Sanford returns to Congress, says he’ll focus on finances

05/16/2013 12:00 AM

06/04/2013 7:52 AM

The comeback is complete.

Former Gov. Mark Sanford is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives again after being sworn into office Wednesday during a ceremony in the House chamber in Washington, D.C.

During a short speech on the House floor, Sanford told his fellow members of Congress his top priority would be getting the country’s financial house in order.

“But today of all days I am just humbled to be here,” he said.

He now officially represents the 1st Congressional District that includes most of Beaufort County, joining the state’s six other members of Congress. Five are Republicans. Rep. Jim Clyburn of Columbia is the delegation’s sole Democrat.

But it’s not a monolithic group when it comes to Sanford, who previously served in Congress from 1995 to 2001.

Two members, Rep. Mick Mulvaney and Rep. Jeff Duncan, endorsed another Republican candidate in the race’s primary.

The three other Republican members — Rep. Joe Wilson, Rep. Tom Rice and Rep. Trey Gowdy — did not endorse.

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, who vacated the congressional seat to become a senator, endorsed Sanford in the final days of the race.

During his speech, Sanford said he looked forward to working with all members of Congress and reiterated his belief in a God of second chances. He thanked voters who chose him over Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch by nine points in last week’s election.

“I stand before you more appreciate of the people of the 1st Congressional District of South Carolina, a people who have taught me a whole lot about love and humility, about wisdom and grace,” he said.

In 2009, Sanford secretly left the state to pursue an extramarital affair with Maria Belen Chapur, an Argentine woman who is now his fiancee. Chapur attended Wednesday’s swearing in ceremony along with two of Sanford’s four sons, his sister, mother and assorted friends.

Sanford has been hesitant to discuss details of his relationship with Chapur including when the two will wed and where they will live.

Also up in the air is whether Sanford will be a team player who works with other Republicans or continue to be a renegade who strikes out on his own — a hallmark of his previous time in Congress and as governor. That approach infuriated fellow Republicans and sometimes led to gridlock.

“I’m a Republican who has always had an independent streak,” Sanford told “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace this weekend after being asked whether he would be a team player

S.C. politicos suspect Sanford will remain the same independent who butts heads with others.

“He was a renegade in his first term — especially on fiscal matters. I expect him to be the same this time,” said Dave Woodard, a Clemson political scientist and Republican strategist. “I expect he will be outspoken on financial and budget issues, quiet on social issues.”

Added Scott Huffmon, a Winthrop University political scientist: “There’s a saying about leopards and their spots.”

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