Heard in the Echo Chamber - Inside the Mind of Mark Sanford
"You never know what you're going to get."
If politicos in South Carolina have learned one thing over the past three-and-a-half years, it's that like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, the mind of Governor Mark Sanford defies predictibility.
Call it libertarian, call it obsessive-compulsive, call it cheap, but whatever you do, don't call it easy to read. Even those bound by position or proximity to the governor's unique train of thought rarely know which station the conductor is pulling into at any given time.
"Maddening," one Sanford aide told FITS recently. "It's deliberative hell."
Interestingly enough, one of the core ideals on which the governor's cult of personality rests is the notion of ideological consistency. It's everywhere in his language, in subtle, non-political expressions like "I've said from day one," or "We've felt all along," or "From the beginning I've believed" and so on and so forth.
And the case for ideological purity is difficult to ignore. With a few exceptions, the governor generally ends up staying remarkably well-aligned with the less government, lower taxes, limited spending mantra that's formed the basis of his time in public life.
A perfect case in point was last week's gubernatorial veto of a bill that would have amended DHEC certificate of need standards to allow for a new heart center to be built in Lexington County.
Never mind that the preeminent heart center in the Midlands region of South Carolina is operating at less than half its capacity, or the fact that legislative meddling of this kind sets a horrible healthcare precedent for the future, the politics of the veto were still awful.
Simply put, Sanford's decision gave his political opponents exactly what they wanted - a simplistic, election year newspaper headline that screamed bad news for the home folks - smack dab in the middle of a Republican hotbed, no less.
What might the governor have gained by compromising with the politically-potent Lexington delegation? We'll never know. How much will it matter that the technical merits of the veto were decidedly in the governor's favor? Probably not much.
Following up the heart center veto was the governor's rebuke of a bill that would have raised the fine for child seat violations from $25 to $150.
Supported by virtually every member of his staff, the governor went ahead and vetoed the bill anyway on the grounds that it was yet another example of the big government "nanny state" at work. Making the odd argument that parents also take additional risks when they drive with their kids in the rain or at night, Sanford put his uber-Libertarian foot forward on this one.
It's one thing to veto a $150 fine for driving in the left lane (which Sanford did last session), but little kids? In car seats?
In spite of this past week's perceived political missteps - reported on dexterously by the Post and Courier's John Frank and the blogosphere's own Laurin Manning - it would still be unwise to underestimate the acumen of the governor's political antennae.
Just below the surface madness of the Sanford deliberative process lies an incredibly keen awareness of spin and self-impact, a political radar that while frequently ignored by its owner is nonetheless among the sharpest in the business, as evidenced by the governor's seemingly indeflatable approval ratings.
What's next on tap for the mercurial, miserly and yet politically masterful mind of Mark Sanford?
Might as well grab a box of chocolates ...