Jakey Knotts Triumphs Over Mark Sanford

When Columbia, South Carolina's newspaper, the State, first broke the story that Gov. Mark Sanford was missing, they only had one on-the-record source: State ...
by | June 24, 2009

Jakey knotts When Columbia, South Carolina's newspaper, the State, first broke the story that Gov. Mark Sanford was missing, they only had one on-the-record source: State Sen. Jake Knotts. Knotts has been a consistent voice in this story, asking questions and demanding answers. So who is he?

The first thing that you should know about South Carolina Sen. John M. Knotts Jr. is that most people who know him don't call him John or even, so far as I can tell, Jake. Instead, he's Jakey Knotts, which is the most folksy South Carolina political nickname this side of Tumpy Campbell.

As you might guess of someone who goes by Jakey, Knotts is an old-school politician. He jealously guards his constituents and the prerogatives of the legislature. He doesn't have much interest in ideological battles.

This has placed Knotts into direct conflict with Sanford, his fellow Republican. Knotts was elected to the state Senate in 2002, the same year Sanford was elected governor. They've been feuding for years.

Knotts wanted a new heart center at a hospital in his district in Lexington County. Sanford vetoed the bill to make it happen. Sanford wanted to restructure South Carolina's notoriously fragmented government. Knotts wouldn't let it pass. Sanford favored school vouchers, but Knotts opposed him. Knotts is part of the reason that the South Carolina legislature has overridden hundreds, yes hundreds, of Sanford's vetoes.

The feud became so serious that Knotts contemplated running for governor as an independent in 2006. Sanford struck back when he supported a primary challenge to Knotts in 2008. In that campaign, the governor wrote one of the more remarkable columns I've ever seen from a top elected official. Here's a paragraph from that column in the State (no link available):

I remember several years ago asking the chairman of BMW why he did not produce minivans. He said BMW was about a driving experience and that although millions of minivans sold each year, to produce them would erode the brand that thousands of employees had worked for years to build. In the same way, the actions of folks like Mr. Knotts go a long way to destroying what thousands in the conservative movement have worked for years to build.

Knotts survived the primary and was elected to another term in November.

Now that we know that the State had obtained e-mails between Sanford and his lover, it seems clear that this affair was going to become public sooner or later. But, if he's the sort of person who takes satisfaction in such things, Knotts can smile knowing he had some role in expediting the governor's downfall.

Knotts isn't taking a victory lap, as Brad Warthen reports:

By the way, I listened in on a press confab with Jake Knotts afterwards that you probably did NOT see. Jake gave the gov credit for being "man enough to stand up and say what he said." He said he "saw a governor who took responsibility" and apologized to all he had done wrong. "I accept that and I forgive him." Jake declined to express an opinion as to whether the governor should resign.

I'll be watching whether, at some later point, Knotts does say whether Sanford should stay in office.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer

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