COLUMBIA, S.C. (CN) – The state employee who, aside from Gov. Mark Sanford himself, was most on the hot seat after South Carolina’s chief executive disappeared to have a rendezvous with an Argentine mistress is stepping down.
Joel Sawyer, the former newspaper man who has served Sanford’s spokesman for nearly seven years announced Friday afternoon that he will be departing the governor’s office on August 5 to pursue “other opportunities in the private sector.”
It was Sawyer, who for most of his tenure had a warm and positive relationship with the capitol’s press corp., who initially told reporters that the governor was hiking the Appalachian Trial when Sanford’s mysterious absence from the state became public knowledge.
During Sanford’s confessional press conference upon his return, he was repeatedly asked whether Sawyer or any other state employees had been asked to lie about his true whereabouts. Sanford emphatically and repeatedly defended his spokesman, saying his longtime staffer had been as deceived as everyone else about what was really going on.
In a written statement accompanying Sawyer’s announcement, Sanford described his spokesman as a “wonderfully devoted and skillful member of our team.”
“The people of our state have benefited greatly from his service, as has this Administration, and I sincerely thank him,” the governor continued. “We will miss him, but I join the rest of the staff in wishing Joel and his young family all the best in their future endeavors.”
Sawyer acknowledged that the timing of his decision might lead some to speculate about his reason for leaving, but said, “I want to be crystal clear that my departure is purely about what’s best for me and my family on a personal and financial level.”
“It’s truly been an honor to serve both Mark and the people of South Carolina for the past six and a half years,” Sawyer said. “This has been one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make, because I have and will continue to be such an ardent supporter of what this Administration is working to accomplish.
“I firmly believe that despite recent events, great things to move our state forward can be done during the remaining 18 months of this Administration,” he said.