Embattled South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford acknowledged Tuesday that he has been shaken by the failure of a single fellow Republican to back him in his fight to save his job, but vowed to fight on for conservative causes and for “what God wanted me to do with my life.”
The governor, trying to survive a scandal involving a widely publicized extramarital affair, also compared a new ethics probe over his travel and personal expenses to what he called the baseless complaints brought against former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
“I think I now know what Sarah may have been feeling,” Mr. Sanford told The Washington Times.
Mr. Sanford vowed not to quit despite growing pressure from South Carolina lawmakers and Republican Party officials to resign or face impeachment. He said he intends to complete his term, not to hold on to power but to fight for conservative principles of governance.
“I feel absolutely committed to the cause, to what God wanted me to do with my life,” he said in an interview. “I have got this blessing of being engaged in a fight for liberty, which is constantly being threatened.”
Mr. Sanford was once considered a rising star in conservative circles and a potential 2012 Republican presidential contender. He gained national attention earlier this year for his battle to refuse a portion of President Obama’s $787 billion stimulus program targeted largely for spending on education in the state.
But the 49-year-old second-term governor has been rocked by revelations this summer of an extramarital affair with an Argentine woman - which mushroomed into an international tabloid scandal - and by an official probe into charges that he misused public funds for travel and personal expenses.
Republican members of the South Carolina House, at a private retreat over the weekend in Myrtle Beach, agreed to ask Mr. Sanford to step down. Days earlier, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, also a Republican, called on the governor to quit.
“The consensus was for the governor to resign, and nobody in the room said the governor should not resign,” House Speaker Pro Tem Harry Cato, a Republican, told The Times on Saturday.
Mr. Sanford made the Palin comparison after disclosing a confidential probe begun Aug. 18 by the State Ethics Commission. The investigation, requested by State Attorney General Henry McMaster and the leaders of the state House and Senate, focused on the governor’s use of state aircraft, his overseas flights and the suspected use of campaign funds to pay off personal expenses.
Mr. Sanford said a fellow Republican, state Sen. David Thomas of Fountain Inn, has pushed the ethics probe, even though past South Carolina governors and legislators have done exactly as Mr. Sanford has done.
Mrs. Palin resigned her post in July, citing in part the expense and personal toll of defending herself and her family from nearly a score of ethics cases lodged against her. The former Republican vice-presidential candidate has been cleared so far of every accusation of wrongdoing.
Mrs. Palin condemned what she called in her resignation speech the “politics of personal destruction.”
“It’s pretty insane,” she said. “My staff and I spend most of our day dealing with [the ethics complaints] instead of progressing our state.”
Mr. Sanford said his critics in South Carolina are guilty of “selective outrage” and argued that documentation from the state Department of Commerce would back up his assertions that he had done nothing wrong.
He said his public approval ratings have been dropping in part because of the need to defend himself publicly, including a sidewalk news conference across from Mr. Thomas’ office last week that some critics pronounced as bizarre.
The public hears only the story from his critics, the governor said, for whom in many cases it is “payback time.”
Adding to Mr. Sanford’s woes, a poll released Friday found that 49.5 percent of South Carolina voters now want Mr. Sanford to go, compared with 36.6 percent who say he should remain in office. The result stands in sharp contrast to a similar poll shortly after the affair was revealed, when a majority of state voters said he should stay.
Mr. Sanford’s term ends in January 2011.
Mr. Sanford said his lack of support stems in part from the resentment arising from his efforts to challenge the status quo, including tort reform and a battle all the way to the state Supreme Court to kill a spending measure loaded with political pork for special interests.
“We have really changed the way things have been done in this state for a long time, and that produced bruised feelings” among legislators in both parties, Mr. Sanford said.
Mr. Sanford acknowledged being jarred by the total lack of support from fellow Republicans in recent days, but said his isolation had only increased his focus on the fight to save his job.
“What happened is that you take your eye off the ball and have the moral failing that I did,” Mr. Sanford said, “and suddenly you are off the playing field. Then you realize how blessed you were to have been on that playing field.”
With a record that included business tax cuts, promoting charter schools and criticizing Mr. Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus spending plan, Mr. Sanford was riding high in the state until he made a clandestine trip to Buenos Aires in June to see his lover. To conceal the trip, he told his staff a “little white lie.”
After the affair was revealed, his wife moved out of the Statehouse with the couple’s four sons.
“Never again,” he said in the interview. “In many cases in life, you never fully appreciate your blessings until you lose them.”