By BRAD WARTHEN
Editorial Page Editor
the current occupant has sort of put the whole
being-governor-of-South-Carolina thing behind him — nowadays you have
to track national media to know what he’s up to — let’s follow his
lead, and look forward to the time when he no longer holds the office
In the spirit of getting us to that point as
quickly as possible, I spoke last week with the one declared candidate
for the 2010 gubernatorial election, Sen. Vincent Sheheen.
don’t know the 37-year-old Camden attorney, you might know his daddy,
former Higher Education Commissioner Fred, or his uncle, former House
Speaker Bob. He is like them in his dedication to public service, yet
very different. His uncle was the last Democrat to run the House, while
the nephew has been shaped by having to get things done in a world run
by Republicans. It’s made him a consensus-builder, and he thinks that
has prepared him well for this moment.
Not only does he think he
has a good chance of gaining the Democratic nomination among those who
have been mentioned — and his close allies who might have drawn from
the same base of support, Rep. James Smith and Sen. Joel Lourie, are
not running — but, “at this point in the state’s history, I have a good
chance in the general election,” whoever the GOP nominee is. Why?
“Because people are not satisfied.”
He can identify with that: “I’ve reached this point out of frustration and hope.”
have been stuck in a rut for a long time,” he said, and “I am not
seeing things changing at all. And that’s very frustrating.” He senses
a similar frustration in the electorate. He thinks voters realize that
“if we keep… not doing anything, then we’re not going to improve.”
So what does he want to do?
real again about job creation and economic development.” He says the
state needs a governor who will treat that as a priority, playing an
active part in recruiting business, and working to see that the whole
state, including the rural parts, benefits.
South Carolina’s governmental structure into at least the 20th century,
and maybe the 21st century.” Some of what he wants to do is what the
current governor has said he wanted to do. But the plan that Mr.
Sheheen has put forward (parts of which he explains on the facing page)
actually has some traction — enough so that Mark Sanford mentioned it
favorably in his State of the State address this year. Sen. Sheheen
believes the time has come to move restructuring past the starting
line, and he thinks he can do it: “I’m not knocking anybody; I’m just
saying it’s time to have somebody who can build consensus.”
the way we spend our money.” As he rightly describes the process, “We
budget in the dark.” He wants to see a programmatic budget, followed by
the legislative oversight that has been missing, to make sure the
spending does what it’s intended to do.
conservation with economic development. He thinks we need to move
beyond setting aside just to conserve, but convert what is conserved to
benefit “the humans in a community.” He points to the ways the Camden
battlefield has been used to promote tourism.
the way we fund education. Make funding equitable, based on pupils, not
districts, so that “a similarly situated student will have the same
opportunities … regardless of where they live.”
When I ask
whether there’s anything else, he confesses: “I’m a geek. I could keep
going, but … I’ve got to think of something that’s politically
catchy. I’m supposed to do that.”
At which point he proves his
geekhood by mentioning comprehensive tax reform, which he’s been
advocating “since my first day in the House.”
But while that
issue might not make voters’ hearts beat faster, he speaks again of
what he sees as “a growing consensus that we need to do something.”
he thinks the high-profile, counterproductive “contention between the
current governor and the Legislature” has created an opportunity for
someone who wants to move beyond that.
But how would a Democrat
fare in that task in a State House run by Republicans? Quite well, he
says. He calls Republican Carroll Campbell “one of the most effective
governors,” a fact he attributes in part to the “constructive friction”
between him and the Democratic Legislature that his Uncle Bob helped
Ironically, Vincent Sheheen seems to be suggesting that his
party has become enough of an outsider in the halls of state power that
a consensus-minded Democrat could be less threatening to, and more
successful in working with, the GOP leadership. “Someone who is not
jockeying for position within their own party could actually help to
bring together some of the different factions.”
representative of “swing counties” — Chesterfield, Lancaster and
Kershaw — he sees himself as having the ability to be that Democrat.
far — perhaps because he’s the only declared candidate in either party
— he wears the burden of this campaign lightly. At one point he asks
me, “Am I making you hopeful?” — then chuckles when I decline to answer.
I will say this to you, the reader: He’s talking about the right
issues, and he’s talking about them the right way. That’s a start.
Here’s hoping that the candidates yet to declare, in both parties, do
the same. Then perhaps we can have a gubernatorial choice, for once,
between good and better.
For links and more, please go to thestate.com/bradsblog/.