struck out. The batting order is such that they get to bat again.

"If they truly want to improve education, they'll step up to the plate and do it. If they really want to cut the size of state government, they'll step up to the plate and do it."

"The governor focused his attention where it belongs - the biggest emphasis on education and economic growth, with concern about the environment, public safety, health and the welfare of our senior citizens," said Rep. Bill Clyburn of Aiken, the only Democrat in Aiken's House contingent.

"But he'll have a hard time getting his programs through. There are too many big egos around here," he said.

Perspectives on the delegation reflect a partisan split that's expected to surface again and again this session despite both parties' pledge to work together.

Republicans control both houses of the Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction, and they are flexing their muscle.

Sen. Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken, said he can agree with some of Mr. Hodges' initiatives, such as raising teachers' salaries and replacing worn-out school buses.

"But where is the money coming from for all the new programs he wants?" Mr. Ryberg asked. "And his idea to cut state government 15 percent across the board is totally unacceptable. Some agencies would be devastated."

"He wants to balance the budget on the backs of state employees, and we're not going to stand for that," said Mr. Sharpe, who also took issue with what the governor called "home runs" already made - "The things he listed are things the (GOP-controlled) House initiated," he said.

Rep. Roland Smith, R-Langley, said he was pleased - but taken aback - to hear the governor's bus recommendation. Mr. Smith spent last summer drafting school bus specifications that would allow more competitive bidding, he said.

And the incentive for teachers to get nationally certified came out of the House Ways and Means Committee, on which Mr. Smith serves, he said.

He predicted the governor will get bipartisan support for many education and rural economic development ideas, but not his lottery package, which would offer free technical and two-year college education to good students. Mr. Smith is among those who favor more funding of kindergarten and lower grades.

So is Rep. Don Smith of North Augusta, who also said he'll take a special interest in what gets done for teachers.

"Because of where my district is, I see it all the time. Teachers who live in North Augusta can just drive across the river and make more money," he said. "We need to do something about that."

He said he's also against hasty drafting of lottery regulations. The governor wants enabling legislation put on the fast track.

"I don't think so," the North Augusta representative said. "A few months lost on this end will be worth it in the long run to make sure we do the right thing."

Rep. Robert S. "Skipper" Perry summed up Republicans' reaction to the governor's message: "Some good swings but no home runs."

Reach Margaret N. O'Shea at (803) 279-6895.