S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, July 24, 2005
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/05.0724.tarnished.htm

COMMENTARY
Dems see tarnish on Sanford's bulletproof image
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

JULY 24, 2005 - - For three years, Gov. Mark Sanford has been the bulletproof kid.

Despite some public relations blunders with pigs and horses, and a continuing spat with members of the Republican-controlled General Assembly, Sanford has kept a popular profile with voters across the state.

While he has accomplished little over the last three legislative sessions (no real restructuring; no real income tax cut; no school vouchers), he’s still popular. But there are signs that the image is tarnishing, Democrats say.

Some recent events play into the hands of Democrats as potential hard-hitting negative ads in the coming 2006 re-election campaign:

Credit rating loss. Now that the state has lost its sought-after AAA credit rating from one Wall Street firm, Democrats see a vulnerability on economic issues for the governor. While Sanford and lawmakers pointed fingers at each other, the Standard and Poor’s credit rating agency pointed to the state’s recent lackluster record on job creation and its record of having one of the nation’s top unemployment rates. Governors often want to take credit for creating jobs, but when they fall into this trap, they have to take blame too when things go awry.

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Free trips. Recent news shows the governor took $6,000 in free trips from private interests as 27 lawmakers and constitutional officers accepted almost $50,000 in free travel. Such cozying up to corporate bigwigs could cause problems for Sanford and others. In other state election campaigns, free trips and perks have led to populist negative ads that were very effective against incumbents.

Santee Cooper report. While the governor and his team is poo-pooing a Senate subcommittee’s report on the state electric utility, voters surely will be reminded by Democrats that the report was authored by members of Sanford’s own party. It will be used as an example of internal meddling. Furthermore, Sanford got caught between different versions of the truth by saying that he didn’t order a look into privatizing the utility when records show his office and appointees to the Santee Cooper board did just that.

Education. The governor’s big agenda item, using public funds to pay tax credits to people to send their kids to private schools (a fancy end-run that really is a school voucher proposal) died a very public death this year. While it likely will come up next year, Democrats will use the issue to hammer Sanford over what they’ll characterize as his commitment to using public funds to pay for private education instead of supporting public education outright. Again, an effective ad can be made to put Sanford in a bad light.

“People expect their governor to move the state forward, to make education better and to create jobs,” State Democratic Party Executive Director Lachlan McIntosh said. “Sanford didn’t seem to get that memo.”

And while Democrats are putting issue bullets in their belt to use against the governor next November, Sanford still has the advantage - - millions of dollars in cached campaign cash as Democrats struggle to raise money even on a good day.

But maybe the governor, who hasn’t seemed eager to get into the media spotlight lately, has gotten the message that he needs to work on his image. Just last week, his temperamental press secretary, Will Folks, announced he was resigning to go to the private sector where he hoped to be instrumental in helping his boss get re-elected.

More likely, Folks has been dispatched by the governor to start using some of that big pile of campaign cash to work on the image, a job that is much easier and more flexible when you’re not on the public payroll.

RECENT COMMENTARY


McLEMORE'S WORLD
7/24: Full disclosure

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:


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FEEDBACK
7/18: Looking for math and common sense

To the editor:

Is anyone exploring the link between birth control (or lack of) and poverty? Is it possible for one to move out of poverty if the number of children they bear is limited?

Is anyone exploring the link between parenting skills and poverty? Are the children of poor parents with good parenting skills more likely to move out of poverty than the children of poor parents with poor parenting skills?

Whatever happened to simple math and common sense?

-- Paula Richardson, Britton's Neck, S.C.


7/17: Lowered credit rating is red flag

To the editor:

Well, the chickens have comeback to roost. Yes, in the early 90's the Wall Street Journal classed South Carolina among those states who had an "Embarrassment Of Riches."

That classification meant a state whose on hand revenue and taxing system showed a budget surplus but one of the worst education systems in the country along with a near starvation of domestic needs. On the positive side, the state, then, was reported to have a AAA Credit Rating.

Then came the supposed new look and the state joined many other states. It began competing for jobs by offering migrant corporations or big businesses tax incentives and other types of business largess to establish in South Carolina. As a result, SC has paid dearly for added jobs. The hope was that the state's economy would improve, but taxes exploded while services to its residents crumbled.

In spite of this outcome, big business taxes aren't rising in South Carolina, they are falling, placing this impoverished and undereducated state in a fiscal vise. To draw jobs and spur its economy, South Carolina, according to statistics, became the fiercest aggressor in the interstate jobs war that has swept the country. Although the state has added several thousand jobs, its population has exploded as well as its school children. Having hollowed its tax base to attract corporations, South Carolina is struggling to afford the resulting boom.

Darla Moore, a Wall Street financier and state native stated that "If something isn't done, they're going to be beyond the point of recovery."

The recent lowering of the states credit rating from AAA to AA is just the beginning. It must stop slashing, by several billion dollars, taxes for an elite class of movable businesses as it has been doing for the past 16 years. If such action is not taken and taken soon, the state should expect even greater budget deficits. If tax trends are not drastically changed in this regard, improvements in life quality for its residents and improvements in the quality and variety of school district services will continue to suffer and that is the bottom line. The lower credit rating is just a warning sign.

-- Bob Logan, Little River, SC

KEEPING TRACK
Ahead on Santee Cooper

This section tracks past forecasts by Statehouse Report with other media reports:

In Statehouse Report:

5/15/05: Public service has one master, not two: "While all of this has been going on, some members of the Santee Cooper board (i.e., Gov. Sanford's appointees) have become increasingly activist in nature. Charges are flying that board members are micromanaging on everything from corporate contributions and power contracts to working intimately on a privatization study...

"Santee Cooper's struggles should serve as a reminder to members of state governing boards that public service requires them to carry out two duties. First, there's a "duty of care," which calls for board members to ensure an organization is running effectively and efficiently. (This gives an entrée for meddling.) But board service also carries a "duty of loyalty," which means members must serve the interests of the organization over interests of anyone else, such as a governor."

In The Post and Courier

7/19/05: Santee Cooper directors, governor blamed in report. "A bipartisan panel of five state senators was scheduled to release a report this morning saying Santee Cooper board members repeatedly and recklessly mismanaged the state-owned utility for more than two years, capping a months-long investigation that included 22 hours of hearings and about 10,000 pages of e-mails and documents.

"The statement, written by Sen. Luke Rankin, said bullying by a few rogue board members jeopardized the power company's stellar credit rating and could have been costly for taxpayers and the utility's customers and bondholders. The report also said those directors deflated morale at the utility while pursuing a political agenda for Gov. Mark Sanford, who appointed them to their posts."


SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD

Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political events from the past week:

Thumbs up

Westmoreland, Hawkins. South Carolina lost two titans of public service over the past week with the deaths of General William Westmoreland, remembered as an officer and a gentleman, and federal Judge Falcon Hawkins, a consummate judge. Both were good men; both will be missed.

Senate. The bipartisan state Senate subcommittee that looked into shenanigans at Santee Cooper did its job in pointing to the governor and his minions for interfering with the agency's management.

Thumbs down

The State. After being scooped in May by the Columbia Free-Times about Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer being paid a whale of a lot of money for 1/10 of an acre by the SC Department of Transportation, Columbia's daily newspaper waited for the Greenville News to scoop them on the story June 20 before running a big front-page headline Saturday.

Sanford, lawmakers. Gov. Mark Sanford accepted $6,000 in free travel last year; free trips by 27 state lawmakers totaled $27,000. While this saves the state money, it might be better to cut ties to corporate bigwigs so the state doesn't owe them anything. More: The State.

Fair. If knuckle-dragging were an Olympic contest, SC might be a medalist with such antics as Sen. Mike Fair's evolution bill, which was proposed as this year's session closed More: Associated Press .

Mack. Rep. David Mack, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, shouldn't be defending Charleston City Councilman Kwadjo Campbell, who has been indicted on corruption charges. There's no "conspiracy" to get Campbell.

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