Wil Haygood on South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford Heading for the Hills

(Mary Ann Chastain - AP)

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By Wil Haygood
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 24, 2009

After all those weird stares, after he fought against stimulus money meant to help his fellow South Carolinians who've lost jobs at an astounding rate, after the blitzkrieg of complaints from Democrats, no one had to tell Gov. Mark Sanford to take a hike.

He did it on his own.

He pulled a Henry David Thoreau like it was nobody's business and trekked off into the woods. The Appalachian Trail, to be precise. For days he's been out there, apparently communing with nature somewhere between Georgia and North Carolina. The trail doesn't run through South Carolina.

He'd dropped his security detail like a bag of stale potato chips over at reelection headquarters. He'd told his press spokesman to keep it all on the hush-hush, and the spokesman clammed up like a Kremlin operative.

"It's not unusual for him to take a few days off to recharge his batteries," Joel Sawyer, the Republican governor's spokesman, finally explained yesterday.

By then the winds of suspicion were wafting over the Carolina capital like smoke from a barbecue pit.

Sawyer, with political operatives caught between snickering and sniping about the governor's Houdini act, went into defense mode. "Obviously," he said, "some political opponents will be seeking to make political hay of it."

When news broke out that the governor was missing, the Democrats didn't exactly get out their GPS devices, but they did have some choice words.

"The people of South Carolina told Governor Sanford to take a hike after he said no to millions in job creation funds for political purposes, and he apparently took the advice quite literally," Hari Sevugan, a Democratic National Committee press secretary, harrumphed in a statement yesterday.

The governor made it pretty clear that the reason he rejected the money (the state Supreme Court rebuked him and ruled he had to accept the $700 million-plus) was that he smelled waste, citing a debt burden for future generations.

Maybe his frugal mind-set drove him to the woods. The Appalachian Trail is free. Doesn't cost a dime -- or a penny, for that matter -- to gain entree. The governor has been known to pinch pennies, shop with discount coupons. The boulevards of Paris are not for him, nor is Club Med with their self-indulgent ways and high prices.

So, off to the dusty trails!


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