Gov. Mark Sanford brought his reform-minded message to Rock Hill on Tuesday afternoon, holding what he called an "impromptu town hall meeting" in the parking lot of a plant nursery.
Sanford, whose quirky personality has earned him both admirers and critics, managed to uncork a number of off-the-cuff gems in the course of a 30-minute talk. He quoted former House Speaker Tip O'Neill and Thomas Jefferson, and later, talking about two young boys in the audience, said: "They're launching in this spaceship called life, and how far they're able to travel will in large part depend on education."
The purpose of Sanford's two-week, 30-city tour across South Carolina is to rally support for his priorities in the upcoming legislative session. The General Assembly will take up immigration, DUI reform and small business health care, among other issues.
"What we're doing is sort of bouncing around the quieter parts of South Carolina, picking up pearls of wisdom on what would help," he told two dozen listeners at Wilson's Nursery on West Main Street.
The governor got some advice in that effort from Lora Matthews of Rock Hill, who home-schools her two sons, Pierce and Ian, and wonders why her family doesn't get a tax break.
"We're not taking any resources away from the public schools," she said. "There should be some benefit for that."
Sanford voiced support for that point of view but spent much of his time on a familiar theme: the need to modernize state government. Sanford occasionally has sharp words for those who criticize his ideas, though he insists it isn't personal.
"We ain't cracking on anybody," he said. "It's just we believe we have a faulty government structure. Our question would be, 'How do you compete in a global world if you have an inwardly focused political system?'"
Sanford later fielded a question from The Herald about whether the state would commit money to extend Dave Lyle Boulevard 11 miles into Lancaster County. Supporters are hoping the State Infrastructure Bank will cover much of the estimated $120 million price tag. The problem is that the bank currently is broke.
"With larger projects, it takes a while to build the kitty up," Sanford said, adding that the larger issue is making sure money is directed where it's needed most, rather than on pet projects that let "some raccoon path to somebody's fishing hole get paved."
Later in the day, Sanford's tour was scheduled to take him to Chester and Lancaster.