Originally published in The State on Friday, May 28, 2004
By JENNIFER TALHELM and VALERIE BAUERLEIN
COLUMBIA, SC -- Sandwiched between two squirming, squealing piglets, Gov. Mark Sanford walked up the State House steps to take a light-hearted jab at the Legislature about pork in the state budget.
But, instead, the stunt infuriated lawmakers, who took it as a direct insult and an attempt to embarrass them, further eroding their rocky relationship with the governor.
The move came a day after House members angered Sanford in what has become an ongoing clash over the $5.5 billion state budget.
With cameras rolling and lawmakers and lobbyists gaping, Sanford stood just outside the House chambers, pigs wriggling under his arms, pig feces on his jacket and shoes, and criticized House members for burying pork-barrel projects in the budget.
House members on Wednesday angered Sanford by accepting just one of his 106 vetoes of items in the state budget. Sanford also criticized lawmakers for relying on the sale of property - and not savings - to pay down the last $16 million of a $155 million deficit.
"Pork won and taxpayers lost," Sanford said. "I find it unbelievable to think there's not one additional dollar in savings that could go to pay down that unconstitutional $16 million debt."
House leaders countered quickly, saying Sanford had taken a previously genteel argument over fiscal responsibility to a new low.
"It's beneath the dignity of the governor to bring pigs in the State House outside the chamber just to get a photo opportunity," said House Speaker David Wilkins, his jaw set, his eyes down. "This is the people's House. He defiled it."
Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, defended the governor.
"Sometimes we have to embarrass people to make them understand what they have done," he said.
Legislators, outraged in general, seized on the fact that the pigs had defecated on the carpet and the marble floor.
The State House reopened about five years ago after a $50 million renovation, and animals other than guide dogs are not allowed in the building. Some noted that if anybody other than the governor had brought an animal into the State House, he would have been arrested.
"It's the poorest taste I've ever seen in 32 years," said Sen. Verne Smith, R-Greenville. "To bring pigs in here to mess up the carpet, it's way beneath the dignity of the governor."
Sanford 's news conference lasted just 10 minutes. At the end, the governor, who said he spent summers growing up on a farm, swiftly scooped up the piglets - dubbed "Pork" and "Barrel" -and marched back to his office.
The governor's staff - all wearing suits - shoved the animals back into their crate and rushed them out the West Wing exit.
Sanford 's press secretary, Will Folks, and his speech writer, Joel Sawyer, returned with bottles of cleanser and paper towels to clean up the pigs' droppings while a custodian supervised.
Sanford called the appearance an attempt to have fun with the issue, but lawmakers and the governor have clashed throughout this legislative session. The back-and-forth had turned increasingly shrill this week.
Legislators were irked that Sanford would veto 106 items in the state budget, especially when they based the spending plan on a proposal he sent them in January. Several said they had never worked with a governor who struck more than a few dozen items.
On Wednesday, the House whizzed through Sanford 's vetoes, overriding 105 in just 99 minutes. About mid-afternoon, a frustrated Folks called the House's actions a "mockery of the legislative process" and "a slap in the face."
Sanford backed away from those statements hours later, saying he wasn't taking the overrides personally. The next day, he camped outside the House doors holding piglets and criticizing lawmakers' approach to the budget.
"There are just natural points we agree on and natural points we disagree on," Sanford said. "We've got to have fun with this process."
But Sen. Scott Richardson, R-Beaufort, said the relationship between the Legislature and the governor needs to change.
"It's pretty much to a fever pitch," he said, "and I think everybody's sick of it."
News that pigs were in the State House whirled through the Legislature. Within an hour, it had spread to downtown businesses, where people laughed and shook their heads. Many predicted South Carolina again would look backward on national news.
"That's just over the edge," said Blease Graham, a USC political scientist. "It's reckless; it tarnishes our national image."
Indeed, video of Sanford and the pigs was the lead item on CNN's "Inside Edition" political news show.
Others were stunned that Sanford had broken an unspoken code in South Carolina politics: We may disagree, but we avoid directly embarrassing each other.
"This about tears it with the General Assembly," said Francis Marion University political scientist Neal Thigpen, a Republican. "There's no going back. They don't like being embarrassed."
Senators, who took up Sanford 's vetoes Thursday, joked about what the governor would do once they were done deliberating.
"Maybe he was sending us a message," said Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg. "If we rush through these vetoes, he'll bring four pigs up here."
As for the mess the pigs made on the floor, Knotts gave Sanford the benefit of the doubt.
"The governor didn't mean for the pigs to do what they done. If you pick up a pig and squeeze it, something's going to come out. I'm sure the governor didn't know that."
Staff writer Lee Bandy and The Associated Press contributed to this report