POLITICO (Washington) -- In a new twist to an already bizarre episode, South Carolina’s lieutenant governor said Monday night that neither he nor Gov. Mark Sanford’s staff know where the governor is and that Sanford’s office refused his demand to talk to his fellow Republican.
Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, who was elected separately from Sanford, issued a statement to POLITICO after a day of frenzied national speculation about the governor’s whereabouts.
Bauer said he called Sanford’s office Monday and requested an “immediate phone conversation with the governor.”
“That request was denied because the governor’s chief of staff does not know where the governor is, and has not communicated with the governor since he left South Carolina last Thursday,” Bauer said. “I cannot take lightly that his staff has not had communication with him for more than four days, and that no one, including his own family, knows his whereabouts.”
But Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer issued a statement late Monday night saying that the governor was “hiking along the Appalachian Trail,” the first word on Sanford’s location since he was seen departing the state capital on Thursday.
“I apologize for taking so long to send this update, and was waiting to see if a more definitive idea of what part of the trail he was on before we did so,” Sawyer said in the statement.
Yet asked if he had spoken with Sanford, Sawyer wrote in an email message: “No, not today.”
And the spokesman wouldn’t say where on the approximately 2,175-mile long trail Sanford is.
“We’re not discussing location, other than to say he’s on the trail,” Sawyer wrote.
As for Bauer’s accusation, Sawyer shot back: “We actually just tried to call the Lt. Gov., and he didn’t call back.”
The extraordinary back-and-forth between the state’s top two officials is suffused with politics. Sanford and Bauer have a distant relationship and Bauer is positioning himself to run for governor next year, when Sanford is term-limited out of office.
Sanford has not endorsed in that contest but has offered kind words for one of Bauer’s potential primary opponents, Columbia-area state Rep. Nikki Haley.
Last week, Bauer took to the House floor to successfully lobby to override Sanford’s veto of a budget item providing the lieutenant governor with a state security detail.
Earlier Monday, Sawyer said that before the governor left town last week “he let staff know his whereabouts and that he’d be difficult to reach.”
“Should any emergencies arise between the times in which he checks in, our staff would obviously be in contact with other state officials as the situation warrants before making any decisions,” said Sawyer.
Sanford’s wife, Jenny, also told The Associated Press Monday that she was unconcerned and that the second-term governor is “writing something and wanted some space to get away from the kids.”
Sanford allies blamed the initial attention on some of the governor’s adversaries, especially state Sen. Jake Knotts, a veteran Republican who has clashed repeatedly with Sanford.
It was Knotts who provided the only on-record confirmation of Sanford’s absence to The State newspaper, prompting nationwide buzz about the unlikely story of the disappearing governor.
Knotts demanded in an interview Monday with The State to “know immediately who is running the executive branch in the governor’s absence.”
“As the head of our state, in the unfortunate event of a state of emergency or homeland security situation, Governor Sanford should be available at all times to the chief of (the state police force),” Knotts said.
State authorities told the paper that Sanford’s last known location was somewhere near Atlanta where the governor’s phone signal was picked up by a local cell phone tower.
Sanford’s solo summer sabbatical is only the latest reminder of his eccentricity.
“He marches to his own crazy beat,” said one veteran Palmetto State GOP strategist when asked about this Salinger-like episode.
Sanford, a potential 2012 presidential aspirant, has previously raised eyebrows in South Carolina for bringing squealing and defecating pigs into the statehouse to make his case against pork-barrel spending and for sporting a ratty blazer to his own inauguration.
A former House member, he easily won his gubernatorial races and has been more popular with the electorate than the state’s political class.
But with unemployment climbing in South Carolina, Sanford has come under fire for initially refusing to take some federal stimulus funds.
Now he’s sure to become the butt of late-night television jokes for a time, not exactly the preferred launching pad for White House hopefuls.