By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 27, 2009
COLUMBIA, S.C., June 26 -- Fighting pressure to resign, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford moved to regain control of his government Friday and gave no indication that he will step down, even as the chaos surrounding his week-long disappearance to Argentina and confession of an extramarital affair showed few signs of abating.
The two-term Republican governor evoked Christian Scripture in his first public appearance since admitting the affair two days earlier, saying he is "on that larger voyage that we're all on in life" and that he is merely "trying to survive the day." But with leaders in his own party openly questioning his public abandonment and private infidelity, Sanford's survival appears to rest in the larger political calculus at play in this GOP-dominated state.
South Carolina historically has had a weak governor and a powerful legislature. With just 18 months before Sanford is term-limited out of office, Republican leaders of the General Assembly are calculating that they may prefer he remain as a lame duck than see Lieutenant Gov. André Bauer (R) -- who is relatively inexperienced and, like Sanford, known for erratic behavior -- ascend to the office.
And so after deceiving his staff and the public about his whereabouts and escaping his security detail last week, after breaking away from a state-funded trade mission to South America last summer to rendezvous with his mistress, Sanford, 49, may remain in power.
"I think there is a remarkable capacity for forgiveness in the state," he told a mob of reporters chasing him up the granite steps of the Civil War-era Capitol here.
Referencing the biblical King David, Sanford added: "David failed, literally, and yet he reconstructed his life, put it back together and became a guy who was after God's spirit. So I would say I'm on the larger voyage. I won't say anything definitive. My hunch would be that it's a good example with regard to my boys -- if you fall down in life, that you get back up. I think it's a good example from the standpoint of the larger voyage of humility."
After beginning to repair his relationship with his wife, Jenny, and their four sons, Sanford on Friday sought to demonstrate that he is back to business. He assembled his Cabinet secretaries around a long mahogany table for a meeting that was remarkable because of the governor's seamless transitions between apologizing for his personal indiscretions and requesting updates on stimulus spending, revenue estimates and hurricane-season preparations. And it was aired on live television.
"I wanted generally to apologize to every one of you all for letting you down," Sanford told his Cabinet. "Part of what it means going forward is every one of you all has specific duties to the people of South Carolina that you have to perform, and that is with or without regard to me doing right on a given day or doing wrong on a given day."
A few seats away from Sanford was Reggie Lloyd, director of the state Law Enforcement Division, responsible for Sanford's security. Lloyd told reporters Thursday in an unusually frank conference call that Sanford deceived his agents, who anxiously searched for him over Father's Day weekend.
"I owe it to you, Reggie, for putting you in a bad place," Sanford told Lloyd.
By the governor's actions Friday, state Sen. John C. Land III (D) surmised: "It appears that he's going to ride it out. The question is whether the waves will get too rough."
At the Sanford family home in Sullivan's Island, meanwhile, Jenny Sanford told the Associated Press that she discovered her husband's affair in January when she found a letter his mistress had written to him. She said she told the governor to break off the relationship and was shocked this week when she learned he had gone to Argentina to see her, having believed her husband had gone someplace else to work on writing a book. She said she plans to take their boys out of the state this weekend.
In Columbia, the saga continued, as several state lawmakers called for investigations into whether Sanford pursued an affair with his mistress using public funds. Sanford visited her during a 2008 trade mission to Brazil and Argentina, but on Thursday said he would repay the state more than $9,000 in associated travel costs.
Bauer, who does not run on the same ticket as Sanford, rejected calls for the governor to resign, calling them "counterproductive." But in a statement, Bauer said there are "lots of questions -- and the people are deserving of answers."
"There are questions about how tax dollars and resources are spent and have been spent -- and why," Bauer added. "And finally, there are questions -- legitimate ones -- about where we go from here."
Some lawmakers and their constituents voiced outrage and puzzlement that Sanford would remain in office, while the Palmetto State remains fixated on the scandal.
"Watching late-night shows and having our governor on it is so weird," Katherine McClam, 18, a student at Clemson University, said as she ate lunch in downtown Columbia.
Suzanne Carswell, a real estate agent from nearby Chapin, said: "I've had friends from Ohio calling me saying, 'Oh my gosh! It must be wild down there.' "
State Rep. J. Todd Rutherford (D) said Sanford has become "a joke, and the fact that he doesn't realize it is insulting me."
"I am insulted that someone who seemed to expect so much out of everyone else seems to expect so little out of himself," Rutherford added. "He has chastised members of the legislature daily for not doing what he thinks we ought to be doing. And here he is requiring so little of himself."
State Sen. John M. "Jake" Knotts Jr., who has been one of Sanford's most vocal Republican critics, said that the state should investigate the governor's trips to South America and that he should consider stepping down.
"I've asked that the governor do some soul searching and do the right thing by the people of South Carolina," Knotts said.
If Sanford were to resign, Bauer would succeed him, a prospect that some Republican leaders may prefer to avoid. Bauer, 40, does not get along with Sanford; during the governor's reelection campaign in 2006, Jenny Sanford campaigned for Bauer's Republican primary opponent. Bauer has also made headlines in recent years for speeding on highways and for crashing a single-engine airplane he was piloting.
"It's a much larger factor than anybody's willing to state publicly," James L. Guth, a political scientist at Furman University, said of the lieutenant governor. "André Bauer is a loose cannon. He demonstrated enormous attractiveness in some segments of the public, but he's not a terribly experienced politician. He's very young, and he also has somewhat eccentric behavior patterns as well.
"The prospect of him in the governor's mansion," Guth continued, "has caused a lot of people who might otherwise pressure the governor to resign not to do so."