A longtime backer of free market port expansion, FITS was intrigued to hear Democratic Senator Tommy Moore make mention of the proposed Port of Jasper the other day in discussing his economic development plans (such as they are, anyway).
Even "Moore" intrigued were we when Karen Guttman, spokeswoman for the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, actually took our call today, and then actually spoke with us (without hanging up), and then even agreed to go on the record with us in attributing the ongoing failure to get this project done (and port expansion in Charleston, too) to a "lack of leadership" on the part of Gov. Mark Sanford.
Generally, Moore doesn't have the foggiest idea what he's talking about when he criticizes the governor for "lack of leadership." He's always quick to throw the "LOL" card out there, but nine times out of ten the subject matter in question points back to yet another example of the governor doing what's right and standing up for the taxpayers of South Carolina - and doing so in spite of tremendous pressure from well-heeled special interests, RINO's and big government Democrats like Moore to make him cave to their failed, outdated way of thinking.
But just as the world's worst fisherman is bound to get a bite sometime, Moore may have accidentally stumbled into a valid point on the subject of port expansion.
"Moore" on that in a moment. First, a little background.
Last year, the board of South Carolina's State Ports Authority voted 5-3 to reject what are known as landlord-tenant deals - public-private partnerships that enable the state to retain ownership of new port facilities while private companies manage the terminal operations for a period of 20-30 years. Once the lease is up, the state - which owns the infrastructure - gets to decide who runs the terminals.
Utilized by every major port in America except Charleston and Savannah, landlord-tenant deals are the lifeblood of port expansion, enabling states to get the new capacity they need without having to fork over hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars.
According to SC Free Market Ports, 45 of the top 50 ports in the world currently use landlord-tenant relationships to expand capacity, and within the last two years Southern ports in Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Alabama and Texas have all announced massive capacity expansions leveraging private capital - critical economic development moves given the huge influx of new Asian shipping business that's headed to America in the coming decade.
But like so many other plain as day, common sense reforms that would actually reduce unemployment and stimulate capital investment in our state, the "Usual Morons" in the Legislature and on the State Ports Authority Board of Directors have refused to even consider market-based port expansion, instead clinging to a pseudo-socialist "total state control" model that expressly forbids these lucrative, job-creating partnerships.
Worse still, they've hired the consummate pay-for-play, RINO political consultant Bob McAlister to propogate the myth that free market port expansion will result in those evil, anti-capitalist labor unions gaining a foothold in South Carolina.
Never mind that 1,400 of the 1,800 employees currently working for the SPA are already unionized, with no visible ill effect on port operations.
For his part, Sanford personally supports free market port expansion. He's even instructed his board appointees Bill Stern, Harry Butler, and Carroll A. "Tumpy" Campbell to move forward with landlord-tenant agreements - and been telling them to do so for years now.
Unfortunately, Stern, Butler and Campbell have basically told the governor to go screw himself and wholeheartedly endorsed the Karl Marx model of port expansion, which, not surprisingly has failed to create any port expansion whatsoever.
Which brings us to Moore's "lack of leadership" charge.
Sanford, who has cut his political teeth on bucking the status quo in the face of powerful, institutional opposition to his limited government, pro-business reforms, has nonetheless caved completely to the Stern-Butler-Campbell triumvirate, refusing to remove them from their positions (prior to the 2006 election, anyway) because he fears political retribution from their wealth, power and - in Campbell's case - last name.
So does Moore's charge of "lack of leadership" fit in this particular case?
But the follow-up question remains, would Moore be any better?
Aside from throwing out the typical lingo about "needing leadership to create jobs in low-income counties like Jasper," it's not entirely evident whether or not the Senator from Clearwater actually understands what free market port expansion is all about.
Plus, they don't call him "Moore Government" for nothing.
Guttman could not immediately tell FITS whether Moore, like Sanford, favors public-private partnerships, or whether Moore would, unlike Sanford, appoint nominees supportive of his position to the State Ports' board if he were elected.
And to Guttman's credit, why should she know?
Thusfar during campaign 2006, the mainstream press has virtually ignored this hot-button economic development issue, due in large part to the fact that neither candidate - until Moore's recent comments, anyway - has said anything about it.
Look for that to change, though.
In a campaign that is becoming increasingly fixated on dueling employment figures and competing economic outlooks, both Sanford and Moore will be looking for any opportunity to tout their ability to bring new jobs to South Carolina, and port expansion in Charleston and construction of a port in Jasper would bring them here by the thousands.
Sanford probably has the most to lose politically on the issue, given that he has had the chance to appoint pro-free market, business-minded conservatives to the Ports' board, but bowed instead to politics-as-usual in naming (and keeping) Stern, Butler and Campbell, all sworn adherants to the Hugh Leatherman philosophy of "progress by government monopoly."
Then again, it's highly unlikely that an insider like Moore would be able to succeed where an outsider like Sanford has failed, particularly given the cronyism and insider horse-trading that runs rampant within the powerful State Ports Authority.
Sadly, our best bet to finally achieve the long-overdue port expansion South Carolina so desperately needs appears to be a Sanford victory followed by a complete overhaul of the leadership and composition of the current SPA board.
Hopefully, a second-term Sanford with nothing to lose will be more inclined to do the right thing in pushing for port expansion than a first-term Sanford who suddenly finds himself facing a much closer re-election fight than he probably ever bargained for.