Much talk of late about the dearth of conservative leadership in the Republican Party. Most of our leaders, up until very recently, were every bit as as un-conservative as your average democrat, at least when it came to spending.

There is one leader who is making a name for himself by doing just the opposite, and he is no recent convert.

Mark Sanford is the Republican Governor of South Carolina. He has come to national prominence lately opposing Obama’s spending binge being the first Governor to say thanks, but no thanks to federal money. The interesting thing about Sanford, in this regard, is his pedigree of fiscal frugality. He was fighting the fight even when it was not the popular thing to do among Republicans.

[The State] After working in real estate finance in New York and Charlotte, N.C., Sanford was elected to Congress in 1994 as part of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” crew that gave Republicans control of the House for the first time in a half-century.

While most of his colleagues abandoned their term-limit pledges, dropped plans to jettison the Department of Education and became less averse to federal spending, Sanford slept on a cot in his office, opposed most appropriations bills — and left after six years.

In 2002, Sanford became the first South Carolina governor in generations to rise to the state’s highest office without first serving in the General Assembly.

While Governor, he has been an active user of the line item veto to cut spending in his state often forcing the legislature to try and overturn him. No Johnny come lately to fiscal conservatism, Sanford is a true believer.

Fiscal conservatism is great and much in demand these days, but where does Sanford stand on the great moral issues of the day? The American Conservative gives us a little more insight into the man.

Sanford’s conservative credentials compare favorably to anyone else mentioned as a 2012 presidential contender. He calls the public-education system “a Soviet-style monopoly.” He promoted school choice through tax rebates to avoid the appearance of government control. He passed a “Castle doctrine” bill that was supported by the NRA. He favors a law-and-order approach to immigration, but opposed REAL ID on civil liberties grounds. Though he avoids showy displays of piety, he is reliably pro-life.

But the governor edges closer to pure libertarianism at times. He rolls his eyes at the Columbia sheriff’s department’s zeal in investigating Michael Phelps’s recreational pot use. And he criticizes Alan Greenspan’s management of the “opaque” Federal Reserve. “If you take human nature out of a Fed, it might work,” he explains. “But you can’t. You can have these wise men. But who wants to turn off the spigot at a party that’s rolling?“

He also deviates from the Republican line on foreign policy. In Congress, he opposed Clinton’s intervention in Kosovo. And he was one of only two Republicans to vote against the 1998 resolution to make regime change in Iraq the official policy of the United States. He says that it was a “protest vote” in which he tried to reassert the legislature’s war-declaring powers. When asked about the invasion of Iraq, he extends his critique beyond the constitutional niceties. “I don’t believe in preemptive war,” he says flatly. “For us to hold the moral high ground in the world, our default position must be defensive.”

A reliably pro-life reliably, fiscally responsible, conservative governor. Someone to watch in 2012.