Wednesday, May 23, 2007

State party chairmen debate "beer and girls"

COLUMBIA, S. C. -- Less than a week after a phony House memo urged female pages to dress provocatively, the heads of South Carolina's two major political parties talked of beer and girls to teens attending Boys' State.

Democrat Dick Harpootlian and Republican Henry McMaster made their comments at The Citadel on June 11 to about 800 high school seniors participating in the annual leadership event, The (Columbia) State reported Saturday. Harpootlian was quoted in the Boys State newspaper, The Citizen Times, talking about how state lottery funds could give qualified high school graduates $4,500 for college. "That can buy a lot of beer and girls," he said. McMaster followed by saying "Democrats are for beer and girls. Republicans are for cold beer and hot girls," the newspaper said.

Also at the Boys State gathering, Harpootlian said the parties disagree in principles, but "agree on beer and girls." Only days earlier on June 6, a memo from the fictitious "Men's Caucus" responding to a real memo from the House Women's Caucus reminding pages about professional work attire circulated among legislators, saying women pages could get bonuses for wearing tops with less material. The fake directive also said underwear was optional and skirts should be no longer than 4 inches above the knee. No author to the fake memo has come forward.

Gov. Jim Hodges has asked the state Human Affairs Commission to investigate. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has begun a preliminary inquiry. Rep. Vida Miller, D-Pawleys Island, asked for the House Ethics Committee to investigate the anonymous memo. House Speaker David Wilkins, R-Greenville, has pledged to find those involved. He has sent letters to all pages and their parents among other corrective actions ensuring a safe work environment.

Rep. Edie Rodgers, R-Beaufort, heads the Women's Caucus and said she was disappointed Harpootlian and McMaster would joke like that. "I'm sort of up to here with flippant comments from men at this point," Rodgers said. Harpootlian said "anyone that's perturbed at this, I'd say, 'Get a life.'"

McMaster said he used the humorous remark to grab the teen's attention before discussing issues like gun control and education. "In hindsight, I think Dick and I both got a little carried away," McMaster said. "But the stated purpose was to say, "Let's forget about all this (beer and girls) and get serious.'"

Boys' State is a leadership-development program sponsored each year by the South Carolina American Legion. Attendees elect and run their own mock government and learn about public service. Tony Papadopoulos, a 17-year-old Boys' State participant from Mount Pleasant, said he thought it was "creative how (the chairmen) captured the audience's attention."

The phony "Men's Caucus" memo earlier this month began a debate on the place of women in South Carolina politics. The state ranks 50th in women holding statewide office, says the Institute for Women's Policy Research in Washington, D. C. "Too bad the leaders of the two major political parties in the state didn't use the occasion to elevate the discourse about politics," said Laura Woliver, associate director of women's studies at the University of South Carolina. "I can't believe they said this after the 'Men's Caucus' stuff," she said. "They just don't want to change."

Boys' State director Allen Bosworth said Harpootlian and McMaster are "provocative guys." But Bosworth said the comments were probably inappropriate and he might speak to the chairmen about them. Harpootlian said this to Democratic women who may be offended: "Don't go to Boys' State. If you see I'm speaking, definitely don't go to Boys' State."

June 24, 2001

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