A Teleconference With South Carolina Governor, Mark Sanford

Here are my notes, not quotes, from a teleconference with South Carolina Governor, Mark Sanford.

Opening Statement

I’m low tech. I’m don’t really know a lot about blogging, but I am getting up to speed.

We’ve tried to work with Obama on the stimulus package, but we’ve been rebuffed.

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In-state, we have been going back and forth and there will be a vote next week. The people who want the stimulus pork in the legislature have the edge in this battle, but it can go either way and we think it’s turning towards us.

What they need to think about is: if we spend this money and then 24 months later, we’re in the hole, then what? The attitude is we hope it works out okay, but if it doesn’t, we’re toast. That’s not planning.

If we spend it all, we end up 740 million in the hole. We’re already 4th in the nation in what we allocate to debt service. Eleven percent of what we spend every year is to repay debt. Plus, if we use that money and the financial problems go on longer, then what?

On Obama’s 100 days, there have been a lot of missed opportunities. He has talked about getting away from old politics, but he’s divisive. When we tried to talk with them about restructuring this stimulus, there was an ad hitting us the next day from the Democrats. It’s ugly, Chicago style politics. Plus, government is growing too much, too fast. People are genuinely frightened about the long term ramifications of the government running large sectors of the economy. For example, these guys cannot do a better job than the marketplace in picking the types of cars people are driving.

Q&A Session

Tell us about your state budget. What would happen if you could pay down debt with money from the Feds?

It would save us 168 million in interest costs early on.

If you got your way from the legislature, how much federal money would you apply to reducing debt?

In a perfect world, I wouldn’t use any of it — but, failing that, I would use all of it to reduce South Carolina’s debt.

What can we do to help you?

I don’t know how much bloggers can do. I do hope you can help get the word out.

Are you considering getting into a legal fight with the Feds over this?

I’m not a lawyer. So, no comment for now.

Do you think the White House’s maneuvering is driven, in part, because they’re afraid they might have to run against you in 2012?

I suspect that could be a factor. I was very surprised when the DNC was cranking out ads in our state that quickly. It was an over-reaction. Some of the guys in the office thought they were trying to take shots at a potential threat.

How are people reacting to your approach?

People who are anti-stimulus have been kind. At the tea parties, I felt like I got a lot of support. There was a lot of energy. People were making some noise; it was very encouraging. It has meant a lot.

(From Me) I have been to meetings with Republicans in Myrtle Beach, SC and many people were very supportive of your stand while others said, “That money is just going to go to other states, so why shouldn’t we do it?” What do you say to that argument?

Outside the state, the response has been extremely supportive. Inside the state, it has been tougher. The truth is, the money has been certified, it can’t go elsewhere for a year and a half and we want to pay down debt with it. It makes sense to wait. I think they will crack and we will get to use it for that.

MKH: The tea parties aren’t that Republican friendly. How should the GOP deal with that — and how should the tea parties deal with it? (I got distracted by some noise in the background of the call and may have mangled this question a bit)

Cheney said if rebranding means changing our principles, I’m not that interested. I agree. I think we should look to better communicate our principles and ideas to people. That’s a good idea.

Eventually, the economy is going to recover. Our competitive position is bad and now we’re talking about making the corporate tax balance even worse. If Obama gets what he wants, it’s going to drive people in my profession out of the US. How do we deal with that?

We are competing globally and in the WSJ the other day, I saw an article on how non-competitive our corporate tax rate really is. I was talking to a friend in New York and he said, “What I am hearing from big pharmaceuticals and some of my other corporate friends is that we will just leave the United States if these changes go through.”

Can we get this message across the American people?

I think the American public gets competitiveness and they are worried about what it means for the country and their job. How does spending our way out of debt make sense?

Setting aside the stimulus money, how would you cut expenses?

We believe in the old fashioned way of doing things: When times are tough, you cut expenses. The family doesn’t have the option of just printing money when daddy loses his paycheck.

We’re a legislatively dominated state and we have some duplication of services because of that. We can save money by getting contract workers instead of full time employees — the reaction to suggesting that from the legislature, to move it from our control. We wanted to cut a government controlled golf course by having it taken over by the private sector and the reaction was, no, you can’t; it would cost jobs at that course. That’s a problem we deal with here in South Carolina.

Summary: This was the first teleconference I’ve been on with Sanford. He’s a very soft spoken guy and perhaps a bit too honest for his own good (You probably shouldn’t tell everybody that you don’t know a lot about blogging and tech, but that you’re learning.) That said, he does come across as knowledgable, sincere, and serious about reducing the size of government though.

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