Sanford rebuffs SC speaker's call to resign

Sanford went on the radio Tuesday to defend himself as part of an image-rebuilding tour. House Speaker Bobby Harrell had called for his resignation earlier in the day.

Mary Ann Chastain / AP
Gov. Mark Sanford reacts after finishing his interview with WVOC radio personality Keven Cohen and taking questions for the public during Cohen's radio show on Tuesday, in Columbia, S.C.

With top South Carolina political powers turning against him, a relaxed Gov. Mark Sanford took to the Columbia airwaves Tuesday night, offering unique insights into what makes the embattled governor tick.

As part of a image-rebuilding tour through the South Carolina heartland, Governor Sanford sought to put his Argentine affair behind him, throw doubt on his growing list of political enemies, and talk about “where we go from here” during an hour talk with WVOC (Voice of Columbia) radio.

On Tuesday, Republican House Speaker Bobby Harrell – arguably South Carolina’s most powerful elected politician – called for Sanford’s resignation, reversing his previous view that the general assembly should wait for the results of an Ethics Committee investigation before taking action.

Keven Cohen, the radio host, showed early on where his sympathies lay, calling the calls for his resignation and impeachment “a witch hunt.” And only one caller threw a hardball – about the governor’s decision to add Buenos Aires – the hometown of his ex-mistress – to a Brazil trade trip.

Sanford invoked again his belief that God chooses imperfect people to do his work on earth, noting “If God’s going to make lemons out of lemonade, you've got to stay around for the second part of the show.”

He also said he wants to reform government “not with a shotgun, but a rifle” – presumably a variation on the scalpel versus cudgel analogy of budgetary surgery.

Sanford invoked his libertarian roots when he talked about his big project: Restructuring the only state government where the general assembly completely controls the budget purse strings.

Sanford’s gambit to change the flow of “gold” in Columbia, the governor has contended, is behind much of the political animosity now aimed his way. “It’s a totally weird system, and a lot of the controversy is about changing the system, involving a lot of people who profit from or agree with the system,” Sanford said.

But his decision to turn some of the blame for the government standstill on his political enemies also gave fuel to those who call him out of touch and a barrier to what Rep. Harrell called “the restoration of public trust.”

The question on most listeners’ minds, according to Mr. Cohen: Would you do it all over again if you could?

“We all wish we could do do-overs, but that’s not where I am,” Sanford said. He said he’s looking at “the opportunities that we have before us with regard to changing the government of South Carolina.”

Of course, the other big question for Sanford is whether he can build enough political capital to survive a possible impeachment proceeding when the state general assembly meets again in January. That will be far from easy.

Which leads us to the best soundbite. Cue Cohen: “If you pick a fight with Mark Sanford, is he going to fight back? It sounds like you’re ready to fight.”

“I’m not looking for a fight,” Sanford said. “I’m looking for the truth.”

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