But Sanford’s fresh ideas do not stop with an innovative government spending plan. His ideas, advocating market-based entitlement reform; implementing statutory spending limits; restructuring an inefficient form of government; lessening the government’s grip on education; pushing for an optional flat income tax; and reining in unfunded government liabilities, are all on the cutting edge of state government innovation.
Governor Sanford’s policy proposals evidence an understanding that Republicans must actually offer legitimate solutions to many of the issues faced by our country. His loudest clarion call has been for spending restraint — and the current fiscal crisis, founded upon imprudent spending choices, (unfortunately) validates those warnings. Subsequently, the governor opposed the financial bailout, and he recently exhibited tough political courage by testifying in the House Ways and Means Committee against a subsequent bailout for the states — the only governor to do so — by emphatically arguing that the funds for these state bailouts come from the taxpayers in fiscally-prudent states elsewhere.
While Sanford’s agenda has met some resistance, mostly from his own party, he can point to a number of successes. Two major agenda items, comprehensive tort reform and a marginal income tax cut, passed for the first time in state history. He pushed for, and won, optional health savings accounts for all state employees, and a free-market solution to a potential disaster with hurricane insurance (in contrast to Florida, where the taxpayers are on the hook). Sanford presses on with his goal to improve the soil conditions to attract jobs and capital investment — which in turn improves the lives of real citizens.
Sanford is wonkish, often bringing charts and graphs to press conferences and speeches. However, the wonkishness is strangely endearing, and his message is clearly resonating with voters in South Carolina and with conservatives across the country, among whom he retains rock-star status. Instead of letting members of his own party frustrate his push for responsible conservative governance, he took the fight to the primaries, lending his political capital to like-minded Republicans running against incumbents in the primary. Progressively over the last 3 election cycles, South Carolinians have provided Sanford with increasing numbers of ideological allies. Beginning in January ‘09, the governor will have a significant block of “Sanfordites” to help enact an agenda of conservative reform in both the House and the Senate.
Idealistic and principled, Governor Sanford is a gut-level fiscal conservative with a strong grasp of the benefits of Reaganite, market-friendly principles and limited government. Six years in Congress and two terms as Governor have not tempered his fealty, or enthusiasm, for conservative principles. And I know this from firsthand experience, having served under him. Numerous times, I witnessed the Governor stand firm on his principles, political expediency be damned. And he is one of the few Republicans who hasn’t been hurt by the damaged Republican brand.
Sanford’s faith in South Carolinians—and Americans—is rightly stronger than his faith in bureaucrats in Columbia or Washington. In an interview with the Weekly Standard, Sanford said, “"Whatever government does, it ought to do well," and, "Whatever government doesn't have to do, it should let the private sector do." He earnestly believes that the American people, not the government, will ultimately provide real solutions to our problems. And he recognizes that a return from political exile must begin with ideas, with innovative policies.
By providing a constant stream of innovative ideas aimed at tackling numerous issues, Governor Sanford is one of the few leaders in the Republican Party with the conviction, determination, and ability to engineer a comeback.
And it’s a comeback we need.