As his lengthy career in Congress comes to a close, Mark Sanford is considering his next move while crashing with one of his sons.
Sanford is transitioning out of the Capitol before his sixth term in the U.S. House of Representatives ends Jan. 3. In the process, he is staying temporarily at the D.C.-area home that his son Bolton shares with seven other recent college graduates.
“They’re all recent graduates of UVA or UNC,” Sanford said in a phone interview with The State. “They’re good guys, but I feel like the one random dad in the frat house.”
Sanford is in between careers as well as residences.
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He has represented the 1st District on and off since 1994, with a break in between to serve two terms as the Palmetto State’s governor.
Since his latest stay in the House ended with a GOP primary defeat in June, the Charleston Republican has wondered what the next chapter of his career will be.
“It’s still completely up in the air,” Sanford said.
In recent weeks, Sanford has focused on shutting down his D.C. office — “I don’t want to move boxes on Christmas Day” — and closing his district offices in Beaufort and Charleston before newly elected U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, D-Charleston, takes over the position next year.
But moving on is hard.
“Every piece of paper is a trip down memory lane,” Sanford said. “There’s a lot of nostalgia from 25 years in politics.”
Sanford says he is looking at a blank slate in terms of his post-congressional career, trying to remain focused on his official duties. On Thursday, for instance, he signed on to a letter from House members to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke opposing seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean.
“There’s a danger of getting ahead of yourself,” Sanford said. But, he added, when he thinks about the end of his term only a few weeks away, “it might have been wise to have done so.”
Other former congressmen end up at a think tank or sign on with a cable news network as a TV pundit. But Sanford isn’t thinking in those terms just yet.
His most immediate concern is completing his vision of a waterfront park on land owned by the State Ports Authority on Daniel Island. Even after he leaves office, Sanford said he wants to work with the City of Charleston and Berkeley County to complete the project, which he has compared to New York’s Central Park.
“All great cities have a big downtown park,” Sanford said, adding using the area as green space could lessen the strain on the Lowcountry’s infrastructure and maintain residents’ quality of life.
He also argues the project continues his focus on environmental efforts from his time in the Governor’s Mansion from 2003 to 2011.
“I set aside more land than any governor,” Sanford said. “I deeply care about conservation.”
Another environmentally conscious former Republican congressman, the Upstate’s Bob Inglis, has turned his attention on combating climate change, founding the group republicEn.org to boost awareness of the problem.
But Sanford doesn’t see that kind of engagement in his future.
“If I pick an issue like that, I would probably do something on the debt or the deficit,” said Sanford, a fiscal hawk throughout his public career.
Meanwhile, he is enjoying spending time with his son and his friends in the “frat house.”
“I try to be as minimally obtrusive as possible. I leave early and come back late,” he said. The only problem is a house full of 20-something-year-old men who “don’t go to bed early.”
Sanford’s future is so wide open that he is not ruling out a return to elected office.
“I’ve thought that was it for me with politics twice already,” he said, after his first run in Congress ended because of a self-imposed term limit in 2000 and, again, when his time as governor ended with revelations of a high-profile affair.
Sanford rebounded with a 2013 special election victory to his old congressional district, holding on to the seat until this year, suffering his first defeat. Could yet another political comeback be in his future?
“Never say never,” he said.