One of the many unfortunate things about blowing yourself up as I did is that you feel ashamed. You don’t want to stick your head up for fear of a kick, knowing you have now created a target-rich environment for those who might want to do so.
But you just can’t go on living that way. As I closed out my time in office I spent a lot of time apologizing, and for the last year and a half I have been quiet when it comes to press at home in South Carolina. My time at the farm was good, but there can only be so much introspection in the wake of loss and failure. At some point, you have to quit hiding from ideas you care about, and chief among them for me has always been the way government spends money.
My attempt will be to express my concerns in more humble terms now.
I was always defiant when it came to money issues given that the ability to hang onto financial resources was my close proxy for freedom, and I thought that’s what the American system was most designed to ensure. In that light, I guess I’m still a touch defiant because I find news of our state government preparing to award $442,000 to provide a security detail for Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell ridiculous.
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It’s financially insane, and too many people in Columbia are tip-toeing around this one. I believe it should be stopped, lest the tax receipts of far too many neighborhoods be squandered when the money could be used more intelligently elsewhere.
Let me share my experience.
I had a security detail for eight years. They are able professionals who do their job well, but it is the civic leader who must first ask whether the job should be done at all. Our team looked at the level of threat and determined it was over-scaled. While my predecessor, and now my successor, elected to travel with agent teams, during my time in office we scaled it back to one agent. They were recognized as a communication and transportation link as I moved. They were to blend in and not surround me because there is nothing that will thwart the honest opinion of a constituent the way that a guy with dark glasses and an ear piece standing behind you will. That honest and unvarnished appraisal of a taxpayer is vital to an officeholder having a real sense of what’s happening in the state they represent.
From a security standpoint, no governor has ever been assassinated. The former governor of Alabama, George McGovern, comes the closest, but his role as governor had nothing to do with it. A national leader at that time in holding to segregation, he was on his third run for the presidency and was shot in Maryland.
For this reason, along with cutting my own detail, we fought against a detail being added for former Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer. The issue there was he wanted to be driven, but we countered that he could use a staffer rather than law enforcement professional for that purpose. To his credit, it was Andre’s predecessor, Bob Peeler, who recognized what a waste of resources the whole thing was and he had discontinued the use of security during his years as lieutenant governor.
All this is not to say politicians don’t want security details. They love them. They love the entourages. The commodity of politics is power and the details are a tool in projecting its image. But that doesn’t make it a wise use of taxpayer resources, particularly in a state where we have unfunded liabilities that reach into the tens of billions.
I realize Sen. Hugh Leatherman and others have said Glenn McConnell needs a security detail, but Hugh was also one of those who led efforts to override my vetoing a $6 million security system at the Statehouse that now, years later, still does not work. I respect, but don’t agree with, his assessments of cost and security risk. More realistically, what is happening here is the way of politics; ask your allies to ask for that which you want but don’t want to ask for publicly.
In sticking my head up on this issue, I realize some will say I have no right to speak out given I didn’t let my own detail know about my trip to Argentina before I left. They are right; that was wrong. But it doesn’t change our present obligation as taxpayers to look at what we get – and don’t get – out of what we invest in government. In this, case if it is so-called “security,” we will get only its trappings – and squandering money in a state with needs as we have is something that will make us all less “secure” as taxpayers.
Mr. Sanford is the former governor of South Carolina. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He wrote this for The (Columbia) State.