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Sanford opens with a quiet bang
By Andy Brack
S.C. Statehouse Report

JAN. 19, 2003 - - Bundled in wool with hundreds to ward off bone-chilling cold, here are the thoughts that crossed my mind while Gov. Mark Sanford was giving a relaxed, conversational inaugural address Wednesday:

  • "He is delivering his speech with humility, calmness and a great sense of purpose."

  • "He seems open and encouraging - and could be the first of a new breed of South Carolina governor. He seems to 'get it' about the economic playing field of Palmetto State of the 21st century. Unlike most in the General Assembly, Sanford seems to understand our future progress is going to be measured in how we try to help small businesses and spur investment in knowledge-based industries, not big, old-school factories."

  • "If you take away his mention of school choice and some zealous religious references, the noon-partisan speech could have been delivered by a Democrat as well as a Republican."

We've still got four years to figure out whether Mark Sanford is the real deal - - an inclusive governor who will stand up for all South Carolinians. But his first steps in the shoes as the state's top office-holder seem encouraging.

In the speech, Sanford said three principles would guide his administration. First, and perhaps in deference to friend and mentor U.S. Sen. John McCain, people would get straight talk. He said he wouldn't sugar-coat the state's problems. Next, he said he and his team would keep in mind that taxpayers fund state government, which exists to serve and not be served. Finally, he said he'd try to be governor for all South Carolinians, not just Republicans in his party.

Sanford's first speech as governor wasn't long on policy specifics. Those should come Wednesday night during his first State of the State address.

But what his speech accomplished was to set the stage for possible changes over the next four years. Changes, he said, are needed to modernize the state's tax structure for the 21st century and "put our state on the kind of economic footing that is so essential to keeping it home to all of our grandchildren."

Changes also are needed in primary and secondary education to encourage school choice. Changes are needed in the way higher education is organized so there are more efficiencies and less duplication. Next, changes are needed in the overall structure of state government.

Finally, changes are needed to allow the state to keep and improve on its great quality of life. Sanford said a key to attracting high-tech jobs was to not lose sight of South Carolina's physical beauty - - one of its key calling cards. "There's a real pride of place that exists in South Carolina, and it has yielded us a tremendous point of business advantage in the way we look and feel as a state," he said.

Sanford said the five changes could be viewed best through the vision of a South Carolina tenant farmer described in Ben Robertson's Upcountry classic, "Red Hills and Cotton." The farmer said all he wanted was to improve his condition, educate his children and let them have things he couldn't.

Sanford remarked, "Those few words express the hopes and dreams of every parent of every generation. And in our state, it's critical that we give every parent that opportunity to fulfill that desire. And to do so, we have to recognize there is a transformation taking place in the world economy that is as real as the one from farm to factory at the turn of the last century."

Sanford's 24-minute, high-minded inaugural address transcended the few Confederate flags waving in the back of the crowd Wednesday. Now he's got four years to meet his vision.


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