SC lawmaker calls Gov. McMaster a 'quivering child,' votes against spending COVID-19 aid
In a Statehouse speech Wednesday afternoon, Republican state Rep. Jonathon Hill of Townville sharply criticized Gov. Henry McMaster's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Hill said McMaster had acted like "a quivering child in the midst of a thunderstorm hiding under a bed with the family dog and teddy bears."
"The governor has demonstrated weakness. He's demonstrated uncertainty. He's demonstrated bad judgment," Hill said. "The people of South Carolina got hurt. And I don't know about you, but that makes me angry."
Hill had been at odds with his GOP colleagues before and he was suspended from the House Republican Caucus last year. In an unusual move, the state Republican Party publicly backed his challenger in this month's state House District 8 primary but Hill still won the race by a comfortable margin.
His comments Wednesday came during a debate on spending the first portion of $1.9 billion in federal COVID-19 aid that South Carolina has received.
"I will not be voting to spend this money to go to bail out our governor," said Hill, who opposed McMaster's closure of "non-essential" businesses in late March and early April to slow the spread of COVID-19. Almost all of those businesses have been allowed to reopen.
Hill also questioned whether spending the federal aid is fiscally responsible.
"We're making a decision to continue to perpetuate an ongoing problem with federal deficit spending which affects our entire country, including every person in South Carolina," he said.
The House voted 109-2 later Wednesday afternoon to spend $1.2 billion of the federal aid. Hill and Rep. Stewart Jones, a Republican from Laurens, cast the only dissenting votes.
The Senate approved the same legislation on Tuesday and it will now go to McMaster for his signature.
Where the money will go
The measure approved Wednesday calls for using $500 million of the federal aid to replenish the state's unemployment trust fund.
According to a report that McMaster provided to legislators earlier this month, the state spent $485 million after a wave of jobless filings related to the pandemic between March 15 and June 8. Without an infusion of cash, the report warned that South Carolina could run out of money to pay unemployment benefits by April 2021.
The spending bill also includes:
► $270 million to reimburse state agencies and local governments for expenditures related to COVID-19.
► Nearly $223 million to pay for summer academic recovery camps, five additional days of educational instruction and food-service costs.
► $125 million to provide financial relief to hospitals.
► $50 million for broadband planning, infrastructure and mobile hotspots.
► About $42 million for a statewide COVID-19 testing program
► Nearly $17 million for rebuilding the state's stockpile of personal protective equipment.
Legislators will return to Statehouse in September to deal with budget
A few minutes after Hill spoke Wednesday, state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter came to the podium. The Democrat from Orangeburg said the state must do more to make sure that essential workers have protective equipment during the ongoing pandemic.
"When I open a newspaper almost every day there are death notices of people who I know — who I have worked with — who are no longer here," she said. "A lot of those people were essential workers."
Citing the state's rising number of COVID-19 cases, Cobb-Hunter also expressed concern about the health threats that legislators may face when they return to Columbia in three months to craft a budget. She and many other House members covered their faces with masks and shields Wednesday.
"Here in South Carolina, we aren't even at the peak of the first wave," she said. "It scares me to think of what this state will be like in September."
Kirk Brown covers government and politics. Follow him on Twitter @KirkBrown_AIM