We apparently aren’t the only ones bewildered by Governor Mark Sanford’s crisis PR strategy–namely, his insistence on continually confessing ever more details about his sex affair with his Argentinian “soul mate.”
The residents of South Carolina can’t take it anymore. One state politician thinks Sanford has made the state an international embarrassment. Others want to invoke the not-competent-for-office statute–on the grounds that he’s gone insane.
The governor’s staff, meanwhile, already humiliated by their insistence that he was on a hike instead of at his lover’s apartment, is being forced to issue laughable statements about how he’s working hard to put his marriage back together.
When will it end?
By JIM DAVENPORT, Associated Press COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina residents — and the simply curious around the world — have watched Gov. Mark Sanford’s lovelorn saga unfold, the central character spewing an odd script that would seem more appropriate for a soap opera than state government.
Top South Carolina Republicans and at least a half-dozen newspapers are calling for his resignation. Constituents are scratching their heads at their governor’s soul-baring declarations that he considers his Argentine mistress his “soul mate” but is trying to salvage his 20-year marriage.
“I just think he needs to shut up,” said Democratic Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, a social worker and one of the few lawmakers not calling for his resignation. “I don’t want any more details of his love life. He needs to stop being public with his angst and talk to a counselor.”
Sanford hasn’t resigned, but he is hunkering down as he wraps up his second and last term as governor. The 49-year-old Republican made no public appearances Wednesday and refused to release promised personal financial records to the media to show he hadn’t used public money to fund trips to see his mistress, Maria Belen Chapur, in New York and Argentina.
Mark Sanford did bring two personal checks totaling $3,300 to the state treasurer as reimbursement for part of a taxpayer-funded trip to South America last year. The money covered lodging, meals and airfare to Buenos Aires, where he saw Chapur.
Over the previous two days, he had chronicled his affair and tortured emotions in interviews with The Associated Press. Those came less than a week after he returned from a secret visit to Argentina and confessed his affair at a tearful, rambling press conference. His staff had claimed he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.
His spokesman issued a statement Wednesday saying there’s nothing left to say.
“He is focused on being governor, on rebuilding his marriage and on building back the trust of South Carolinians,” spokesman Joel Sawyer said.
In the AP interviews, Sanford laid out his thoughts and feelings in sometimes lurid or odd detail. For example: He said close Christian friends advised him to end the affair immediately and used graphic, figurative terms on how to do so — “the first step is, you shoot her. You put a bullet through her head,” he said.
The words were not meant literally, but reveal how dramatically Sanford described the saga.
Among the other puzzling tidbits were that he asked permission from his wife, Jenny, to visit Chapur, and that he had had dalliances over the years with other women, but never had sex with them.
“I think he’s bizarre,” said 29-year-old Courtney Phillips of Columbia, who works at a clothing store. “He’s an idiot and I feel terrible for his family. He should muster some dignity and step down.”
Attorney General Henry McMaster has asked the State Law Enforcement Division to review all of Sanford’s travel records to see if he broke any laws. State Rep. Vida Miller, a conservative Democrat, called for a legislative investigation.
“We have become an international embarrassment,” she said. “At this point in time, I feel the well-being of our state is in jeopardy.”
On Wednesday, Republican U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, a candidate for governor, became the first of the state’s congressmen to call on Sanford to resign.
Though some state Senate Republicans have done the same, no one so far is talking seriously about going a step further and pressing for his removal. The state constitution allows the state’s top elected officials to elevate the lieutenant governor if the governor is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” but no law defines what that means.
“This section deals more with actual inability, on a respirator in a hospital because he’s had a stroke or heart attack, not because he’s nutty,” said constitutional attorney John Harrell of Charleston, who could find no example of when the provision has been used. He said another example would be if Sanford had never returned from Argentina. “But I don’t think a failure of personal life and being inappropriately lovestruck would necessarily rise to the level.”
Jenny Sanford, who found out about the relationship in January when she discovered a letter the governor had written to Chapur, did not immediately return messages seeking comment after Sanford’s latest revelations Tuesday. The Sanfords have four sons.
Sen. John Courson, R-Columbia, said he has been speaking with Sanford daily and the governor is exhausted but fit to the lead the state.
“He’s very tired and this has been a very traumatic experience for him,” Courson said. “I don’t detect any emotional instability in his voice or inflections.”
But citizens are upset.
“You like to have faith in your governor and ultimately the governor of your state affects the people of the state more than your national representatives,” said Kristen Nichols-Voyer, a 27-year-old attorney from Charleston. “It’s sad. It’s let a lot of people down.”
Associated Press writers Tamara Lush, Katrina A. Goggins, Susanne M. Schafer, Seanna Adcox and Brett J. Blackledge in Columbia, and Bruce Smith in Charleston, contributed to this report.
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