In an ideal world, 1st Congressional District voters would have two strong candidates to choose from to represent them in Washington in Tuesday's special election.
Unfortunately, both Republican Mark Sanford and Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch have weaknesses that give us serious pause about the kind of job they would do for the people of this district.
But at the end of the day, we choose Sanford, based on his experience in elective office in Washington and Columbia, his deep knowledge of critical issues facing this country, his ability to hold firm to his principles and his fiscal conservatism, which is long-standing and unwavering.
Colbert Busch's lack of elective office experience leaves us little with which to gauge what she would do in Congress. Her campaign positions her as a moderate, but her inability or unwillingness to speak to the issues in any kind of detail leaves us scratching our heads. There is too much at stake simply to accept what she says on faith.
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We agree with Sanford that this country needs to get its fiscal house in order. While governor, Sanford warned early and often about the problems South Carolina would face with an inadequately funded state pension system and an outlook on potential returns that was too optimistic. He was proved right. He was right, too, that lawmakers needed to wean themselves from setting up long-term programs with one-time money during good times and raiding state reserves when times were bad.
He wants a fairer, flatter and simpler tax structure. He is critical of government giveaways to lure industry to the state, which can turn into ever-spiraling corporate welfare as states compete with one another. He also wants a more predictable regulatory environment.
Importantly to the 1st District, Sanford has long recognized the value of our natural resources. One of his legacies as governor is the creation of the S.C. Conservation Bank, which has preserved tens of thousands of acres of critical habitat, much of it along the coast.
Sanford has long had an independent streak. He voted against funding for dredging Charleston Harbor because he did not like the way it would be paid for. Principled stands can help us move the federal government in the direction it needs to go. The status quo won't do.
But we ask that he recognize the difference between "principled" and "inflexible." The latter has this country in a dysfunctional vise that hurts everyone, no matter your political persuasion. He must be able to bend and reach across the aisle and seek workable solutions even if they don't fit his ideal. That is especially true on such volatile issues as debt reduction, entitlement reform, health care reform and immigration reform. The American people, we believe, are weary of stalemate. Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
In 2009, when Sanford faced ethics charges in the wake of his leaving the state go to Argentina to see his now fiancèe, we urged him to resign as governor. We argued he had been so weakened politically as to be ineffective. But the job of chief executive of the state is far different from being one of 435 members of the House and one of nine in the state's congressional delegation.
Questions remain about his personal judgment. He has addressed them about as forthrightly as anyone could, and he has talked about second chances.
Voters can give him a second chance Tuesday. We think he has the potential to accomplish something with it.