Governors easy to findTexas Gov. Rick Perry was raising money at campaign headquarters when an Associated Press reporter called his press staff to ask what he was doing. An hour later, he walked into AP’s statehouse bureau to show he was alive and well and not, say, in South America for a romantic rendezvous.
By: By Russ Bynum, The Associated Press , The Jamestown Sun
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Texas Gov. Rick Perry was raising money at campaign headquarters when an Associated Press reporter called his press staff to ask what he was doing. An hour later, he walked into AP’s statehouse bureau to show he was alive and well and not, say, in South America for a romantic rendezvous.
Most of the nation’s governors were willing — even eager — to prove they were on the job after revelations that South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford ditched his security detail and disappeared for a secret weeklong tryst with a mistress in Argentina.
The day after Sanford admitted his indiscretion at a tearful, rambling press conference, The Associated Press called governors’ offices nationwide to ask: What’s the boss doing right now?
Gov. Mike Beebe of Arkansas was at the dentist. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley was fishing with his 10-year-old son. Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle was flying back from a Washington speaking engagement, while Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was visiting U.S. troops in eastern Europe.
Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman was in his office, but a few minutes after a reporter called he, too, showed up at the AP’s Capitol bureau — a state trooper, the lieutenant governor and his chief of staff in tow — to jokingly show he could be accounted for.
The AP had problems finding Georgia’s Sonny Perdue, who is serving his final term. His spokesman, Bert Brantley, said Perdue had worked at his Capitol office earlier, but he wasn’t sure where the governor was precisely when the AP called. When pressed, Brantley said he would not call the governor just to answer a press inquiry into his whereabouts.
“Even when he’s on a personal day or family time, he still keeps his Blackberry on him,” Brantley said. “There’s not a time when he’s not reachable.”
Sanford’s vanishing act had his fellow governors scratching their heads, if not cracking wise. Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer began a news conference Wednesday by joking he was late because he’d been in Venezuela.
“What was he thinking?” said Schweitzer, a Democrat. “Didn’t he think anyone would be watching?”
Impromptu checks by the AP showed most gubernatorial staffs keep close tabs on their bosses.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s love life hasn’t been an obstacle to keeping in touch. Erin Isaac, Crist’s communications director, said: “I talked to the governor 100 times while he was on his honeymoon.” Crist just got married in December.
Generally, state officials and staffers should be able to locate a governor on a moment’s notice, and the public has a right to know too, said Gene Policinski, executive director of the First Amendment Center, a free speech education organization in Nashville, Tenn., that is part of the Freedom Forum.
Besides giving speeches, signing bills and attending ribbon-cuttings, governors must take charge in natural disasters. They command their states’ National Guards. And their personal time can become the public’s business, particularly when they betray people’s trust, Policinski said.
“As, unfortunately, recent scandals seem to indicate, there is legitimate public interest in knowing where a governor is and what they’re doing,” Policinski said.
When AP asked where governors were, the most common answer was in the office. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was reviewing bills on the last day of the legislative session. Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry was interviewing a candidate for a judicial appointment.
Even when governors were traveling, staffers had little trouble saying exactly where they were. In Alabama, Gov. Bob Riley’s communications director, Jeff Emerson, knew Riley was landing in Seattle after an economic development trip overseas.
Palin’s spokeswoman, Sharon Leighow, said the Alaska governor was visiting National Guard troops from her state abroad, but wouldn’t immediately disclose where. She called back 30 minutes later, after getting the Defense Department’s OK, to say Palin was in Kosovo. Palin told the world where she was that same day in a Twitter update.
As Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty left a Republican fundraiser, he said he always tries to at least let his staff know what he’s doing.
“Regardless of whether you’re a governor or anyone else, having a little clear-your-head time is probably a good thing,” Pawlenty said. “But you always have to make sure you stay in touch in case there’s a problem. You have to communicate.”
While finding governors through their press offices is easy, tracking them down using schedules available to the general public can be trickier. Most release calendars of public events and news conferences, but some keep closed-door meetings and private functions under wraps even if they’re official state business.
Pawlenty’s staffers rejected a written request for access to his appointment calendar. On days when he doesn’t have news conferences or speeches, his daily events schedule often reads “No Public Events.” The fundraiser he attended wasn’t on it.
Many states cited security reasons for refusing to release schedules, while others said they’re not considered public records.
Most states were also tight-lipped about security, saying revealing details would put chief executives at risk, and arrangements varied widely in states willing to talk about them. In Virginia, State Police guard Gov. Tim Kaine around the clock, anywhere he goes, without exception. North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven, by contrast, normally drives his own car and state law doesn’t require him to have a security detail.
Sanford managed to slip overseas undetected because he dismissed his security detail before driving himself to the airport.
There was little need to ask Sanford’s office where he was after he returned Wednesday. His every move has been monitored and broadcast far beyond the borders of South Carolina.
On Friday, Sanford met with his agency chiefs to apologize for his baffling absence, then move on with any state business he may have neglected while he was AWOL in Argentina.