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Gov. Sanford challenges media reports on travel

By Gov. Mark Sanford
web posted August 14, 2009
GUEST OPINION – In my first race for Congress a local reporter in Myrtle Beach had taken a few words from an interview and used them in a different context to paint a picture that was far from what I believed.  When I confronted him on taking my words out of context his simple reply was, “Life is out of context.” 

I believed then, as I do today, that when reporters, who are supposedly there to simply report the news, do these sorts of things in telling the story they favor, it isn’t right – and it seems to me this past weekend’s story on airplane travel falls along these lines.

I’ve always held the media, the so-called fourth branch of government, in high regard as holding people accountable is absolutely vital to the working of an open political system. I messed up and deserve my licks for it - but this doesn’t give some in the media license to write as they please. Anyone with a busy and intertwined life can be made to look foolish if one ignores the larger context of travel within the state - so let me offer two points of context and then a couple of examples showing why I believe this past weekend’s story and its approach are wrong. 

The first point of context would be that I have used the state plane less than my predecessors.  When measuring four year terms, Governor Campbell flew 451.6 hours, Governor Beasley flew 303.17 hours and Governor Hodges flew 310.06 hours, while I flew 228.95 hours.

I’ve always tried to watch out for the taxpayer dime and accordingly have tried to be as judicious as possible in using the state plane. I tried to go the extra mile here because of the 228.95 hours I flew roughly 70 were actually in the single engine Cessna DNR owns, because whenever I had a chance I tried to use this small plane that has an operating cost about 1/5th that of the King Air – saving taxpayers more than $60,000. No governor has done this before, and it is hardly “gubernatorial” in its look and feel, but I thought it was worth the savings.  As an administration we also sold the fraction interest in the Hawker jet, which had transatlantic capability and saved more than $1.5 million.  We consolidated helicopter and fixed wing aircraft use between SLED and DNR for several hundred thousands of dollars of additional savings.  As well, we decided to rent out both the Governor’s summer residence in Charleston and the Lace House at the Governor’s residence, generating hundreds of thousands of dollars for the state.

The second point of context is that out of the 353 hours flown over the last six and a half years, some in the media have called into question about 7 hours of flight.  That represents two percent of the total flight hours taken. 

A few examples:

The article suggests I had “flown back to my favorite hair salon”.  I did call the office on my way back from official state business in Myrtle Beach to say I wanted to drop by for a haircut – but this so-called hair salon in this case is a walk-in Great Clips where you can get an $11 haircut.  Why in the world would I rush back to keep an “appointment” at a place that doesn’t take appointments?

The article says “I flew the family back from Beaufort on Thanksgiving weekends.”  Does anyone believe that Jenny – or in particular the boys – really wanted to leave their Thanksgiving weekend early to walk down the State House steps for the annual Governor’s Christmas Tree Lighting?  If that isn’t official business, I don’t know what is – and it’s been expected of governors to attend for the last 42 years. 

The article says that “I flew from Columbia to Mt. Pleasant for a dentist appointment.”  It is true that I went by the dentist office for 15 minutes because I chipped my tooth, but this is hardly the larger context of the visit. At 4 pm on that day, the 23rd of March 2005, I testified before the Senate Finance Sub-Committee on our income tax proposal; I had the chance to tell thousands of people on the coast about it through an in-studio interview with Channel 2 at 6:50. Not knowing when the subcommittee would end, the state plane was used so that I would be certain of making the interview.

I won’t belabor the point, but it is a simple one. Inevitably, I am certain that there is something our office did less than perfect in my constant moving around the state, but I can say with equal clarity that it was always within the context of trying to maximize my days and watch out for the taxpayer in the process.

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