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Mark Sanford: The legislature

Republican Gov. Mark Sanford and the GOP-controlled General Assembly had a contentious two-term relationship, though many legislators professed to agree with Sanford’s policies.

Lawmakers argue Sanford often did not do the outreach work needed to get legislation through the Legislature, instead using it as a scapegoat for his own political agenda.

Sanford counters he was not interested in the “marble trading” that, he says, is Columbia politics.

The relationship came to a head several times, including May 2004, when Sanford brought squealing, defecating piglets into the State House lobby to protest legislative spending. Legislators were appalled.

In 2008, Sanford supported a number of GOP primary challengers to Republican incumbents and, in 2009, he sued the Legislature to prevent it from spending federal stimulus money in the state budget. The state Supreme Court ruled Sanford had to accept the stimulus money.

But a number of Sanford proposals — including capping state spending and restructuring the State Budget and Control Board, which controls much of the state’s bureaucracy — are primed for legislative action as he leaves office.

Question: I’ve seen Nikki Haley on the campaign trail tell voters, “They will give me this because they did not want to give it to the current governor.” How much of this is personal? How much of this is not about the ideas? Do you think she’s right that they’re willing to give her things that they’re just not willing to give you?

Answer: Fine by me. It doesn’t impact my life one way or the other. I just think it’s important to the people I represent and I just think the themes we’ve been pushing on — at times, prematurely in a political sense — very much fit with where people are coming from.

Sanford defended bringing piglets “Pork” and “Barrel” to the State House in 2004 in a theatrical protest of what he thought was bloated state spending. Lawmakers and Sanford had worked to close what the governor felt was an unconstitutional budget deficit, with Sanford offering a list of vetoes to cut the final $16 million. Instead, lawmakers voted to override all the vetoes at once, and Sanford and the piglets appeared at the State House.

Q: Do you think you handled the relationship with the Legislature in the right way? Do you regret the pigs at all?

A: I sleep like a baby at night, rightly or wrongly. There is very little we would change about the approach of the administration. Our point was: ‘Look, we’re going to set a precedent in the sanctity of our balanced budget requirement if we don’t deal with this.” Long story short, we came to within $16 million of completely extinguishing it.

They say, ‘Declare victory and move on. You don’t get all of what you want in politics. You won here. You got pretty much everything.’ My point was I stuck my left hand on the Bible, I raised my right hand, I swore to uphold the Constitution. It doesn’t say, ‘Get close and declare victory.’ It says, ‘no deficit.’

I met with the speaker. I said, ‘If you gotta do what you gotta do, then I’ve gotta do what I’ve gotta do.’ I’ve got to look for some way of more effectively raising what I think was a fundamental constitutional issue, and so the pigs came next. But there were eight months leading up to that point and it wasn’t until I took it to the people — which is the only ultimate tool the executive branch has with the bully pulpit — that people responded. Quietly, two weeks later on the Senate side, they closed up the (deficit of) 16 million bucks.

At the end of the day, it works. I don’t like to use political instruments that blunt — you haven’t seen me use that sort of thing a lot — (but) we’ll use whatever we think works at the time.

We used different tools that we thought were available to us, including the normal process of meeting and trying to work with legislators. But, at times, we used other things too, one of which was going straight to the people, because that’s one of the strongest tools the executive branch has, and not to use it would be a mistake.

At times people fall into the trap of politics of ‘Let’s just get something done.’

OK, to what end?

Q: Was that a turning point for you? Did that moment tell you something you didn’t know before?

A: That was a turning point because we hadn’t used it (the bully pulpit).

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