We got the notice Friday. The Governor was coming to our office. That’s right: The Honorable Mark Sanford, Governor of South Carolina, was slipping in to the little space that United Way of Greenwood and Abbeville Counties shares with the Chamber of Commerce for an “informal meeting” with [Undisclosed Recipients] (or so the e-mail address line read). I knew I had a chance to speak truth to—well, ostensible Power, anyway.
So, I cut short my Gravatt Camp and Conference Center Board meeting and rolled back through the piney woods to lovely Greenwood County. My staff had taken out the trash and even dressed up (or as dressed up as a bunch of bleeding heart liberal do-gooders get). I felt a rush of pride. The Governor was on time, accompanied only by one handler who appeared just old enough to have graduated from middle school. The Board room had about fifty people, including the mayor and an assortment of corporate and small business owners. He smiled his best I’m-the-Governor-of-the-little-people smile. The first question was about property taxes and the effect that the shift of the property tax would have on small business. Sanford nodded and said, “well, it’s early in the conversation, yet. We’ll keep that in mind.”
It was my turn next. “Governor,” I began, “while we understand your desire to slow the growth in property taxes, United Way cannot support the shift to a sales tax as the primary revenue source for South Carolina. Do you realize that increasing the sales tax from 5% to 7% in a 40% increase on taxes on the poor, the people who don’t own property and have the least ability to pay this?” He looked at me as if I had recited a haiku in Osaka-ben. He smiled his I’m-just-a-little-old-real-estate-developer-from-Charleston smile. He obviously hadn’t realized that, and he fumbled for a moment. “Well, it’s early in the conversation yet. We’ll keep that in mind.” And he looked at away. The next question was about early education. The answer was the same.
He said we need charter schools. He said we needed to reorganize school districts. He talked about outcomes and creating competition and lowering the cost of college tuition. He said that South Carolina’s state government is really screwed up because of the 1895 Constitution. He told us that we are getting some really bad economic news in our area tomorrow (rumor has it that Fujifilm is announcing a major plant closing and layoff). He said that every time he tries to fix something, he gets his head handed to him on a platter. He quoted Thomas Freidman, and said the world is flat, and that our kids are competing with kids from Singapore and India.
I felt sorry for him. He looked like one of those deer on US 72, just west of Clinton, that are always getting splattered on the traffic cones. He obviously felt the need to rub shoulders with his constituents, but only the loyalist of loyalists would have been impressed with this performance (and only Crunchy Republican and Free Carolina, partisans that they are, could have spun this pro-Sanfordly.) It was the State of the State in a place that’s pretty damned tired of getting more bad news from Columbia.
I felt sorry for him. But he didn’t make me feel that he had any real solutions. He didn’t inspire me to vote for him. He didn’t make me feel that he could govern. There’s something unnerving about a Chief Executive who can’t execute. He can identify a lot of problems, but he can’t reach out, within his own party or across party lines to create the kind of trust that brings change.
It’s why tax reform will fail to be equitable. It’s why Medicaid changes will eliminate basic health care for poor people. It’s why half our young people won’t get a high school diploma. It’s why we’re pulling nearly dead last in economic development.
It’s why we need someone who can govern. That someone is not Mark Sanford.