Saturday's editorial reflects on Gov. Mark Sanford's ever-changing public persona in the aftermath of his trip to Argentina.
The ugliest moment of Gov. Mark Sanford's appearances in Conway on Friday came at the end of his news conference, when, for the third time in as many days, he finished giving his statement and refused to take questions.
In his demeanor, our governor appears to have entered the fourth stage of some strange personal process. First was a period of confession, followed by a period of silence. Then came the apology tour, and now we have arrived at defiance.
On Wednesday, he slapped down Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer's suggestion that he resign, protesting that they were never friends to begin with. Thursday, Sanford zipped up to Greenville to denounce a state senator's allegations of unethical or illegal plane travel by the governor as "selective outrage."
So Friday, after announcing that he would open the ethics investigation into his activities up to the public in the name of transparency, Sanford told the reporters gathered there for the third time he wasn't going to answer their questions. When a reporter from Columbia pointed out the contradiction inherent in refusing to answer questions about a transparency initiative, Sanford snapped back, "I don't work for you."
As South Carolinians, we beg to differ.
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The governor keeps telling the people of South Carolina that he acknowledges the "moral failing" of his affair (though refusing to say whether it has ended), but he seems to believe that the consequences for it should be strictly between him and his family. On the contrary, Sanford needs to realize that his misleading the entire state about his whereabouts for a week now makes all manner of scrutiny into his behavior warranted.
For the record, here are the questions we wanted to ask:
Did the governor request official meetings in Argentina on the 2008 Commerce Department trip in which he has said the affair began before or after arranging to meet his lover? A remarkably swift SLED inquiry declared that Sanford did not misspend state money on that trip, but failed to address the fundamental question of why he wanted to go to Argentina in the first place.
Why is the governor's office continuing to refuse to release e-mails the law clearly defines as public documents? Staffers released 3,000 e-mails from his public account, but withheld "a very small number," according to his lawyer, by arguing for a privacy exemption in the state public records law. That exemption has repeatedly been interpreted to allow for the blacking-out of specific private information (like Social Security numbers), but not the wholesale withholding of documents.
Did Sanford use campaign money to finance his affair? Our sister newspaper in Columbia, The State, asked several weeks ago about $1,800 in uncategorized expenses around the time of his liaisons, and Sanford flatly refused to answer. Worse, state ethics officials charged with compiling the information said they were unsure how to procure the receipts.
Finally, were Sanford's flights on state-owned or private planes illegal or unethical? State Ethics Commission attorney Cathy Hazelwood told the Associated Press that Sanford's excuses about unreported private plane flights belong "in the lame pile. He's got a growing list in the lame pile."
We criticized the commission two weeks ago for a weak record of handling ethics violations, but we should give credit where it's due. If the commissioners Sanford appoints had ever shown the backbone of staffers such as Hazelwood, we would have far more confidence in their inquiry.
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A poll released Friday showed that nearly half (49.5 percent) of South Carolinians want Sanford out of office, while only a third (36.6 percent) believe he should remain in. Sanford has always been able to claim public support in his battles against opponents in the legislature - until now, a fact lawmakers are well aware of.
Today, Republican members of the S.C. House of Representatives will meet in Myrtle Beach for their annual caucus meeting, which is normally used to plan legislative strategy for the coming session. This particular caucus, however, is widely expected to be dominated by the question of what to do with Sanford.
Here's our suggestion: South Carolina politics, while never a game for the faint of heart, has deteriorated into open warfare. Find a way to end this. If the Ethics Commission finds Sanford has violated state law, remove him. If not, and if the commission's results are credible, let him get back to work, at least until the next reports roll in.
And by all means, do it quickly. The man who bears the title of governor should be out trying to create jobs for South Carolinians - not darting from town to town, trying to save his own.
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The most poignant moment of Sanford's trip to the Grand Strand was in the back room of Ryan's Steakhouse in Conway, where the governor addressed the Lions Club. He sped through apologies and railed against the opponents, then proceeded to lay out his goals for the next 16 months. They're the same goals he's been unsuccessfully pushing for six years in office; namely, restructuring state government to reduce the legislature's excessive power and imposing spending caps. (The Sun News has long supported him on the restructuring effort.)
After pulling out the requisite charts to illustrate these abstractions, Sanford asked the Lions what else he should add to his agenda.
"Jobs," replied the Rev. Marion Brazell of Christ the Servant Lutheran Church in Conway.
"Well, what would you do to make it better?" Sanford asked.
"I don't know," the pastor replied slowly, thoughtfully. "I guess that's why we have a governor."