Had a number of thoughts when I read this story this morning, which among other things said:
Gov. Mark Sanford urged state residents opposed to using federal aid in the state budget to call lawmakers as they work out a final budget compromise this week.
The $5.7 billion draft budget, Sanford said, puts off needed cuts and reforms by tapping $350 million in federal stimulus money. Sanford has said he will not accept the stimulus money unless lawmakers pay off an equal amount of state debt.
“This is the time to stand and be counted with regard to the stimulus money,” Sanford said. “We’re going to paper over all of those changes that might be made and simply spend the money.”
Here are my questions:
- Does the governor actually think that if the people of South Carolina stood up and were counted on this issue, more of them would agree with him on the stimulus? (From everything I’ve heard, that seems extremely doubtful.)
- Is he making a cynical calculation that — in keeping with the human-nature phenomenon that only people who are against something bother to call (something I have experienced in the news biz, my favorite extreme example being all those letters we got against the U.S. taking military action in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, a view which you knew wasn’t representative of South Carolina, yet which dominated among the letters we received for a time)?
- Does he or his allies at SCRG or ReformSC have an organized calling campaign ready, designed to look like a “spontaneous” response to his call to the public?
- Will the far greater number of South Carolinians who oppose the governor on the stimulus make an effort to be heard by lawmakers, or since they’re satisfied the General Assembly is on their side, will they decide not to bother them?
- Whether they hear more from the governor’s side or the other, would lawmakers be swayed by lots of calls and e-mails?
- Should they be swayed by such input, given that they’ve had months to think about this and should have made up their minds by now?
- What do you think about “call your legislator” campaigns in general?
- Which is tackier? The governor asking citizens to drive lawmakers nuts at the State House while they’re trying to finish the budget, or pro-stimulus lawmakers urging folks last month to call the governor at the mansion?
- And finally, are these examples of excessive spending he cites the best he can do? $500,000 for State House security (which is really a spitting match over who will control security, Sanford or McConnell)? $750,000 for hydrogen research (note that S.C. investment in such research resulted in a $12.5 million grant just two weeks ago)? A million for football traffic control? Where’s the $350 million he says we don’t need?
Here are my answers, to which I invite you to add your own:
- Possibly. One gets the impression that his personal feedback loop is fairly limited. He’s not the most social guy, and he seems to have a selective memory for those who tell him “attaboy.”
- I don’t think so. I think he actually believes there’s a “silent majority” that agrees with him. At least, he seems to believe, most of the people who matter agree with him. (If a “silent majority” does call lawmakers, does that mean it should be called something else? Of course, the convenient thing for Sanford is that when it doesn’t call, he can explain it away by saying, “That’s because it’s silent.”)
- Maybe, but frankly (and yeah I know that this is inconsistent with my answer on “2,” but who cares?), I don’t think he’s thought that far. The more I think about it, the more I suspect he’s thinking that he’s won the day merely by asserting that if the people of S.C. “stand up to be counted,” they will agree with him. He’s struck this pose so many times that he mistakes the rhetoric for reality. Let me explain: By saying the people of SC agree with him, he believes that makes it so, and is satisfied. (And who’s to say him nay, in the absence of evidence to the contrary? Even if nobody calls legislators, nothing is proved either way.) And then, when lawmakers ignore him, he claims they were ignoring the people of SC, when in reality they were only ignoring him. You know, because those lawmakers are so wicked and all. And thus the world according to Mark Sanford stays intact, with none of his assumptions challenged. Actually, the more I think about this theory, the more I think it is, in the immortal words of Marisa Tomei, “dead-on balls accurate.” And if I’m wrong, nobody can prove I’m wrong — hey! So this is what it’s like to be Mark Sanford! Yeah — I’m right because I’m right, and no actual facts in the world can persuade me otherwise. This could get to be a habit.
- Almost certainly not. Why call and bug your lawmaker if he’s doing what you want?
- Yes. Particularly if they’re hearing from people they know, back in their districts. Otherwise, probably not.
- No, and you can tell which way I was leaning by the way I worded that one. This will offend “small-d” democrats, but I’m a “small-r” republican. I believe in representative democracy. We elect people to go study issues and take time arriving at conclusions through a deliberative process. And however messy or slapdash that process is in reality, a representative should NOT throw away his conclusions based on a few phone calls (which are, 99 percent of the time, orchestrated), either way.
- On this point, I’m ambivalent. Yeah, when I was with the newspaper we used to do empowering things like tell people how to contact their lawmakers and even, occasionally, urging them to do so. And I think getting public input should be part of the decision-making process. But only part. Once again, it is the duty of an elected representative to study and issue and become more knowledgeable about it than he would be if he were back in his district busy earning a living doing something else. Elected representatives, in a republic, are delegated to spend more time on an issue than the average voter can devote to it, and thereby make a better decision than they would have from the gut. Yep, the system’s far, extremely far, from perfect. But I believe more bad decisions result from lawmakers voting from the gut than from deliberation.
- Asking people to call the gov at the mansion is tackier, no question — even though the house does belong to us.
- Apparently, that is the best he can do, which is pathetic. But then, he never really has had a case on this.
On that last point — the governor does this all the time. The thing is, he is very often right about the things he criticizes the General Assembly for. The “Competitive Grants” program is a wasteful boondoggle. The thing is, it’s such a tiny fraction of the state budget. And he uses such minor figures as his entire argument that government spending is billions out of control, which is ridiculous. Of course, you know that what he really wants is to stop the state from spending on public education and other substantial things. But that doesn’t sound so good, unless your audience is Howard Rich. So he cites a penny’s worth of pork and extrapolates a fortune wasted, which fools some of the people, but my no means all.
But you know what I’m noticing now? Government has been cut SO much that the governor even has trouble coming up with convincing anecdotal evidence. Instead of something clearly wasteful (or at least, that sounds clearly wasteful) for the state to be spending on, like a Green Bean Museum, he’s reduced to citing things that can easily be characterized as petty and self-concerned. Rather than arguing that the state shouldn’t have airplanes, he complains about control of those planes shifting from his Commerce Department to Budget and Control. Or McConnell taking State House security from the agency that Sanford semi-controls.
You know me — I think the governor should control all of the executive branch. But I also know that this would not in and of itself save large amounts of money. I favor it because I want government to be more effective and accountable. To argue that, because a minor function is being taken away from him, it proves that SC doesn’t need the $700 million in stimulus, just doesn’t follow any kind of logic.