S.C. Statehouse Report
Nov. 16, 2003
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/03.1116.gov.htm

Sanford may be using Legislature as campaign tool
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

NOV. 16, 2003 - - Mark Sanford has the textbook look of a governor - - tanned, attractive and lean. He sounds good with folksy sayings, quips and a no-nonsense manner.

But his governorship is becoming a textbook example of how not to deal with a legislature.

For months, Republican leaders have increasingly grown frustrated with Sanford's maverick, cavalier leadership style. They're tiring of grandstanding. And they're wary of being used as a vote-getting dartboard in the 2006 elections.

Just this week, Sanford alerted the media that two dozen state lawmakers backed his plan to raise cigarette taxes to bring down income taxes. By Friday, a dozen of them said they had serious concerns with the proposal.

"The governor's press corps might have gotten a little over-eager with the press releases," Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley, told The State newspaper. Add to that the fact that Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said he doesn't believe the Sanford plan will get much momentum.

For the guy who ran for office by touting leadership just over a year ago in the campaign, many now wonder where it is.

In January, he told lawmakers he wouldn't surprise them. A month later, he said he had reservations about a $2.6 billion auto research park deal for the Upstate that could create thousands of jobs. That move stalled the project and raised the ire of many Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker David Wilkins.

At the time, Rep. Dan Tripp, R-Greenville, told the Greenville News, "This whole process has been filled with bad faith on behalf of the governor in an attempt to kill this project."

In March, Sanford blindsided the House with the first version of his tax plan just a day after state representatives passed a plan to pay for Medicaid without a tax increase. Wilkins, a fellow Republican, called the Sanford plan "a huge tax increase."

By the end of the session, Sanford's record was, at best, mixed with little to show for accomplishment. Over the summer and fall, he's held special budget hearings and received a government performance report from his Management, Accountability and Performance Commission.

For the fellow who said he wasn't going to surprise anyone, Sanford's public actions with the General Assembly continue to stun veteran observers.

Some long-time lobbyists, in a reference to the quirky behavior of former California Gov. Jerry Brown, now quietly portray Sanford as "Governor Moonbeam East."

"It's all a spin game to them," another said.

One veteran House GOP lawmaker, who asked not to be identified, described the General Assembly's relationship with Sanford as "adversarial." And he said he can't figure why that's become the case since the House, Senate and governor (all Republican) share the same governing philosophy.



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"We want to work closely, but there's a process to follow to do it," he said. "But I'm not sure Mark seeks the process to get from point A to point B

A high-ranking Republican senator is just one of several who say the poll-popular Sanford seems to be trying to build a case that he is being thwarted from what he wants to do by an obstructionist General Assembly - - even though it is controlled by fellow Republicans.

"He has decided he will run [for re-election] against the Legislature," the senator mused. "He'll position himself as the reforming outsider taking on the archaic system that doesn't want to change."

Unfortunately, state lawmakers aren't about to roll over for Sanford, a relative neophyte to state government. They'll fight to show they're not mossbacks. And that could make for some interesting explosions in the coming legislative session.

Even though Sanford is popular with voters, these continuing public fights with fellow Republicans could tarnish his maverick image.

Looking for an oasis

This week's cartoon by our Bill McLemore:



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