Henry McMaster: Yo’ Govnah?
Henry McMaster: Yo’ Govnah?
By Michael S. Smith II
“Attorney General Henry McMaster has helped Gov. Mark Sanford get away with breaching the trust of South Carolinians in order to ensure Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer will not challenge him as an incumbent in the governor’s race next year.
“It was clear that justice was taking a back seat to the attorney general’s own desires when McMaster first asserted the governor’s activities did not warrant a criminal investigation. Days later, he reversed that position and directed SLED to initiate an investigation of Mr. Sanford. …
“McMaster and SLED Director Reggie Lloyd, who was appointed by Sanford, should have recused themselves and asked for an independent investigation.”
Michael S. Smith II in a letter published in The State on July 22, 2009
On November 24, Ben Szobody of the Greenville (S.C.) News reported: “The question of criminal prosecution of Gov. Mark Sanford on 37 charges of violating state ethics law now rests in the hands of state Attorney General Henry McMaster, who is running for Sanford’s job.”
Regarding the question of whether McMaster, a longtime friend of Sanford’s, plans to recuse himself of this responsibility, and instead lean on his constitutional authority to appoint someone else to oversee any prosecutions of the governor, Szobody reported that on November 23 a spokesman for the office of the South Carolina attorney general advised Henry McMaster does not intend to invoke that option. The spokesman said taxpayers have twice elected McMaster to serve as their attorney general, and “he will not shirk that responsibility.” This, despite the obvious conflicts of interests that could bungle his prosecution of Sanford for any ethics violations charges filed against South Carolina’s sitting governor.
This is not the first time South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster has exercised exceptionally poor judgment while serving in his current position in state government. In fact, some say he has repeatedly shirked his responsibility to approach his job with the moral authority or regard for ethics with which the people of South Carolina expected him to when they elected Henry McMaster to serve as attorney general.
Regarding his first high-profile lapse in judgment, in May The Washington Post noted that through his press-conference-focused fight against Craig’s List Henry McMaster, the so-called “Craig’s List Crusader,” was doing a fine job of “giving even the normally sleazy Attorney General title a bad name.” Regarding that suit, the Anderson (S.C.) Independent explained: “McMaster came up with his crusade, tailor-made for a gubernatorial candidate.”
The amount of money McMaster’s office wasted on legal actions and press conferences that targeted Craig’s List has yet to be disclosed. The case was just as specious as his friend Mark Sanford’s “trade trip” to Argentina, or SLED’s 2009 investigation of any legal wrongdoings on Sanford’s part. Meanwhile, many South Carolinians are curious about why McMaster’s office has not done anything to prevent “escorts” from advertising in telephone books distributed throughout their state.
In June, soon after Gov. Sanford returned from his secretive rendezvous with his Argentine mistress in Buenos Aires, Henry McMaster publicly proclaimed Sanford’s actions did not merit an investigation into whether the governor broke any laws while visiting his paramour. Soon thereafter, however, McMaster effectively conceded this statement was made in haste, and ordered SLED, whose director is a Sanford-appointee, to launch its farcical investigation of any prospective breaches of trust committed by Sanford.
Later, on October 1 The Wall Street Journal highlighted McMaster’s disdain for the term conflict of interest in an editorial exposing his appointments of donors to his own political pursuits to represent South Carolina in his office’s tort suit filed against drugmaker Eli Lilly. “In case anyone thought pay-to-play legal rackets were solely Democratic scandals,” the Journal’s editorial staff wrote, “look to South Carolina, where Attorney General Henry McMaster is proving that Republicans can also get cozy with the plaintiffs bar. … This sweetheart deal is rife with conflict of interest … Consider due process. Both the U.S. and South Carolina constitutions make clear that the state and its lawyers must be guided by justice and the public interest, not monetary gain. South Carolinians would be outraged if Mr. McMaster won a personal financial cut of any case he won as Attorney General. How is it better that his lawyers get it instead?”
Today, virtually anybody working with the campaigns of other gubernatorial candidates will confirm McMaster’s emissaries are employing some very unsporting, if not outright threatening tactics. Accordingly, it has become all too common for those staffers to be heard advising representatives of other campaigns that it might not be wise for anybody to work against the interests of the candidate who, according to McMaster’s political operatives, has the grand jury on his side. Then there is the matter of McMaster’s campaign consultants spreading rumors about their possessions of evidence that one of McMaster’s Republican rivals, not just his friend Mark Sanford, has also been having an extramarital affair.
This latter-mentioned aspect of matters points to what may be Henry McMaster’s greatest lapse in judgment to date — his decision to remain attorney general of a state in which he would be campaigning to become that state’s next governor.
If anyone is looking for an example of a politician in McMaster’s shoes who did the right thing — who resigned his post as attorney general in order to allow someone without a stake in his state’s top political contest to manage the important affairs of that office, thereby avoiding the sorts of conflicts of interest that have confronted McMaster in recent months — Virginia’s Republican Governor-Elect Bob McDonnell is the man who comes to mind.
Last spring South Carolina Attorney General and Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Henry McMaster told participants in a special S.C.GOP conference, “If you like what I’m doing as your attorney general, you gonna love what I’m gonna do as yo’ govnah.” If Henry McMaster continues doing what he’s doing as South Carolina’s attorney general it may not be long before the state’s Ethics Commission directs its investigative energies toward him.
Worse still, if Henry McMaster is elected governor, Mark Sanford’s issues with unethical behavior may be just the start of a new legacy established by Republican governors from the Palmetto State.
Update>>> To: <email@example.com>
Subject: Re “McMaster won’t withdraw from Sanford case”
Re “McMaster won’t withdraw from Sanford case”
I enjoyed your recent piece regarding how the McMaster “McEgo” debacle is playing out. Just when I thought it was looking like The State was planning to do whatever possible to portray McMaster in a good light in order to make it harder for Bauer to win over supporters from the Sanford crony class, the publication of your report has made me rethink things. Please keep up the good work.
Too many of our spineless “representatives” in the State House (not to mention gubernatorial candidates from both major parties) are far too (perhaps rightly) concerned about McMaster’s proclivity for conflict-oriented interactions with anyone around him to point out he too should be at the mercy of the Ethics Commission’s considerations of his (mis)conduct in office. That story is more important than the AP’s investigation of Sanford’s alleged (mis)uses of state resources for personal purposes because the governor’s career in politics is over — McMaster’s appears to be just beginning to take off unless you guys start pointing out how problematic this may prove.
Still, I realize I may be appealing to representatives of the wrong forums that could be used to illuminate the South Carolina attorney general’s corruptibility when I encourage journalists from Palmetto State-based news organizations to examine the obvious, which is that McMaster has made himself a veritable caricature of the Southern Good Ol’ Boy Politician whose self-serving agenda will only beget more outcries regarding corruption in state government the longer he is serving in it. After all, scandals do sell ads!
The bottom line is that the Fourth Estate should not be simply suggesting McMaster should recuse himself of the responsibility to manage an assessment of whether criminal charges should be filed against Mark Sanford. Instead, you and your colleagues should be calling for McMaster to resign and disappear from the political stage altogether. If people think the political scandals emanating from Chicago are terrible, I assure you that if McMaster’s aspirations are realized South Carolina’s state government will start to make the world’s banana republics look good.
Obviously, my instinct is that national papers with no stake in the South Carolina political ads race are the best places for me to voice such concerns. But don’t blame me for trying to encourage The State to do the right thing, something which would benefit you paper’s ad sales-focused interests much more than McMaster’s campaign chest can.
All the best,
Michael S. Smith II