Column: Back in the futon, Sanford seeks quieter path

12/19/2013 10:18 PM

12/19/2013 10:20 PM

U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford is again sleeping on a futon in his congressional office.

He said the futon made sense as he cranked up an office from scratch after winning a special election in the Lowcountry’s 1st Congressional District in May.

But Sanford acknowledged that his fiancé, Maria Belén Chapur of Buenos Aires, is “not in that program.”

His futon was a minor part of Sanford’s conversation with our newspapers’ editorial board Thursday.

But it was a major symbol of his frugality when Sanford slept on a futon during his first three terms in the House of Representatives, from 1995 to 2001.

That legacy was replaced by the Appalachian Trail when Sanford disappeared for a week in 2009, near the end of this second term as South Carolina’s governor. His staff was led to believe he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. It turned out the married father of four was visiting Chapur in Argentina.

Sanford survived a potential impeachment. He was divorced by Jenny Sanford. He returned to the solitude of the family farm near Beaufort. And then the fiscally conservative Republican from Charleston emerged this spring to run for office again, and surprisingly, he won.

He still seeks deep thoughts in a sound-bite world. With us, he spoke of “the larger matrix.” He referred to turns of events as “that whole movie.” It will be a bad movie, for example, when the chickens come home to roost on the national deficit. “That’s not a bipartisan issue,” he said. “That’s an issue issue.”

He thinks the National Security Agency is snooping too freely into the privacy of citizens, and the agency needs greater and more independent oversight. He said he would not prosecute NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, even though he has been charged with leaking classified documents to the press. For better or for worse, the leak raised societal awareness of potential illegalities by the NSA, and awareness is a precursor to political change, Sanford said.

Sanford does not think sweeping immigration reform will pass Congress next year.

And even though he keeps getting elected as a penny-pincher, Sanford wants to delay enforcement of a bill designed to make the federal flood insurance program fiscally sustainable. He wants the government to first show how it reached its dollar figures on risk, which the bill would push to consumers without subsidies from Uncle Sam.

Sanford was hesitant to say publicly what he has done to end the rank partisanship that has turned Congress into one of the most reviled institutions in America.

The 53-year-old speaks of being in a new round of life, one in which he better appreciates vulnerability. He said it has led to deep conversations aimed at getting to know congressmen much different from himself as human beings, not public personas.

And it has led him to deny reports he is leaning toward Buddhism. That was fueled when he talked openly about living in the present and learning the value of quiet time and meditation when he returned as a sad figure to the stillness of the family farm on the Whale Branch River.

Sanford seems to have taken a bit of Lowcountry Zen with him back into the fracas. Back onto the futon.

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