Mark Sanford surprised the political community when he got elected South Carolina's governor in 2002. It should be much less surprising if he's re-elected this year. He's done a great job and has earned it.
First, a little history. When Sanford announced he was getting into the governor's race four years ago, he was a former U.S. congressman elected in the GOP class of 1994 who kept his word to slash federal spending, cut back the size of the central government and limit his time in Washington to three terms.
His tough-as-nails Washington agenda, his humility and his frugality, along with an eminently likeable persona, went over well with those who knew him in his coastal district, but he had little statewide recognition and was a distinct underdog in the gubernatorial race. Yet he emerged victorious after an uphill fight in the GOP primary and a hard-fought general election against incumbent Gov. Jim Hodges.
There was a reason why Sanford pulled off the upset. South Carolinians liked both him and his message, which was one of getting spending under control - the budget was hundreds of millions in shortfall back then - and reforming the state's "horse and buggy" government to bring it into the 21st century.
Sanford has gotten off to a good start, but he'll be the first to tell you there's still much work to be done. Unfortunately, South Carolina is still largely run by the legislature, which is basically government by committee - inefficient and wasteful. Sanford is fighting to change that. He's making headway to streamline government, to make it more efficient, more responsive and fiscally responsible. Ultimately, he hopes to limit increases in government spending to the rate of inflation and population increases.
Sanford is the first governor in his state to submit a capital budget of his own. Lawmakers are free to ignore it, of course, but the governor's budget proposals do put heat on the General Assembly to be responsive. He has held budget hearings with over 30 state agencies and meets regularly with his constituents in Columbia and around the state.
His clout comes from the grass-roots, and that sometimes riles elitist, long-serving lawmakers, even those in his own majority party. This is why some Republicans are actually supporting Sanford's Democratic opponent, state Sen. Tommy Moore of Clearwater, a longtime legislator with a reputation of going along to get along. When you try to make the kind of substantive changes Sanford is, some toes are going to be stepped on.
Even so, the leadership of the hard-working governor and family man has accomplished a lot in his first term, including initiatives eliminating much waste and duplication in government; cutting taxes; popularizing school choice and advancing the growth of charter schools; boosting employment by nearly 125,000 jobs; dramatically cutting back on wait-times at the Department of Motor Vehicles; and signing into law landmark campaign finance reform.
Now Sanford is fighting for stronger ethics legislation, and seeks to complete the agenda he sold South Carolinians on four years ago - major income tax cuts, government restructuring and school choice.
When this newspaper endorsed Sanford in 2002, we said we thought he'd make his state proud and prosperous.
He's off to a good start, and if voters give him another term Nov. 7, we're confident he will complete the journey.