The Last Word
updated 2/20/2013 1:25:55 PM ET 2013-02-20T18:25:55

Former AWOL South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford could face off against Elizabeth Colbert Busch, sister of comedian Stephen Colbert. Is this an election or a reality show?

Former AWOL South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford admitted to failings in aspects of his personal life, but argued he never let taxpayers down.

“If we live long enough, we’re going to fail at something and I absolutely failed in my personal life and in my marriage, but one place I didn’t ever fail was with the taxpayers,” he told NBC Today Show’s Savannah Guthrie on Tuesday. “If you look at my 20 years in politics, what you’d see is a fairly remarkable consistency in trying to watch out for the taxpayers.”

The once-rising star in the Republican Party wants a second chance with voters in a special election congressional election next month. He’s running in the Republican primary for a House seat in South Carolina’s 1st District, a position he once held from 1995 to 2001.

As governor of the state in 2009, Sanford famously lied about hiking the Appalachian Trail when, in fact, he was off on a fling with his mistress in Argentina. During this period, his whereabouts were unknown to the state government and his wife. He has since gotten divorced from his wife, and is on his way to marrying his mistress.

After the saga, Sanford was slapped with an ethics fine for misuse of taxpayer funds and forced to resign as head of the Republican Governors Association. Sanford downplayed the ethics violations, saying “it’s a much longer story” and insisted it isn’t proof of any guilt. “There was no admission of guilt with any of that,” he declared. “I did use business class on legitimate business trips.”

Sanford, who is still a front-runner in the Republican-leaning district, could face off against Democratic candidate Elizabeth Colbert Busch, sister of Comedy Central comedian Stephen Colbert (though her name is pronounced with a hard ‘T’).

Colbert Busch joins The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell in her first national TV appearance on Wednesday at10pm ET on MSNBC.

Video: Sanford: ‘I never failed the taxpayer’

  1. Closed captioning of: Sanford: ‘I never failed the taxpayer’

    >> mark sanford is with us now exclusively. governor, good morning. good to see you.

    >> you as well.

    >> let's cut right to it. a lot of people are watching saying, you know, everyone does deserve a second chance. everybody deserves a chance to rebuild their life, but not everybody is entitled to run for public office when it relies on public trust especially at a time when our washington institutions have lost so much respect. what would your response be to that?

    >> twofold. i have had conversations with a lot of friends back home. the reality of our lives, if we live long enough we're going to fail at something. i absolutely failed in my personal life and my marriage. but one place i didn't ever fail was with the taxpayers. if you look at my 20 years in politics, what you would see is a fairly remarkable consistency in terms of looking out for the taxpayer. the ill that's before us as a civilization, if we don't get our financial house in order, there will be incredible consequences for the dollar, american way of life , all that and more.

    >> couple of things about that, though. number one, you paid a fine. ethics charges related to misusing taxpayer funds. you don't have to get into the nitty gritty about it.

    >> sure.

    >> but doesn't that go against your --

    >> no. if we were to get into the nitty gritty , you would find there was no admission of guilt with any of that. in many ways a lawyer would settle a case -- you're a lawyer by training -- this happened but by no means did we agree this happened. and the house, by no means fans, absolved us of all of that.

    >> to the larger issue, do you really need to run for public office ? what is this about? you care about debt and deficit. these are issues well discussed in washington .

    >> that's just the problem. they are well discussed but all too often too few choose to take real action. and i was actually rated number one in the united states congress by the taxpayer union, citizens gest against government waste, raised the most fiscally conservative governor in the united states . it points to one thing. many people talk about our spending problem in washington , all too few are trying to do something about it.

    >> the price of re-entering politics is drudging up all the things we saw. it may be embarrassing to you but to the people around you, including your ex-wife, your family. is it worth it?

    >> no. there's definitely pain in the clips you were just showing. but i sat down with the boys. we had a conversation. i said what do you want me to do? if you don't want me to do it, i'm out. their point is no, dad, you've long cared about this stuff. you ought to do it. i also would say i've been on something of a personal journey. i believe if you live long enough, you will fail at something. the higher you rise, the bigger you fall. i failed. in some ways i've come to learn that ultimately our brokenness as human beings is ultimately our connection. and that goes to a larger article of faith and a lot more.

    >> and you have been very introspective these past few years. you've talked about that. have you asked yourself, what is this really about? is it about these issues of debt and spending or is this about seeking some kind of personal, political redemption?

    >> i think we all hope for redemption in our lives. that is one of the great journeys of our respective lives. but i would say my focus is crystal clear , which is, is part of the cost of re-entering politics a discussion about my personal failure and the consequences thereof? yes. is that painful to me and a lot of others that i love? yes. but i keep going back to we are at a tipping point as a civilization. if we don't get our financial house in order, there will be unbelievable consequences to the folks watching this show right now.

    >> mark sanford , it's great to have you here. thank you


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