Sunday, June 3, 2007
Burden on Sanford, legislators to rebuild trust
JUNE 3, 2007 - - Trust is a funny thing in politics. When
you've got it, you can get things done with colleagues. When
you don't, it's tough to win it back.
Over the last five legislative sessions, Gov. Mark Sanford
has had, at best, a rocky relationship with state lawmakers,
particularly state senators. He wants legislators to adopt
his ideas to make reforms in government. And while they started
out wanting to work with him, years of publicity stunts, run-ins,
broken negotiations and general communications breakdowns
have led to an environment of distrust.
Rightly or wrongly, that's just the way it is. A new move
by the governor seems unlikely to break the impasse. In May,
Sanford, who has hundreds of thousands of dollars in unspent
campaign cash, wrote a fund-raising letter to supporters to
get them to support a new group, ReformSC.com,
to try to change government in South Carolina. Here's how
the governor explained it in the letter:
"Sunshine has been called the 'ultimate disinfectant'
in the political system and this group will also work to bring
a direct spotlight on exactly who is working for and against
the ideas we just got through campaigning on last fall.
I can have all the personal meetings a day will offer and
a full slate of press conferences the next day, but if there
is not a specific awareness of where a senior ranking legislator
stands on an issue in their district it does not have a political
Translation: Sanford isn't getting what he wants so he's
going to raise money to shine a light on what lawmakers are
doing, including members of his own party who control the
That's not sitting well with several members of the General
Assembly - - and certainly isn't a step toward a more trusting,
collegial relationship. Lawmakers point to past governors,
such as Republicans Jim Edwards and Carroll Campbell and Democrat
Jim Hodges, who got major things done with legislative bodies
controlled by opposite parties.
"If he [Sanford] wanted to lead, he could do it. It's
been done in the past," said state Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg.
"To lead - it's not just about being an idea and saying
it's my way or the highway. You've got to engage in the work
of the legislature."
Frequent Sanford critic Sen. Phil Leventis, D-Sumter, said
he assumed the governor would find someone to run against
him in 2008. That's just politics.
"But it's frightening to believe that he thinks quick
ideas are the best ideas," Leventis said referring to
the Sanford fundraising letter. "Some of the best ideas
I've had are from working with people who have opposed me
and we worked together to make better bills."
GOP Rep. Bill Cotty, who opposed Sanford's private school
voucher plan, survived a re-election challenge thought to
be funded, in part, by Sanford supporters. Cotty said he'll
be ready in 2008 for any challenge.
"There's no wisdom in the second kick of a mule,"
One reason state lawmakers are worried about groups like
ReformSC.com is that they don't have to report donations made
by funders, while legislators are required to make that information
public. The issue came to a head last year when a group reportedly
funded with big contributions from outside South Carolina
steered money to candidates opposing people like Cotty.
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This year, Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence,
proposed a measure that would require "political awareness
organizations" to disclose their contributions, something
that some of the groups desperately don't want.
"Everybody ought to be fed out of the same spoon,"
Leatherman said. "If we have to report where the money
comes from, why shouldn't any group if they are trying to
affect an election or the legislative process?"
Both Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer and former Deputy Chief
of Staff Chad Walldorf, who is a board member of ReformSC.com,
say the governor supports more sunshine and disclosure in
principle. Walldorf said his group was just getting started
and hasn't yet decided whether to disclose the names of donors
voluntarily, but they aren't necessarily opposed to it.
What is clear is that money will be used to back Sanford's
ideas and strategies to shine light on those who may not support
those ideas. If the governor wants to rebuild trust, this
might not be the best tactic.
But the onus isn't just on him. Lawmakers need to figure
out a way to work with Sanford over the next three years so
the state attacks real problems like jobs, education and health
care - not things around the edges.
Bottom line: Everybody in the Statehouse should take a deep
breath. And start over.
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SC Statehouse Report, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another great cartoon by Bill McLemore:
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