Sanford’s not ‘our boy.’ He’s theirs
By Brad Warthen
Editorial Page Editor
AFTER TODAY, maybe people will stop asking what we think of “our boy” now. That gets tiresome. There are various reasons why Mark Sanford isn’t “our boy,” and never was.
As I regularly say in speeches about why we endorse, what endorsements are and what they aren’t, an endorsement does not mean that we are henceforth on that person’s “side.” It reflects the real-life choice before the voters at the time. When we endorsed Mr. Sanford in 2002, he was so obviously preferable to the alternatives — both in the crowded primary, and in the fall — that we supported him enthusiastically, and without reservation.
So what if he didn’t have the kind of inspiring vision for South Carolina’s future that, say, a Joe Riley would have? There was no Joe Riley running. And Mark Sanford had adopted our government restructuring agenda as his own, almost word for word. If he got that done, then when we did get a governor with vision, he or she would have the tools to really make good things happen.
Trouble is, he did have a vision: He didn’t want government to be more effective as much as he wanted it to be cheaper. It was about tax cuts and privatizing everything he could, including public education. He had proposed moderate versions of these concepts as a candidate: phasing out the income tax while raising the gasoline tax; providing vouchers for a very few of the most disadvantaged kids. We opposed those things, and said so, but they were no big deal.
After he got into office, his tax position morphed over time into just cut a tax, any tax (and preferably income). Eventually, his anti-government rhetoric became far from moderate.
He had run as a conservative, but he wasn’t that. He was as close to an ideologically pure libertarian as you can get. You can’t be a conservative and a radical at the same time. And folks, it doesn’t get more radical than his veto of the entire state budget.
Meanwhile, all the rich anti-tax extremists in the country started sending their money this way in a clear effort to undermine the very concept of public schools. And the governor — whose presence was the reason they saw our state as fertile ground — supported their proposals to give the affluent tax breaks as an incentive to abandon public education. And that was not an incidental part of the proposal. As the House sponsor said during this year’s session, the plan had no political traction without those tax cuts.
Why attack the public schools? Because that’s where state government spends the most tax money, and that makes public education a deeply offensive institution to the extremists. Why did the governor not even condemn their most extreme attacks on our public schools as a “failed monopoly”? Because he agreed with them. In fact, he was right out in front, characterizing increased spending on public schools as having been a waste, even as the accountability reforms begun by a previous Republican governor were starting to pay dividends.
This alone would be enough cause not to back him: It is dangerous for him to remain as governor — not for what he does, but for what comes with him. As long as he is governor, the flood of anti-school money will keep coming to South Carolina. That may not sound so bad, until you consider what the money is used for — to trash the schools that our children depend upon, and to kick out of office some of the very finest of our representatives.
I haven’t seen this much of a threat to the integrity of our Legislature since video poker was trying to buy it. Nor have I seen such contempt for the will of the people of South Carolina. Their proposals aren’t that popular, so the outsiders tiptoe around details in those slick, cookie-cutter brochures they use to try to stack the Legislature with their puppets.
Those are Republicans they’re going after, by the way. If you’re supporting the governor under the impression that that’s what loyal Republicans do, you should talk to some GOP leaders who have to deal with him every day. They’ll set you straight. Those out-of-state, anti-government radicals are his true party.
He’s not our boy, or yours either. He’s theirs.