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Commentary: Sanford has plenty of amends to make

South Carolinians waiting to hear Gov. Mark Sanford explain his five-day disappearance got an unexpected, saddening shock.

The governor's revelation that he had been unfaithful to his wife, Jenny, and had spent the past several days in Argentina with another woman instead of hiking on the Appalachian Trail — as he had told staff and as staff had told this state's media and its people — felt like a punch to the gut.

For some, at least for a moment, the news sucked the air out of concerns about the governor leaving the state without anyone knowing where he was or how to get in touch with him. For others, while they noted the unfortunate circumstances, this did little to soften their heated rhetoric over the governor's disappearing act.

Our collective heart goes out to the governor, Mrs. Sanford and their boys as they endure this most difficult time. They deserve the opportunity to work through this situation outside the public spotlight.

But as much as they deserve to be able to deal with their personal issues in private, Mark Sanford, as governor, has to answer for his actions as the state’s elected chief executive. Yes, he deserves a private life, but those who choose to serve in elected office are held to a higher standard, and even their personal matters are thrust into the public square, particularly when they affect public policy or governance.

In an attempt to conceal this private matter, Mr. Sanford deliberately and willfully deceived the people of South Carolina. He eluded the state's top law enforcement agency and lied to staff about his whereabouts. And he abandoned his duties and exposed this state in a way no elected chief executive should. By making himself unreachable and refusing to take the simple step of turning his authority temporarily over to the lieutenant governor while he was out of the country, he left more than 4 million South Carolinians unprotected in the event of an emergency that only he had the constitutional authority to respond to, particularly one that would call for the assistance of the National Guard. That is inexcusable.

The governor has decided to resign as head of the Republican Governor's Association because of the problems, and we believe that is appropriate. There are those in our state who understandably question whether he will be able to continue as our state's chief executive, and believe he should resign as governor as well. We are not ready to join them at this point.

This story is still unraveling, and we do not know what else might be turned up. Moreover, Mr. Sanford's own actions in the coming days and weeks will play a huge role in determining whether he is fit to continue as governor.

The governor apologized and asked for forgiveness from not only his wife and family, but all South Carolinians. As genuine as his plea might be, that alone – even forgiveness alone – is not enough. Mr. Sanford has a great deal of redemptive work ahead to win back even a minimal amount of trust.

To read the complete editorial, visit The State (Columbia, S.C.).