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May 13, 2010

An affair to rekindle: Will it last?

Gov. Mark Sanford said Wednesday he spent last weekend in Florida with his Argentine lover, seeing if their relationship could be "restarted."

Gov. Mark Sanford said Wednesday he spent last weekend in Florida with his Argentine lover, seeing if their relationship could be "restarted."

Sanford discussed the trip - first reported Sunday by an anonymous e-mailer to the Gawker Web site - because he said he thought the public should know that he always was in contact with his office and that Florida law enforcement - not South Carolina-paid officers - provided his security.

Sanford did not name Maria Belen Chapur as the woman he saw in Florida. However, he left no doubt whom he was referring to.

Sanford acknowledged last June having an extramarital affair with Chapur, whom he called his "soul mate." That relationship ended Sanford's marriage and his chances as a dark-horse Republican presidential candidate in 2012. It also spurred a power struggle over whether the two-term Republican governor should resign and eventually led the House of Representatives to officially rebuke him for his behavior.

In the wake of allegations about misuse of state assets that surfaced after he acknowledged his affair, Sanford paid the largest ethics fine in state history - $140,233 - but admitted no wrongdoing. Earlier this month, state Attorney General Henry McMaster, who is trying to succeed Sanford, said the governor's behavior did not warrant criminal charges.

"As a matter of record, everybody in this room knows exactly who I was with over the weekend," Sanford said at a news conference Wednesday. "That is no mystery to anybody, given what I said last summer. And, you know, the purpose was obviously to see if something could be restarted on that front given the rather enormous geographic gulf between us. And time will tell. I don't know if it will or won't."

As when he vanished to Argentina for five days last year, Sanford did not notify Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer that he was leaving the state last weekend, according to Bauer.

The governor is not required to notify the lieutenant governor of his travel, said House Judiciary chairman Jim Harrison, R-Richland. However, Harrison's committee has approved a bill that would require notification if the governor leaves the state. In addition, the bill would allow the lieutenant governor to assume power during an emergency if staff failed to contact the governor within 12 hours.

The news conference was a microcosm of Sanford's two terms as governor. The focus on his affair overshadowed his reason for calling the news conference - to discuss efforts to rein in spending.

Sanford addressed the media to discuss his opposition to $45 million in fee increases that legislators have passed to help balance the state's $5 billion budget. But that issue was quickly lost - to the dissatisfaction of some of the lawmakers who had joined Sanford - after the governor challenged the media for delving into his private life. Some of the facts, such as where he stayed, were incorrect, Sanford said.

"But the obsession with one's personal life at some point has got to end," Sanford said. "For a major paper in this state to pick something up that was absolutely false based on a blog and to report that as news is not the kind of journalism that we need in this state."

Sanford and his wife, Jenny, were divorced in March. Since then, Jenny Sanford has revealed dating Augusta businessman Clay Boardman, and the two recently attended the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington, D.C.

After admitting his affair, Mark Sanford said he would focus on achieving a handful of goals in his final year in office.

State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort and a longtime Sanford friend, said the governor made his point on fees.

"I think the governor was effective at getting the message out," Davis said. "We've got to keep our eye on the ball as to where the (budget) burden is coming from."

Meanwhile Wednesday, lawmakers in the GOP-controlled House overrode Sanford's veto of a 50-cent-a-pack increase to the state's cigarette tax, the nation's lowest cigarette, by a 90-29 vote. Sanford's veto previously had succeed in blocking efforts to raise that tax. The Senate is expected to vote on Sanford's cigarette tax veto today.

"It's just another example of how he continues to be ineffective," Phil Bailey, spokesman for the Senate Democratic Caucus, said of the House vote. "Just a regular Wednesday in the terms of Mark Sanford."

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