When Congress wraps up its legislative work week on Thursday, Rep. Mark Sanford will return to Charleston with a cadre of important guests.
The South Carolina Republican has invited four congressional colleagues to join him in the 1st District through the weekend, an opportunity he billed as a chance to pitch them on local infrastructure needs and “get to know them on a personal basis.”
Each lawmaker holds a position of some influence on Capitol Hill. The biggest coup for Sanford was convincing House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., to join the excursion, which will focus mainly on the economic benefits of investing in infrastructure projects relating to the Port of Charleston.
“The chance to do show-and-tell in your district is a big deal,” Sanford told McClatchy. “Especially with a committee chairman.”
Railroad Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham, R-Calif., will also travel to Charleston, along with Reps. Rodney Davis, R-Ill, a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and David Joyce, R-Ohio, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development.
Sanford said he planned to take lawmakers on a tour of the Charleston Harbor, where a major effort is underway to dredge the harbor floor to 52 feet to allow larger vessels to service the port. The project has received millions of dollars in funding but will require roughly $287 million more over the next three to four budget cycles to stay on schedule for completion.
He also said he would make the case for investing more federal dollars into a new, intermodal rail system that would allow shipping containers to be transported between port terminals by train rather than by truck. Advocates say such a system will lower costs, increase efficiency and significantly reduce traffic on I-26, the longest interstate highway in South Carolina.
“People, at times, will act on what they know,” Sanford explained. “Charleston’s roads and rails serve the whole Southeast. This is not about South Carolina, not about Charleston.
“As far as the intermodal hub, if you see the traffic on I-26, you have a better appreciation for what we’re dealing with. You see the way that rivers divide up communities and make bridges awfully important, and therefore constriction points,” he added.
Congress can’t designate money for these projects directly — there’s been a ban on “earmarks,” or the process by which lawmakers direct spending from Washington states for specific causes, since 2011. A fiscal conservative, Sanford is himself wary of this spending practice.
But he said as long as grant programs and federal infrastructure dollars exist, “I would argue that South Carolina is deserving of a portion.”
The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee could authorize funding for various initiatives for which the Charleston projects would apply. The appropriations committee could actually write allocations for that money in formal spending measures.
With an early December deadline for passing a government spending bill, Sanford might have picked a good time to invite the influential lawmakers to his home turf. There also could be political advantages for the visit.
Just last week, his 2018 Democratic challenger, Joe Cunningham, formally launched his election campaign. One of his major campaign themes is that Sanford has not delivered for the district.
A few weeks earlier, Republican State Rep. Katie Arrington, Sanford’s primary opponent, said the incumbent congressmen was more interested in appearing on CNN than working for the people.