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What Sanford win says about S.C.

Posted: May 10, 2013 9:02 a.m.
Updated: May 13, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Somehow, the man who walked the Appalachian Trail all the way to Argentina to see his mistress got elected to Congress last Tuesday in a voting outcome that almost defies belief.

Former governor Mark Sanford’s victory could end up being a collective headache for South Carolina -- at least in the state’s first congressional U.S. district, anyway. Living in Camden as opposed to the coast means not only that I didn’t vote for Sanford, but that he doesn’t represent me.

I’m still trying to figure out, however, what possessed 54 percent of District 1 voters to elect Sanford after everything that’s happened. By everything, I mean everything -- from bringing pigs into the State House in 2004, which highlighted his inability to even get along with his own party; to having to pay a $70,000 fine for using state aircraft for personal travel, and charges he failed to report in-kind contributions and converted campaign funds for personal use; to, of course, disappearing for several days to meet his mistress in Argentina. Even during this most recent campaign for District 1, he admitted to trespassing at his ex-wife’s home and debated a cardboard cutout of U.S. House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi -- who wasn’t even his opponent.

Really, District 1, you voted for this man? For once, you couldn’t see past party politics to keep out of office someone who has so flagrantly shown himself to be incapable of exercising good judgment?

Was Elizabeth Colbert-Busch that distasteful to you? I thought she came across as fairly middle of the road. If nothing else, I don’t remember hearing of any scandals about her and thought she did really well in her one debate.

More than one pundit has said that American voters are forgiving of politicians’ sins, South Carolina even moreso.

But is that the face we really want to show the rest of the country and the world? I’m not saying we shouldn’t be forgiving as individuals in our personal lives. I’m talking about the state’s “face.”

In a way, I’m appealing -- after the fact, mind you -- to my friends in the GOP. The Republican Party has, typically, had a hard time with female and minority voters. The party is, stereotypically, seen as a bastion of rich, white, male power. What does it say of the Republican Party -- and of at least District 1, if not all of South Carolina -- when a man who so publically brought shame to his family and state is raised up as a political hero as Sanford was last Tuesday night?

Everyone here in South Carolina loves to talk about family values. The Republican Party has, typically, claimed to uphold those values above Democrats’ claims.

I think it’s interesting that tea party members within the Republican Party decided to overlook Sanford’s breaking of family values and endorsed him strictly on his fiscal conservativeness -- a conservativeness that borders, if not crosses the line into, libertarianism.

Amy Kremer, chair of Tea Party Express, the largest tea party PAC, asked this when endorsing Sanford: “The decision in this election is simple: do residents of District 1 want to just elect another rubber stamp for Nancy Pelosi and Obama, or do they want to elect a proven conservative that will get things done?”

I’m sorry, “proven conservative that will get things done”? Did any of these folks remember that Sanford barely got anything done during his eight years as governor? Even before that, when he represented District 1 the first time, he tended to buck up against his own party in Congress.

But I guess tea partiers didn’t care. To them, apparently, it’s OK to be fiscally conservative, but not keep to those conservative family values the rest of the party claims to support? Even I have a hard time swallowing that.

Which brings me back to my trying to figure out exactly how Sanford got elected last week. Was it simply that District 1 is a Republican stronghold? Perhaps, but there seemed to be a lot of Republicans there just a couple of weeks ago who didn’t seem to like him too much. Perhaps there are just so many more Republicans than Democrats that it didn’t matter how many people voted for Colbert-Busch, Sanford was going to win anyway. Or, too many Democrats stayed home.

At one point very near election day, Colbert-Busch held a 9-point lead over Sanford. Poor polling, or did something happen in those few days before the election that swayed people to Sanford’s side? I don’t remember anything Colbert-Busch did to suddenly turn people off, nor anything Sanford did to fire them up.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, writing on The Fix blog, said one of the reasons Sanford won is that he was the better candidate, that Colbert-Busch “displayed many of the traits of a first time candidate.” Did he see the same debate the rest of us did? Cillizza also said Sanford “outworked her,” appearing at 11 events on the final campaign day.

On top of that, Cillizza said, U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott and -- oh, how wonderful! -- our current governor, Nikki Haley, all endorsed him just one week before the election.

I hope it wasn’t Haley’s endorsement that put it over the top. Otherwise, the folks in District 1 will have gotten exactly what they deserve: another South Carolina politician who cares more about the national stage than what’s needed here at home ... and who might find yet another way to embarrass our state yet again.

In the long run, I’m betting we’ll all have wished he had stayed in Argentina.


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