Since becoming governor in 2003, Sanford has only gotten more tightfisted. Compared to his one-term predecessor, total salaries in his first term were $7 million lower—just for the governor’s office, not statewide. And even though Gov. Hodges wasn’t exactly a jetsetter, the Sanford administration’s travel budget nosedived 42%, saving taxpayers over $25 million. In total, the running of South Carolina’s government from 2003-2006 cost $100 million less than the previous four years.
While his budget cuts have proven quite popular with a public fed up with pork barrel politics, Gov. Sanford doesn’t gear his actions to maximize popularity. As governor, he vetoed earmarked funding for the Special Olympics, on the theory that government should not play favorites among non-profits. On Capitol Hill, he was just one of three Congressmen to oppose taxpayer subsidies for a breast cancer stamp. Looking past the feel-good image of the funding request, Sanford voted against it because most of the money raised was going to go to Post Office administration, with little dedicated to actual breast-cancer research.
South Carolina’s chief executive is also a practical problem solver. When Wall Street was poised to lower the state’s perfect AAA bond rating—over concern for the $155 million budget deficit Hodges left as a parting gift—the MBA-educated governor traveled to New York. He persuaded two of the three main bond-rating agencies to maintain South Carolina’s score, while the third only dropped it one notch, to AA+.
Sanford hasn’t even hinted that he’s interested in running for 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., but that hasn’t stopped activists and contributors from prodding him. Should he run, he would face very long odds. Then again, long odds are all he’s ever known. In a seven-way 2002 primary, he beat three statewide-elected officials and then cruised to a fairly easy victory over incumbent Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges. Going back even further, he emerged from complete obscurity to top a six-way Congressional primary in 1994.
In spite of open opposition from some in the Republican establishment, Sanford won handily, 55-45—the largest margin for any South Carolina gubernatorial or Senate candidate in 16 years. To celebrate defying the GOP old guard and winning, Sanford is about to fight fellow Republicans—again—for more tax cuts.
That this is par for his course is exactly why conservatives, from inside the beltway and out, have been pleading with Sanford to think of the White House—and why his message could resonate with voters.
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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