S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford’s staff said this morning that the governor, who went mysteriously incommunicado for several days, plans to return to his office Wednesday.
Late Monday, his office said the governor was hiking on the Appalachian Trail, ending four days during which staff and state officials said they had not heard from him.
State Sen. Jake Knotts issued statement today saying: “I’m happy to hear that Governor Sanford has finally contacted his office after being missing from the state for five days."
"While I believe every person deserves a vacation, our constitution gives only one man authority to act in case of an emergency - the governor of South Carolina. Should the governor decide to vacation away from South Carolina again, it is my sincere hope that he will take his security detail and keep his cell phone on so that he can be reached in case of a large-scale emergency," the statement said.
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"If he is not willing to do so, he should turn his gubernatorial authority over to the lieutenant governor,” it continued.
Knotts, a Lexington Republican and frequent Sanford critic, is an ally of Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer.
Knotts make Sanford's absence public Monday by issuing a news release saying that SLED did not know where the governor was and asking who was in charge of S.C. government.
In a statement, Joel Sawyer, Sanford's spokesman said, "Governor Sanford called to check in with his chief of staff this morning. It would be fair to say the governor was somewhat taken aback by all of the interest this trip has gotten.
"Given the circumstances and the attention this has garnered, the governor communicated to us that he plans on returning to the office tomorrow.
Neither Sanford’s office nor the State Law Enforcement Division, which provides security for governors, had been able to reach Sanford since he left the mansion Thursday in a black Suburban SUV assigned to his security detail, said state Sen. Jake Knotts , R-Lexington, and three others familiar with the situation, but who declined to be identified.
On Monday, Sawyer would not disclose where on the trail the governor was hiking, nor would he reveal whether Sanford was hiking alone.
Sanford’s last known location was near Atlanta late last week. A mobile telephone tower there picked up a signal from his phone, according to a source familiar with the situation.
Since then, the governor’s state and personal phones had been turned off, and Sanford had not responded to phone or text messages, a source said. Most mobile phones cannot be tracked if they are turned off.
First lady Jenny Sanford said Monday her husband has been gone for several days over Father’s Day weekend and she did not know where.
She said she was not concerned.
“He was writing something and wanted some space to get away from the kids,” Jenny Sanford told The Associated Press while vacationing with the couple’s four sons at their Sullivan’s Island beach house.
The two-term governor is chairman of the Republican Governors Association. This spring, Sanford became known nationally as the most outspoken governor who opposed federal stimulus money. That position won Sanford national attention until he lost a court battle.
Sawyer said Monday the governor told staffers late last week where he was going to be.
“Before leaving last week, he let staff know his whereabouts and that he’d be difficult to reach,” Sawyer said in a interview with The State.
In an earlier statement Monday, Sanford’s office said: “Gov. Sanford is taking some time away from the office this week to recharge after the stimulus battle and the legislative session, and to work on a couple of projects that have fallen by the wayside.
“We are not going to discuss the specifics of his travel arrangements or his security arrangements,” the statement said.
One official familiar with the situation said there was no indication Sanford had been harmed. He regularly makes trips without his security detail.
Sanford usually uses the Suburban, which is assigned to agents who transport him, the source said.
Knotts, a longtime Sanford critic, said he contacted SLED Chief Reggie Lloyd Saturday after he heard reports the governor could not be reached.
“Chief Lloyd confirmed that my information is legitimate,” said Knotts. “He shared my concerns” about succession of power.
“I was recently made aware that Governor Sanford has frequently been eluding SLED agents and disappearing at odd times,” Knotts said.
Lloyd could not be reached for comment late Monday.
On previous unescorted trips, Sanford has not been out of all contact - including with his own office - for this long, a source said.
The state’s chief executive should never be unreachable, Knotts said.
“As the head of our state, in the unfortunate event of a state of emergency or homeland security situation, Governor Sanford should be available at all times to the chief of SLED,” the senator said.
“I want to know immediately who is running the executive branch in the governor’s absence,” Knotts said.
Updated 1:25 p.m.
In an interview later in the day, Sawyer said, “Should any emergencies arise between the times in which he checks in, our staff would obviously be in contact with other state officials as the situation warrants before making any decisions.”
The S.C. Constitution says the lieutenant governor may act for the governor in an emergency.
The Constitution is silent on the lieutenant governor’s power in non-emergencies or whether the governor has the power to appoint a designee to act in his place.
The question of succession came up just after Sanford became governor in 2003.
He joined the Air Force Reserve and was sent to Alabama for two week’s training with his unit, the 315th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, based in Charleston.
Sanford did not transfer power to Republican Lt. Gov Andre Bauer at the time, saying he would be in regular contact with his office.
Sanford said then he would transfer authority in writing to the lieutenant governor only if he were called to active duty.
Bauer said he was not contacted about Sanford’s current absence until Monday morning, when the governor’s office informed his office.
No one discussed a transfer of power to him, Bauer said.
Bob McAlister, chief of staff for the late Gov. Carroll Campbell, said it was not unusual for Campbell to get away from staff or even his security detail.
But Campbell never cut off contact completely, McAllister said.
If Campbell was on vacation or deep-sea fishing, often the press would not be told, McAllister said. But Campbell’s office tried to keep Lt. Gov. Nick Theodore, a Democrat, informed about Campbell’s schedule, particularly when he was traveling abroad.
“From a professional standpoint, this can’t happen,” McAlister said of Sanford’s absence. Residents and public officials need to know where the governor is, he added.
“It’s very disconcerting,” McAlister said.