- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 28, 2009

COLUMBIA, S.C. | Texas Gov. Rick Perry was raising money at his campaign headquarters when an Associated Press reporter called his press staff to ask what he was doing. An hour later, he walked into the AP’s statehouse bureau to show he was alive and well, and not, say, in South America for a romantic rendezvous.

Most of the nation’s governors were willing - even eager - to prove they were on the job after revelations that South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford ditched his security detail and disappeared for a secret tryst with a mistress in Argentina.

The day after Mr. Sanford admitted his indiscretion at a tearful, rambling press conference, the AP called governors’ offices nationwide to ask: What’s the boss doing right now?

Gov. Mike Beebe of Arkansas was at the dentist. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley was fishing with his 10-year-old son. Wisconsin Gov. James E. Doyle was flying back from a Washington speaking engagement, while Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was visiting U.S. troops in Eastern Europe.

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman was in his office, but a few minutes after a reporter called, he, too, showed up at the AP’s Capitol bureau - with a state trooper, the lieutenant governor and his chief of staff in tow - to show, albeit jokingly, that he could be accounted for.

The AP had problems finding Georgia’s Sonny Perdue, who is serving his final term. His spokesman, Bert Brantley, said that Mr. Perdue had been working at his Capitol office earlier but that he wasn’t sure where the governor was precisely when the AP called. When pressed, Mr. Brantley said he would not call the governor just to answer a press inquiry into his whereabouts.

“Even when he’s on a personal day or family time, he still keeps his BlackBerry on him,” Mr. Brantley said. “There’s not a time when he’s not reachable.”

Mr. Sanford’s vanishing act had his fellow governors scratching their heads, if not cracking wise. Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer began a news conference Wednesday by joking he was late because he’d been in Venezuela.

“What was he thinking?” said Mr. Schweitzer, a Democrat. “Didn’t he think anyone would be watching?”

Impromptu checks by the AP showed most gubernatorial staffs keep close tabs on their bosses.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s love life hasn’t been an obstacle for staffs to keep in touch. Erin Isaac, Mr. Crist’s communications director, said she “talked to the governor 100 times while he was on his honeymoon.” Mr. Crist was married in December.

Generally, state officials and staffers should be able to locate a governor on a moment’s notice and the public has a right to know, too, said Gene Policinski, executive director of the First Amendment Center, a free-speech education organization in Nashville, Tenn., that is part of the Freedom Forum.

Besides giving speeches, signing bills and attending ribbon-cuttings, governors must take charge in natural disasters. They command their states’ National Guards and their personal time can become the public’s business, particularly when they betray people’s trust, Mr. Policinski said.

“As, unfortunately, recent scandals seem to indicate, there is legitimate public interest in knowing where a governor is and what they’re doing,” said Mr. Policinski.

As Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty left a Republican fundraiser, he said he always tries to let his staff know what he’s doing.

“Regardless of whether you’re a governor or anyone else, having a little clear-your-head time is probably a good thing. But you always have to make sure you stay in touch, in case there’s a problem. You have to communicate,” he said.

When the AP asked where governors were Thursday, the most common answer was: in the office. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was reviewing bills on the last day of the legislative session. Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry was interviewing a candidate for a judicial appointment.

Even when governors were traveling, staffers had little trouble saying exactly where they were. In Alabama, Gov. Bob Riley’s communications director, Jeff Emerson, knew Mr. Riley was landing in Seattle after an economic development trip overseas.

Mrs. Palin’s spokeswoman, Sharon Leighow, said the Alaska governor was visiting National Guard troops from her state abroad but wouldn’t immediately disclose where. She called back 30 minutes later, after getting the Defense Department’s OK, to say Mrs. Palin was in Kosovo. Mrs. Palin told the world where she was that same day in a Twitter update.

While finding governors through their press offices can be easy, tracking them down using schedules available to the general public can be trickier. Most release calendars of public events and news conferences, but some keep closed-door meetings and private functions under wraps even if they’re official state business.

Most states were tight-lipped about security, saying that revealing details would put chief executives at risk, and arrangements varied widely in states willing to talk about them. In Virginia, state police guard Gov. Tim Kaine around the clock - anywhere he goes - without exception. North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven, by contrast, normally drives his own car, and state law doesn’t require him to have a security detail.

Mr. Sanford managed to slip overseas undetected because he dismissed his security detail before driving himself to the airport.

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