Longtime Sanford friend Tom Davis "completely shocked"

June 24, 2009 

State Sen. Tom Davis learned Gov. Mark Sanford had a year-long, extramarital affair just hours before it was publicly announced Wednesday.

The Beaufort Republican and Sanford, both 49 with birthdays three days apart, have been close friends for 30 years — and Davis was initially at a loss for words.

The disbelief and disappointment hung over him all day.

“I was just completely shocked ... never even would have guessed at something like this,” said Davis, a former Sanford chief of staff who stood near the governor’s side as details of the secret trip to Argentina spilled out.

“I was very upset at the pain that I know this causes Jenny (Sanford), very upset at the pain I know it causes his four boys,” he said. “I hardly condone his activities, and in fact all you can do is condemn them.”

Yet despite his disappointment, Davis said he believes Sanford should be given the chance to earn back the trust of South Carolina residents — and that means staying in office for the duration of his term.

“Mark Sanford, the public figure, stands for the things that I think South Carolinians believe in,” Davis said. “Sanford ought to be provided the opportunity to prove that, but the burden is on the governor in this regard.

“I think he should continue and fill out his term, redouble his efforts and try to advance the ball. I want to give him that chance.”

Beaufort ties and a tight-knit bond

Davis and Sanford met while attending Furman University. It was Sanford who sparked Davis’ interest in politics.

“During the first gubernatorial campaign, I took a leave of absence from my job and moved into his basement. I moved in for six months,” Davis said.

“I’ve known Mark and Jenny ever since they got married. I know all four of their boys.”

The strength of the friends’ tight-knit bond — which widened to include their wives and children — made it even more painful to learn Sanford had an affair, Davis said.

“I know Mark is fully aware of the pain this has caused,” Davis said.

“We talked about just how incredibly bad and depressed he feels at having let down and betrayed his wife and children, and moreover, his colleagues and people that worked with him on the same ideals and reform ideas that he believes in.”

The pair shares strong ties to Beaufort.

Davis, a South Carolina native, moved into the city 23 years ago with his wife, and has worked at downtown law firm Harvey and Battey for two decades.

Beaufort County was long a favorite vacation spot for Sanford and his family, who own the 1,500-acre Coosaw Plantation in Dale. They moved permanently to the Lowcountry when the governor was in high school. He graduated from Beaufort Academy.

After his father’s death on Coosaw Plantation, Sanford built him a pine coffin and dug his grave beneath oak trees overlooking the Coosaw River. The family took their Christmas card photo at the plantation home last year.

The governor also owns land in other areas of the county, according to local property records.

Where do you go from here?

It’s his commitment to those ideals, and his honesty, that reflect the best parts of Sanford’s character, Davis said.

“There’s something to be said for a man that will stand up in front of the public and lay it all out there ... won’t ask for sympathy, won’t ask for excuses,” he said. “One of the extraordinary things about this country is the American people have a tremendous capacity for forgiveness.”

But it could take years for the public to grant Sanford that forgiveness, said Davis. It hurts democracy when the trust between an elected official and his constituents is broken.

The affair will also hurt Sanford, likely costing him political capital, Davis said. Citizens might forgive the affair, but few will forget the hypocrisy of the act.

“In the short term, it has consequences. It should have consequences,” Davis said. “We all fail, we’re all human, but when you’re a public official there is, in fact, a higher standard. You are in a position of trust and you are in a position that’s different than a layperson.

“Time will tell if Mark Sanford is truly contrite and if he wants to make amends.”

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