A con­ser­va­tive dark horse in the 2008 race

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - JOEL MOW­BRAY

With the im­plo­sion of Sen. Ge­orge Allen, move­ment con­ser­va­tives no longer have a can­di­date in the pres­i­den­tial mix that looks and acts like one of them. Even though the field con­tains sev­eral heavy hit­ters, such as John McCain and Rudy Gi­u­liani, the GOP grass­roots has no one that is a nat­u­ral fit.

If a small but grow­ing num­ber of con­ser­va­tives have their way, how­ever, a can­di­date that could truly ex­cite the base might en­ter the fray: my old boss and cur­rent South Carolina Gov. Mark San­ford.

On pa­per, a San­ford can­di­dacy seems quixotic. En­ter­ing the White House derby at this point would ac­tu­ally be late in the game. He’s lit­tle­known out­side South Carolina and Wash­ing­ton and his main foil the past four years has been the GOP­dom­i­nated leg­is­la­ture.

But if Repub­li­can pri­mary vot­ers de­cide that the 2008 stan­dard­bearer needs to bring the party back to its Rea­gan roots, Mr. San­ford could be the dark horse to watch. The re­cently re-elected gov­er­nor could cap­ture con­ser­va­tives’ imag­i­na­tion with his un­re­lent­ing ad­her­ence to core prin­ci­ples. Un­like most Repub­li­can gov­er­nors who ei­ther pushed their state par­ties to the left or sim­ply ac­qui­esced to tax or spend­ing in­creases passed by leg­is­la­tures of ei­ther party, Mr. San­ford has bat­tled prof­li­gate Repub­li­cans at ev­ery turn.

When the state House over­rode all but one of his 106 spend­ing line- item ve­toes in 2004, Mr. San­ford stormed the Capi­tol the next morn­ing with a piglet un­der each arm. Red-faced Repub­li­cans squealed, but vot­ers loved the bold move. Re­al­iz­ing they couldn’t be quite as waste­ful as their coun­ter­parts, the Se­nate sus­tained seven of the ve­toes — but still over­rode 99.

Mr. San­ford has been rankling fel­low Repub­li­cans long be­fore ar­riv­ing in Columbia. As a con­gress­man from 1995-2001, Repub­li­can lead­er­ship knew that he was be­yond their con­trol. In 1999, he and thenRep. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Repub­li­can, used par­lia­men­tary pro­ce­dures to save tax­pay­ers a for­tune. The farm spend­ing bill came to the floor with an “open rule” — mean­ing any ger­mane amend­ments could be of­fered. Messrs. San­ford and Coburn to­gether drafted 121 fat-trim­ming amend­ments, and af­ter trudg­ing through just a few dozen of them, House lead­er­ship pulled the en­tire bill. It was only rein­tro­duced af­ter $1 bil­lion had been carved out.

Though it was ex­cit­ing to work for Mr. San­ford, it wasn’t lu­cra­tive. His staff was con­sis­tently among the low­est-paid on Capi­tol Hill, and we were ex­pected to pinch ev­ery penny in run­ning the of­fice. But a hyp­ocrite Mr. San­ford was not; he slept on a cot in his of­fice — all six years. Tax­pay­ers were re­warded for his fru­gal­ity. Mr. San­ford re­turned well over $1 mil­lion of his of­fice bud­get to the Trea­sury dur­ing his ten­ure.

Since be­com­ing gov­er­nor in 2003, Mr. 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. James Hodges wasn’t ex­actly a jet­set­ter, the San­ford ad­min­is­tra­tion’s travel bud­get nose­dived 42 per­cent, 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, Mr. 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 con- gress­men to op­pose tax­payer sub­si­dies for a breast-can­cer stamp. Look­ing past the feel-good im­age of the fund­ing re­quest, Mr. 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 Mr. 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+.

Mr. 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 statewide­elected of­fi­cials and then cruised to a fairly easy vic­tory over the in­cum­bent Demo­crat, Mr. 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, Mr. San­ford won hand­ily, 5545-the largest mar­gin for any South Carolina gu­ber­na­to­rial or Se­nate can­di­date in 16 years. To cel­e­brate de­fy­ing the GOP old guard and win­ning, Mr. 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 Mr. San­ford to think of the White House — and why his mes­sage could res­onate with vot­ers.

Joel Mow­bray oc­ca­sion­ally writes for The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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