Friday, November 27, 2009

Weakened Sanford pushes ahead despite cloud

By Andy Brack

mark-sanford On the day newspaper headlines screamed that the state Ethics Commission accused Gov. Mark Sanford of 37 violations, the governor's sense of humor remained intact.  When asked how he would like his terms as governor to be remembered, he said, “Better than today.”

Then during another of his Rotary Club apology tours across the state, Sanford paused 9 seconds to consider the question.  He highlighted two areas he hoped to be remembered for:

Investment. He pointed to $8 billion in job-creating business investment over the last two years.  He briefly highlighted some initiatives, such as tort reform and tax policy, that improved the “soil conditions” for small businesses to thrive better.

Land conservation. Sanford said more land had been protected under his administration than any other.  In turn, that improved the state's attractiveness and quality of life.  Since funding for the S.C. Conservation Bank started in 2004, more than 152,000 acres have been set aside at a cost of $80.6 million.

During the talk (and after the self-imposed obligatory apology for letting people down with his extramarital affair), Sanford asked Rotarians to urge state lawmakers to make a few specific policy changes – what he called “rifle shots” – to help set the course on a new direction.   Among the suggestions:  restructuring the state Budget and Control Board into an executive Department of Administration overseen by a governor; allowing the governor and lieutenant governor to run on the same ticket; changing some constitutionally-elected officers into appointed positions; setting spending limits; improving economic development; and reforming the state Employment Security Commission.

None of his proposals were new.  As he discussed them, what was remarkable was how the sometimes rambling, professorial rhetoric had not changed, but how the wind was gone from his sails.   He was a fellow talking the talk, but who seemed really tired of walking the walk.

Sanford said he had become a big fan of these policy rifle shots because he “I thought there was more power in the executive branch than there was.  And we took some bigger bites than were achievable.

“Little bites are indicative of the ways that more policy has to change. … We have a political system designed to guard against revolutionary change.”

* * *

And so it would be revolutionary if South Carolina's legislators actually turned Sanford out as governor.  While a House subcommittee started work on an impeachment bill this week, caution is in order.

At this point, Sanford is accused not of any felony, but of ethics violations, each of which carry about a $2,000 civil fine.  Although some GOP lawmakers remain mad, embarrassed and highly irritated with how the governor behaved over the summer, the real question is whether these ethical allegations are aggravated enough to throw out a weakened weak governor out of office.

Yes, he's made some mistakes.  But flying business class instead of coach doesn't reach the level of impropriety envisioned by the framers of our state constitution.  It's better for a governor to get off a 14-hour plane trip a little refreshed than to go into immediate meetings with bad jet lag from being cramped in a coach seat.

His campaign spending might have some minor problems, but that's not unexpected with millions of dollars and hundreds of events over several years.  Most of the legislators “sitting in judgment” of Sanford probably wouldn't meet the standards they're setting for Sanford in their own campaign spending.

And sure, he might have used some state travel in questionable ways.  But remember, governors and their families live in a bubble imposed by the job.  They have big pressures on them to try to maintain normalcy.

Bottom line:  Sanford has been weakened by his affair.  His legislative initiatives are pretty much dead on arrival in the General Assembly.  But he hasn't reached the threshold of serious wrong to be turned out of office according to the law in the state constitution.  Instead of obsessing on Sanford in 2010, lawmakers should spend their time on real problems – getting better jobs for people, improving education and bettering health care.

Andy Brack, publisher of S.C. Statehouse Report, can be reached at:

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