Mark Sanford was governor of the great state of South Carolina when he played hide-and-seek with his constituency by running off to South America to visit his mistress. He did so with the selfishness of a child, disappearing for six days in June 2009.
Members of his staff were told that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. Neither Lt. Governor Andre Bauer nor the State Law Enforcement Division, which provided security for Sanford, were informed of his true whereabouts. His wife, Jenny, certainly didn’t know that he had flown south of the equator.
During his unannounced absence, Sanford reportedly ignored 15 cell phone calls from his chief of staff Scott English. There was state business to be conducted, and Sanford wasn’t holding himself accountable to perform the duties for which he was elected.
Mark Sanford had vacated his post. In the military, that kind of irresponsibility is called dereliction of duty.
He was “tagged” by a newspaper reporter in an Atlanta airport upon his return to the northern hemisphere. He learned that the media was amassing incriminating evidence against him. He subsequently held a news conference, admitting his affair.
It was time for Sanford to face the consequences for his betrayal. He conducted an apology tour with the media — the perfunctory type so common now among our fallen politicians and celebrities. The state legislature started impeachment proceedings in the fall of 2009. An Ethics Commission formally charged Sanford with 37 violations. Ultimately, most charges against Sanford were dropped.
The legislature, severely disapproving of Sanford’s actions, chose censure over impeachment, essentially slapping Sanford on the wrist. Sanford resigned as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, but finished out his term in January 2011.
In the meantime, Jenny Sanford started divorce proceedings with her estranged husband. The divorce was finalized in March 2010.
The national media went crazy with the scandal. Newspaper headlines shouted all the sordid details of the affair, the governor’s disappearing act and the state legislature’s weak response. Television’s talking heads were dizzy with breathlessness from endless dissection of the story. Internet comment boards were loaded with derogatory remarks about my adopted home state.
The citizens of South Carolina were humiliated.
Most thought Mark Sanford’s political career was over. Many, including me, just wanted him to go away.
It would serve him well to go hiking, right? Perhaps a ten-year trip around the foothills of the Andes Mountains with his “soul mate” at his side. He’s a religious man. He would surely show some humility and step away from the political scene, right?
Well, politicians are a different breed. Most are supremely confident. Most crave power. Some are self-centered — like children.
Sanford announced in early 2013 that he would run for the same 1st Congressional District seat in the House of Representatives that he held from Jan. ’95 to Jan. 2001. The district includes Charleston and much of the low country. The seat was left open when Representative Tim Scott was appointed to the Senate by Gov. Nikki Haley. The former governor’s announcement was stunning, but it wasn’t long until his arrogance was rewarded.
In April, Sanford defeated Curtis Bostic in the GOP runoff election, giving new meaning to the moniker “low country.” He faces Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch in the May 7 special election.
It’s among my greatest wishes that my fellow citizens hold themselves to higher standards on May 7 than the state legislature did when it slapped Sanford on the wrist with its “censure.” For God’s sake, this isn’t a children’s game of tag. A vote for Sanford on election day is a vote against ethics. The least we could do is hold our politicians to the same standards to which men and women in the military are held.