Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sanford & Sanity: The strange, troubling saga of Gov. Mark Sanford, AWOL

By Michael J.W. Stickings

So apparently Mark Sanford, the AWOL Republican governor of South Carolina, is hiking the Appalachian Trail.

(UPDATE: Sanford staff is now saying that the governor will be back in the office on Wednesday. Still, it's all very, very troubling.)

So, case closed, right? Story over?


For all I know, Sanford may very well be hiking. And he may very well have been hiking these past several days. Perhaps it all came about quite suddenly, like a trip to Vegas with your buddies. Maybe one of his Palmetto pals called him up out of the blue, swung by the mansion, and, before you knew it, a whole group of would-be hikers was speeding from telephones, computers, and civilization as we know it.


Well, he did:

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.

Joel Sawyer, the governor's spokesman 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.

Really? Not concerned? Your husband just picks up and leaves, without telling you anything, and that's fine with you? His phones are off, he's gone for several days, over Father's Day weekend, and you're not worried at all?


As Josh Marshall put it, "something seems a tad fishy here."

His wife says he's off writing a book -- he apparently "wanted some space to get away from the kids." But... on Father's Day? Really? And how is he writing a book while he's hiking?

His office says that he's "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." (Maybe he's stressed out after screwing the good people of South Carolina out of all that stimulus money. Maybe he's lost his mind and flipped out defending the indefensible (namely, right-wing Republican ideology). Who knows?)

His spokesman says that "he let staff know his whereabouts and that he'd be difficult to reach."

But then why all the concern? How did this -- his disappearance -- become such a story in South Carolina? Was there no attempt to let the media know? Or anyone outside his inner circle? Apparently not. But why not?

And what about this claim from several people "familiar with the situation" that neither his office nor security knew where he was or could reach him?

If he just wanted to get away, even over Father's Day weekend... fine. That's his business. But then why not just say, why not just tell those who need to know, and should know, "I'm off for a bit to do this or that. No worries. Here's where you can find me if you need me"?

Politicians take vacations all the time. This seems... different.

I mean, what if there had been an emergency? Was he really reachable? Did his office really know where he was, or is still?

And who was in charge while he was AWOL?

Chris Cillizza notes, in an update, that his office still doesn't seem to know exactly where (on the Trail) he is. Even the lieutenant governor couldn't get through to him -- "that request was denied because the Governor's chief of staff does not know where the Governor is, and has not communicated with the Governor since he left South Carolina last Thursday." That according to Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer himself.

Cillizza again: "Given the decided lack of concern from Sanford's office, it would appear as though there are no fears that the governor is in danger. Still, pulling a disappearing act like this -- whatever the reason -- is a decidedly odd move for someone who is seen as a likely presidential candidate in 2012."

Well... yeah. No kidding.

It's all very, very strange. And there is good reason, it would seem, to question, if not (yet) his sanity, at least his judgement.

Enjoy the hike, Governor. You'll have a few questions to answer upon your return.

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