South Carolina governor's mansion wanting for Missouri normalcy

Friday, July 10, 2009 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

There’s not much I can write about Mark Sanford that hasn’t already been written by now, as just about every pundit has pontificated on the disgraced South Carolina governor’s affair with an Argentine journalist. 

Coming off a rather dull news cycle in the Show-Me State, in which statehouse drama revolved largely around a newly elected Democratic governor wrangling with a Republican legislature over fiscal issues, the Sanford sideshow is just the sort of soap opera we love to hate, or hate to love.

Still, I feel like I know Governor Sanford. As a matter of fact, I do know Sanford because I lived in South Carolina during my first year as a newspaper reporter.

In 2006, while I was working on general assignment for the Manning Times, Sanford was engaged in his re-election campaign. Innocent as they seem now, three years and an economic downturn later, school vouchers and cigarette taxes managed to become signature campaign issues, and newspapers were still hiring reporters to cover them. 

I voted for Sanford’s opponent that year, less because of political beliefs than because the other guy actually visited the small town I lived in and consented to be interviewed. Sanford, a former real estate broker who spent his formative years on a 3,000-acre plantation, struck me as a country-club governor who couldn’t be bothered with the little people. When I left South Carolina for a daily newspaper in Pennsylvania, I never expected to hear his name again.

Come 2009, with Sanford’s confession and the calls for his resignation, it’s easy to beat up on the guy as a family man who betrayed his family, a religious man who defied his principles or a wealthy man who fought for his state’s right not toreceive wealth via the federal economic stimulus.

During my tenure in South Carolina, it was actually the state’s current lieutenant governor, Andre Bauer, who generated the most headlines. He regularly ran red lights and zipped across the state at 100-plus miles an hour but never received so much as a traffic ticket, despite being pulled over on numerous occasions. Then Bauer crashed a plane on a solo flight in the middle of his own re-election campaign (I can’t make this stuff up). 

By that logic, getting rid of Sanford would equate to tossing out an adulterous governor who has no business lecturing Bill Clinton on marital infidelity, as Sanford did, and calling into office a lawbreaking lieutenant governor who could have faced real jail time for operating motor vehicles at triple-digit speeds, as Bauer did. 

Suffice to say that I am suddenly and unexpectedly grateful for Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.

I can’t vouch for his moral character, but at least Nixon’s office will release his daily schedule to the public, making it more difficult for him to sneak off for torrid trysts in Latin American countries.

At least, as a former attorney general who seemed to thrive on an aggressive reputation, Nixon is unlikely ever to offer the lame excuse that he wasted five straight days of the people’s work “crying in Argentina,” as Sanford had the nerve to claim. 

At least I don’t have to listen to Nixon compare himself to King David after his fall, as Sanford has in justifying his refusal to resign, thereby elevating himself to a Biblical figure. 

And for crying out loud, when there are millions of deficit-bound dollars the federal government is determined to disperse, at least Nixon will accept the money and let Missouri decide its fate, rather than risk letting stimulus funds go to another state.

Nixon threw a press luncheon early in the year, in which he treated the statehouse media to fish, steak and other culinary delights. He shook my hand while making his rounds, though he was already off to another guest before I could finish my reply to his “How are you?”

During the news conference that followed as well as the one Nixon gave at the close of the legislative session, he endured the usual media barrage. He delivered a stump speech full of platitudes. He dodged questions he didn’t like. He cracked lame jokes. Sometimes his public relations team was helpful, sometimes not.

For whatever else you can say about him, Nixon thus far has demonstrated normality. Never has normal felt so new.

And I won’t even mention a certain governor of Alaska. 

Brian Jarvis is a graduate journalism student at MU.

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