Wednesday, January 13, 2010
The political irrelevancy of Governor Mark Sanford and the cost to us all
The media is paying attention to the upcoming divorce of Governor Mark Sanford and the soon to be released book by Sanford's soon to be ex-wife, Jenny. While the tabloid shows, the media and some of the public might be concerned with Sanford saga, the leaders of the South Carolina General Assembly are not.
The South Carolina House will address a censure of Governor Sanford today. Speaker Bobby Harrell has made clear that that today will be the only day the House deals with Governor Sanford's saga. State Senate President Pro Tempore Glen McConnell does not even promise a day.
Frankly, why should Harrell and McConnell worry about Governor Sanford? They are the two most politically powerful men in South Carolina. Sanford is an afterthought, just another constitutional officer who is to be patted on the head and sent on his way.
Before Governor Sanford went A.W.O.L. last June, he already had hundreds of his vetoes overridden by the General Assembly. Further, the Governor and his staff had an antagonistic relationship with leaders in the General Assembly from day one. That act had already wore thin before the scandal.
Now, further weakened by scandal, Governor Mark Sanford has less influence over what the General Assembly will do than Queen Elizabeth has over the Canadian Parliament. Indeed, the actions of Mark Sanford have historically weakened the status of the office of Governor of South Carolina.
South Carolina has endured such Governors before. In 1874, in the midst of Reconstruction, Daniel Chamberlain was elected Governor. Chamberlain would face fraud charges later in his life. Further, Chamberlain would claim re-election in 1876, but abandoned the office and the state in April of 1877, when federal troops left South Carolina. The man Chamberlain claimed to have defeated in 1876, Wade Hampton, took over as Governor. Chamberlain represented all that was wrong with Reconstruction, and South Carolinians were left weary of some outsider coming in and having power as Governor.
In 1910, South Carolina elected Newberry Mayor Coleman Blease Governor. Blease was re-elected in 1912. However, Blease's eccentric ways would forever weaken the Governor's office. As Governor, Blease pardoned over 1700 prisoners, including convicted murderers. That led to the Governor being stripped of his pardon powers. Blease's eccentricties did not end there. Blease was so upset that Richard Manning, III had been elected to replace him that Blease resigned as Governor five days before the end of his term so that he would not have to participate in the inauguration of Manning.
In arguing for a more powerful Governor, Governor Sanford has cited race and noted how antiquated the South Carolina Executive Department is. Sanford has a marked ignorance of South Carolina history. South Carolina has a weak executive because legislative leaders wanted the influence of a Governor set up by outsiders and the influence of a Governor who was a bit nuts to be limited.
Ironically, Mark Sanford made the case for keeping the Governor's office officially weak and destroyed the bully pulpit influence of the office that had been established under Governors such as Byrnes, Thurmond, Hollings, McNair, Edwards, Riley and Campbell. Indeed, Mark Sanford, funded by a lot of people outside South Carolina, acted eccentric as Governor.
Thus, Mark Sanford reinforced the historical reasons why South Carolina has a weak Governor and set up the situation for this year's General Assembly. While Governor Sanford has much more relative power than the average citizen, to the members of the General Assembly, he is a side note, an asterisk, something not to waste time on. Ignoring the Sanford saga is the biggest insult of all that the General Assembly can give to Mark Sanford and to the office of Governor of South Carolina.
However, the situation is not a good one. South Carolinians elect their Governors to lead the state, not be ignored by the General Assembly. The selfish political interests of the Governor and the leadership of the General Assembly have set this state back a generation in having some sort of balance of power in Columbia. Ironically, that appears to be Mark Sanford's legacy.