For the Gov, A Little 'Me Time'

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!

Maybe he just wanted to catch some trout.

"The governor likes to fish and hunt," Sawyer allowed.

He also said the governor digs country music.

Maybe he's out there composing ditties under the pretty sunshine.

Imagine crooning in President Obama's direction while sitting under a campfire, maybe knocking back a cold brew:

The president and his money

Make me wanna leave -- for just a spell -- my sweet honey,

So what the hey, I'll just roam like a snail,

Along this here Appalachian Trail.

Don't worry 'bout me this time,

I'll show folks how to hike and live off a dime . . .

The governor, it should be noted, is quite happily married. Although Jenny Sanford confessed that she herself didn't know exactly where he was.

The Appalachian Trail was completed in 1937. Benton MacKaye, an ardent conservationist, is largely credited with formulating the idea for it. He couldn't have imagined BlackBerrys and cellphones and Twittering mania.

Or maybe he could. Maybe he imagined the besieged souls of the world when he said the Appalachian Trail affords one "the ability to cope with nature directly -- unshielded by the weakening wall of civilization." The experience, he added, "is one of the admitted needs of modern times."

It's 10 p.m. Do you know where your governor is?

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford is expected to return to civilization today.

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