Thursday, October 11, 2012
Glenn McConnell will tell anyone that the day he became South Carolina’s Lieutenant Governor was not a red-letter day in his political career.
“The day I took the oath of office almost felt like I was attending my own political funeral,” he admits.
According to the SC State Constitution, McConnell, former President Pro Tem of the SC Senate and easily the most powerful senator in the state, had to take the position when former Lt. Governor Ken Ard resigned due to ethics violations.
Going from active legislative wheeler dealer to a passive, almost ceremonial role in the senate -- the Lt. Governor, presides over the senate and votes only to break a tie -- was not easy, McConnell said. Yet he is now glad it happened, because it has given him a chance to explore what he believes to be an extremely important -- and overlooked – set of issues: the state of senior care and senior issues in South Carolina.
To that end, he is concentrating the same drive and energy he brought to the legislature to his latest area of responsibility, the South Carolina Lt. Governor’s Office on Aging.
McConnell, who with members of his staff spent Tuesday afternoon at Faith Sellers Senior Center in Summerville, has been traveling across the state visiting facilities and connecting with the people who work and utilize them. What he has learned, he says, has been both eye opening and motivating.
“It is facilities such as this one that are such important resources to our senior population,” McConnell said, praising the services facilities such as Faith Sellers provides, such as in home meals. “A lot of times, that meal is what’s between one of our seniors and a nursing home bed that costs at least $46,000 a year and for which there are lengthy waiting lists. As long as our seniors can live at home with dignity, they should be able to – it’s good for everybody.”
Facilities such as Faith Sellers not only help meet needs such as food, they provide a variety of other services, from entertainment and fellowship to continuing education opportunities.
McConnell also listened to comments and answered questions from volunteers, staff, and people who use the center. He noted that as he has learned more and more about what seniors deal with and what facilities often face, his frustration levels have risen.
“There are some things out there that just do not make sense,” he said. “Believe me when I say I’ll be working to get some of these situations fixed.”
One example he mentioned was a facility in the upstate that is equipped with a wooden handicap access ramp around the building. The ramp needs to be fixed but new regulations require an entire new system made of concrete that is far too cost prohibitive.
“They don’t need a $30,000 ramp; they need to fix the one they have, and they can’t,” he said. “Sooner or later, that will shut them down.”
Another area that is of particular concern to both seniors and McConnell – and a personal annoyance to the Lt. Governor – is the state law governing raffles. Linda Knutson, who teaches quilting at Faith Sellers, asked the Lt. Governor point blank about the issue, noting that something as simple as the raffle of a homemade quilt -- made by seniors who utilize the center to raise funds for that center – is now illegal.
“It really cut our legs out from under us in so many ways,” she noted.
Currently, the law does not allow charities, non-profits, churches, etc., to hold raffles for fundraising because under state law, a raffle constitutes gambling.
“That’s archaic, ridiculous, and makes no sense whatsoever,” McConnell said, emphatically agreeing with her. “We already have gambling with the lottery, and as far as it goes, I can guarantee that no one will become an addicted, compulsive gambler, from buying church raffle tickets.”
More important, he noted, is the fact that by outlawing raffles, the state has effectively strangled non-profits everywhere by cutting off a significant fund raising stream.
On a personal note, McConnell said, politically he does not agree with any law that would dictate how he spends the money he earns, he said. He strongly suggested all seniors to contact their legislators and urge them to take action to repeal the law.
“Don’t just ask your representative if they support it,” he said. “Tell them you want them to support it and ask them if they will introduce it as legislation and vote for in special orders and as procedural motions. Hold them to it. Seniors are becoming a major political force in South Carolina – they just need to let their voices be heard.”
“You can bet I’ll have something to say about all this,” he added.