Sanford discusses term, affair, legacy in hour-long interview - - Columbia, South Carolina

Sanford discusses term, affair, legacy in hour-long interview

By Jody Barr - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Governor Mark Sanford is wrapping up unfinished business as he prepares to leave office next month. His administration has had many highs and lows, including battles with the legislature and a very infamous scandal.

Eight years ago, Republican Mark Sanford defeated incumbent Democratic Governor Jim Hodges. The election wasn't even close, as 65,000 votes separated the candidates. Their separation of ideas was immeasurable.

"They wanted to change the way that things were done in Columbia," Sanford said about his supporters. "They wanted greater focus on the pocketbook and their wallet and the way money was spent in Columbia."

Sanford promised transparency in Columbia, tax cuts, watching out for the tax dollar, and giving parents the power of choice in where they send their kids to school.

"It is my hope during the years ahead to work collaboratively with you all," he told Republican lawmakers on Inauguration Day.

Instead, the governor battled almost daily with lawmakers. Critics say Sanford's hard-line conservative beliefs and his ideas for limited government are borderline libertarian, and those fights killed many of Sanford's policies.

"A lot of things were going on behind the scenes in dealing with lawmakers," said Sanford. "In some cases, we had remarkable allies who were there working with us. You had other folks who were less sympathetic to where we were coming from, but that's the nature of politics."

Then came May 2004, when the state budget was $16 million in the hole. Sanford wanted the budget balanced, and vetoed 106 spending items. Lawmakers overturned all but one, and the governor hit back.

"Everybody remembers the pigs, but they don't remember what the pigs were about," said Sanford. "It was an unconstitutional $155 million dollar deficit at the time."
Sanford hoped a pair of Lexington County pigs would make his point. "What we said yesterday was we're not going to cut spending by one dollar," he told lawmakers.

The pig stunt worked. "We were able to extinguish, in part, because of the pressure that was brought on folks as a result of the whole pig thing," Sanford recounted.

Under Sanford's watch, lawmakers passed the first balanced budget in 16 years, approved the largest recurring tax cuts in state history, and cut DMV wait times from one hour to 10 minutes.
Then came the fight for school choice. "We have some great public schools in South Carolina," said Sanford. "The only catch is, you've got to have enough money, in many cases, to live in the right zip code so that you can afford to be in the right school district."

Sanford wanted vouchers to allow parents to afford private school as an option. Lawmakers instead opted to go with charter and virtual schools, which both give parents some power to choose.

"We didn't win what we pushed for," commented Sanford. "But because of that larger fight, we got through a ground breaking change to charter schools in this state that offer increasing levels of choice within the public school realm for kids and parents across the state."

Just when many thought Sanford's ability to work with the legislature couldn't get worse, the governor took an unannounced vacation.

With a deep secret weighing on his shoulders upon his return, Sanford walked from his office to face a swarm of national media. The next several minutes would change mark Sanford forever. "I've been unfaithful to my wife," he announced. "I developed a relationship with a, it started as a dear dear friend from Argentina."

The pain, the problems and the spotlight were brought on by a man many say had everything going for him. In June 2009, Sanford drove a SLED-owned SUV to the Columbia airport and hopped on a flight to Argentina to see a woman he fell in love with over email.

Sanford, missing for five days, told Press Secretary Joel Sawyer that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. Sawyer and the world later found out that was a lie.

"Got a call Wednesday morning saying the governor wasn't on the Appalachian Trail, he's on his way back from Argentina," said Sawyer. "We had some explaining to do, particularly the governor because as far as staff knew, that's where he had been." Sawyer quit 24 days later.

"You make mistakes in life, that's the reality of life," said Sanford. "You have regrets in life. I think the big question is, where do you go from here?"

Sanford ignored daily calls for his resignation and plowed on. Within the next year, the governor stood along side many of his longtime legislative rivals for the Boeing announcement that will bring 3,800 jobs to the state.

"We all know what today is about," he said during the announcement. "It's about an incredible outcome. The largest single investment in South Carolina's history. The largest single job announcement in South Carolina history."

Sanford also pushed through a bill that would restructure the state's failing Employment Security Commission. He signed the bill into law in March.

Lawmakers, for the first time in eight years, upheld half of Sanford's vetoes -- a record for the two-term governor.

With a little more than a month in office, Sanford's approval ratings are at 55 percent -- higher than one of the state's sitting U.S. senators.

"There's an amazing level of grace in this state," commented Sanford. "Because what I've seen as I've moved around is people saying, 'look, you messed up. We don't like what you did, but I very much appreciate what you've done in terms of watching out for our pocketbook, or wallet, or grow economic opportunity in this state, reform the way things are done in Columbia and for that reason, I'm going to judge you for the whole of your eight years, rather than one single day.'"

Sanford says that day also changed the way the legislature dealt with him. "I think that a lot of people at time would push against certain things based on their fear that my political star was climbing," he said. "If they did that, it would help me to get to wherever it was they thought I was going."

"What became abundantly clear was the supposed stars on the rainbow weren't there and I think we were able to debate the issue at hand," continued Sanford. "That I was less the issue, and the issue was more the issue."

Seemingly up from nowhere came the tea party. With it came what many see as a resurgence of "fundamental" beliefs of limited government, transparency and low taxes. "Somebody said to me the other day, said 'Mark, you know, you were the tea party before the tea party was cool," said Sanford.

Sounding a lot like Sanford, beating the campaign trail eight years ago. "I'm not saying I began it by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm saying it was latent and it was out there and a lot of those fights, I think happened to get people that much more energized about making noise themselves," Sanford continued.

Sanford says the tea party is essential to Nikki Haley's success. The governor says he could have used the help himself. "There'll be a political energy behind the Haley governorship that I'll be envious of, that I'll wish we had here over these last eight years," he said. "But the important part will be that A) it's here, and B) that something gets done with that energy."

A Winthrop poll has Sanford with a 70 percent passing grade from South Carolinians. As far as his legacy, Sanford says if he's writing that book, it's a story of how he defended the taxpayer's dollar.
What's next for mark Sanford? the governor says he plans to climb into his son's pickup truck and head to the coast, without a plan right now. Governor Sanford will leave office January 12, when he hands the office over governor-elect Nikki Haley.

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