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Sanford's revelations befuddle residents, lawmakers

Legislators not pressing for his ouster

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford chronicled his affair during interviews this week. South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford chronicled his affair during interviews this week. (Mary Ann Chastain/Associated Press)
By Jim Davenport
Associated Press / July 2, 2009
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COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina residents - and the simply curious around the world - have watched Governor Mark Sanford’s lovelorn saga unfold, the central character spewing an odd script that would seem more appropriate for a soap opera than state government.

Top South Carolina Republicans and at least a half-dozen newspapers are calling for his resignation. Constituents are scratching their heads at their governor’s soul-bearing declarations that he considers his Argentine mistress his “soul mate’’ but is trying to salvage his 20-year marriage.

“I just think he needs to shut up,’’ said Democratic Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter, a social worker and one of the few lawmakers who don’t think he needs to resign. “I don’t want any more details of his love life. He needs to stop being public with his angst and talk to a counselor.’’

Sanford hasn’t resigned, but he is hunkering down as he wraps up his second and last term as governor. The Republican, 49, made no public appearances yesterday and refused to release promised personal financial records to the media to show he hadn’t used public money to fund trips to see his mistress, Maria Belen Chapur, in New York and Argentina.

Sanford did bring two personal checks totaling $3,300 to the state treasurer as reimbursement for part of a taxpayer-funded trip to South America last year. The money covered lodging, meals, and airfare to Buenos Aires, where he saw Chapur.

Over the previous two days, he had chronicled his affair and tortured emotions in interviews with the Associated Press. Those came less than a week after he returned from a secret visit to Argentina and confessed his affair at a tearful, rambling press conference. His staff had claimed he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

His spokesman issued a statement yesterday saying there’s nothing left to say.

“He is focused on being governor, on rebuilding his marriage, and on building back the trust of South Carolinians,’’ spokesman Joel Sawyer said.

In the AP interviews, Sanford laid out his thoughts and feelings in sometimes lurid or odd detail. For example: He said close Christian friends advised him to end the affair immediately and used graphic, figurative terms on how to do so - “the first step is, you shoot her. You put a bullet through her head,’’ he said.

The words were not meant literally, but reveal how dramatically Sanford described the saga.

Among the other puzzling tidbits were that he asked permission from his wife, Jenny, to visit Chapur, and that he had had dalliances over the years with other women, but never had sex with them.

“I think he’s bizarre,’’ said Courtney Phillips, 29, of Columbia, who works at a clothing store. “He’s an idiot, and I feel terrible for his family. He should muster some dignity and step down.’’

Attorney General Henry McMaster has asked the State Law Enforcement Division to review all of Sanford’s travel records to see if he broke any laws. State Representative Vida Miller, a conservative Democrat, called for a legislative investigation.

“We have become an international embarrassment,’’ she said. “At this point in time, I feel the well-being of our state is in jeopardy.’’

Yesterday, US Representative Gresham Barrett, a Republican candidate for governor, became the first of the state’s congressmen to call for Sanford’s resignation.

Though some state Senate Republicans have called for the same, no one so far is talking seriously about going a step further and pressing for his removal. The state constitution allows the state’s top elected officials to elevate the lieutenant governor if the governor is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,’’ but no law defines what that means.

“This section deals more with actual inability, on a respirator in a hospital because he’s had a stroke or heart attack, not because he’s nutty,’’ said constitutional attorney John Harrell of Charleston, who could find no example of when the provision has been used. He said another example would be if Sanford had never returned from Argentina. “But I don’t think a failure of personal life and being inappropriately love struck would necessarily rise to the level.’’