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Opinion

Educating Voters Key to Needed Changes


web posted September 20, 2007
Dear editor,

A few interesting headlines jumped out at me last weekend, and thought I would write to put them in a perspective that is important to understanding some of the back and forth in Columbia on what comes next in our state government.

One was on Alan Greenspan’s new book The Age of Turbulence. In it he says that the Republican Party in Washington swapped principle for power, and as a consequence in the end ended up with neither. He argues that they deserved to lose for the way they broke their commitment to the voters.

I also read a news story and an editorial in a two different Upstate papers that attempted to portray some of the supposed controversy with a group called Reform SC as simply another story of Governor vs. Legislature. Stories like that may be written that way because some believe conflict stories sell. But whatever the case, the premise is wrong because Reform SC is not about the legislature or me. I think it is about a long overdue statewide conversation on where we want to be in ten years, and on whether or not we are taking steps to get there. In short, it’s about how we get changes that working taxpayers have long called for through the political system in Columbia.

These two articles and their accompanying themes are surprisingly interwoven; let me explain. There are some absolutely wonderful members of the legislative body who would like to see things change as much as I would. Unfortunately, in too many instances the keys to power rest with people in leadership who often see things differently since they hold the keys - and given things like the seniority system in the Senate, change often stops with the people at the top. It is for this reason that the statement of former Democratic National Committee Chairman Don Fowler was telling last month when he said, “Ideologically, the legislature is no different from the legislature 50 years ago when it was Democratic.  They changed partisan identity because that’s the way the political winds were blowing.  But it’s no different than it was 50 years ago.”

To me, that is a real problem because the people of South Carolina have in fact voted for a change from the way that business was conducted fifty years ago. Consider my election as an example of this phenomenon: last November while Republicans lost the House and Senate in Washington our administration won the governorship with the biggest margin in the last sixteen years. We did so because at a gut level people understand we cannot compete in today’s world and continue down the well-worn path of the way things have always been done.

All of this brings us to this group called Reform SC. It is a non-profit that was started by Chad Walldorf, who is a friend of mine. I completely support what he is trying to do and for this reason am helping him raise money for the enterprise – and will help in any other way possible. Unfortunately, some like Speaker Harrell have reacted negatively - depicting it as an effort to give a punch in the nose. It is not that. It is about friends across this state caring enough about the importance of change that they will invest time, money and effort in bringing it about. Reform SC has no favorite list of candidates. It is premised on the simple notion that knowledge is power, and that more people would demand change if they knew more about what was happening in Columbia.

Would South Carolinians really put up with our state budget being one that was among those that led the entire nation in its growth if they really knew the numbers? Would they not speak out on government growing much faster than the growth of their wallets and purses if growing the private sector is important to our economy? Would they go for government that costs 130% the US average? Would they really put up with us being the only state in the United States of America with a Budget and Control Board that handles the administrative functions handled by the other 49 governors in this country - and in so doing changes the balance of power key to effective governance?

I won’t belabor the point, but I think the simple message is that every reformer in Columbia should see this group as an ally in their efforts to change the way things have been done. Educating people is important because in life you seldom push for what you don’t know. This principle’s political corollary is that people won’t push for change unless they understand why change is important. 

I know that is why I am supporting this effort – and why I’d ask you do the same.

S.C. Governor Mark Sanford







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