COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford remains popular among the tea party supporters he let down last year when he went from a rising star advocating their aims to a confessed adulterer.
The Republican governor won applause Thursday at a tea party rally at the Statehouse where more than 1,000 people gathered.
But there were also a few hecklers. Edward Quick of Sumter shouted “traitor” as Sanford spoke. “A better idea would be for you to return what you’ve stolen already,” Quick shouted as Sanford talked about the Senate’s approval Wednesday of raising the nation’s lowest cigarette tax of 7 cents to 57 cents a pack.
But Quick was far outnumbered in the crowd by people like Don Rogers, a retiree and Greenville tea party activist. He, like many in the crowd find a new context for Sanford, who was regarded as the messenger for their interests last year even as he harbored the personal secret of a marriage on the rocks after his now ex-wife discovered a love letter about his Argentine lover.
“The governor probably disappointed the people of South Carolina more than any politician that I know of because he was so right on the issues. I never heard the man say a thing that I disagreed with him on. And he was fighting the big fight,” Rogers said. Rogers fondly recalled Sanford toting squirming, defecating pigs to the doors of the House to protest vetoes being overridden on spending.
“That was wonderful,” Rogers said. But now he says Sanford is keeping a low profile with no signs of trying to pull off a comeback. “I’m hopeful that as time passes, he will re-engage.”
Sanford seems more comfortable with where he is. In his State of the State address in January, he made what he said was his last public apology for the affair. His divorce from Jenny Sanford was final last month after her tell-all book was released. On Wednesday, she confirmed she was dating a Georgia businessman.
On Tuesday, Sanford made light reference to their parting as he spoke to the Yale (University) Political Union and shied away from personal questions. A YouTube video shows Sanford fielding a question about what he’d do if a hurricane hit his Sullivan’s Island home.
“Unfortunately, that’s not my house anymore. That’s my wife’s house,” Sanford said, giving a hint of the divorce settlement a court has sealed.
Sanford knows the heckles and has been trying to get ahead of them since within weeks of calling Maria Belen Chapur his soul mate. And he looked at Quick Thursday and did the same.
“I don’t stand as tall as I once did,” Sanford said. “But what I do know and what I take solace in is God can use imperfect people in all walks of life.”
The nation’s founders, Sanford said, took into account that men failed and that faith was better placed in God and laws. It’s important that “though we may have imperfect messengers to recognize that we have a perfect message — which is to say let’s go back to what made this country great and let’s not spend ourselves into oblivion in the process of getting there,” Sanford said.