After Sanford, more seamy accusations in South Carolina

Next year’s gubernatorial election seems likely to focus not on the economy or unemployment, but on candidates’ relationships.

By , Staff writer

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    S.C. Gov.Mark Sanford at a news conference in August.
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Has the scandal surrounding Mark Sanford, South Carolina's governor, opened a Pandora’s box in the state's politics?

New, steamy allegations involving other state leaders are emerging, and the accusations are weakening uneasy truces between political enemies. One political observer calls it "the night of the long knives" between entrenched political dynasties.

It could mean that next year’s gubernatorial election is likely to focus not on the economy, school funding, or unemployment, but on candidates’ relationships.

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"This really goes back to the Sanford scandal, which let loose the floodgates for this kind of stuff," says David Woodard, a political scientist at Clemson University in South Carolina. "As a result, we're up to our knees in this kind of mire where all the discussion is, 'What's his love life like?' "

First, a short review. Governor Sanford disappeared in June and emerged five days later, only to admit a year-long affair with an Argentinian mistress. Weeks and weeks of talk about impeachment have followed.

Now, eyebrow-raising accusations have been leveled against two other public figures.

Let's start with Lt. Gov. André Bauer, who would take the reins of the state should Sanford resign or be ousted. He's a forty-something bachelor and conservative Christian. And he has a daredevil reputation in the conservative Palmetto State because he's been stopped more than once for speeding and has also crash-landed a small plane.

Now, The Huffington Post has published allegations that Mr. Bauer is gay – something that others adamantly deny.

“As one of Andre’s closest friends having known him since he was eight years old, I am 100% certain the rumor is false,” wrote state Sen. John "Jake" Knotts Jr. (R) in a letter Wednesday to fellow lawmakers.

Knotts’s letter comes a week after Bauer became the highest executive in the state to call for Sanford’s resignation. Sanford and Bauer are both Republicans, though are not considered allies.

In his letter, Knotts, a former police officer, claims that a similar smear campaign, allegedly orchestrated by Sanford, was launched against him. He offered few details and no evidence of Sanford’s alleged role.

The rumors around Bauer point to tectonic shifts in South Carolina politics. Some see Sanford as a political outsider who has fought the Republican-led legislature over issues ranging from school funding to the acceptance of federal stimulus funds.

“[Knotts's] letter is simply wrong and in that regard, as bizarre as many of the other claims and attacks of recent weeks,” Sanford spokesman Ben Fox told Politico.com. "Some have even argued this indeed points to an obsession with slandering anyone who tries to change the ‘good ol’ boy’ system of politics in Columbia.”

Bauer isn't the only one who's dealing with unpleasant accusations. Kristin Maguire, who until this week was chairman of the State Board of Education (a position appointed by Sanford), is alleged to be the author of steamy erotic fiction.

Ms. Maguire is the executive committeewoman of the state Republican Party and a strong supporter of abstinence-only education, according to FitsNews.com, a South Carolina-based political website. Sanford's appointment of Maguire, who home-schooled her four kids, was hailed as a victory by social conservatives across the South.

She resigned from the Board of Education this week, citing "family responsibilities."

Maguire has denied writing erotic fiction under the nom de plume of Bridget Keeney – allegations that were published on FitsNews.com. But she has admitted to frequenting certain X-rated sites during a self-described difficult time in her life.

"Maguire’s alleged alter-ego would obviously be quite a contrast from her carefully-cultivated public persona," according to the story, which has run on Google News.

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