The issue of whether former Gov. Mark Sanford is a compromised candidate because of his highly publicized 2009 scandal arose yet again Thursday during an hour-long 1st Congressional District Republican debate.
But it was Sanford’s relative effectiveness as a three-term congressman and two-term governor that his Republican rival, former Charleston County Councilman Curtis Bostic, dwelled on more.
Bostic noted that Sanford did not co-sponsor a single piece of legislation that got passed while he served in Congress from 1995 to 2001, and that 88 percent of his gubernatorial vetoes were overridden by South Carolina’s Republican-dominated Legislature.
“It takes more than saying no,” Bostic said. “We need people to come around (to) conservative ideas. We need consensus builders. We’re fighting against debt, and it will take all of us. It will take more than ‘no.’ ”
Sanford defended his record, saying, “It also takes more than yes.” He noted that his term as governor resulted in meaningful tax reductions, tort reform and regulatory reform. He said in 2010 alone, the Legislature sustained his vetoes that saved taxpayers $230 million.
He recalled a story of a fellow congressman telling him that a bill would cost “nothing,” when its true cost was $15 million. “Within the scale of a multi-trillion-dollar budget, it was a nothing, and yet ... how many neighborhoods here in Charleston does it take to send $15 million to Washington, D.C.?”
In their only face-to-face meeting of their short runoff campaign, Bostic and Sanford slugged it out before a few hundred Republican faithful and others inside Charleston’s Porter-Gaud School, a debate moderated by David Webb of Sirius XM’s Patriot Channel.
Sanford jabbed back at Bostic for claiming he didn’t raise taxes while on Charleston County Council when the county’s sales tax rate rose by a half percent. Bostic noted that voters approved that increase, which he voted against.
Bostic also sought to tie his record closely to his former County Council colleague Tim Scott, whose December appointment to the U.S. Senate created this special congressional election in the first place.
Bostic said he would seek to work with lawmakers as Scott did, noting that he co-sponsored 13 pieces of legislation that passed in his sole term.
While the two debated earnestly and had equally enthusiastic groups of applauding supporters, they also agreed several times. Both vowed to work to deepen Charleston Harbor and to tie overseas appropriations to U.S. national security interests.
One of their lighter exchanges came when Webb asked them to debate each other on jobs and the economy in a “Lincoln-Douglas-style” format.
Bostic joked that ever since he filed, “everybody has wanted me to fight with you.” Sanford replied, “I’m bloody, and I’m on the floor after that left jab.”
When asking about Congress’ low level of public trust, Webb also raised the issue of Sanford’s 2009 scandal, when he left the country to visit his mistress in Argentina. His staff said he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. The incident led to his divorce and a rebuke from lawmakers.
Sanford said he will wrestle with that failing “to some extent the rest of my life,” but he said people learn more from failure than success.
“On one level or another, we are all compromised as human beings,” Sanford said. “Not since Jesus Christ was here has there been a perfect man or woman. All I can say is I’ve learned mightily from every one of my mistakes. ... What it brings is a level of humility that is desperately needed in Washington, D.C.”
Bostic said what Republicans need is a fresh face. He referred to former 1st District candidate Teddy Turner’s comment that Congress’ approval “is somewhere between E-coli and head lice,” adding, “Trust is a crucial issue. In fact, it has become a crucial issue in this race.”
Bostic said he would be the stronger candidate against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch.
While the 1st District seat leans heavily Republican, Colbert Busch has shown strong fundraising potential, thanks in part to the help of her brother, Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert. A recent poll showed her in a statistical tie in a hypothetical race against either GOP candidate.
“This seat needs to be red (Republican),” Bostic said, adding that he would continue to pursue a grassroots strategy of knocking on doors, sending texts and making phone calls. “The story isn’t about us. It’s about preserving those conservative ideas.”
Sanford said he would continue to fight with a mix of homemade plywood signs and a proven fund-raising ability. “It is important to match Democratic resources with financial resources,” he said.
Near the end, Sanford also criticized Bostic for missing 20 percent of County Council meetings. In his defense, Bostic noted that his wife Jenny has battled cancer twice.
The Republican runoff is Tuesday, and the winner faces Colbert Busch and Green party candidate Eugene Platt on May 7.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.