Thursday, March 12, 2009

America's Worst Governor

Who is America's worst governor?

I nominate South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who has decided to let his constituents suffer disease, hunger and deprivation in the name of ideology. If the civil rights movement handed the South to the Republicans in the decades following the 1960s, maybe despicable Republicans like Sanford will help start an opposite trend in the years to come: few places is the nonprofit sphere being tested as profoundly as in this Southern city -- the capital of a state where, figures released yesterday show, the unemployment rate is now the second worst in the nation and conservative political leaders believe that charities, and not the government, should bear primary responsibility for people in need.

Gov. Mark Sanford (R) eschews the prevailing view in Washington that government money should be used as a salve to the economy and to people who have lost jobs. "At some level, government steps in to fill the void," Sanford said in an interview, "but we ought to be the lender of last resort, not the first."

Sanford and the Republican-led General Assembly have cut the state's budget three times since last summer by a total of $871 million, or 13 percent -- among the deepest reductions in the nation.

The cuts have limited state agencies' ability to help the growing numbers of people in need. The state's Medicaid program, for instance, is reducing mental health counseling, cancer screening and dental coverage.

The reductions are constricting the private sector's capacity, too. The Department of Social Services has pared its contracts to nonprofit groups by an average of 10 percent, reducing funding for emergency shelters and employment training programs.

While other states have looked to Washington for assistance, Sanford has been a foremost critic of the federal economic stimulus package. Yesterday, he challenged the law's intent, announcing that he will ask the White House for a waiver to use $700 million -- the part of South Carolina's share of the money over which he has direct control -- to lower the state's debt, instead of putting it toward new spending.

Asked whose mission it is to help the widening pool of people in financial pain, the governor said that such aid "has to be leveraged through church, civic and private hands. . . . If you take care of the need in government circles, you dissipate the ability of civil society to take care of that need."

The simple truth is that the people of South Carolina would have been better off with Rod Blagojevich as governor than Mark Sanford. Blagojevichmay have been a crook, but Sanford is merciless ideologue who's happy to see widows and orphans suffer if it will help his political career.

More light needs to be shed on South Carolina. This is what could become of America's working people if the GOP regains some measure of national power.

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