Sanford has routinely noted her thrift and efforts to save taxpayers money in past statewide addresses. But Wednesday, he praised her "in her truly phenomenal grace that she showed the world and the state in the storm that I brought to our family and to the state at large."
She filed for a divorce last month that is expected to be final next month as her memoir is published.
It was Sanford's first statewide address since he disappeared in June and reappeared five days later to tearfully confess an affair with an Argentine woman. That prompted investigations and a formal rebuke approved by the House a week ago.
Sanford took the blame for what he vaguely described as "the events of this summer."
"Let me address it one last time. After this speech, those of you who have grown weary of my apologizing can rest easy because I won't do it again. But given what happened and given that this is my first state of the state since then, I am compelled to say that I am sorry one more time for the situation that I created and for the way that I put every one of you in this room in a bad spot," Sanford said.
"I disappointed you. I disappointed my family. I disappointed many across this state and across this nation," Sanford said. "But you know what it means? It means that I am weak and at times all too human."
Legislators have long said it was time for Sanford to move on and stop talking about the affair. "I felt a collective sigh of relief from the state of South Carolina when he said that," said Senate Majority Leader Harvey, R-Cherokee. "I think the people saw the governor get his political second wind tonight."
The remarks came at the start of a speech that lasted more than 45 minutes. It laid out a slimmed-down legislative agenda: overhauling the state's Employment Security Commission; streamlining state bureaucracy and imposing spending caps.
Legislators, already at work on issues Sanford cites as top priorities, noted the governor's conciliatory tone.
"It was an appeal to work together to get something done," Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell said. The Charleston Republican said he loved the call for spending limits, something he's worked on, and Sanford is "absolutely correct" in pushing to reform the Employment Security Commission.
And Sanford, in his second and last four-year term, heaped praise on legislators for a dozen accomplishments on issues he's pushed.
"It was the only way he could get anyone to stand up, I guess," said Sen. Jake Knotts, the West Columbia Republican who first raised questions about Sanford's disappearance last June.
In a state tied for the nation's third highest jobless rate, the speech was short on specifics for some on the economy and filling a $563 million hole in the state's $5.3 billion budget.
"I didn't hear the governor give any concrete plans to put 600,000 people back to work and turn the economy around," House Minority Leader Harry Ott said. The St. Matthews Democrat wanted the governor to ask for targeted budget cuts and call for comprehensive tax review.
While he has 51 weeks left in office, he has only until June's session end to mend rifts with legislators and get work done.
And that time is colored by the affair and subsequent investigations. Just last week, the House voted 102-11 to formally rebuke him for abuse of his office and called into question his leadership. It rejected an impeachment resolution.
The resolution said "Sanford's conduct in its totality has breached the public trust of South Carolinians and has lowered their confidence in his ability to be their chief executive" and "has also brought ridicule, dishonor, disgrace, and shame not only upon Governor Sanford but upon this State and its citizens which rises to a level which requires a formal admonishment and censure."
While it's nonbinding and has no practical affect on Sanford, he'll leave office as the only governor on record with a formal censure from the House. The Senate has referred the resolution to committee and it is unclear if it will act on the measure.
Meanwhile, the State Ethics Commission will schedule a hearing for Sanford on 37 charges involving violations of state ethics laws tied to his use of state planes, pricey commercial flights and use of campaign funds that could bring $74,000 in fines. And the attorney general is reviewing those to see if they merit criminal prosecution.
HIGHLIGHTS OF SANFORD'S SPEECH
Highlights of Gov. Mark Sanford's State of the State speech:
- UNEMPLOYMENT: Sanford called for the Employment Security Commission to be merged with the Commerce Department to create a new Department of Workforce. He again said the agency that processes claims for the unemployed should more actively coordinate with Commerce to help find work for the unemployed. He called reforming the Employment Security Commission his top request for the year.
- CIGARETTE TAX: Sanford again called for raising the nation's lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax from 7 cents per pack and using the money to cut income taxes. He said swapping the take hike for a cut to corporate income taxes would make South Carolina more competitive.
- SPENDING CAPS: Sanford reiterated his call to cap annual government spending so that legislators aren't tempted to spend when times are good. He said he's been proven right on overspending and said the recession provides an opportunity to commit to spending limits. He asks that the money first be used to pay down debt, then either set aside for a "rainy day" or returned to taxpayers. He thanked the House for passing such proposals in the past and applauded efforts by Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell in the Senate.
- GOVERNMENT RESTRUCTURING: Sanford again called for more agencies to be moved under the governor's control. He asked legislators to put the governor and lieutenant governor on the same ticket. And he wants legislators to let voters decide whether other statewide offices, such as the adjutant general, should be appointed rather than elected.
- FEDERAL DEBT: Sanford urged residents to "make your voice heard" in Washington. He reiterated his argument, which dominated last year's session, that mounting federal debt is threatening taxpayers, the dollar and the country's financial stability. He said substantial cuts in state services or tax increases are coming unless residents push for change.
Also in the speech, Sanford:
- Apologized "one more time" for the situation he created by his affair with an Argentine woman.
- Lauded his estranged wife Jenny for "her truly phenomenal grace" that she showed "to the world" following his confession, and asked legislators to applaud her in her absence.
- Recognized House Speaker Bobby Harrell and Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman for their work in securing a new Boeing airliner assembly line in North Charleston.
- Asked residents to look for ways to volunteer to help others who are struggling "in these trying economic times."