COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - David Beasley has overseen some dramatic changes during his 21/2 years as South Carolina's governor, but there is disagreement over how much credit he deserves.
The first-term governor helped slash property taxes, send welfare recipients back to work and lock up criminals longer. Economic development has helped ensure the success of his initiatives.
But critics say his centerpiece programs already were set to pass the Legislature when he took office. Supporters say it took Beasley's election to ensure those programs did pass.
"I never doubted he would get anything he wanted from the General Assembly," said state Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Columbia, a longtime critic of Beasley and the GOP. "The House is his, and the Senate is kind of wimpish. It's tailor-made for Beasley."
Beasley calls that criticism "campaign fodder." While other Republicans acknowledge that the initiatives originated before Beasley's election, they note that none became law until afterward.
"It's real easy to say, `Well, it would have happened anyway,' but it never did," said Rep. Hunter Limbaugh, R-Florence.
Critics say the most significant actions since 1995 originated in the General Assembly, not the governor's office: Funding full-day kindergarten, increasing education spending and reforming the way judges are selected. Beasley later embraced them all.
"If risk-taking is a criterion for leadership, David Beasley has risked very little," Clemson University analyst Charles Dunn said. "David Beasley has been very successful in finding out which way the wind is blowing, where the troops are headed and then getting out front."
But Francis Marion University analyst Neal Thigpen notes that few Republicans are known for bold innovations, since the GOP philosophy is that less government is better. "They're maintenance governors," he said.
Some of Beasley's own innovations have been met with less enthusiasm.
The governor alienated many supporters in the public and the Legislature by calling for its relocation of the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse dome to the grounds.
After the GOP-led House revolted, Beasley angered those who wanted the flag moved by allowing his plan to die a lingering death.
Beasley also led the charge to withdraw South Carolina from a regional nuclear-waste compact, opening the low-level nuclear landfill at Barnwell to imports.
The move generated millions of dollars for college scholarships and public-school construction. But the move also stripped the state of its only protection from the nation's waste.
Democrats give the governor especially low scores on social issues, saying he is long on style but short on substance. But even they acknowledge Beasley's success in bringing economic development to the state.
Before 1995, annual capital investment by private business hovered just below $3 billion. That number jumped to $5.4 billion in 1995 and $5.7 billion in 1996.
"David has done a wonderful job in recruiting business for the state," said Charlie Way, a Charleston businessman who leads the Palmetto Business Forum. "He has taken business recruitment to new heights. He keeps coming up with novel approaches on how to lure business to the state."
And even though Beasley has failed on a promise to wipe out property taxes, few constituents appear bitter. What residents do remember is that anyone whose house is worth less than $100,000 no longer pays property taxes for schools.
"Anytime you put money back in the people's pockets, you're doing a positive thing," said Brady Souder, a 26-year-old sales representative from Columbia.
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