Bolton: Governor must have Carolina on mind, heart

Associate EditorOctober 31, 2010 

ALTHOUGH SOUTH Carolina might have the weakest governor in the country, the position is still one of considerable influence; the governor can — and must — play a critical role in helping direct our state in its attempt to address its greatest problems.

High unemployment, rising poverty rates, some of the country’s poorest workers and lowest performing kids, a simmering racial divide and struggling rural areas reside here. Yet we are a proud state with many people of good will who, if brought together, can make great strides. But a poverty of leadership and narrowly focused decision-makers have continually let us down.

While our Legislature is the most powerful branch in our government, its ability to lead is severely hampered by politics and 170 members with competing agendas. Those who wield the most power aren’t much concerned about folks outside of their districts; oftentimes the neediest people and places are left to fend for themselves.

If the governor doesn’t unite us and connect the dots that lead to prosperity, who will? Who else can articulate the point that we can’t improve as a state if the least of us doesn’t improve? Who can tie the need to improve education to the need to lure more businesses to the need to improve household incomes to the need to reform our dysfunctional tax system to the need to restructure our fragmented, poorly structured government?

The governor is duty-bound to look out for all of South Carolina.

Our governor can veto bills and slice items from the budget via line-item veto. He leads the Budget and Control Board, is called to make sure laws are “faithfully executed” in conjunction with the attorney general and oversees Cabinet agencies such as the Corrections, Social Services, Commerce and Juvenile Justice.

Yet governors can do nothing significant without the public’s trust, the ability to invigorate the people and, more importantly, a sound relationship with the Legislature. South Carolina needs a governor who will use the bully pulpit to push ideas of import to the state, a governor who will work with the Legislature to move South Carolina forward.

This isn’t a position for the faint, the fake or the phony; it’s not a position for someone merely looking to climb the political ladder or make an ideological point. We’re not going to the polls Tuesday to elect a student body president. This must not be simply a popularity contest. It isn’t about friendships or party affiliation.

This is about the future of South Carolina. We need a governor who works hard for Republicans, Democrats, black people, white people, Hispanic people, rich people, poor people, educated people and educationally deprived people.

With the challenges that face our state, we need a serious leader with a serious vision. Someone with integrity and know-how. Someone who’s going to live and die with the people of South Carolina.

Unfortunately, some of our most recent seekers of the office didn’t recognize or respect what the office means to the people of this state.

Our tiny state with gigantic needs has paid dearly over the past eight years as an ideologue who loved to make a point but disdained governing did little to move us forward. Instead of helping foster dialogue and build bridges with a powerful Legislature to address real-life problems, Gov. Mark Sanford chose to fight lawmakers, going off on ideological rants and tangents.

A governor needs to do two things well: Lead and govern.

Two of Mark Sanford’s failures to do that stand out: The first was his misguided attempt to pay parents to take their kids out of public schools and send them to private schools; all that did was draw in outsiders who made our state a lab for their schemes to dismantle and deconstruct public schools and government. Secondly, he fought the stimulus package that Congress passed in an effort to bolster state budgets, put people to work and jump-start the economy. Nikki Haley — who voted for the stimulus but changed her mind later — also would allow South Carolinians to pay taxes to stimulate activity in every other state but oppose using their own money to help stimulate job development right here at home, no matter how much it’s needed.

Gov. Sanford never laid out a coherent plan to elevate South Carolina. Never articulated any realistic vision. Never fought for the people of South Carolina. Did he make some good points? Yes. Did he raise some legitimate issues? Yes. But he never sweated it for South Carolina.

And I fear that his protege, Nikki Haley, wouldn’t either. Ms. Haley is an ambitious, refried Mark Sanford. She has run a bumper-sticker campaign that excites, incites and enrages, but doesn’t empower, encourage or promote our entire state. There’s little depth to her plans or promises. There’s a reason for that: It wasn’t really until she decided to run for higher office that she began thinking about all of South Carolina. She has no record of accomplishment. No calluses from working in the vineyard. Nothing to suggest that, outside of her district, Carolina has been on her mind. She’s never thought this big before.

Vincent Sheheen has. He has the temperament, the vision and the record. He knows what he’s talking about when he speaks of tax reform, government restructuring and education because he has thought about them, devised remedies and fought vigorously for change. He has worked with Democrats and Republicans.

Our next governor needs to be a practical, pragmatic problem-solver who doesn’t get caught up in petty battles and meaningless sidebars that ignore people’s pain. His name is Vincent Sheheen.

Reach Mr. Bolton at (803) 771-8631 or wbolton@thestate.com.

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