After spotting him at nationally televised Rick Santorum campaign events, some of state Rep. Andy Patrick's constituents are questioning his absences from the state House of Representatives
Of the 19 roll call votes the House has taken since the legislative session began Jan. 10, the Hilton Head Island Republican has missed 11, including Tuesday's vote overriding Gov. Nikki Haley's veto of a bill targeting a permit allowing Georgia to expand the Savannah port.
"You see that and question how you're being represented in the Legislature," said Hilton Head resident Dean Dizikes. "How can you represent Hilton Head Island if you're gone for half of the legislative session? I think his constituents would like to know. ... Where is his primary responsibility?"
Patrick, chief executive officer of security consulting firm Advance Point Global, said he "was engaged in a project" related to his business that required him to request a leave of absence from the legislature.
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Patrick was headed back to Columbia Tuesday from Grand Rapids, Mich., following the excused absences granted by House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, but a flight was canceled, he said.
Patrick said he was providing security for a client, but would not say whether that client was Santorum, whom he endorsed earlier this year.
Patrick said he "provides a very sensitive, discrete service" and wants to protect the integrity of his work.
Attempts to reach the Santorum campaign for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.
"My time under contract is complete and I'm headed back to Columbia and plan to be there every day going forward," Patrick said by phone from the Grand Rapids airport.
Santorum was recently granted Secret Service protection by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano at the campaign's request, according to Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary.
Patrick served as a special agent with the Secret Service from 1997 to 2007. During the course of that career, he directed security arrangements for the president, vice president and foreign heads of state.
Patrick said he made every effort to be present for House votes and debate, hopping redeyes from Denver or Seattle or driving overnight from Florida.
"Certain weeks were (more) difficult for me to get back to Columbia than others, because it wasn't feasible or logistically possible," Patrick said. "I take my responsibility as a member of the S.C. House of Representatives seriously, and my time with the client was extended beyond what I expected. I hired people so they could take my place when appropriate and was there (with the client) when I felt I needed to be."
He said he did his best to balance his legislative priorities with earning a living.
"I still have to put food on the table for family and protect my ability to earn a living at the same time," Patrick said. "It became a little bit of a challenge (at) the beginning of this year because of the unique nature of the project, but that's over."
There is no stated policy or criteria for what qualifies for leave, according to Greg Foster, spokesman for the House Speaker's office.
"Members notify the Speaker of the House ... to request leave," Foster said. "It's not so much permission, but notification they'll be absent."
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead