Governor Mark Sanford is in the twilight of his second and final term as chief executive of South Carolina (term limits prevent him from running again). His six years in the governor’s mansion have been successful, but he shows no sign of slowing down. As the current chairman of the Republican Governors Association, he is a star in today’s conservative movement. He and other conservative leaders stand in stark contrast to some republican elected officials who are virtually indistinguishable from big-government liberals. In this regard, he has been at the forefront of the debate against President Obama’s unprecedented government giveaway.
The Governor has said he may turn down some of the $2.8 billion in federal “stimulus” money allocated to South Carolina. Part of his problem with the stimulus package is in principle, that sentiment which all libertarians share—that it simply will not work. Governor Sanford cited Japan’s experience for the notion that government spending is unable to create jobs or sustain economic growth in the long-term. Additionally, he has pointed to a Congressional Budget Office report that found that the stimulus will lose tens of billions of dollars for our economy by 2019. His other problems with the stimulus money that his state will receive, however, are more specific to governing a state. For example, lawmakers in South Carolina will likely want to fund new programs with the one-time giveaway from Congress. However, Governor Sanford wisely notes, “there’s a two-year windfall, then there’s a hole after that. Who fills the hole?” In other words, the stimulus money is a one-time revenue windfall that will likely be used by states to fund programs with recurring expenses. There are only two ways that states will be able to fund those programs with recurring expenses after the stimulus money is used: 1) raise taxes or 2) cut other government spending. As a result, you can bet that most states will raise taxes. Governor Sanford’s foresight on this issue may save future governors in South Carolina from being forced to raise taxes.
Governor Sanford has governed with a truly conservative philosophy since he was elected in 2002. This has put him at odds with even members of his own party in the Republican-controlled South Carolina legislature. It seems that fiscal responsibility is a rare trait in either political party, and too few governors are willing to exercise their executive power (both their constitutionally granted power and the power of their bully pulpit) as a check on careless spending by the legislature. However, the Governor clearly understands the purpose of the executive branch of government and has done his best to maintain discipline with the taxpayers’ money. He has used his line-item veto power (which many state governors, and the President, do not possess) to veto legislator’s pork projects that were costing South Carolinians millions of dollars. Even though the legislature has overridden many of his vetoes, it is not always about winning for the Governor. He believes it is paramount that those who believe in limited government be “pushing the ball forward in the larger conservative movement,” even when full victory is not immediately possible.
Moreover, the Governor has been on a mission to reform South Carolina’s K-12 public education system. He believes that the state’s “wide-ranging school district sizes and structures…[are] in some cases a throwback to the era of segregation.” As a result, he has proposed “a system of one district per county.” Not only would this provide a more just education for all children, but consolidating school districts would also prove to save taxpayers money (something I wish my home state of Alabama would understand). In addition, Governor Sanford understands that school choice introduces competition to public education, which in turn raises the quality of education. To that end, he pushed for the Charter School Act of 2006, which created the South Carolina Public Charter School District. This district supports existing charter schools, and in addition will help new charter schools receive state authorization.
The Governor is a big believer in the power of history. He sees danger and imminent failure in our civilization unless we return to our fiscally conservative roots, release power from DC to the people, and expand liberty in every way possible. He has said the GOP lost at the ballot box in 2006 and 2008 not because voters are no longer conservative, but because the GOP has left conservatism.
With that in mind, republicans will take back congress and the white house when we return to our conservative and libertarian roots. There are several great voices currently stepping up in the conservative movement, with Governor Sanford being one. Many see him as a viable contender for the Presidency in 2012, as he has recently made trips to Alabama, Michigan, Florida, California, and DC speaking out for libertarian principles in the face of unprecedented government spending from DC. The republican party will reclaim power and restore fiscal discipline when more candidates begin campaigning on principles similar to those Governor Sanford has governed by.