Former Gov. Mark Sanford is one step closer to his goal of returning to Congress and rehabilitating his public reputation. Voters in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District need to think long and hard before helping him succeed in his quest.
Sanford advanced Tuesday to a runoff in the Republican primary for the open congressional seat. The seat recently was vacated by Rep. Tim Scott, who was appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley to replace U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, who resigned to head The Heritage Foundation.
That set up a mad flurry of Republican candidates to claim the seat. A total of 16 candidates were on the GOP ballot Tuesday.
Sanford will face off against former Charleston County councilman Curtis Bostic, the second-place finisher. State Sen. Larry Grooms trailed Bostic by only about 1 percentage point, which would have triggered an automatic recount, but Grooms conceded Wednesday.
Teddy Turner, son of media mogul Ted Turner, finished well behind Bostic and Grooms in fourth place.
The GOP runoff will take place April 2. Then the winner will square off May 7 in the general election against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, who won the Democratic primary with 96 percent of the vote over perennial candidate Ben Frasier.
This race has gained national attention both because of Colbert-Busch’s relation to a TV celebrity and Sanford’s notoriety from his well publicized affair while governor. And Sanford’s name recognition and familiarity with voters in the congressional district he represented from 1994 to 2000 no doubt helped propel him to the runoff.
But while Sanford has stressed the redemptive nature of his return to the campaign trail, voters need to take a hard-nosed look at the candidate and recall his record as congressman and governor.
It won’t take long to review his congressional record. He achieved almost nothing of note during his tenure, for which he is best known for sleeping on a cot in his office.
During his eight years as governor, he was unable to foster a working relationship with the Legislature, even though it was dominated by members of his own party. Rather than trying to develop a working relationship with the Legislature, Sanford usually settled for empty symbolism.
He issued hundreds of vetoes, nearly all of which were routinely overturned by the Legislature. He once carried two live piglets into the S.C. House to symbolize pork-barrel spending; they soiled the custom-made carpet, providing another compelling symbol.
Among the bills Sanford vetoed was an increase in the cigarette tax, the proceeds of which would have helped to pay for smoking cessation programs. He didn’t want to increase the tax burden on smokers.
He also vetoed a bill that would have made it illegal for small children to operate all-terrain vehicles. He said government shouldn’t be telling parents they couldn’t let their youngsters drive large motorized vehicles capable of going more than 40 mph.
Gov. Haley, by the way, signed an ATV law during her first term.
Sanford was an enemy of public education. He teamed with New York financier Howard Rich to promote vouchers and tax credits for South Carolina families who send their children to private schools.
Sanford opposed accepting federal stimulus money during the recession, saying he was philosophically opposed to wasteful spending by the federal government. Thankfully, the Legislature once again overrode him and accepted the money, which came at a crucial time, allowing the state to provide unemployment insurance for thousands and spare the jobs of teachers and first-responders.
This race has been viewed by some as a test of Sanford’s ability to recover from the bad publicity resulting from his “hiking the Appalachian Trail” – actually, visiting his Argentine mistress on the sly. The real question is whether he can convince voters that he would not be the same ineffectual pol he was as governor.
We have enough gridlock in Washington. South Carolina doesn’t need to send a rigid libertarian idealogue who can’t work well even with members of his own party to represent the state in Congress.