Gov. Mark Sanford said he is leaving the state today for a two-week European vacation with his wife and four sons.
Sanford said Wednesday the trip has been long-scheduled as a last family getaway. The Sanfords' oldest son will leave for college next year.
But the trip is also the fourth time Sanford has left the state on personal travel in the last six weeks, including his mid-June trip to Buenos Aires. On his return from Argentina, Sanford admitted an extramarital affair. Sanford and his wife, Jenny, returned from a five day out-of-state trip Monday night.
Critics have said Sanford cannot manage running the state and mending his family at the same time. They note economic data shows more than one in five state residents are either jobless, have given up looking for work or settled for part-time work.
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Since June 18, Sanford has been at work 15 of 25 business days. And according to his schedule, provided to The State under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act, Sanford will be on vacation or have no official state business for 52 of 148 weekdays in 2009 through the end of July.
That count does not include state holidays or days Sanford spent with the Republican Governor's Association or other political groups that might not have some S.C. benefit.
"This is Nero fiddling while Rome burns," said former state Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian. "His solution is to take the family and go to Monaco? I'm astounded he's so tone deaf."
Sanford said he considered canceling the trip, but that his children had raised money to help pay for the excursion by selling lemonade. He said he would not "be standing here" if he did not believe he could work on issues at home and in Columbia.
"I thought about pulling the plug," Sanford said. "Obviously, the critics will criticize."
Another reason for the trip, the governor said, was to get the children away from the constant media coverage of the revelation of his affair and its aftermath.
Sanford said he will check in with his office "daily, hourly if needed" and will not hand over power to Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer. He also said the State Law Enforcement Division, which is charged with providing the governor security, knows his plans. Sanford declined to say where he is traveling.
Sanford said the travel is justified, noting he works long days and weekends and is always on call.
"Jenny often jokes that if you added up the hours, I'm working for less than minimum wage," Sanford said. "I keep going back to the nature of this job, which is it never shuts down."
Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, and a former Sanford chief of staff, said the governor typically has a light schedule in mid- to late summer. But taxpayers, Davis said, get their money's worth from Sanford.
"You're really never off the clock," Davis said. With Blackberrys and other technology, he said, the governor is never out of touch if "leadership, or direction is needed, in the event something out of the ordinary happens."
But Senate Minority Leader John Land, D-Clarendon, said other state officials, such as legislative leaders, have taken a more active interest in state issues.
"He's been kind of a hobby governor," Land said. "And I know he wants to limit government and he's certainly limited his involvement. He's been the least active person I've ever seen."
Staff writer Gina Smith contributed to this report. Reach O'Connor at (803) 771-8358.