S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, June 3, 2007
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/07.0603.reform.htm

Burden on Sanford, legislators to rebuild trust
By Andy Brack, Publisher

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 effect."

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 legislature.

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," he said.

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.

You can reach Andy Brack, publisher of SC Statehouse Report, at brack@statehousereport.com.

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Planning for SC growth
From the paid-subscriber issue of Statehouse Report

JUNE 1, 2007 -- Forecasters say that by 2050, half of this nation's population will live in the Southeast and local cities like Charleston will swell to the population size of, say, a Charlotte.

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