His wife left the governor’s mansion. His own party has censured him. And even Mark Sanford’s own right-hand man, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, now says the embattled executive and one-time presidential aspirant should step down for the good of the state.
Yet Republican Mark Sanford marches on, his determination to stay on as governor seemingly fueled by every hint that he should step down.
On Wednesday, Mr. Sanford rebuked the call by Mr. Bauer for him to resign. Bauer is the first constitutional officer to join a veritable chorus of resignation calls from around the Palmetto State’s political gallery.
"As much as it would represent heaven and earth for me to take [Bauer] up on that offer, it'd be wrong for a couple of reasons," Sanford rebutted. "We have a real opportunity to do some profound things with regard to restructuring, spending, jobs and the economy, that have never been there before in history, at least in my administration, and that I do want to make the most of. That's what I want to aim at."
Sanford has 16 months left in office – his last because of South Carolina term limits. Bauer is a Republican, lieutenant governors in South Carolina are elected separately from the governor.
Behind the push to oust the governor is what Sanford called "pure politics, plain and simple" that touch on the fact that South Carolina’s top leadership position may now be in play for Democrats – and that “the Sanford Affair” has put Republicans in scramble mode to ensure that they keep control of Columbia. Sanford put it more bluntly, noting that political enemies have decided to use the scandal for "payback."
Bauer's calculations to call for Sanford's resignation are obvious – at least if you’re from South Carolina. As part of his plea with Sanford, Mr. Bauer, a 40-something bachelor, promised to only serve out Sanford’s term and not run again, which would clear the way for old-school South Carolina Republican Henry McMaster, the current attorney general, to vie for the nomination.
Bauer may also have “sensed a moment of maximum weakness” for Sanford, according to FitsNews.com, which covers state politics in South Carolina.
Instead, Sanford's curt refusal now puts the focus on an upcoming weekend retreat among South Carolina House leaders in Myrtle Beach, where the top agenda item is possible impeachment of Sanford. Unless they call a special session, the South Carolina legislature won't be back in session until January.
“His real concern now is whether or not his legislative opponents have enough rope to hang him legally, and I believe they just might,” says South Carolina political expert Dave Woodard. “He’s put himself in a real spot.”
For Sanford, revelations of an overseas tryst have given way to a legislative investigation into travel expenses – including alleged use of a state plane for personal trips. On Wednesday, Sanford called those accusations "innuendo, not reality" and pointed out that his administration's travel costs were half that of previous administrations.
What's undeniable, however, is Bauer's contention that the affair has "paralyzed" the legislature and ground South Carolina politics to a stand-still – at a time when the state faces higher than average unemployment and a $100 million budget deficit.
Marred by the affair scandal – and his six-day incommunicado rendezvous with his lover in Argentina in June – the latest investigation also cuts deeper into Sanford’s credibility with the public: He came to power as a conservative so frugal that he uses the back of Post-It notes, but revelations about his first-class travel has tarnished him.
“Part of the problem is having created this image of being frugal and squeaky clean and then having that image just reversed first on the personal front and now on the political front,” says Blease Graham, a state political observer. “One can’t just do that without reaping a very negative harvest.”
Sanford has rebuffed accusations about his travel, saying he’s done nothing out of the ordinary for a sitting South Carolina governor.
In an attempt to bolster his reputation and create an agenda for the remainder of his term, Sanford’s public schedule this week includes several stops at local civic organizations such as Chambers of Commerce in Barnwell, S.C., and a Lions Club in Conway, S.C.
Sanford said in recent conversations with citizens he found that "South Carolinians have moved on. There's an amazing capacity for forgiveness with real world people who accept the notion that God can use imperfect people to perform jobs in all walks of life."
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