SC-Governor: Revenge of the Sanfords

South Carolina State Sen. Jakey Knotts played a key role in the downfall of his arch nemesis, Gov. Mark Sanford. Now, Knotts' feud with Sanford -- and his own shocking words -- probably has cost him his own political career.
by | June 4, 2010

The last time I wrote about Jakey Knotts, he was triumphant. The longtime South Carolina Republican state senator and arch nemesis of Gov. Mark Sanford was playing a key role in Sanford's political demise.

Knotts voiced key questions that helped expedite the exposure of Sanford's surreptitious trip to Argentina and his affair with his Argentine lover. In his feud with Sanford, Knotts had won what appeared to be the final major battle.

But, the Republican primary for governor this year is something of a reprise of the Sanford wars, via proxy. And, no matter who wins, Knotts has just lost.

State Rep. Nikki Haley has been the rare Sanford ally in the legislature. She, like the governor, is a reform-minded fiscal conservative. If Mark Sanford's endorsement were worth anything right now, he'd probably have backed Haley in Tuesday's Republican gubernatorial primary. Jenny Sanford has endorsed Haley.

The differences between Knotts and Gov. Sanford weren't just personal. They also were substantive. Knotts and Sanford were engaged in a tug-of-war over the relative power of the legislature and the governor (South Carolina has an unusually weak governorship). They also were fighting over the role of government: Knotts wanted to fund projects that Sanford deemed wasteful pork.

As a result, Knotts presumably wants to stop Haley as badly as he wanted to stop Sanford. In fact, Haley may pose more of a threat. Sanford was his own worst enemy in trying to overhaul South Carolina's government. He marginalized himself, making it easy for legislators to fight him. Haley might combine Sanford's views with a temperament that allows those views to be enacted. Though I haven't seen a formal endorsement, Knotts is reportedly close with Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, one of Haley's rivals in the primary.

Now, Knotts has leveled a personal insult against Haley that also likely will be a political favor. He used an ethnic slur to describe both Haley, who is the daughter of Indian immigrants, and President Obama. Even worse than the slur, I think, is the argument that underlies it: That Haley should be disqualified from being governor because of her ethnicity. From the State:

“We already got one raghead in the White House,” Knotts said. “We don’t need another in the Governor’s Mansion.”

According to those present and watching the show, “Pub Politics,” Knotts also talked at length about Haley’s parents’ religion and her family. Haley was raised as a Sikh, but converted to Methodist and has said she attends both services. “Pub Politics” host Wesley Donehue said the video will be posted today.

As the campaign winds down, Haley has been accused of extramarital affairs by two different men. But, there's been nothing close to proof that these affairs took place. Without proof, the question was whether the allegations would hurt Haley or she would benefit from a sympathy vote.

Well, if Haley weren't already a sympathetic figure, she is now with Knotts' slurs and Bauer's demand that she take a polygraph test. Barring some big revelation, it's hard to imagine how Haley doesn't at least advance to a runoff on Tuesday.

While he may stay in office, it's also hard to imagine how Knotts recovers. The feud between Sanford and Knotts likely ended up costing them both their political careers. Neither of them have anyone to blame but themselves.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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