Politics & Government

Sanford: Let’s change the subject

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford talks with Department of Moter Vehicle staff Tuesday, July 21, 2009, in Greer, S.C., as he makes his first public appearance since he spoke with The Associated Press of his extramarital affair. Gov. Sanford says it's time for him to put aside discussions of his extramarital affair and get back to work governing the people of South Carolina.(AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford talks with Department of Moter Vehicle staff Tuesday, July 21, 2009, in Greer, S.C., as he makes his first public appearance since he spoke with The Associated Press of his extramarital affair. Gov. Sanford says it's time for him to put aside discussions of his extramarital affair and get back to work governing the people of South Carolina.(AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)

GREER — Gov. Mark Sanford said it was time for the state to move on from the weeks-long debate about whether he should stay or resign following his admission of an extramarital affair.

Sanford spoke at the Greer office of the Department of Motor Vehicles to discuss concerns about a federal ID program, his first public appearance in weeks.

The governor said he had apologized for his mistake and was working to win back the trust of S.C. residents. A handful of people applauded and shouted their agreement.

“I’m moving forward and I think the people of South Carolina are ready to do the same,” Sanford said, adding to the media: “I’m going to move on with my life. The question is, will you?”

But some were not ready to let the infidelity issue go.

“Where is your wedding ring?” one man shouted. “Why aren’t you wearing it?”

“Get over it,” a woman responded.

Sanford ignored the question.

A review of several years of Sanford photos taken by The State shows Sanford typically doesn’t wear a wedding ring.

Sanford said he stillis working on his relationship with his family, and that he would split time between governing and personal issues. Sanford said he had an upcoming trip, including his sons, at the end of this week.

“I am going to carve out a little bit of time for family ... because I’ve got to get some things right there,” Sanford said, “but I am in the process of embracing both.”

Sanford’s job appeared to be in jeopardy following his secret six-day trip to Argentina in June to visit his lover after telling his staff he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. Sanford admitted to a year-long affair with Maria Belen Chapur. He also paid the state back more than $3,000 for a taxpayer-funded trade mission to South America in which he added a trip to Argentina. Sanford saw Chapur on that trip. He later called her his soul mate during an interview with The Associated Press.

Since then, calls for Sanford to resign have faded, and the governor has been apologizing for his actions.

But a number of lawmakers and the public have questioned whether Sanford can run the state and repair the relationship with his wife, Jenny, and their four sons. Even Sanford allies have raised those questions.

Since June 18, when the governor left for Buenos Aires, Sanford has been at work 14 of 24 business days.

Boiling Springs resident Shannan Mintz, an unemployed mother of a 17-year-old son, asked the governor how he would put people back to work. Mintz said she was not eligible for unemployment benefits since losing a job with a railroad company.

“It’s just the worst situation,” she said.

Sanford said he would continue to rely on improving the state’s economic “soil conditions,” the tax, legal and other factors that foster business growth.

Many who attended Sanford’s appearance cheered his desire to get back to work.

“I think that’s far more important than what’s going on in his personal life,” said Ilona Urban Blakeley, who said she did not feel Sanford had abandoned his job to visit Argentina for five days last month.

“It was a nonissue because nothing happened.”

Taylors resident Lewis Kay said he was willing to forgive the governor.

“I have to admire him as a man that he stood up and took his punches,” Kay said. “As a Chrisitian, I forgive him ... I don’t know whether he needs to go or stay. That’s a lot more important than little me in South Carolina.”

Sanford will make another public appearance today at the State House to announce two new appointments to the Tax Realignment Commission.

Reach O’Connor at (803) 771-8358.

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