Originally created 02/29/04

Colleagues warm to Sanford



AIKEN - Bygones are bygones, or so it seems at the South Carolina Capitol.

Republican legislators and GOP Gov. Mark Sanford, who once nipped at each other's heels, have been getting along like best buddies in recent weeks.

Gone are surprise announcements from the governor. In are joint news conferences where members of the executive and legislative branches stand together.

Gone are the popularity polls that pitted Mr. Sanford against the lawmakers.

In are invitations to Mr. Sanford to speak before the Senate Judiciary Committee, as was the case last week - the first occasion in recent memory in which a governor testified before a legislative committee.

Two months into his second year in office, it seems that Republican legislators, and even some Democrats, are ready to embrace Mr. Sanford more readily than before. Some say they've just gotten used to his style. Working together is better for the state, they say.

Others, only partly joking, say it looks good during an election year. The state's 46 Senate seats and 124 House seats are up for grabs in November.

"It's a little selfish on our part," said Rep. Robert "Skipper" Perry, R-Aiken. "He looks good, we look good. We get re-elected."

The increased friendliness is no surprise, said Bob Botsch, a political science professor at the University of South Carolina Aiken.

"In election years, you're always very much more intent to run on your record, and not showing discord with the governor is a part of that," he said.

But the peace and harmony could bring real change. Mr. Sanford has reached a compromise on his income tax reduction initiative with key leaders, including House Speaker David Wilkins, R-Greenville, and Sen. Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken.

The plan, unveiled Feb. 17, would reduce the tax rate of 7 percent to 4.75 percent in a decade, which Mr. Sanford said would increase business growth.

The reduction would be tied to a minimum growth in state revenue to ensure that South Carolina's fiscal crisis isn't worsened.

It's a big leap for Mr. Sanford's plan, which never made it off the ground last year.

He's also making gains with a second priority. His time before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday was spent talking up his plan to restructure state government, an initiative with strong backing from Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston.

Though parts of the plan were shot down, it was momentum nonetheless.

"Obviously, we're pleased that there is legislative support for each of those proposals," Sanford spokesman Will Folks said.

Aiken Sen. Tommy Moore, a Democrat, credited some of the clarity this year to increased efforts from both sides.

"Communication is a two-way street," he said.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 279-6895

or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.