Monday night the Mississippi Center for Public Policy (MCPP) awarded Gov. Haley R. Barbour the first ever "Governing by Principle" Award for his Mississippi Health Insurance Exchange proposal. The award dinner celebrated the fifteenth anniversary of the MCPP, formerly known as the Mississippi Family Council. South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford joined Barbour to celebrate the award and the mission of the conservative think tank.

MCPP President Forest Thigpen described organization's goal "to make a Mississippi that is free" and referenced the organization's vision, "for a Mississippi to be a place where entrepreneurs are free to pursue their dreams, parents are free to direct the education and upbringing of their children, government functions according to the principles that enhance freedom, and all Mississippians are free from dependence on government for their daily needs."

In accepting his award, Barbour said, "Cost is the biggest impediment for health care in the United States. We need to focus on managing costs, not giving government greater control." Barbour said 135,000 Mississippians who do not have health insurance work for small businesses who can not afford to provide it. Under his program, small business employers and employees would be free to choose their insurance, free to move their insurance from job to job, and could purchase it tax-free.

Barbour thanked the MCPP and praised its mission, "I don't care whether you think we're a conservative state or not, we need an organization like this dedicated to serious public policy."

Sanford took the stage and echoed Barbour's call for serious policy. He said he could tell a few jokes and talk about South Carolina, but with the country facing economic challenges, he wanted to give a more sober address.

Sanford is a conservative's conservative. Like Barbour, in the months running up to the 2008 campaign he was mentioned both as a prospective presidential candidate and on vice-presidential short lists. Were the McCain-Palin ticket defeated this November, Barbour and Sanford are both near the top of conservatives' lists for 2012.

Sanford was elected to Congress during the Republican Revolution of 1994 when Barbour was RNC Chairman. Sanford served six years in Congress before retiring after a self-imposed term limit. While there, Citizens Against Government Waste called him the champion of limiting government expansion. He was elected governor in 2002 and reelected in 2006. Tort reform, workers compensation reform, and the largest recurring tax cut in South Carolina history decorate Sanford's tenure as governor.

Sanford speaks like a maturing revolutionary. He left Washington with his principles intact. A reasoned and seasoned conservative, he has an unwavering grasp of his values, but communicates without the fiery rhetoric sometimes associated with his fellow advocates of the Contract with America.

Sanford told the MCPP crowd, "There is a battle line that stretches from federal government to state government to local government between the growth of government and liberty on the other side. Whenever one gains, the other loses." He thanked the assembly for their work in this battle, but he asked them to keep fighting, "We need reinforcements and we need them right now."

Sanford described this time in history as an intersection between Hurricane Katrina and Thomas Friedman's "The World is Flat." We have Americans becoming more dependent on government in an economy facing increased global competition.

Sanford admonished the crowd, "If you don't hold our world view on the proper role of government, then people, when faced with insurmountable obstacles, will turn to government and become dependent."

He cited the images of dependence in New Orleans after the levees broke. Dependency ignores neighbor helping neighbor; dependency ignores individual responsibility. To many victims of Katrina, the tragic storm and the flooding disaster was George Bush's fault, because they are dependent on government, he was the government, and government let them down.

In warning of dependency, Sanford quoted the fatal democracy sequence often attributed to Scottish historian Alexander Tytler, "A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years. Great nations rise and fall. The people go from bondage to spiritual truth, to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence, from dependence back again to bondage."

As our government debates actions regarding the current financial challenges, Sanford's words against voting "largesse from the public treasury" and dependence leading to bondage should guide our leaders who want to govern through freedom.

Brian Perry of Jackson, a former congressional aide, is a partner in a public affairs firm and served as communications director of the Mississippi Family Council in 1998. Reach him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms.