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Echo Chamber – South Carolina’s Ongoing Soap Opera August 5, 2007

Posted by fitsnews in SC Politics.

Sanford State of the State1


FITSNews – August 5, 2007 – With bad blood already boiling over in the wake of last week’s election of Converse Chellis to serve as State Treasurer, S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford took to familiar ground today in an effort to once again play “Little Red Riding Hood” to the State Legislature’s “Big Bad Wolf.” In an opinion piece appearing in several state newpapers this morning, Sanford greeted yet another failure for his administration in his predictible professorial fashion – cloaking his own incompetence and indecisiveness behind a shadowy veil of “us versus them” rhetoric, selective insider recollections and a token Thomas Friedman reference for good measure.

As much as we agree with the governor’s point of view here (and as much as Sanford’s latest piece was surprisingly well-crafted compared to his many prior “play the victim” ramblings), we’re frankly getting sick of this whole status quo soap opera.

For the record, we wholeheartedly concur with Sanford’s stated philosophy that the legislature has no business electing one of its own to an executive branch position, let alone one that represents the swing vote on a wasteful, one-of-a-kind state budget board that wouldn’t exist in a functioning democracy. We also accept the fundamental premise behind the thinly-disguised jihad waged by the governor’s minions against Rep. “Sock Puppet” Chellis – specifically that the legislative stool pigeon is morally and ethically bankrupt and more rightfully deserved a well-funded primary challenge in his own district instead of elevation to a statewide office.

Yet as much as Sanford is once again “right” and the legislature “wrong” on the larger points of this latest mess, the governor’s strategic and tactical ineptness and fundamental inability to move quickly and decisively in the face of a crisis was once again center stage last week.

The most obvious example is Tim Scott, the eminently qualified African-American nominee whom Sanford endorsed at the 11th hour in an overtly-political attempt to “guilt” black caucus members who were supporting the “Sock Puppet.” While whining in the paper about the Legislature’s refusal to even consider Scott, Sanford neglected to mention that his office failed to find a single legislator to nominate him for the position. As a result, Scott’s name wasn’t even on the legislative ballot.

More importantly, if Sanford was so high on Scott’s candidacy, why didn’t he name him to the post a month ago on an interim basis and immediately declare him as his choice to fill the office?

The answer to that question lies in the governor’s increasingly debilitating relationship with State Sen. Greg Ryberg, whose overbearing pride and personal lust for this position (after two electoral defeats) ultimately handcuffed Sanford – and doomed any chance the governor’s office had of finding an electable executive branch alternative to the “Sock Puppet.”

Sanford couldn’t immediately endorse Scott because to have done so would have alienated Ryberg, perhaps the only friend he has left in the General Assembly. Of course Ryberg, whose pompous sermonizing and brusque recalcitrance is legendary in Palmetto political circles, never had a chance to win the election.

As hard as it may be to believe, legislators actually hate Ryberg more than they hate Sanford.

Yet even in endorsing Scott at the last minute Sanford couldn’t completely break the chain with the Aiken Senator, saying that he supported Ryberg’s candidacy in the event that the legislature was intent on choosing one of its own for the position.

Hmmmm … so the governor opposes the legislature choosing one of its own but he had a legislative candidate just in case? Kind of takes the wind out of the larger argument, doesn’t it?

Of course the larger irony that if Ryberg truly cared about the taxpayers, he wouldn’t have injected himself into the race to begin with.

Aside from Ryberg’s paralyzing influence, Sanford also proved inept at playing the political espionage game against Chellis.

Clearly, the governor’s office had at its disposal information about the fraud and sexual harassment charges leveled against the “Sock Puppet” very early on in the process, yet for some reason these materials did not surface until 48 hours prior to the legislative election. When they finally did, they might as well have been delivered to the press by the Keystone Kops, with the as-yet-unidentified leakers clumsily attempting to pin the responsibility for the information on a website with ties to former Majority Leader Rick Quinn.

The end result of all this incompetence? Game, set and match to the “Sock Puppet.”

And once the die was cast against them on the morning of the vote, Sanford’s team made another huge tactical error in having Henry White resign his position as executive director of the Budget and Control Board, the five-headed monster at the heart of this whole debate.

White, the most influential African-American appointment in state government since Reconstruction, should have never left his post voluntarily, a move that in effect handed a victory to Sanford’s legislative opponents that they might have otherwise not risked the political capital necessary to achieve.

As with seemingly everything Sanford touches, last week’s Treasurer’s fiasco is yet another example of his uncanny ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The governor had the right message, a perfect candidate and the perfect weapon with which to bludgeon his opponent – and he still managed to screw it all up.

And in picking up the pieces this morning, Sanford has proven once again that his understanding of “change” is limited exclusively to academic lectures on the state’s editorial pages.

The last time that substantive structural change was forced on our state’s ass-backward General Assembly it was accomplished by Gov. Carroll Campbell, a bare-knuckle brawler of a politician who took no prisoners and knew how to twist arms to accomplish his landmark reforms. Sanford ran as the “next Campbell,” but as this latest brou-ha-ha again demonstrates, he’s anything but.

Sadly, South Carolina’s “big government establishment versus clueless maverick” soap opera grows a little more boring with each new episode.

Franklin Roosevelt Republicans in the legislature continue to run the show the way the Democrats of old used to, shoving huge spending increases down our throats each year at the behest of their special interest constituencies while the nation’s poorest, most disease-ridden and least educated populace remains mired in abject failure and misery.

If only we could change the channel … and find some real leaders in our legislative and executive branches who would stand up for the taxpayers for a change instead of playing their increasingly predictible parts in a soap opera everybody’s sick and tired of watching.



1. Yahoo - August 5, 2007

Well thought out, and well written.Thanks Will.

What we miss, really, is an active and engaged press. If we had that, the faults of our system would be clear, and change would take place. Now, sadly, we have a system where people like Mark Sanford and others game the system knowing that the lazy press just won’t bother to look up the fact, or dig deeply enough to show the real story.

The Cindy Ross Scoppe effect…moaning and groaning without effect, is what we have. It is not what we need.

2. elise - August 5, 2007

All I gotta say it, I miss SC politics these days…

3. Gillon - August 5, 2007

The real problem with the General Assembly is that the legislative districts have been gerrymandered to such a degree that true two-party contests have all but disappeared, and with it the infusion of any new ideas and fresh solutions or any real debate on how best to solve problems. Those few legislators who retire or are defeated are replaced by clones of the same party, philosophy or mindset and it becomes deja vu all over again. You may thank Republicans and black Democrats and their desire for safe seats and continued re-election for this sad state of affairs.

4. Nate - August 6, 2007

Great post Will!

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