Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Vote on legislative pay can be mined for interesting insight

Everyone was so rushed yesterday about the House's overturning Gov. Nikki Haley's vetoes, especially the one effectively granting legislators a $12,000-a-year-pay raise, that the Statehouse press corps missed a good chance to provide some insight into what actually happened.

The House initially sustained the veto at 6:09 p.m., 73-39, with 11 abstentions and one excused absence. Twenty minutes later, the House overrode the veto, 73-29, with 19 abstentions and three excused absences. (This is a long list of the roll-call votes; you'll have to pick your way through by time or look for "Governor's Veto 76.")

In the Post and Courier in Charleston, it was summed up this way:
Haley had wanted the pay increase to go to state voters for approval by way of the ballot box. Rep. Jim Merrill R-Charleston, took to the floor to explain the effects of the pay raise, answering questions. He did not recommend to override or sustain the veto when it went up for a vote. He also said that the districts lawmakers represent are more populous and more pay would go a long way toward making the job of serving more desirable and competitive. Lawmakers' current yearly salary is $10,400.

Though the House initially voted on sustaining Haley's veto, members later returned to the measure and 73 members voted in favor of overriding it.
That might well lead a reader to think that somehow House leaders were able to round up more votes to reach 73 the second time. But the number of "yes" votes remained the same -- the real story may be that in 20 minutes, enough pressure was brought to bear so that eight to 10 (depending on how you want to count it) House members took a walk. That's a much different dynamic (and well worth a follow-up).

Meanwhile, The State, whose story was picked up widely, got the initial vote total wrong, listing it as 73-29 each time.

The paper has now corrected it online (though without any note of a correction nor, as of 6/19, a correction in the paper). My pointing this out is not to ridicule but because of a deep concern that such things burrow into databases (and that all those versions picked up elsewhere probably won't be corrected), thus distorting the historical record. Online has raised the bar for being careful even more.

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