Sanctimonious U.S. governors go down for the count

Their sense of entitlement and invulnerability takes your breath away

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The Gazette, Thursday, July 2, 2009

There must be something about being a governor of an American state that confers a sense of entitlement, invulnerability and simply an idea that you won't get caught.

First there was Eliot Spitzer, the scourge of white-collar crime when he was district attorney in New York, who rode his crime-busting reputation to the governor's mansion in Albany. As governor, he arranged for trysts with a young call girl who travelled across state lines to spend the evening with him at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. Within 48 hours of being busted by the New York Times last year, Spitzer resigned in disgrace.

Then there was Rod Blagojevich, the governor of Illinois, who was impeached and removed from office this year for trying to sell Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat to the highest bidder. Well, it's Illinois, which has a deeply embedded culture of corruption, but even the Cook County machine never thought of trying to sell a president-elect's Senate seat.

Now there's Mark Sanford, the governor of South Carolina, who disappeared for five days last month to visit his Latina lover in Buenos Aires, leaving his wife and four sons alone over Father's Day weekend.

His staff's story was that he had gone hiking on the Appalachian Trail. The lieutenant-governor was not informed, nor was there any temporary transfer of power in the event the state had to call out the National Guard or declare a weather emergency.

"I spent the last five days of my life crying in Argentina," he told a confessional news conference, in a line straight out of the Andrew Lloyd Webber songbook.

"Meet America's latest Luv Guv" screamed the New York Daily News across the top of the front page.

It turns out Sanford also arranged a trade junket to visit his Maria in Argentina last year, giving new meaning to the term trade mission. As part of his remorseful confession, he promised to repay the travel expenses of the trip.

Would he resign? That depended on how his apology played, and he was apologizing to everyone, from his wife and children to his staff, the lieutenant-governor, the people of South Carolina, and anyone in America who felt they were owed an apology.

Up to last week, Sanford had been regarded as a rising star in the Republican Party, and was head of its governors' conference. He had been on John McCain's short-list to be vice-president and was on a longer list of presidential prospects for 2012.

But, as with Spitzer, farewell to all that.

Another Republican bright light, Senator John Ensign of Nevada, had just come forward with a teary, televised confession of his own, that he'd had an extramarital affair with a married member of his campaign staff.

All in all, not a good week for the Republicans as the party of family values.

If there's any couple that embodies family values, it's clearly the First Couple in the White House, with their two lovely daughters, and the First Dog, Buddy.

The fall from grace of those other politicians isn't so precipitous because of their zipper problems, but their previous sanctimonious self-righteousness. Sanford, as a congressman, voted to impeach Bill Clinton for sex at the office.

Ensign and his wife, the New York Times noted the other day, were active "in an evangelical ministry that promotes strong families and marriages."

Spitzer, who struck fear into Wall St., hung out with hookers.

Italy's prime minister Silvio Berlusconi must be watching with some bemusement. Berlusconi, a legendary lothario, stands accused by his estranged wife of consorting with minors. Well, no, the girl had actually just turned 18, and Berlusconi had thrown her a birthday party. He was most put out when three women said they were paid to attend parties at his villa, and one apparently was asked to spend the night. Silvio pay for sex? No way. "I have never understood what satisfaction there is if not in the pleasure of conquest," he declared.

By they way, Italy is hosting the G8 summit this summer. Party central.

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