Losing a governor

Friday, June 26, 2009

South Carolina lost its governor this week.

No, Gov. Mark Sanford didn't die. He was, well, sort of misplaced for a few days.

He left on a Thursday and didn't tell anyone -- including his wife and four sons -- where he was going.

No itinerary. No security. No temporary handing over the reins of state government.

Just gone.

I suppose there have been times in all our lives when we'd like to check out of the daily grind for a while. For some of us, a 20-minute nap on a warm afternoon will do the trick. For others, a road trip is the cure. Or a visit to South America.

Governor Sanford has established a reputation for not turning up wherever it is everyone else thinks he ought to be.

In a way, I admire Sanford's independent streak. The notion that our lives have to be controlled, channeled, contained by obligations, particularly the ones others schedule for us, is wrong.

Freedom, my friends, is being able to say: "By golly, I don't have to eat All Bran for breakfast."

Sanford's leave of absence has political undertones. The governor has received a great deal of attention as being the governor who told Washington: Keep your stimulus funds. You can't afford to throw all that money around.

Not that his stand made him the most popular guy in South Carolina. The state legislature went to court to force Sanford to request $700 million in federal stimulus funding -- and won.

Curious thing about the stimulus money: The federal government virtually forces states to take the cash while, at the same time, requiring states to ask for it first. This is how government covers its tracks.

In addition, the South Carolina Legislature adjourned last week after overriding all of Sanford's 10 vetoes.

All in all, it was not a particularly good week for Sanford.

Sanford has been mentioned by some as a potential presidential candidate to challenge President Obama's bid for a second term.

And he was chairman of the Republican Governors Association -- until he resurfaced Wednesday and said he had been to Argentina to see the woman he has been having an affair with for at least a year.

If you were thinking of a presidential campaign, what things can you think of doing that would make your name a household word?

I've got it: Run away from home. Have an affair. Cry at your televised confession.

Don't tell me Mark Sanford is down for the count. I suggest he talk to Paris Hilton as a possible running mate.


Governor Sanford's absence caused quite a stir among the rest of South Carolina's officials, who didn't know who was in charge. It's a good thing for them that there appeared to be no need for a governor for several days.

This might be something other states could consider. Do we really need a governor 365 days a year?


Losing a governor for several days reminds me of the occasion, a few years ago, when the governor of Kansas was incapacitated and no one could find the lieutenant governor. In Kansas, the lieutenant governor has no duties other than succeeding the governor, if necessary.

Once it became apparent that (a) no one was sure where the lieutenant governor lived and (b) he wasn't there anyway, everyone in Kansas started playing Find the Lieutenant Governor. He eventually turned up.

More recently, the lieutenant governor of Kansas had to be found when Gov. Kathleen Sibelius became secretary of health and human services in the Obama administration. Someone had the foresight to find him before she accepted the appointment.

jsullivan@semissourian.com;

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