- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 23, 2009

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) | South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has been hiking the Appalachian Trail, a spokesman said Monday, explaining a dayslong absence that perplexed fellow state leaders.

Mr. Sanford, a second-term Republican, hadn’t been at work for several days, and his office hadn’t been in touch with him. Lawmakers and his wife said Monday that they didn’t know where he was, leading critics to question who was in charge of South Carolina.

“I cannot take lightly that his staff has not had communication with him for more than four days, and that no one, including his own family, knows his whereabouts,” said Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer.

Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer said Mr. Sanford left town Thursday with plans to hike the Appalachian Trail. He said he didn’t know where exactly Mr. Sanford was Tuesday night and declined to discuss Mr. Sanford’s travel arrangements or who, if anyone, was hiking with him.

“He’s just up there to kind of clear his head after the legislative session,” Mr. Sawyer told the Associated Press in an interview.

Mr. Sawyer said it’s not the first time that Mr. Sanford has been in an area where he’s difficult to reach, noting that if there’s an emergency situation, the office would consult with other state officials before making any decisions.

“He’s an avid outdoorsman,” Mr. Sawyer said. “Nobody’s ever accused our governor of being conventional.”

First lady Jenny Sanford said earlier Monday that she had not spoken with her husband for several days - and that includes Father’s Day. The Sanfords have four sons.

“He was writing something and wanted some space to get away from the kids,” Mrs. Sanford told AP while vacationing at the family’s Sullivans Island beach house. She said she didn’t know where he was, but wasn’t concerned.

Law-enforcement officials who handle his security declined to comment, and Mr. Sawyer wouldn’t say whether Mr. Sanford had a security detail with him. Mr. Sanford is known for taking walks and runs without security, but flight logs show he seldom leaves the state without it.

Mr. Sanford typically is open about his whereabouts, and his office makes no secret of time spent on vacation or out of state.

But politicians said they did not know that Mr. Sanford was taking time away from his office. Mr. Bauer said he had not been put in charge.

Mr. Sanford’s critics were quick to criticize the governor.

“It’s one thing for the boys to go off by themselves, but on Father’s Day to leave your family behind? That’s erratic,” said Senate Minority Leader John Land.

Mr. Sanford’s unannounced absence was a cause for concern because the National Guard and the state’s top law-enforcement agencies report to him, Mr. Land said.

Sen. Jake Knotts, Lexington Republican and a persistent Sanford critic, said the state needs to know where its governor is.

“The way things are in the world today and homeland security, we need the governor to be fingertips away,” Mr. Knotts said. “Somebody’s got to be in charge.”