S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Nov. 6, 2005
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/05.1106.wilkins.htm

COMMENTARY
Wilkins enjoying new job in Canada
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

NOV. 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."


U.S. 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, he said.

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 softwood lumber.

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 on occasion."

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.

RECENT COMMENTARY

McLEMORE'S WORLD
11/6: Slip of the tongue

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:


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FEEDBACK
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

10/31: 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

10/30: 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

Recent feedback:


KEEPING TRACK
Ahead on property taxes, Web site

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

In Statehouse Report:

10/2: Getting 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

11/1: Tax 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:

10/30: State 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

10/31: State 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:

Thumbs up

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.

Thumbs down

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 Supreme Court.

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