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A message from Mark: Home Stretch

October 11, 2010

Dear Friends,

As summer turns to fall, I write to both thank you and urge you to keep making your voices heard.

The last year has had its share of ups and downs, and our state’s economy and antiquated government structure are still immense challenges for this and the next administration. That said, I thought yesterday’s Greenville News report captured the largely untold story of this last year well, showing how as we cross the finish line after eight years in Columbia we “will have capped an unusual year of legislative success, achievements that seemed all but unthinkable last year.”

I’d encourage you to read the entire Greenville News piece by simply scrolling down.

On a similar front, the Cato Institute – a leading national think tank – just came out with their annual Fiscal Policy Report Card that evaluated states on fiscal policy and looking out for the taxpayer. We ranked Number One out of all 50 states, with the Wall Street Journal and Washington Time acknowledging that this administration has been a “staunch supporter of spending restraint and pro-growth tax reforms.” I am humbled by that news and thankful to all on the team, both in and out of Columbia, who worked to make this happen. For your efforts, large and small, I thank you.

In fact, I mention Cato’s report for two reasons. First, as a way of reminding you that your steadfast support of commonsense ideas like lower taxes and restraining government spending has paid dividends in making South Carolina a better place to live, work and raise a family. And second, to urge you to continue being what Ronald Reagan called “happy warriors” on this battle line between government and liberty. Your continued efforts to hold that line on spending, taxes and civil liberties are vital in this larger notion of where we’re going as a community, a state and indeed a nation.

Thank you for your time, and take care.

Sincerely,

Mark

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His political career in ruins, Sanford enjoys his best legislative year

By Tim Smith – Capital bureau – Published: October 10, 2010

COLUMBIA – When Gov. Mark Sanford crosses the finish line of his second term in office next January, he will have capped an unusual year of legislative success, achievements that seemed all but unthinkable last year after his public confession of an affair consumed his political power and erased any higher political ambitions.

Yet it was Sanford, defending himself from efforts to toss him from office, who predicted last September that he would enjoy his best year with the General Assembly in 2010.

“I would argue that I have a greater voice in the General Assembly than I did at the end of the stimulus debate,” he told The Greenville News in a September 2009 interview. The Republican governor reasoned that because his affair had wrecked any political future, legislators would see his goals for what they were, not attempts at higher office.

Lawmakers disagreed with him then but agree now that this year has been his best in working with the Legislature.

“I think what he decided this year was to try and leave office with a sense of some accomplishment, and he has done that,” said Sen. John Courson, a Columbia Republican and self-described political soul mate of the governor. “And, frankly, probably what has occurred is that the adverse experiences of last year had a humbling effect on him.”

Gone this year, legislators said, was the populist governor who arrived in the Statehouse in 2003 with a rigid ideology and expectations not only of certain goals but how lawmakers were to achieve them.

Sanford has appeared more pragmatic and flexible than in past years, legislators said.

“He’s been more open to dialogue and compromise than in past years,” said Rep. Dan Cooper, a Piedmont Republican who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee and has been publicly critical of the governor’s efforts in years past to pass his budget ideas.

‘Walk of faith’

Sanford told The News he now has a different perspective than when he first came to the Statehouse.

“What happens when you first come into office is you see so many things that need changing in Columbia, you go after a bunch of them,” he said. “The political system responds to shorter lists rather than long ones. It responds to focus rather than broad swaths.”

Accordingly, Sanford said he narrowed his focus of legislative goals this year. The fallout from his affair, he said, also made him more humble and helped him move past his ego.

“I think the larger journey that we’re all on is how do we go more about the business of taking ourselves out of the equation? The larger walk of faith is about beginning this process of moving past self,” he said.

Legislators said they have found Sanford far more cooperative and less apt to micromanage than in years past. Gone also were the public rebukes of legislators that stirred Statehouse tensions and kept relations frosty with many in the Legislature.

The result has been a string of legislative successes that include:

  • Passing of sentencing reform, an idea he began promoting when he first came into office to try to relieve the rising cost of the state’s prison system.
  • Reorganizing of the state Employment Security Commission and enacting a new unemployment premium rate structure to pay back almost $900 million in federal loans. His confrontation with agency leaders in December 2008 was portrayed by some legislators as the Grinch who stole Christmas.
  • Having a record number of budget vetoes totaling $260 million sustained following years in which most of his budget vetoes were overridden, sometimes quickly.
  • Winning legislative leaders’ support to pass legislation next year to create a Department of Administration to house many of the administrative functions now carried out by the State Budget and Control Board. Sanford had asked for such restructuring for years.
  • Getting a moratorium on building projects on college campuses tied to tuition rates. Sanford and State Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom had sought for years to place a moratorium on such projects, arguing the state couldn’t afford to maintain the buildings but were blocked by the two legislators on the five-member Budget and Control Board. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman, frequently a political nemesis of Sanford’s, crafted the moratorium.

‘Timing is everything’

Sanford and some legislators agree that some of his legislative success this year has been due to what Sanford describes as a “ripening” of some issues.

He often quotes Winston Churchill’s observation that “the beauty of the American political system is that it always does the right thing, after it has exhausted every other political remedy.”

Sanford said he has pushed for some of the proposals for years, but legislators weren’t yet ready to accept them.

“For a long while, we were preaching in the wilderness on spending,” he said of his proposals for fiscal restraint. The budget shortfall and an ailing economy aided in opening some lawmakers’ eyes to arguments he had made during both terms, he said.

Sen. Larry Martin, a Pickens Republican and chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, said Sanford’s approach on some issues, including restructuring, kept some of the governor’s legislation from passing.

“Timing is everything,” he said. “I think with some of these folks there was a pushback to him and his approach to getting things done.”

That approach sometimes involved publicity stunts, such as when in 2004 he took two small pigs – named “Pork” and “Barrel” – to the entrance of the House chamber to illustrate the need for spending reform after the House quickly overrode almost all of his 106 budget vetoes.

Former U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins, then speaker of the House, called the stunt “insulting” and “childish.”

Last year, Sanford sparked heated exchanges with lawmakers when he refused to accept $700 million in federal stimulus aid, vetoing the budget with the aid and eventually moving the issue to federal
court.

Leatherman told reporters after the veto that he believed Sanford “cares nothing about the people of this state.” Sanford lost the bruising battle in court, then faced a hostile General Assembly after confessing to his affair.

Dodging impeachment

Courson said he was often baffled by the confrontations Sanford had with legislators.

“On a personal basis, I think most of us like him,” he said. “He’s a personable guy. He came in with a clean slate and had Republican majorities in both bodies. But for some reason that is beyond me, he felt like it was necessary to develop a contentious relationship with the General Assembly, which he did. And I think both the Legislature and the Governor’s Office sort of dug in.”

This year, he said, he believes Sanford was more interested in reaching out to legislators.

Sen. Larry Grooms, a Berkeley County Republican and political ally of the governor, said it was easier for Sanford’s allies in the Legislature this year because “he wasn’t out attacking legislators for wanting to get to the same place but in a different way.”

Grooms said this year Sanford seemed to pay attention more to what lawmakers, especially his allies, were saying.

“He always seemed like he was humble and he listened, but he would not actually take the advice of others,” he said. “I think he’s now listening and taking the advice of others.”

John Simpkins, a professor at the Charleston School of Law, said Sanford’s success this year has been because of a less oppositional approach with legislators.

“Having come out of a situation where he could have been impeached, I think it made him more willing to work with members of the Legislature than he might have otherwise,” he said.

Mark Tompkins, a political science professor at the University of South Carolina, said he isn’t surprised that Sanford has gotten things done this year in the Legislature.

“I think his last year was destined to be a calmer and simpler year with the growing challenge of the state’s budget situation,” he said.

“There’s sort of a caretaker quality to this year for everybody. They know next year is going to be pretty intense. This year was not a year to do anything big and dramatic, just do the stuff that needed to get done.”

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