The Magazine

Proud to Be Cheap

South Carolina's governor hones his small-government credentials.

Aug 8, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 44 • By RACHEL DICARLO
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The pig stunt enraged both parties in the legislature. "The governor needs to take his medication," Jim Harrison, a GOP representative from Columbia, told the Greenville News. "It's going to be very, very hard to work with him after this," another Republican, Bob Leach, added. "I don't know if anything else will be accomplished at all."

This year, after $707 million in new revenue came in, Sanford set his sights on restoring $500 million to those reserve funds. When the budget landed on his desk, the general assembly had allowed only $117 million for the trust funds. So Sanford issued another 163 line-item vetoes, worth $95.9 million.

Republican (and former Democrat) Verne Smith, a 33-year veteran of the state senate, told the News that Sanford's vetoes were "mean-spirited." "He's just in that mindset, kind of a libertarian mindset," he continued. "I know I'm going to try and override every dad-jim one of [his vetoes] because I don't have any spirit for him."

Sanford brushes such criticism aside. "I'm acting in a way that's consistent with the promises I made voters," he says. "Ideology has nothing to do with it. It's the ultimate mean-spiritedness to allow government to grow faster than peoples' paychecks. . . . Rank and file folks I talk to don't want the government to grow faster than they can pay for it." As his wife Jenny Sanford puts it, "Mark and I would rather lose an election than do something that compromised our principles."

Sanford still has big plans for reform. He recently introduced the Taxpayer Empowerment Amendment, which would make it illegal for the government to spend more than yearly population growth plus inflation. Last year in South Carolina, the combined increase in population growth and inflation was only around 4 percent. Yet the budget grew by 9.1 percent. If Sanford can convince two-thirds of the legislature to vote for the amendment, it will show up on the ballot next November. Despite the past overrides, Sanford says he has talked to members in both houses and thinks it has a good chance of passing.

He makes it clear which legislators are on his side by posting a list of "Taxpayer Heroes" outside his office in the statehouse. He has also launched "Waste Watch," an email newsletter that urges supporters to vote for the amendment and asks for their suggestions on how to eliminate waste and inefficiency. Sanford says he'll publicly recognize the best idea at the end of the year.

In the meantime, he must also prep for his reelection bid in 2006. Sanford may face a primary challenge from Republican Oscar Lovelace, a doctor who has never held public office. Lovelace complains that Sanford hasn't provided leadership on education and health care issues. The doctor faces an uphill battle. Sanford already has over $3 million in the bank. "He can raise money like you wouldn't believe," Bandy says. "He'll have no trouble getting reelected."

Then what? As might be expected, Sanford's small-government conservatism has sparked presidential-race buzz. (There's already a "Draft Mark Sanford for President in 2008" petition pinging around the Internet.) Sanford has been to Washington before. He won a House seat in 1994, representing South Carolina's first district. In Congress, Sanford (surprise, surprise) voted against nearly every spending bill. He often bucked the GOP leadership with his friend Tom Coburn, the former Oklahoma congressman-turned-senator. "When our party didn't stand with us, we didn't stand with them," Coburn says. True to form, the frugal Sanford slept on a futon in his office and traveled back to his district as often as possible.

A true believer in "citizen-legislators," Sanford went home for good in 2000, when his self-imposed three-term limit was up. Asked why other politicians have such a hard time leaving Washington, he explains: "Everybody needs to be needed. They see their names in the paper and begin to think of themselves as irreplaceable. Politics should be more like musical chairs--as many people as possible should have a turn." As for a potential White House bid in the future? Sanford says he's "flattered," but "just trying to survive this week."

Rachel DiCarlo is an assistant editor at The Weekly Standard.