In case you missed it and I'm betting you did, Gov. Mark Sanford delivered the annual State of the State address last Wednesday. Instead of livening things up with fresh thinking and ideas, the governor trotted out his stump speech of cutting state spending, restructuring state government, cutting income taxes by increasing the cigarette tax, and everybody's favorite — school choice. Snore.
Characterizing the state's DUI laws as "anemic," Sanford called for stronger penalties. But if you ask me, he is motivated less by a genuine concern for the innocent victims of drunk-driving incidents than a desire to continue his schoolyard fight with legislators who are also trial lawyers.
It's no secret that Sanford harbors a Cheney-esque desire to consolidate state power and authority in the governor's office. And during the State of the State, Sanford argued for this consolidation of power by railing against the state constitution and former governor and U.S. senator "Pitchfork" Ben Tillman. The brainchild of the notoriously racist Tillman, the constitution of 1895 gave the Legislature almost all the power, and it did so in order to disenfranchise the state's black population.
During the State of the State, Sanford said, "I believe the Tillman model has held South Carolina back for more than a century, that it is wrong, and that our government should not be operating from this framework given the way it brings too little accountability, too little in transparency, and too much in cost."
The Tillman reference had a lot of folks scratching their heads, including state Rep. Fletcher Smith (D-Greenville), who is African-American. "I think some people might be offended by him using that symbolism as a way of trying to gain more power for the governor's office," Smith told the Associated Press.
In a report in The State, Sen. Hugh Leatherman (R-Florence), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and frequent foe of his fellow Budget and Control Board member Sanford, said his constituents tell him, "'Don't you dare give this governor more power.'"
Anyhoo, Sanford actually spent most of his speech on the economy: "I believe we will likely go into a national recession based on the pinch from higher energy prices, slowing consumer spending, falling home prices, and tightening credit." Ya think?!
Sanford's recent submitted budget of $6.8 billion for the next fiscal year would reduce the current budget by $326 million, in large part by cutting subsidized health care for some poor and not-so-poor children.
Come on, Whitney, sing it, "I believe that children are the future..."
And speaking of children, Sanford said, "I find the idea of South Carolina's system of only wealthy people having educational choice, in something as crucial to success as education, morally wrong."
So, it looks like the General Assembly is in for another round of debate on vouchers or tax credits for private school tuition because the governor wants more options for parents in order "to give the families of modest incomes a lifeline, and a scholarship, out of a failing school."
I always appreciate how these school choice people never have an answer for what happens if there aren't enough private school seats for the kids trying to escape a failing school.
Sometime after Sanford talked about giving high schoolers who graduate early up to $2,000 and proposed substituting a flat tax for income tax, my eyes started to glaze over.
I do think that the governor is correct about reforming the Competitive Grants program, forcing legislators to attach their names to all fiscal requests, and toughening DUI laws, but his vision for limited state government and turning over public school monies to private institutions necessarily ensures that a limited South Carolina will follow.
We've got enough problems and a tortured history as it is.