COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – A small group of South Carolina lawmakers Thursday killed competing bills that would have named one of the state’s busiest intersections after either President Donald Trump or former President Barack Obama.
The members of the House Invitations and Memorial Resolutions Committee agreed that naming roads or other things for living people is dangerous when behavior and reputations can change even without the political divisiveness whenever the president is brought up.
“I think this is big political games,” Republican Rep. Bruce Bryant of Lake Wylie said.
“We don’t want to get into this mess,” Democratic Committee Chairman Jimmy Bales replied.
The competing resolutions each wanted to name the intersection of Interstates 85 and 385 in Greenville. About 220,000 vehicles pass through the area every day. Only interstate junctions near Columbia and Charleston are busier.
The Trump resolution was proposed by two Republican lawmakers who live near, but not in, Greenville County. The Obama resolution was filed six days later by two Democrats who represent districts on the other side of the state.
Less than an hour after the committee met, Republican Rep. Bobby Cox of Greenville posted on Twitter that he would introduce the bill to name the intersection after Greenville police Officer Allen Jacobs, who was shot to death while working in March 2016.
Thursday’s meeting thrust one of the House’ s most unremarkable committees briefly into the limelight. The Invitations Committee typically meets in a room the size of a large closet, the five members around a small round table.
On Thursday, they moved to the much bigger House Judiciary Committee room, where six reporters and a few curious lawmakers were the only people in the audience.
Road naming is often a sticky business – one person’s political hero is often another one’s enemy – and the practice recently underwent even more scrutiny in South Carolina.
The expressway to Columbia’s airport was named for former Department of Transportation Commissioner John Hardee, but he was convicted and sentenced last year to seven months in prison for trying to hire a prostitute just hours after he received probation for admitting he tried to derail an FBI investigation.
That prompted several bills, none of which have passed this year, to ban naming roads and other things for living people.
The members of the committee are well aware of the controversy. Each time a bill came up, like naming a Hampton County road for former Atlanta Braves outfielder Dwight Smith, Rep. Richie Yow searched the internet on behalf of the committee.
“He’s 56. I think he’s still alive,” the Chesterfield Republican quietly told his fellow lawmakers.
Yow’s searches also derailed a bill to name a Hampton County road after former Sheriff Rudy Loadholt after the discovery of a 1993 executive order from the governor suspending him from office after his indictment on sexual assault charges.
Loadholt was acquitted of the charges and demoted any deputies who testified against him, including his chief deputy, according to news reports at the time.
South Carolina has been burned before by naming roads for living people. About 15 years ago, the name of former Lt. Gov. Earle Morris was removed from a Pickens County highway after he was convicted for his role as chairman in the failure of a company called Carolina Investors that cost investors about $275 million.
At the bottom of Thursday’s committee agenda was one final item to designate September as Snakebite Awareness Month in South Carolina, sponsored by Republican Rep. Chris Wooten, who was bitten by a copperhead while walking his dog outside his Lexington home in September. Wooten killed the snake and drove himself to the emergency room.
Bryant said he understood wanting to bring awareness to the danger but felt a state law was a bit much.
“Where does it stop? Next month we are going to have mosquito awareness month and the next month fly awareness month,” Bryant said. “If there was a epidemic where every time we walk out in our yards we’re snake bit would be one issue. But why do we take up the state’s time with these issues?”
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