The following editorial appeared in the Charlotte Observer on Thursday, June 25:

Don’t get us wrong. Buenos Aires is a beautiful city, known as the Paris of Latin America. And for the record, we believe hiking the Appalachian Trail is an excellent way to clear your head and unwind after you’ve been used as a punching bag by state legislators from your own Republican Party.

But even if South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford had been hiking — instead of visiting a paramour in Buenos Aires, as he confessed at a Wednesday news conference — he’d still be in a heap of trouble. If you’re a governor, you do not go off without staying in touch with your office — whether you’re backpacking on the trail or bawling in Buenos Aires. You do not turn off your cell phone, and you make sure your staff knows where you are and how to reach you. Always.

Forget, for now, the extramarital affair. For a chief executive of a state to remain unreachable for days — and apparently neither his staff nor the State Law Enforcement Division knew where he was or how to reach him — is a serious breach of duty. What if a tornado had scraped down Cherry Road in Rock Hill? What if the Catawba Nuclear Plant had a meltdown? What if a terrorist bombed the S.C. State House? On Wednesday, at his extraordinary news conference, Sanford said he is resigning as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

Good. It’s time for him to resign the S.C. governorship as well.

Sanford has always been an unconventional politician. In 2004 he took a pair of piglets named “Pork” and “Barrel” to the legislature to protest spending. (That stunt helps explain why the Republican-controlled legislature last week in one day overrode 10 of Sanford’s vetoes.) He tried his hardest to keep federal stimulus money out of his state, although it is suffering from the nation’s fourth-highest unemployment rate. In taking those stands he held himself out as a guy who puts principle first — even though most successful politicians know you’re more effective if you can compromise a bit. But unconventional is one thing. Irresponsible is something else. Sanford’s secret, six-day assignation in Argentina betrayed not only his family and friends but the people of his state.

Yes, he did the right thing in his public apology to them all and in asking for forgiveness. When he said, “This was selfishness on my part,” he spoke the truth, after far too many lies.

And it was refreshing, too, that his wife, Jenny, was not standing awkwardly beside him for his mea culpa moment. We hope the news media will, as he asked, give his family a break from the spotlight.

Yet whatever credibility he might once have had is shredded. His much-touted principles have unraveled. “I’ve spent the last five days of my life crying in Argentina,” Sanford said. “I am committed to trying to get my heart right.” We wish him well in that endeavor. Maybe he’ll reconcile with his family and they can forgive him. Maybe he’ll decide to tango into a new life in Latin America.

Whatever he chooses, he should face his future as a private citizen, not as South Carolina’s governor.


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