Bob Bestler

Why I’ll be closely watching as old friend Mark Sanford is off and running again

Just a few weeks ago we were at a James Island restaurant called Crust.

As we waited for our lunch, a familiar face walked by, heading for the door. He was accompanied by the owner and when the owner returned I asked who that was.

“Mark Sanford,” came his reply. I leapt up and out the door, yelling “Mark!”

OK, it was a pretty casual greeting for a journalist toward a former governor, but we go way back.

We exchanged a few words. I told him we sold our home in McClellanville and were living in an RV now.

He tried to look interested, but he had friends waiting and it was clear he wanted to move on.

I told him I’d keep watching for him in the papers, we shook hands and that was that.

I didn’t realize how prescient I was because two weeks later the papers told me Mark Sanford was challenging Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination.

I said we go way back and I’m serious about that.

In 1993, on the day he paid his first filing fee to run for Congress, he stopped by The Sun News and asked to speak to a reporter. I found one for him, assuming his would be a futile attempt against the GOP favorite, Van Hipp.

Turned out people liked his frugal economic message and quiet demeanor enough to send him to Washington.

One of his first votes was cast against an assault weapon ban and I zinged him a bit in a column. That morning, he called and told me I was only the second person to criticize his vote.

“Who was the first?” I asked.

“My wife.”

I wrote several columns about Mark over the years. I praised him for doing his reserve duty while governor and called him father of the year for taking his sons to West Point to show them the importance of military service.

I chuckled over his penny-pinching as governor, once suggesting executive staff meetings should be held at Waffle House.

Another time I questioned the governor’s choice of Christmas card, which showed a family picture taken at West Point, not one highlighting South Carolina’s beauty — a live oak draped in Spanish moss, maybe, or a stretch of beach. He emailed later me that sometimes I remind him of things he never thought about.

So I’ve been following Mark Sanford for a lot of years, though I vote on the other side of the ballot.

Even when he returned to run for Congress after serving eight years as governor — and surviving a miniature scandal over his non-hiking of the Appalachian Trail — I said he remained a formidable candidate. He called and thanked me after he won.

So now he’s on one more Quixotic mission, to unseat a president who remains popular among Republicans, again fighting for frugality in government and against the soaring national debt.

Good luck, Mark. I’ll keep watching you in the papers.

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