Bob Bestler

I never voted for Mark Sanford. Yet, as he leaves, I say we need more like him in office

Rep. Mark Sanford answers questions during a town hall meeting on at Technical College of the Lowcountry in Beaufort earlier this year. Sanford wants to make changes to a pending spending bill.
Rep. Mark Sanford answers questions during a town hall meeting on at Technical College of the Lowcountry in Beaufort earlier this year. Sanford wants to make changes to a pending spending bill. dearley@islandpacket.com

After I received a Christmas card from Mark Sanford last month, I sent a response.

“Thanks for the card, Mark. Sorry to see you leave Congress, but mighty happy about your successor [Joe Cunningham]. Have a great Christmas.”

He wrote back on Dec. 26: “Many thanks … and hope our paths cross soon.”

On that same day he posted a farewell message, thanking his supporters and expressing concern about press freedom.

“There is a reason that the Founding Fathers enshrined the idea of a free and open press in the First Amendment,” he said. “We should watch this carefully as the populist waves of today now come ashore.”

Never say never, but it appeared Sanford was leaving politics behind after 11 years as a congressman — including six representing Horry and Georgetown counties — and eight years as governor of South Carolina.

It also brings to an end a kind of long-distance friendship I’ve had with Sanford.

I met him the day he filed for Congress as an unknown in 1993; he came into my office at The Sun News, looking for a reporter. I found one and we ran a small story. I assumed we wouldn’t hear much more from him.

Wrong. After a couple of televised debates, he upset the GOP favorite, Van Hipp, and headed for Congress.

One of his first votes was cast against a 10-year ban on assault weapons, and I dinged him a bit for the vote. Within hours of publication, I received a phone call: “Bob, you’re the second person to criticize me for that vote.” The first, he said, was his then-wife, Jenny.

After he became governor, I wrote several columns about him, mostly favorable. He became quickly known for frugality and I suggested staff meetings at Waffle House.

When he joined the Air Force Reserves to impress on his sons the importance of military service, I nominated him, tongue-in-cheek, for Father of the Year. Another thanks via email.

And when he sent a Christmas card to the newsroom, I learned that its family photo was taken at West Point and chided him for going out of state. What about our beaches, our palmetto trees, our live oaks draped with Spanish moss?

A few days later, I received another email. I didn’t save it, but let me paraphrase: “You make me aware of things I don’t always think about.” The next year, a card with a good old South Carolina scene.

In 2013, when he when he announced he was running again for Congress, I wrote that he might be one of the most qualified candidates for Congress ever — and received another call, thanking me. And, yes, he won again.

To be sure, as a lifelong Democrat, I never voted for Mark Sanford. But I always liked his independence and, recently, his fearlessness in speaking truth to power.

We need more like that, on both sides of the congressional aisle.

Contact Bob Bestler at bestler6@tds.net.

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