Sanford Then and Now

Mark Sanford was elected to Congress as part of the "Republican Revolution" Class of 1994. If you were a reporter, he was always great ...
by | June 24, 2009 AT 3:00 AM

Mark Sanford was elected to Congress as part of the "Republican Revolution" Class of 1994. If you were a reporter, he was always great to talk to. He put less of a filter on his comments than most members.

That was in part, I'm sure, because he was a true believer. Unlike most of the other members of his class, he never "went Washington." He kept to the idea that he was there to shrink the federal government and he never got coopted by the lure of sending appropriations home.

He also kept to a self-imposed three term limit.

As governor, he was equally uncompromising. He was a true apostle of the down-on-spending school of Republican thought. He was a great one for vetoing budget line items and, of course, pulled that stunt a few years ago of coming into the statehouse with a squealing pig under each arm.

Although his party has controlled the legislature throughout his 6-1/2 year tenure as governor, he made plenty of enemies. He was always quick to characterize them as free spenders.

Here's something Josh Goodman wrote in a Governing feature on South Carolina's government structure last year:

Although Sanford has been the strongest advocate of restructuring, he has also, in a sense, been its greatest enemy. He has clashed repeatedly with his fellow Republicans in the General Assembly over even the smallest issues. He's targeted legislators' pet projects and pushed for spending cuts that virtually no lawmakers were willing to accept. He's continued to press for school vouchers in the absence of legislative support.

The legislature has overridden hundreds of the governor's vetoes during his six years in office. This year, Sanford thought the budget was wasteful, so he vetoed parts of it -- then threatened to sue lawmakers for failing to meet their responsibility to pass a budget that was balanced. "I'm an unabashed conservative," Sanford says, "and sometimes accused of being a libertarian, to which I say, 'I'm guilty, I love liberty.'"

This tension reached its peak with his decision not to accept $700 million worth of South Carolina's share of stimulus funds. The legislature fought him hard on that, and eventually won, when the state Supreme Court ordered him to accept the money.

It's not that Sanford was heroic, but he was principled. And, given the nature of state politics, that led to lots of conflicts.

One commentator wrote earlier this year that Sanford is "a sanctimonious, rigid ideologue who puts policy before people."

If Sanford had lots of friends in Columbia, I'm not sure it would make much difference at this point. But it wouldn't hurt.