By Tim Wheeler
People’s Weekly World
South Carolina AFL-CIO President Donna DeWitt [and Chair of the South Carolina Progressive Network] quickly brushes aside questions about Gov. Mark Sanford’s tearful admission June 24 that he flew secretly to Argentina for a week-long tryst with a paramour.
His aides put out the story that Sanford, an avid hiker, had gone for a long walk on the Appalachian Trail to clear his mind after losing several bruising fights with the legislature. It turned out to be a lie. Instead he had flown to Buenos Aires pursuing his love affair with an Argentinian woman named “Maria.”
The story is pouring out in sordid detail, including steamy emails between the woman and Sanford, married and the father of four children. There are reports that the Governor, a fiscal barracuda who slashes programs that serve the poor, flew three times to Argentina at State expense. During the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Sanford, then a member of the House of Representatives, called on Pres. Bill Clinton to resign to restore “moral legitimacy” to the White House. He voted to impeach Clinton.
Yet DeWitt focuses instead on the other source of Sanford’s notoriety: His much publicized rejection of hundreds of millions of dollars in President Obama’s Economic Stimulus funds that South Carolina was to receive. The South Carolina legislature repeatedly overrode the Governor’s vetos of spending bills funded from the economic stimulus and a State Court recently overruled his rejection of the money.
“It’s a sad, sad story from a sad State,” DeWitt told the World in a phone interview from her office in Columbia, the state capital. “The Labor Council gave Sanford a 20 percent rating when he was in Congress. He slept on a futon in his Washington Office. But his door was open to labor. He came to the ILA picnic and brought his wife and kids. She comes from a very wealthy family and has always been his main political adviser.”
Sanford, she charged, “hasn’t been focused on running the State of South Carolina but rather on running for President. All the things he did flowed from his political ambitions.”
She stressed the dire economic crisis that afflicts the Palmetto State. “We needed the money,” she said, referring to the Obama stimulus funds. “Across the board we were looking at 20 percent cuts to our schools, tremendous cuts in healthcare. If he is truly the compassionate conservative he claims to be, those cutbacks would have been important to him but he put his political ambitions ahead of our schools and healthcare.”
His loud rejection of the economic stimulus funds, “was a political ploy. Don’t forget, John McCain invited him out to Arizona to discuss naming him his running mate in last year’s election. Sanford wants to make a name for himself.”
There are other scandalous facts about South Carolina not aired by the corporate media. “South Carolina ranks 50th in the nation in the number of women elected to public office,” DeWitt said. “South Carolina is the only state with no woman in the State Senate. We are always in the top five in the number of women killed by domestic violence. Our unemployment rate is 12.5 percent among the highest in the nation. In some rural counties, it is in the 20 percent to 25 percent range. We have rural counties that are just devastated and they desperately needed that economic stimulus money.”
The South Carolina Progressive Network (SCPN) and the State AFL-CIO organized a rally of nearly 4,000 people April 1 on the steps of the State Capitol to denounce Gov. Sanford’s grandstand play against the stimulus package. The multi-racial crowd held up pink signs with the message, “Pink Slip for Mark Sanford.” Banners proclaimed, “Recall Sanford” and “It’s Our Money: Jobs, Education, Healthcare.”
SCPN Executive Director Brett Bursey told the World he has known Gov. Sanford more than a decade and takes no satisfaction in his personal “tragedy.” But he too stressed that the overriding issue is the plight of hundreds of thousands of unemployed, and poor people in South Carolina as the economic crisis deepens. “We’re tops in the nation in unemployment,” he said. “Its over 12 percent. There were going to be severe cuts in services — critical services — even with the economic stimulus package, including severe teacher layoffs.”
SCPN, the AFL-CIO, and other allies responded by mobilizing the biggest protest demonstration to demand the stimulus funds of any state in the South.
Some in South Carolina believe Sanford cannot survive and will be forced to resign. He has already stepped down as Chairman of the National Republican Governors Association. Once considered a presidential contender, he joins U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev. on the GOP’s lengthening roster of disgraced and discredited might-have-been GOP presidential candidates.