Sunday, Nov. 6, 2005
new job in Canada
SC Statehouse Report
6, 2005 - - A few days after Hurricane Katrina ripped through
the Gulf states, David Wilkins met with 46 members of a search
and rescue team from Vancouver who had just returned from
St. Bernard Parish.
"They were tired and dirty," recalled Wilkins,
the former South Carolina Speaker of the House who became
America's ambassador to Canada in June. "And they literally
plucked 119 people out of trees.
"We hugged and cried. I thanked them profusely for helping
us. But they were almost as thankful for the opportunity to
help as I was to thank them."
That meeting of thanks is among the most meaningful personal
highlights of Wilkins' four months as ambassador, he said
this week in an exclusive interview.
"It's an incredible experience. It is an adventure every
day. Just the privilege of representing my country in a foreign
country is remarkable."
Ambassador David Wilkins (left) shakes the hand of Canadian
Prime Minister Paul Martin at the unveiling of a plaque
in memory of the victims of the Sept. 11 tragedy. Photo
courtesy US State Department.
As the official voice of the United States, Wilkins is traveling
extensively. Already, he's visited nine of Canada's 10 provinces
and two of three territories. In his coast-to-coast tour,
he's logged more than 70,000 miles on planes.
He and his wife Susan are taking French lessons, although
Wilkins points out that there's really not a language barrier
as most Canadians who speak French also speak English.
"The people have been warm and friendly" - just
like in South Carolina. Other parallels: Canadians, like South
Carolinians, are "freedom-loving people." They enjoy
getting outdoors in abundant green space and they are actively
involved with sports.
As ambassador, Wilkins deals with major issues at high levels,
such as recent meetings with the prime minister and US Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice.
American-Canadian trade is one of the biggest issues, as
each country is the other's largest trading partner. The US
buys 86 percent of Canada's exports and 39 states, including
South Carolina, have Canada as their largest trading partner,
Wilkins said he also works closely with Canadian officials
on security issues to ensure borders are protected. "They
have invested more capital and money on security on their
side of the border," he said. "They have rallied
to our aid since 9/11."
Life is much different as America's top spokesman and diplomat
in Canada than it was as the head of the S.C. House. For one
thing, the Canadian media are more aggressive.
After public events, Wilkins often is assailed in a "scrum,"
or unofficial press conference that can include as many as
30 journalists. Reporters are also attuned to every word Wilkins
says, often trying to make sense out of inflections or the
way he says something.
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While Wilkins' term as ambassador has been thrilling, he's
also faced scrutiny, such as when he raised the ire of some
Canadian politicians when he said they were resorting to "emotional
tirades" over a long-running U.S.-Canadian dispute over
Wilkins told the Toronto Star in an October profile that
some of his comments had been misinterpreted, which the reporter
noted, "even if this were not so, he would not be the
first ambassador - American or otherwise - to speak his mind
Overall, Wilkins emphasizes that he's enjoying his challenging
new job and learning every day.
When asked how those skills could help South Carolina in
the future when he comes home, he noted, "They are transferable
skills. I'm dealing with elected officials at the highest
levels - cabinet officials, the prime minister."
Will he run for governor one day when he returns?
"Certainly, I'm not doing this for that intent. That's
way in the future. I'm not interested in even speculating
on that right now.
"My goal up here is to leave the relationship stronger
than I found it."
Knowing Wilkins, he will.
11/6: Slip of
Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:
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11/1: New Web site isn't that great
To the editor:
I just checked out the new state web page (Commentary,
10/30) and was not very impressed. I tried to send
some of my dissatisfaction to the authors using the "communicate
with us" email set up. That apparently does not work
yet. ... This does not seem organized at all well to get you
quickly and efficiently to the information you need. It seems
more a political than an information document. This technology
is too mature to have our state presenting itself in this
manner. A Bushism: "Doesn't look good. Doesn't look good
at all." I designed the state's first simple web page
and it had evolved very positively over the years into a pretty
sophisticated document. This is a major step backward.
-- Sam Griswold, West Columbia, SC
EDITOR'S NOTE: Following is an email that
Griswold attempted to send to the state's Web team. We forwarded
it to the appropriate people on his behalf:
I find this much more difficult to navigate
than the page it replaced.
For example, when I go to "government, executive branch"
I see only the governor's cabinet agencies. Where are the
rest of the agencies? Are they not also in the Executive
Branch? Mental Health, Employment Security, DHEC, etc. are
executive branch agencies. This is just a much more confusing
and political web site. I look to a state's web site for
information about the state and ease of getting the information
I need. Whoever changed this took a step backward. Please
reconsider. Sam Griswold
Drill and refine
To the editor:
The state desperately needs new sources of income. (Commentary,
10/23) Let's build a refinery in Jasper county and
allow drilling for oil and gas off our coast.Your citing the
Valdez spill as a reason not allow the above is inane. It's
like not allowing any more air flights after a plane crash.
The gulf coast has not been hurt by drilling. Texas and Louisiana
have not been hurt by the oil industry.
-- John Bell, Bishopville, SC
Don't drill and refine
To the editor:
We need more people like you to bring critical environmental
issues to the forefront. Without your attention, there would
be a bleak future of pollution, sickness, and industry in
coastal South Carolina.
Please continue to write on this matter of the negative effects
of big oil. I hope that more people will read and appreciate
your work as I do.
-- Lauren Economos, Hilton Head Island, SC
on property taxes, Web site
This section tracks past forecasts by Statehouse Report
with other media reports:
In Statehouse Report:
rid of property taxes would be dumb: "If the
state reduces local property taxes significantly, it
will weaken the overall tax structure and make it less
stable. South Carolina's tax structure is akin to a
three-legged stool that balances property, income and
sales taxes. By removing one of the legs of the stool,
the state's system of raising revenue to pay for services
demanded by taxpayers starts to wobble."
In the Orangeburg Times and Democrat
cuts and shifts impact people: "The sales tax
is attractive in the sense that all consumers share
in paying it, including those coming in to visit our
state. The tax burden would be spread. But there remains
the problem of ensuring adequate tax collections. The
sales tax is far more unpredictable based on economic
conditions, while property taxes are a constant."
In Statehouse Report:
to unveil new Web site: " "The state's
main Web site is about to be much easier to use. And
it's being done in a way that highlights how government
can work well to improve customer service without spending
money. Thanks to an innovative partnership between the
state and a private company, a new South Carolina Web
portal called SC.gov will debut Tuesday (Nov. 1)."
In the Associated Press
offers new Web portal: "The state has quietly
launched an overhaul of its Web site that will make
it easier for people to do business with the state -
and for some to pay for new services online."
SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD
Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various
political events from the past week:
SCETV. Hats off to SC ETV for its work in producing
and airing a revealing PBS documentary this past week on global
warming, its threats and what we can do about it. The show
will repeat on Nov. 6, 11 and 13. More.
Nucor. It was good public relations for Nucor, the
steel giant, to hold a big town meeting this week to highlight
the importance of American manufacturing jobs.
Sanford. Two strikes this week against the governor.
First he tried to sack the Budget and Control Board's Frank
Fusco, who is doing a pretty good job by all accounts. Second,
he didn't use that "entrepreneurial spirit" of his
to figure out a way to lower flags out of respect for the
passing of civil rights giant Rosa Parks.
McMaster. Something smells about Attorney General
Henry McMaster's quick defense of local councils who want
to pray. It looks like he's itching to try a case before the
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