Two things that might surprise you if you only know Henry McMaster from his campaign ads and gubernatorial debate performance: He has been a responsible and at times courageous attorney general, who has largely avoided politicizing his office; and he has a charming, almost child-like belief in the potential for our state.
The TV/Internet McMaster is borderline political hack. If you didn't know him — and even if you did, but didn't have a chance to talk at length about his campaign — you'd think he thinks he's running against the president; and the more he campaigns, the more difficult it is to make out that line he had kept so clear between his office and politics.
The Henry McMaster who has been attorney general for the past eight years has a deep and abiding respect for the rule of law, and he has leaned heavily on the advice of career prosecutors and legal experts in his office. He has worked across party lines on issues such as fighting criminal domestic violence, for which he has become a passionate advocate.
He is the first attorney general I have known who fully appreciated that his job is to defend the constitution, not the government — so much so that he sided with a plaintiff who sued over lawmakers' dangerous and unconstitutional practice of stringing unrelated matters together in a single bill, even arguing in court against the Legislature's attorneys.
He laid out the legal roadmap that allowed the Legislature to bypass Gov. Mark Sanford on federal stimulus funds, and then sent his assistant to court to defend that approach. He did this because he was asked what the law required, and then sued over the resulting law — certainly not because it would help him in a battle among Republicans to get to the right of our libertarian governor. (And no, he says, he wouldn't be fighting the federal government in court if the Congress had simply expanded Medicare to the whole nation, and raised our taxes to pay for it; he'd be fighting it on the campaign trail, but that wouldn't raise the constitutional problems he is convinced are raised by a federal requirement that everybody buy insurance.)
Like all the GOP candidates, the TV/Internet McMaster believes in the power of low taxes to "unleash the entrepreneurial spirit" and revive our economy; he even has been at times the most extreme in his slash-taxes-first approach. The real-life McMaster clearly has that "if you lower it, they will come" conviction, but when he blends it with his even stronger belief in the power of South Carolina, he almost makes you believe that supply-side economics could actually work at the state level.
Talking about our state's tremendous untapped potential is boilerplate for politicians, but Mr. McMaster's aw-shucks enthusiasm sets him apart. When I asked what he saw as the main difference between himself and his opponents, he went straight to that quality I had in mind: "I see the glass as half full, not half empty. I see enormous potential. I see a great happy opportunity.… You have to aim high, write it down, and do it now. I'd rather aim high and fail than aim low and succeed. I see our prospects as unlimited."
Yes, he really does talk that way.
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