Jack Burton, owner of The Burton Co. on Sullivan’s Island, was happy to help when his longtime friend, former Gov. Mark Sanford, recently phoned him, looking for scraps of plywood.
“I didn’t know exactly what they were going to do with them, but I was happy to load them up and take them over,” Burton said. “He knew, since I work in construction, I’d have access to plywood that would otherwise go into the Dumpster.”
In the weeks since, Sanford volunteers have turned the scraps into campaign signs, with “Sanford saves tax $” scrawled across each in black spray paint.
They now dot the landscape of Beaufort County and the four other counties in the 1st Congressional District, reminding voters of Sanford’s reputation for frugality through his 20 years in the public spotlight.
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And Sanford is savoring it.
“Leftover plywood out of a Dumpster combined with a $3 can of spray paint works just fine,” Sanford wrote in an email blast this week, encouraging supporters to find their own scraps and fashion signs. “I even saw an old door being thrown into a Dumpster yesterday that would work perfectly as a sign.”
Meanwhile, his campaign is also shelling out money to make more of the plywood signs at $7 a pop. They’re using leftover materials from previous campaigns.
The campaign calls it a great way to save money.
S.C. politicos are calling it smart messaging that reinforces Sanford’s spendthrift reputation.
“I think it’s extremely clever, and I wouldn’t call it subtle,” said Chip Felkel, an S.C. GOP strategist. “He’s spent a lot of time apologizing for his past. This is a way to remind voters of another part of the Sanford story — his frugality. He’s got to sell them on his frugality to win.”
As a congressman, Sanford said he slept on his office futon rather than in a Washington apartment.
And then there are the stories of him requiring staff to conserve paper clips and recycle sticky notes, and ending the practice of idling state cars on hot summer days to keep passengers cool.
“I certainly would never do that with my own car. Therefore, I wouldn’t expect people to do it for me because I think it’s symptomatic of a larger problem in government,” Sanford said in a 2003 interview. “And that is people don’t treat government money like their own money.”
In her 2010 memoir, former first lady Jenny Sanford tells her own stories — most of them unflattering — of his frugality. In one, Mark Sanford bought her a diamond necklace for her birthday. He ultimately made her give back the beloved gift after deciding he’d paid too much for it.
“He’s not the warm, fuzzy, romantic type that other husbands might be,” Jenny Sanford said at the time. “Mark is kind of an odd duck. He’s a guy who was raised in a very tough time on (a) farm. And once you understand that, other things make sense.”