Commentary: Sheheen may be S.C.'s reform candidate

Sen. Vincent Sheheen's call for a series of high school-style debates with Rep. Nikki Haley, complete with timed constructives, cross-examinations and rebuttals, was a nearly satirical reminder of what a policy wonk he is. So it sounded pretty silly when Ms. Haley's campaign chose that particular moment to dismiss Mr. Sheheen as "status-quo oriented."

Wonks come in all shapes and sizes and political stripes. Some are annoying; some are endearing. Gov. Mark Sanford fancies himself one, though he's actually a bit too ideological to meet the usual definition — an expert with a detailed knowledge of current or proposed governmental policies and their potential effects. This detailed knowledge of how things work, and how they ought to work, tends to produce in wonks an imperative for reform. Which means that the last thing you could rationally call them is "status-quo oriented."

You don't have to be a wonk to favor reform, of course; Ms. Haley is no wonk, but she has lots of ideas for reforms — some good, some bad. But with a couple of notable exceptions, Ms. Haley's reform campaign is just that: part of her campaign. It is not a significant part of her legislative record. It is Mr. Sheheen who has an actual record of introducing, supporting and pushing for reforms, from good-government initiatives designed to make elected officials beholden to their constituents rather than special interests to overhauling what both he and Ms. Haley correctly call our antiquated tax code, to the governmental restructuring that Mr. Sanford would characterize as one of the central efforts of his administration.

Mr. Sheheen has been the most outspoken and consistent Democratic supporter of efforts throughout Mr. Sanford's tenure to give more authority to the governor; in fact, I can't think of more than two or three Republicans (and Ms. Haley is not one of them) who have been as consistent in supporting such legislation, and in opposing efforts to weaken the governor. Year in and year out, he has been the primary sponsor of bills to let the governor appoint the education superintendent and the adjutant general and the agriculture commissioner, to abolish the Budget and Control Board and turn its duties over to the governor, to create an inspector general to weed out waste, fraud and abuse; he has even sponsored legislation to create a board of regents to rein in the colleges.

And on bill after bill, the people who have signed on as his co-sponsors have been Mr. Sanford's chief supporters in the Senate. (In fact, what you'll notice if you go through Mr. Sheheen's record is that on numerous fronts, his proposals are ideas that Mr. Sanford also has supported. That's because most of the reforms our state needs have nothing to do with left or right and everything to do with being willing to question how things have always been done.)

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