Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford is running in a very crowded field in the special election for SC's First Congressional District seat - a post he held from 1995-2001. After leaving office - fulfilling his promise to only serve three terms - Sanford ran for and was elected Governor of SC in 2002 and again in 2006.
The once-promising political career of this libertarian conservative hit a major road bump, however, when he famously disappeared from June 18 until June 24, 2009, his whereabouts unknown to the public, his wife, and the State Law Enforcement Division, which was responsible for providing the governor security.
Before his disappearance, Sanford told his staff that he would be hiking on the Appalachian Trail, but he failed to answer multiple phone calls from his Chief of Staff during his absence and did not contact his family, arousing national suspicion. He was subsequently intercepted by reporter Gina Smith at the Atlanta airport after flying back from Argentina - not from the Appalachian Trail - and was forced to admit in a news conference that he had been out of touch for week because he was visiting his mistress, María Belén Chapur, during his absence.
After Sanford called Chapur his “soul mate” in a tearful interview with the Associated Press, the Sanfords, who had sought marriage counseling and were in the midst of a trial separation before the governor’s disappearance, divorced.
The worst part of the scandal for many conservative voters wasn’t the affair - infidelity is nothing new in politics - it was the ensuing ethics charges levied against Sanford for using public money to meet with his mistress. The governor refused to resign over the scandal, even after the State Ethics Commission formally charged him with 37 violations, including spending taxpayer money on business-class flights, using state aircraft for personal travel, and spending campaign funds for non campaign expenses.
The legislature decided against impeachment over the scandal, but Sanford was formally censured in January 2010. In March 2010, he agreed to pay $74,000 to settle the ethics charges - $2000 for each one - that his personal travel and campaign spending violated state ethics laws. He paid an additional $36,498 to cover the cost of the investigation and other Ethics Commission costs. He also agreed to reimburse the state Commerce Department $18,000 for first- and business-class airfare, the state Aeronautics Division $7,792 for personal use of state-owned aircraft, and give his campaign back $2,941 to cover personal use of campaign funds, including a hunting trip to Ireland and his monthly cable television bills.
Although he chose not to contest the charges and pay the fine to settle them instead, Sanford insisted he had been held to a stricter and less fair standard than previous governors. Indeed, The fine was the largest levied on a governor in state history.
“It’s time to move on,” Sanford said in a statement about paying the fines. “While I believe I would be vindicated on all these matters if there were ever a full airing, the people of South Carolina have moved on from all that unfolded last summer, and this
administration has moved on as well.” Insisting that he would be vindicated if the Ethics Commission heard his case, Sanford said he nevertheless wanted to save the people of SC from what he called the “endless media circus” that would surely ensue if the case went forward.
So Governor Sanford fell on his proverbial sword, finished the last year of his second term, and South Carolina did indeed “move on.”
Now the former governor is mounting a political comeback, running for the same office that first brought him to prominence as a fiscally conservative politician in SC almost 20 years ago.
And we should give him a fair shot. Who among us has no personal failings? Who among us has not made mistakes? If Mark Sanford, given all that has happened in the past, wants to expose himself to the voters of South Carolina and ask them to decide whether he is fit for office, we should let him. But his fitness for office should be decided on his political record, not his personal life.
If you believe Sanford’s ethics charges should keep him from vying for this seat or from getting your vote, take a look at the ethics charges levied against sitting Governor Nikki Haley and current Speaker of the SC House of Representatives Bobby Harrell. Are they not to be held to the same standard as Mark Sanford? I would argue that, particularly in the case of Speaker Harrell, the charges are worse - using his own PAC to donate money to the campaigns of members of an “Ethics” Committee that is charged with investigating him is a gross violation of any common sense of political ethics.
When deciding to vote for Sanford, consider his political record, not his personal failings.
While in Congress, Sanford was recognized as its most fiscally conservative member by the Cato Institute. He was also recognized by Citizens Against Government Waste, as well as the National Tax Payers Union, for his efforts to rein in government spending and reduce the national deficit.
During his governorship, Sanford was a supporter of limited government and budget reforms, which often put him at odds with members of his own party in the General Assembly over what the fiscally conservative Sanford deemed to be “pork projects.”
The governor also proposed market-based reforms in the state’s public schools, supporting a school choice system that included giving parents vouchers with which to send their children to independent schools if they were not satisfied with the public schools in their area. He also suggested ending the duplication of programs in the state’s public higher education system by combining programs instead of increasing tuition costs.
Sanford was also the first United States governor to formally reject a portion of the federal stimulus money earmarked by Congress for the state of South Carolina under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which he vigorously opposed. Sanford eventually compromised to accept the federal money on the condition that the state legislature provide matching funds to pay down the South Carolina state debt.
In the end, the libertarian Cato Institute ranked Sanford as the best governor in America in their 2010 fiscal policy report card, describing him as "a staunch supporter of spending restraint and pro-growth tax reforms."
My politics are very different from Governor Sanford’s. I am not a limited government conservative. But I am a believer in second chances. I am a reasonable person who knows that people make personal mistakes and pay dearly for them - Mark Sanford certainly has.
The Republican voters in South Carolina’s First Congressional District should look at the totality of Mark Sanford’s political career, not his personal life, when deciding how to cast their vote in this election. They are not voting for a husband, after all, they are voting for a congressman, and if they are inclined to vote for a fiscally conservative one, they need look no further than the battle scarred and tested former congressman and governor who has offered himself up for their consideration.