EXCLUSIVE: How Sanford unplugged

Second-term focus was not on SC, records show

joconnor@thestate.comOctober 25, 2009 

  • The findings

    The State obtained Gov. Mark Sanford’s office calendar — the official record of his activities — through the Freedom of Information Act. Highlights of that calendar, according to The State’s review, include:

    Fewer staff, Cabinet meetings: Sanford's meetings with key aides dropped to 4.1 a week this year from 8.7 a week in 2004.

    Fewer meetings with business or economic-development leaders: In the first half of this year, Sanford had 15 such meetings, down from 101 in 2003.

    More interviews: In the first half of this year, Sanford gave 7.9 interviews a week, up from 3.3 a week in 2003.

    More politics: In his first term, Sanford attended seven Republican Governors meetings or other association events. In 2008 and the first half of this year, he attended 118 such events.

    More time away from the office: Sanford's days away increased to 68 days in 2008 from 27 days in 2003.

    The case against Sanford

    Sanford's secret trip to Argentina. The married Republican governor left the state for Argentina for five days while his staff, the lieutenant governor and his security team did not know where he was. Some lawmakers argue Sanford abandoned the state and his job; that, they say, is misconduct serious enough to warrant impeachment.

    Misuse of state airplanes. State law bars any use of state planes other than for official business. Sanford, according to state documents, used a state plane to ferry family members and to attend political functions, possible violations of state law.

    Using expensive airfares on foreign trips. State law requires the use of the most economical travel available. Sanford used more expensive airfare, according to state documents.

    Failure to disclose private plane trips. The Associated Press reported Sanford accepted 35 rides on private planes that he did not disclose in his state ethics report, a possible violation of state law. Questions have arisen since about whether Sanford should have paid federal taxes on those plane trips.

    What's next

    An impeachment push. On Tuesday, the S.C. General Assembly will return to Columbia for a special session to fix a glitch that is depriving thousands of South Carolinians of jobless benefits. Rep. Greg Delleney, R-Chester, said he will use the session to file an impeachment resolution. House leaders say it's premature to take up impeachment because the Ethics Commission probe is incomplete.

    Shielding the ethics probe. Sanford has asked the S.C. Supreme Court to prevent House lawmakers weighing impeachment from seeing the Ethics Commission's initial findings. Next week, Sanford must explain to the court why his bid to shield the investigation does not contradict a letter Sanford wrote in August requesting to open the investigation.

Gov. Mark Sanford typically packed more than a dozen events into his daily schedule when he took office in 2003 - sometimes jumping from meetings about tort reform, cutting state income taxes and saving Medicaid money to talks about companies bringing jobs to South Carolina and, then, posing for a quick photo with a Girl Scout troop or friend.

Sanford was a man on a mission: To change South Carolina.

A year later, Sanford still was on that mission, with an average of almost nine scheduled staff meetings a week as he sought to rally support for his vision of a smaller state government administered by a more powerful governor.

Then, critics say and the governor's own calendar shows, the Republican governor - re-elected to a second term - lost interest.

Blame frustration, as allies do.

Blame ambition, as critics do.

Blame an unengaged politician, as one high-ranking Democrat does.

Other aides to former S.C. governors say Sanford's calendar shows a governor who had too little to do. That loose scheduling allowed Sanford to disappear to the Argentine affair that has dominated S.C. politics and government since June and still could lead to his removal from office.

The portrait that emerges from Sanford's calendar - his office's official record of his activities - is one of a clear second-term focus elsewhere, not on South Carolina.

By this year, staff meetings - almost nine a week in 2004 - had dwindled to just more than four a week, according to an analysis of Sanford's calendar by The State. Some of Sanford's public outreach, such as holding office hours in the far corners of the state, also had fallen by the wayside.

Instead, Sanford's second-term calendar has been dominated by media interviews - about his opposition to the Obama administration's stimulus spending and his possible 2012 presidential ambitions.

At its fevered peak - in March and April of this year - Sanford had no state business but media interviews for eight days. Most weeks Sanford conducted more than a dozen interviews.

Today, Sanford's political career is in tatters, thanks to his affair and subsequent questions about his spending and use of state resources. Instead of running for president, the embattled governor - the subject of a State Ethics Commission investigation and threatened with impeachment - is battling to serve out the remaining 14 months of his final term.

What went wrong?

Sanford's calendar offers a window of insight.

Sanford declined an interview for this story. However, in a written statement, spokesman Ben Fox defended his boss.

Sanford had to spend more time on national political interviews, for example, in his second term, said Fox.

That was because Sanford had a national role as chairman of the Republican Governors Association - a position he resigned in June, after admitting an extramarital affair with an Argentine woman.

Until then, Sanford was the "de facto spokesman in the nation representing opposition to the so-called stimulus," Fox said.

'A SOURCE OF FRUSTRATION'

Sanford was elected in 2002 on a platform of transforming S.C. government.

He wanted a smaller, more efficient, less expensive government with more authority and responsibility in the hands of the governor.

However, Sanford's goals have been largely frustrated even with a Legislature dominated by fellow Republicans.

South Carolina's Constitution limits the governor's authority, forcing him to compromise with lawmakers to achieve his goals.

Sanford - a notorious political loner, known for casting lonely minority votes as a congressman - has refused to "trade marbles" with the Legislature, as he calls it, to win passage of his agenda.

Instead, he has waged an almost seven-year-long war with the General Assembly. Lawmakers routinely ignore Sanford's proposals and, more often than not, override his vetoes.

Sanford has been shut out of the process by lawmakers who control the debate, says state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, a former Sanford chief of staff and long-time friend.

"Mark is a guy that loves ideas, he loves concepts, he's very philosophical," Davis said. "It's a source of frustration to him that he hasn't been able to do that because the focus is on the personal."

Sanford's calendar indicates he largely gave up on persuading legislators.

In 2003, 2004 and 2005, Sanford met regularly with lawmakers - holding more than 80 meetings each year, including nearly weekly meetings with legislative leadership.

In 2008, however, Sanford met with lawmakers 36 times. In the first six months of this year, including the January-to-June legislative session, he held only 17 meetings with legislators.

While allies blame legislators for foiling Sanford's agenda, aides to other former S.C. governors find fault with Sanford, too.

Gary Karr, press secretary to GOP Gov. David Beasley, says Sanford showed his disdain for the legislative process dramatically in 2004, when he brought two defecating piglets into the State House to protest pork-barrel spending by legislators.

"You do sort of send the Legislature a message that you don't treat them seriously," Karr said. "The governor was elected to try and keep himself in the process."

Warren Tompkins, chief of staff for the late Republican Gov. Carroll Campbell, says it is rare that a governor fails to achieve his agenda if he is willing to work with lawmakers.

"There is enough authority there" in the governor's job, Tompkins said. "People want to work with the governor."

But did Sanford want to work?

Frustrated, his eyes wandered.

'EXTREMELY LIGHT'

Sanford's calendar shows a governor spending less time on the job.

In 2003, Sanford's calendar shows 21 weekdays - Mondays through Fridays - with no events on the then-first-term governor's calendar.

In 2008, Sanford's calendar shows 54 weekdays with no events - slightly more than a day a week - meaning the governor effectively was working four-day weeks, year-round. During the first six months of this year, Sanford's calendar continued to reflect a four-day-a-week work week, showing 23 days with no events for the now second-term, lame-duck governor.

(Those figures may or may not include vacation days, which the calendar does not always note. Sanford's office did not provide a list of his vacation days or the days he spent fulfilling his Air Force Reserve service. )

Staffers for former governors say Sanford's calendar reflects a less rigorous schedule than past chief executives'.

"It's extremely light," Tompkins said of Sanford's schedule.

When Campbell took office, Tompkins said, other governors told him that managing his schedule would be his toughest task.

That proved true, Tompkins said, as Campbell worked to restructure state government and attract new jobs, his two priorities during two terms as governor.

"It was kind of like a doctor's office," Tompkins said of Campbell's schedule. "There was very little down time during the course of the day. ... It was a nightmare, and it was always full and he was always tired."

Sanford's calendar does not reflect that level of activity.

- His meetings with staff declined from a high of 454 in 2004 - almost nine a week - to 288 in 2008. Through the first six months of this year, Sanford met with staff 107 times, just over four times a week.

- His ceremonial appearances - ribbon-cuttings, graduation speeches and other events - also have declined from 196 in 2003 to 50 through the first six months of 2009.

By his own admission, Sanford always has disliked some of the ceremonial duties expected of governors. Criticized for flying his family to Columbia on a state plane for the Carolighting ceremony, for example, Sanford said his family did not really want to end their Thanksgiving weekend early to attend the event.

Since state courts forced him to accept federal stimulus money last spring, Sanford also has expressed a growing frustration with his job as governor.

When a reporter from The State met Sanford getting off a plane from a secret, five-day-trip to Argentina to see his lover in June, the governor talked about the constant demands of the job and his inability to "accomplish big things."

"I don't hate my job," Sanford said. But, he added, he was close to hating it.

8 INTERVIEWS A WEEK

That hasn't been the image that Sanford projected.

In 2007, Sanford was considered as a possible vice presidential choice for U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the Republican presidential nominee. Instead, McCain chose Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

After McCain's defeat, Sanford continued to stoke his profile, taking his ideology - libertarian, fiscal conservatism - for a spin nationally, threatening to withhold jobless benefits from unemployed South Carolinians and opposing federal stimulus spending.

Increasingly, Sanford was in the media.

According to The State's analysis of his calendar, Sanford had 174 news conferences or interviews in 2003, his first year in office.

In 2008, when South Carolina hosted two presidential primaries, Sanford's media appearances jumped to 301. Through the first six months of this year, Sanford had conducted 198 media interviews - almost eight a week. Press appearances often are the only items on his daily schedule.

Boosting his national image, Sanford also began to travel more often outside South Carolina on political missions.

As a first-term governor, Sanford attended seven Republican Governors Association meetings and events tied to associations or groups.

In 2008, Sanford attended 78 events at such meetings - which, typically, have multiple events each day. During the first six months of this year, he went to another 40 such events.

His calendar lightening, Sanford's relationship with the General Assembly grew even more strained.

The Senate's top Democrat, Sen. John Land of Clarendon County, says Sanford is the least-involved governor he has seen during his 34 years in the Legislature.

"He's been kind of a hobby governor," Land told The State in July. "I know he wants to limit government, and he's certainly limited his involvement. He's been the least active person I've ever seen."

Even Republicans have been critical of Sanford's work ethic.

Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, says Sanford checked out on S.C. issues in pursuit of raising his national profile for a presidential run.

Sanford's absences began to take a political toll as he spent more time on the national stage and less time on state-related issues.

In March, for instance, Sanford left Columbia for a week of Air Force Reserve duty followed by a weeklong family vacation - just as opponents launched a public-relations campaign criticizing his refusal to accept $700 million in federal stimulus money.

The television ads said the money, which S.C. taxpayers will have to repay regardless, would go to other states.

Legislators, in the middle of their session, voted to require Sanford to take the money.

Other S.C. governors seldom were absent from Columbia when the Legislature was in session, aides say.

Like Sanford, former Gov. Beasley also was a Republican Governors chairman and had obligations in that role, ex-aide Karr said. But Beasley often chose to miss parts of governors' meetings to attend to legislative business.

Beasley almost always was in Columbia when lawmakers were in session, Karr said.

"The day is pretty busy, especially during the legislative session," Karr said, rattling off the issues that Beasley dealt with during his four-year term - banning video poker, a failed effort to remove the Confederate battle flag from the State House dome, new education-accountability standards and a property-tax cut.

"There's always some group to meet with," Karr said. "It's pretty rare when the governor wasn't there."

'NOT ... REALITY'

Sanford staffers - past and present - object to the image of Sanford as inattentive to his duties.

Former chief of staff Davis says Sanford is not disinterested in the $106,000-a-year job. Sanford always has been a hard worker, Davis said.

A year ago, Sanford was spending more time on national issues in connection with a possible presidential run, Davis said.

But now - post-affair - that prospect is gone and, Davis says, Sanford has dived back into S.C. issues, most notably recruiting jobs and fixing the state's unemployment system.

"It's natural that he would have more time and he would put a lot more time on South Carolina issues," Davis said.

Fox disagreed that Sanford is spending less time working with his Cabinet and staff than he has in the past.

"The job of detractors is to detract," Fox wrote, "and in politics that, at times, means assigning motives to your opponents to score political points and not as some accurate reflection of reality."

Fox said Sanford's record includes accomplishments, including tax cuts, and tort and worker's compensation reform. Last week's summit on unemployment, Fox wrote, proves Sanford is looking to work with lawmakers, some of whom attended the event.

Fox also said Sanford's schedule, as kept by his office, does not reflect everything the governor does in a work week.

Instead, Fox wrote, any trends "reflect a different pattern of calendar input from the scheduling side as scheduling evolved throughout the two terms in office. One could argue the number of policy discussions and meetings happening currently is actually more than in the past."

'STUPIDLY BUSY'

Last week, however, Sanford seemed to acknowledge he had become distracted from his job at hand - as governor.

"My life before had become stupidly busy with all of my responsibilities - fundraising, speaking engagements across the country, a book deal," Sanford said in an interview with the (Florence) Morning News editorial board.

But that was then, Sanford insisted.

Now is different, he said.

"I haven't been this focused on my job in a long time because I don't have all those responsibilities anymore," Sanford said.

"I have my family and whatever's going to happen there. And I have my job and whatever's going to happen there. You can drive yourself crazy sitting around thinking about 'the might-have-beens' of life.

"I'm here, because I think I can still make a difference."

Reach O'Connor at (803) 771-8358.

The State is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service