Commentary: S.C. Republicans lamely ducked Sanford issue

Governor Sanford of South Carolina admitted he had an affair.
Governor Sanford of South Carolina admitted he had an affair. Erik Campos/The State/MCT

What interesting times in which we live. The governor of Alaska resigns, saying she won't be a lame duck, flying all over on the public's dime. Besides, she wants to protect her family.

In South Carolina, our lame duck governor admits he flew to Argentina to see his mistress but won't resign because he wants to be a role model for his sons. And how does the South Carolina Republican Party react to this lame-ducky governor, who over Fathers Day weekend deserts both his progeny and 4 million constituents?

At first there was much tut-tutting, accompanied by consensus that as long as he confessed his sins and returned to the marriage bed, Mark Sanford could be forgiven.

Then, after Lame Duck Governor and Role Model Dad admitted to more trysts with his Pampas Mama than previously acknowledged – in addition to non-line-crossing encounters with other women – state Republican leaders took to the streets, brandishing moral torches and demanding his resignation. That public opinion polls indicated voters increasingly were demanding Sanford's ouster surely was a coincidence.

The worm turned a third time after the chief of SLED issued Sanford a Stay Out of Jail Card, ruling that no state money had been spent on hanky panky.

During a lengthy secret conference call last week, a majority of state GOP officials "censured" the governor but stopped short of calling for his resignation. That the national media hounds had picked up stronger scents than South Carolina's scandal benefited the Lothario in our Governor's Mansion. If the death of pop superstar Michael Jackson didn't take all the heat off Republican mucky-mucks, Sarah Palin's "lame duck" announcement lowered the thermostat even further.

GOP big shots made a big mistake by not calling for Sanford's resignation. The governor has always marched to his own drumbeat, so there was little danger he would say, "You guys are right. I have shamed my state, and I am resigning forthwith."

Republican leaders then could have had their cake and eaten it, too. They could tell the Family Values folks: "Hey, we tried!"

So what's their official position? In effect, they said to Sanford: "Sin again, Buster, and we're going to ask you to quit."


York County GOP Chair Glenn McCall rhetorically asked fellow party members what were they waiting for. Sanford already secretly left the country without notice, misled his staff to his whereabouts and trashed his marriage vows.

Adultery, by the way, is a crime in South Carolina – no matter where it occurs.

A Rock Hill lawyer I know attends political rallies so he can ask candidates for the county sheriff's job whether they intend to arrest adulterers. York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant, also a Republican, says the county couldn't build enough jail cells.

Nevertheless, if the Republicans truly want Sanford out, why not have him arrested for infidelity? The ensuing trial and appeal might resolve whether the adultery statute is constitutional. Better yet, it would allow the party to renew its claim to the moral high ground.

If not that, surely they could find other grounds for Sanford's removal. Heck, if it's against federal law to transport a woman across state lines for immoral purposes, surely it must be illegal to cross the equator for the same reason.

Or how about a Made In America strategy? If he needed a "soul mate," they could say, Sanford should have emulated such patriots as Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich and John Edwards by sinning only with American women.

Truth be known, most of Sanford's fellow Republicans are happy with the thought that he might complete his term.

So what if the governor twists in the wind for the next 18 months? They don't like him anyway. This way they can blame him for South Carolina's economic problems and use him as an excuse for their failing to address real issues such as tax reform, government restructuring or education funding.

Mostly, they are terrified that Sanford will resign, giving Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer the inside track for the 2010 gubernatorial race.

As a compromise, GOP lawmakers should vote to replace the Carolina Wren as the state bird … with a Lame Duck.


Terry Plumb is a retired Rock Hill Herald Editor.