A New Mark Sanford?

I'll readily admit that I wasn't looking forward to reading another apology from South Carolina's governor. But, Mark Sanford's column in ...
by | July 20, 2009

I'll readily admit that I wasn't looking forward to reading another apology from South Carolina's governor. But, Mark Sanford's column in The State this weekend did have at least one interesting paragraph:

I've realized that as much as I have and will continue to advocate for things ranging from restructuring to responsible spending to school choice, my approach needs to be less about my will and more about looking for ways to more humbly present the greater principals and ideas at play. It needs to be less strident and more about finding ways to work with legislative leaders to advance the ideas so many of us believe in. It means less time fighting the tide, and a greater awareness of the fact that God controls it. In working with a few alterations to my approach, I think this could be a far more productive last session than the one that would have been had the tragedy that has unfolded not occurred, and in turn, people's lives can be made better.

Throughout his tenure, much of the criticism of Sanford has centered on style. Before now, he's never seemed to mind.

A personal story: Last year, I wrote a long article looking at the structure of South Carolina government and efforts to change it. South Carolina gives more power to the legislature and less power to the governor than most states. It also has an unusually high number of statewide elected officials. Sanford and many others believe this system leaves government incoherently fragmented -- and that the problem won't be solved until the governor has the same powers as governor in other states.

My story was flattering to the concept of restructuring the state's government, but less flattering to Sanford himself. I noted that many legislators didn't want to give more power to the governor -- because the governor was Mark Sanford.

A few days after my article came out, I received a letter from the office of the governor. I assumed it was a point-by-point rebuttal to my article or some other outraged correspondence. Instead, the letter was from Sanford thanking me not only for my article, but also a blog post I had written about him.

That is certainly the only time I've received a letter from a major public official thanking me for an article. As a journalist, I almost felt like I'd done something wrong. It's just more evidence that Sanford is a bit different than most public officials.

Anyways, after I received the letter, I also got a call from Joel Sawyer, Sanford's press secretary who has gained a measure of national fame in the last few weeks (and who, by the way, is better than most of the PR people I encounter). Sawyer asked if I had received the letter, then very gently chided me for how I depicted the incident where Sanford brought defecating pigs to the legislature.

Sawyer's point was that while the stunt was, well, messy, it had worked. Sanford shamed the legislature and won that battle over pork-barrel spending. The result mattered more than the process.

And that is what the Sanford administration has seemed to believe ever since the governor was first elected. Sanford has made tons of enemies, issued hundreds of vetoes and generally divided the South Carolina political world, all because the results mattered more than the process.

The only problem was that rather quickly the acrimony prevented Sanford from achieving his goals. He hasn't been able to restructure South Carolina government. After a while, the principles involved seemed to matter more than the results.

So, will a post-epiphany Sanford suddenly learn to work with the legislature to achieve great things for South Carolina?

After six-and-a-half years of ill will and after a scandal in which many lawmakers called for the governor to resign, it doesn't seem likely. But, it will at least be interesting to see the new Sanford in action. Plus, legislators may finally be in the mood to give the office of the governor more power. After all, they know that Sanford won't be the governor much longer.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer

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