Charleston's U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford appears to be having a hard time letting go of his former job.
In recent weeks, he's been acting more like the governor he used to be, rather than the congressman he is now, critics say.
For example, he's front and center in the debate against cutting trees in the Interstate 26 median.
And he has continued to speak out against the state-issued tax break that supporters say will bring a Bass Pro Shops to North Charleston.
The tax offering has been available since 2006, when North Charleston was pursuing a Cabela's outlet. Then-Gov. Sanford twice vetoed the incentive, but the Legislature overrode him both times.
Sanford last week defended his interest in both matters, saying it would be odd to step away from either after being outspoken on both in his long political career.
"This is not some theoretical impact to those businesses, it's real," he said of the tax break he says comes at the detriment of smaller mom and pop outdoor stores.
Of the tree-cutting, he said the issue is how the "front door" of the region is presented on I-26.
But to some, Sanford's interest also raises the question of whether the congressman is trying to exert his influence at a time when he is a back-row member of Congress, having returned to his former seat last year. His committee assignments include Transportation and Infrastructure, and Homeland Security.
"He needs to go do his job and let me do mine," North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said.
Summey said he did not appreciate Sanford's continued focus on the tax break for his city.
"I think he is intervening in a state issue where he should be intervening in federal issues, where nothing is getting done," Summey said. He added that "undoubtedly he's upset that he has no voice in federal government, since nobody listens to him up there."
The Bass Pro Shops tax break basically could allow the chain to keep half of the sales tax revenue it generates for a period of 15 years. The business would have to meet certain conditions, including a $25 million investment, and it must draw at least 35 percent of the store's visitors from at least 50 miles away.
Summerville Mayor Bill Collins, likewise, said he didn't expect to face opposition from Sanford in the tree-cutting debate. Collins favors removing the trees with a $5 million federal grant that would stave off potentially spending millions of dollars more in state money when the Port of Charleston expands and roads are widened.
"If he truly were a fiscal conservative, he'd want to think about that," Collins said. He added that he'd prefer Sanford was "working more diligently on legislation that would be more beneficial to our workforce development needs" in the region.
The tree-cutting issue covers the state Department of Transportation's plan to clear-cut 23 miles of trees in the I-26 median in the name of public safety. Sanford has sided with a large number of residents who oppose the loss of beauty and habitat.
In a letter on the cutting sent to the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments, Sanford said he was mirroring the work of previous 1st District Congressman Arthur Ravenel, whose efforts led to the Department of Transportation letting the median grow naturally.
Sanford also said that as a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure committee, the tree-cutting debate clearly is a part of his interest.
And as a Lowcountry congressman that means he should have a voice on what the region's "front door is going to look like."
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551
Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C. (left) and Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn. (right) walk to a GOP strategy session in the basement of the Capitol in September 2013. Some local leaders wish Sanford would stick to national issues.×
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